Dr. Mark Teaches for HSU at Memphis Animal Shelter

Dr. Mark Demonstrating Scruff

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. Continue reading

One Step at a Time – A Testimony from an ACO

I recently received the following wonderful email from an ACO who took my course in Massachusetts last month.

“I just wanted to tell you that last night I used the “quiet” technique you taught
us in class. Unfortunately I couldn’t use the Y pole as the dog could have bolted (not fenced in) and with the way he looked, I wasn’t sure if he was rabid or not, or just really terrified. Anyway, I approached him one step at a time letting him settle each time I moved. He never stopped growling and I never took my eyes off of him. I used the catch pole in the same manner as the Y pole, carrying it low to the ground. When I finally got close enough to use the catch pole the dog was calm, I was calm, the audience just watched (LOL) and I quietly slid the noose over his head and tightened it just enough not to lose the dog. When I realized he was just terrified, I patted his head, scratched his ear and put my lead over his head patted him again and I took the catch pole off. It really was the most awesome experience and I really didn’t care how long it took me to get him. The folks thought I was scared of him and I informed them that I just didn’t want him stressed out any more than he was. The dog jumped into my truck and his mom found him this morning. I really want to thank you for all you do for the dogs and for training all of us. It really did help last night………your voice was reminding me to take that deep breath and be calm…..it really worked.  I thank you, Niko (the German Shepherd) thanks you. Nicest catching experience I’ve had since I started this job.”
Tracy Root, Southwick MA ACO

What a great story!  I asked her in a following letter: “Tracy, I see you as a very kind and caring person. And you are obviously a very experienced ACO.  Why is this a new approach?  Have you not always handled dogs this way?”

Tracy responded, “As for why its new…..the classic case of “needing to get it done NOW” syndrome. I’ve always tried to be slow, caring and just let the animal chill, but most the time we have that homeowner or driver acting like your “imposing” on them by taking that extra time. Since your class, I’ve decided the human can wait, the animal is my first and most important reason for being there and if it takes me 30 mins or more to collect the animal, and the animal is calm and relaxed then I have a much nicer, happier animal and call that I just finished. Hey, at my age I’ll never stop learning! Lots of “new” in my life of working with the animals. Patients had gotten pushed aside. I had forgotten how to tune out the rushed world until your course……now its back and its not going anywhere again. I see so much calm in the animals and myself now. Very experienced??? Not really, I’ve only been an ACO for 4 years…………just love my animals and want to do the best for them.“

Tracy, it is great that you used the catch pole in the same way you would use the Y pole.  It clarifies to me that what I am striving to teach is not just the tool (the Y pole) but the calm and compassionate approach for all situations.  Thank you.  Dr. Mark

Is There a Feral Dog in the US?

Dogs Owning the Neighborhood in the Caribbean

I often talk about capturing and handling “feral” dogs and people question how useful my information or methods are for dogs in the U.S.  Some people even suggest there are no feral dogs in the States.  I don’t agree with the last suggestion, since there are many places with free-ranging dogs (yes, often running in packs) who have never had owners and have rarely been touched.    But I do agree that the name “feral” can be distracting.

Thank you for sharing your doubts and challenges!  Please send more so I can learn from you.

I use the word “feral” a lot because most of my learning and experience has been with feral street dogs I have handled around the world.  I believe they give me the purest examples for learning how to work with fearful dogs.  But all of the methods and mannerisms I have learned also apply to every dog I handle.

For the record, my capture and handling training is for working with any dog which does not walk up to you for affection or hop into your truck.   Some are fractious (simply uncooperative) but some are simply shy.  Some are truly aggressive, but most of these are motivated by fear.   When I consult for trap/neuter/release programs around the world, we are usually talking about feral dogs and “community” dogs but all of them can demonstrate any of the behaviors.  I am probably as clear as mud now.

And as I talk about techniques and equipment, there will always be an underlying theme of care, honor, and respect for every animal and every colleague.  Continue reading

Honoring Animal Control Professionals

In this blog, I am continuously exploring and suggesting new approaches to capturing and handling dogs.  The most proficient individuals who do this are animal control officers and I wish to make it very clear that I honor their skills, knowledge, and experience.

Rescuing Dogs After Hurricane Katrina

It is common around the world for the village or city or regional animal control to hire the poorest, least educated dog catchers to do what is perceived as the dirty work.   There is no sense of humane treatment or animal protection.  And  in some countries, especially where rabies is endemic and dogs run the streets, there is a bounty for people to bring in as many dead dogs as they can.  I have seen photos of a motor scooter with 5 dead dogs piled across the front and back.

Here in North America, the National Animal Control Association and state ACAs have developed strong professional programs “to define and promote professionalism in the animal protection care and humane law enforcement field by providing quality services, education, training, and support.” (from NACA Mission Statement)  I believe they have developed the highest standards in the world and fortunately their achievements are improving the standards in other nations. Continue reading