Acceptable Animal Handling: Advocate For The Animals
By Khris Berry
When that relationship goes afoul, the entire industry pays the price. It is the responsibility of every single professional who chooses to work with a pet to self–police and commit to the protection of that pet when in their care.
Animals have no voice; we are their only resource for safe and professional treatment. Anyone who has ever trimmed a Pug’s nails will contest that even the most patient professional can be tested at times. As a pet service provider, you must determine when an animal has been pushed to their limit of mental and physical safety.
“Step away from the Shih Tzu.” If you have never heard these words, you may not have an Animal Advocacy program in place in your facility. Often, a person standing by can better monitor the pet’s respiration and physical condition than one who is actually performing the service. If your establishment provides grooming services for hard–to–handle pets, elderly, or special needs pets you may consider introducing an Animal Advocacy program so that each animal has a representative to oversee their needs during a difficult service.
In the Pet Boarding and Daycare field, you are often tasked with handling an animal who is fearful or reactive. Responsible Animal Advocacy programs would address how these animals are handled with compassion; a behavior–oriented solution to remove fear response. And someone should be appointed who would be qualified to handle reactive pets.
Another factor that may contribute to rough or abusive handling by the pet professional is the mental, physical, or emotional state of the person who is providing the service. Pet service professionals need to provide for their own mental state and self–care. Overworked, overtired, and stressed Caretakers are a recipe for problem handling.
Kennel and Daycare attendants, management, groomers and other staff should have open and authentic conversations about their feelings and ability to handle difficult pets. Networking with other pet service providers, finding avenues outside of the workplace to vent, and learning to leave your work at the “office” are all techniques which many pet professionals find helpful in finding an acceptable work/life balance. Like many careers which elicit an emotional response from the person providing the care, pet service providers must likewise ensure that they are keeping their own emotional tanks on full.
At this point, you may be wondering about the highly aggressive Cockapoo who tried to eat your hands yesterday, or thinking of the little Terrier who wagged his tail before trying to personally remove your flesh with his teeth—yes, even those pets deserve a voice. That voice may tell their owners to seek sedation grooming or the help of a training professional before trying your services again, but there is a fit for every dog with special needs.
Becoming familiar with basic and advanced canine behaviors—beyond the traditional sit, down, and stay—may interest the Daycare attendant who finds that they enjoy the challenge of working with traditionally difficult pets. Learn to head off and address problem behaviors by seeking education on canine body cues and handling techniques designed to cater to the needs of the aggressive pet. By applying appropriate handling techniques, many problem behaviors can be modified and improved over time. There are many resources readily available which offer techniques that can be easily incorporated into a work setting.
A common handling misstep taken by many pet professionals is not utilizing the range of tools they are provided. There are many devices designed for the safety of both pet and handler or groomer during the service process. The proper use and application of tools such as muzzles, slings, hammocks, and restraints can be a valuable asset in keeping everyone safe and calm during a stressful interaction. When a pet professional feels overwhelmed, a break to regroup and assess the situation will allow you to make certain that you use your available resources before tragedy or mishap strikes.
Practice calm, quiet confidence. This tip is often overlooked due to its simplicity. Raised voices and frantic movements do not instill a sense of comfort on the animal—particularly if you are dealing with a stressed or frightened pet. Dictate the tone and pace of the interaction. This technique allows the pet professional to either move as quickly or slowly as he/she deems necessary to be safe and calm, which is not an easy feat at times when the client is demanding their dog be finished quickly, or when you have dozens of dogs to move to the daycare yard. But having open and frank conversations with pet owners will allow them to understand that you, the pet professional, have their pet’s best interest and outcome in mind.
Finally, demand a zero tolerance policy from your facility and co-workers. Frank discussions about acceptable and unacceptable limits are a necessary evil. The results will create an environment which allows all pets protection during their interactions with staff. Your clients and their pets deserve it and today’s culture and industry demands it.