Last week I had the pleasure and honor to teach a dog handling course for Memphis Animal Services at the Memphis Animal Shelter as an instructor for Humane Society University (HSU). The course was titled: “Humane Handle of Fearful Dogs for Shelter Staff and ACOs”. Administrator James Rogers arranged for me to teach the 1-day workshop twice so all shelter staff and ACOs could attend. This course was offered through Humane Society University.
I was extremely impressed with how receptive all MAS personnel were throughout the course and at how much fun we all had exploring humane ways of handling dogs! To honor their expertise, I invited several people to demonstrate either new techniques or variations of techniques I was teaching. We are all each other’s teacher and I learned as well as trained.
MAS recognizes their struggles and criticism and is working extremely hard to create a new culture which includes a new way of relating to and handling dogs while honoring the skills and knowledge among shelter staff and ACOs. I met many people in both classes who were strong with these skills and with kind hearts for the animals. I believe this training gave everyone at MAS affirmation about how to move forward with new tools and techniques and empowered the leaders among the group to be stronger instructors for each other.
The course was titled: “Humane Handle of Fearful Dogs for Shelter Staff and ACOs”. I have created this dog handling course for shelter staff just for HSU and then I customized it for MAS by adding extra content like nets and box trapping for the ACOs. The course emphasizes compassionate dog handling by working with the dog in a calm way. We explored “dog language” and the Nature of Dog so we can see each dog for who they are and offer the softer techniques first.
We studied and practiced physical restraint such as the 2-handed scruff, muzzle wrap, and towel for picking up and carrying dogs. One message was that physical restraint does not mean force and even if the dog struggles and our fingers and arms are tense, we can be relaxed in our hearts and minds.
And we keep our own energy low by first looking at ourselves and calming ourselves and not adding to the fight even if a dog is not cooperating. The crazier the dog gets, the calmer we should be.
I covered many kinds of techniques to calm the dog and invite them to work with us. We discussed dog calming signals and they learned how to move toward a dog in steps or waves. For example, when we first step into
a kennel we stop and settle and let the dog settle. We may take another step or two and settle again. By keeping our energy low and using calming signals, the dog is more relaxed and willing to work with us.
And, of course, I introduced the Y pole, because every animal shelter in North America should know about the Y pole and use it for handling fearful dogs. You can read about this here on my blog or visit my Y Pole Webpage. MAS is excited to use this as a humane tool for reaching out to the fearful dogs in the kennels to handle them in a safe way or for working the aggressive dogs in a calm manner such as moving them out of a kennel through a kennel door (See our GWRFeralDogs YouTube Channel working with Raven).
At the end of the workshop we went into the kennels to practice humane handling with the dogs. I was very impressed with everyone’s willingness to practice, their desire to learn, and the kind manner they handled each animal.
Mr. Rogers and his staff see great potential for MAS. Please do whatever you can to support their vision. I am honored to be a part of their growth and will continue to support them.
For those who have or are still criticizing MAS I offer these comments:
If you want other people to handle animals in a compassionate way, be compassionate to them. If you wish for them to improve, then have a positive vision for their potential and help them move forward. Cruel and unkind words, judgment, and criticism are as violent as handling a dog in a cruel way.
I believe that every time we handle an animal we make the world either better or worse. If we are kind and compassionate we make the world a better place. And every time we interact with another person we make the world either better or worse. When we interact with the cashier at the store are we kind or rude? (or do we ignore them?). The most powerful way to make change is to do it in a kind, respectful and positive way.
My non-profit organization will continue to help shelters, spay/neuter programs, disaster responders and other animal welfare groups gather new tools, techniques, and attitudes to handle dogs in a humane, effective, and safe way. Dr. Mark