I just returned from Seattle to film humane methods in dog capture and handling to train disaster responders. My colleagues were former students, Shawndra Michell, who specializes in film making and Linda McCoy, who runs Happy Hounds Hotel in Sammamish, WA. Linda’s hotel specializes in large dogs and can offer special care for dogs needing socializing. Shawndra and Linda, like myself, volunteered rescuing dogs after Hurricane Katrina and they are members of the Washington State Animal Response Team (WASART). After taking my course in Olympia, they were inspired to get my training on video and gathered camera equipment, dogs, and volunteers to film at Linda’s hotel.
Volunteers brought dogs who were typically large and fearful, many were pitbulls, and most of them were rescued animals being socialized. The owners were willing to share their four legged family members because they knew that through this filming their dogs would help dogs all around the world. They also knew that this was a fresh approach in humane dog handling.
The topics we filmed included: 1) calm, compassionate methods of physical restraint such as the scruff, leash muzzle wrap, lateral restraint, and hobbling, 2) Dr. Mark demonstrating how to use the Y pole with a fearful dog, 3) new people using the Y pole with a fearful dog for the first time, 4) how to lift and crate a dog into a crate, 5) how to catch a dog running in a large pen, and 6) how to lead a dog into a crate using a long line and a Y pole. In some cases we filmed how the procedures did not work! (no procedure works every time). I will post some of the video on this blog, our website, and on our GWRFeralDogs YouTube Channel as soon as segments become available.
It was a very profound experience for myself, the camera crew, and volunteers. And through it all, the owners can testify that their dogs were no worse and sometimes better for the experience of being handled.
It was profound for me to see the changes in the dogs after their experience. Handling street dogs who must be captured is one thing, but asking someone’s socialized (but still fearful) dog to submit to the Y pole and get handled was difficult for me. I do not want to make any dog more afraid of people after my handling, especially not someone’s pet! And so after every filming segment, the owner would let me spend a moment with the dog so I could reassure the dog and evaluate my impact from the handling.
It was remarkable to see how some fearful dogs were more comfortable with people (including me) after the handling experience even though they had been cornered with Y poles, covered with a towel, slowly lowered to the ground and their feet taken out from under them, then hobbled and slowly released from all of the handling. Ruby in particular was a rescued pit bull who was very afraid of people, especially men. When we removed the hobbles and towel, she was a bit rattled, but accepted treats and moved among both men and women accepting pets. Something significant – and good – happened to her. She had been asked to briefly give up her protection only to find it to be a safe and kind experience.
And it was also profound for the volunteers. A fundamental aspect in the dog handling I promote is to observe ourselves as well as the dog. If we observe ourselves before we begin our handling and look at our own behavior throughout, we can relax and settle our energy to help the dog settle and feel more safe.
One volunteer, Suzie, handled a dog with the Y pole for the first time. She was hesitant and did not really know how much pressure to put on the dog. Her energy was all in her shoulders as she held onto the Y pole. The dog slipped away feeling no reason to accommodate. After the attempt, we evaluated what she was doing and what she was “being”. Holding the Y pole, she put pressure on my knee and learned how much pressure to apply (very little), but she also learned how it felt to settle her energy down to her belly (her “one point”) and generate a compassionate strength from her core. It was very empowering for her.
The camera crew was in awe over the dog’s relatively relaxed expressions as they were handled. For example, even with the proper two-handed scruff holding the head, the dog was given a way to relax and it showed in their eyes. And like me, the crew was amazed at how safe each dog felt with us after this conscious approach to capture and handling. Dr. Mark