Do no harm as a pet care professional

As a groomer and trainer I have been called up twice in the last month to provide solutions to pet owners whose dogs have been adversely affected by another pet care professional. This blog is a call to all pet care professionals to ask them to check if how they interact with the dogs they are washing takes account of issues with that dog that they might be adversely affecting.

Case 1: Sookie – Belgian Shepherd Cross rescued and rehoused from a local shelter.

I have been working with Sookie now for over a year. Tom, her owner. first approached me to train his rescued bully breed cross Tigger. Durning those sessions he decided to also adopt Sookie. The rescue centre used is privately run and performs very little behaviour analysis on the dogs they place. Consequently Sookie turned out to be a very large dog that is reactive to people and objects, most noticably the neighbour and his ride on mower. Her underlying personality type is fearful. When scared Sookie takes on the fearful object or person and does not back off.

Arriving for our monthly training session with the two dogs a couple of weeks ago Tom proceeded to ask my advice about an incident that had occured about an hour earlier. He had booked a new local mobile dog wash service to wash both dogs. When the male and female operators arrived he thoughfully told them that Sookie had a few issues and that they needed to be careful about how they handled her.

Tom had Sookie on a very strong lead and was dismayed to see the male operator approach front on and then crouch over Sookie. In a great display of bite inhibition Sookie launched at this threat and muzzle punched him on the side of his jaw. A muzzle punch is when a dog, with a closed mouth uses the size and weight of its muzzle to remove the person or other dog from its area in a  distance increasing behaviour. Because the dog does not bite but has a closed muzzle they are considered to have excellent bite inhibition. Many other dogs would do this but inflict a serious bite to the face of the person. The mobile hydrobath operator demonstrated a clear lack of understanding of canine body language.
Approaching a strange dog head on is a big no no, as is bending over them and attempting to pat. Doing this after you have been warned the dog is not comfortable with strangers is asking to be hurt. Luckily the owner has been well educated in canine body language. Tom told me that he saw Sookie tense, her tail go down and knew a lunge was coming. Holding onto the lead he was able to prevent her from putting her full weight into the muzzle punch, otherwise the dog groomer would more than likely have ended up in hospital with a factured jaw.

Case 2: Puppy Mixed breed rescued from roaming the streets at Nambucca Heads where she was nominally owned by someone.

Puppy presented as a scared, lacking in human connection large mixed breed dog. The owners had  adopted her and thus removed her from her life roaming the streets at Nambucca Heads. About half way through our six week initial training course she reacted very badly at the start of one session when I put my hand down  on her rear end. She had never had this issue before. Questioning the owners revealed they had engaged a local dog wash service a couple of days earlier to give her what they thought was a nice wash.

The service was a mobile hydrobath located on the back of a trailer and was manned by a young girl. She insisted that the owners could not stay while she washed the dogs. Puppy was uncomfortable with going into the trailer and upon being returned to the owners was clearly traumatised and unhappy with any touching of her rear back. It is not possible to know exactly what happened during that wash but clearly the operator had no understanding that the dog they were washing was under extreme stress. My guess is they fought with this dog in the wash and in the process she strained a muscle or muscles.

After this episode the owners contacted me last week and asked if I would bring out my mobile van and wash puppy. I pulled up, connected the power and they walked a very happy puppy up to the front of the house. She greeted me happily and was fine until I took the lead and indicated I was walking towards the van. With a loose lead and carm manner I walked her towards the van encouraged her inside and into the bath. She was not entirely relaxed but did coperate. The issue came when the water was turned on. Clearly she had a phobia of running water and/or hoses. Had I have not recognised this and modified my technique she would have clean jumped right over my head to avoid what she found horrifying. With modified techniques in place to wash this dog the procedure was completed and she managed to relax the second time the water was turned on and eventually existed the van washed but not traumatised.

The point of this story is two fold. If you are a pet care professional you have a duty of care to learn about canine body language and to wash or clip dogs in a way that does no harm. Owners have the right to expect that you are a trained professional who can recognise stress in their dog and modify the way you go about your work. If you are a pet owner and you think your dog has been adversely affected by a pet care professional then speak up, let that service know what has happened and find a way to ensure it does not happen again. The biggest red flag is an operator who insists you can not watch while your dog is handled. If in doubt refuse the service.


Louise Kerr The Pet Care Magician  |

Louise Kerr (aka The Pet Care Magician) is the owner of Elite Pet Care & Education based in the Nambucca Valley NSW Australia. She consults and writes widely on a range of pet care issues including feeding, training and grooming dogs and cats. Her online pet care magic subscription program deals with common pet behavior, training, feeding and grooming issues such as barking, escaping, scratching, aggression and fleas. Pet care professionals are trained to handle customer issues by the provision of up to date programs to differentiate their pet care business from other competitors.


Posted on November 4, 2012, in Behaviour, Dog Training, Health, Mobile & Salon Groomers, Pet Care Businesses, Training and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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