From my experience, dogs have varying sensitivities to human touch. I say this after almost 40 years of handling between 20 and 30,000 dogs. Some dogs don’t like being petted. Some dogs don’t seek physical affection (I owned one for almost 15 years).
I was at a dog park the other night with a 45 pound ABD (American Black Dog). It had the typical medium–length, all black coat and built like a border collie. A couple of weeks ago he pulled his owner off her feet while going after his favorite target—’little white dogs’. He gave no warning before he lunged.
Pavlov is a name well known in the field of psychology but almost nothing about his work is known. At best, you may know that his most famous experiment was to ring a bell and then give a dog a piece of food. He traced the physiological reflexes associated with food – salivation, reduction in heart rate, etc.
Many of your clients need training services and ask you to help them find a qualified trainer. Trainers that come to your salon may solicit that kind of recommendation. They will undoubtedly sell themselves in the best light possible – an understandable and normal thing to do. This is where it gets interesting.
The last 30 years of dog training lore revolves around the connection between wolves and dogs. You can buy 100 books that prattle about dogs being descended from wolves; animals that voluntarily live in groups, called packs. This perspective invariably assumes that dogs are likewise “pack animals”. The underlying implication is that dogs possess the same wolf-like ability to live in harmony with their own kind.
There is nothing worse in a full day of grooming than being bitten by a client’s dog. Having to deal with dogs that do not enjoy grooming is par for the course but being bitten is oftentimes rare, painful, and can set you back for hours, if not days.
As groomers, I feel like we are excellent animal wranglers. Collectively, we’ve managed to get more things done to dogs in the name of hygiene than anyone else.
Barking is a problem for just about everyone other than New Zealand shepherds. They use “Huntaway” dogs to drive sheep with incessant barking. For them it is functional. For the rest of us it is problematic. People can be driven from their apartments or condos because their dogs bark incessantly. Shelters have trouble featuring adoptable animals because they cannot hear amid barking dogs. OSHA noise level standards require kennel workers to use hearing protection.
Training for veterinary care, grooming, and handling procedures can greatly reduce stress, and make the job easier for all involved. Target training is widely used in zoos, aquariums, and with domesticated animals of all species. Animals can learn to hold their nose to a target while having blood drawn, and during other veterinary procedures.
As all experienced dog trainers and behavioral specialists will tell you, when dealing with behavioral challenges, you must address their root causes if you realistically expect to eliminate or reduce the actual behavior. This is relevant for groomers.
Dogs who try to bite you are typically doing so for two—possibly three —reasons:
About ten years ago I worked on an artificial intelligence project at MIT. One of my first experiences there was to stand in a small room full of all kinds of devices. The professor that invited me to participate handed me a music conductor’s baton and asked me to move it in any repetitive way – side to side, up and down or circles.
One of the blessings of dog behavior is that you can change it. One of the curses of dog behavior is that it can change.
For instance, I was working with a dog yesterday who gets violent if you try to groom his rear end. He is remarkably like Bear, the Mini Schnauzer I recalled in a previous column. If you try to touch this dog’s rear end, he’ll bite you. We have made great progress with this little guy and decided it was time to go to the groomer to test our progress.
Most people think that Darwin created the phrase “Survival of the Fittest.” He didn’t. Darwin himself attributed the phrase to Herbert Spencer. Darwin’s encapsulation of evolution is slightly different:
“In the struggle for survival, the fittest win out at the expense of their rivals because they succeed in adapting themselves best to their environment.”
I work with a number of rescue groups that have a continuing problem. They have dogs that bite people. Sometimes the biting is only a matter of territoriality. The dog goes ballistic when guests come to the house. Sometimes it’s resource guarding. If it is front-door aggression the easy solution is to simply confine the dog when guests arrive.
Of all the disconnects between dog owners and their dogs, the biggest, most glaring, completely illogical, widely held and damaging myth is that dogs can be spiteful. Nope. Nada. Nicht. Ain’t happening. To understand my adamant belief that doggie spite doesn’t happen, conduct this simple experiment based on actual events.
Problem Solving Made Simple
Professional groomers sometimes find themselves in a similar quandary as veterinarians. You are not experts in behavior, but some of your customers will wind up re-homing their dogs if they are unable to solve behavioral challenges. This has the potential to negatively impact your business.
Somewhere, deep within the bowels of my computer is a nifty little pinball game. It is a tribute to the software designers, who have created a marvelous simulation of the real thing. Two of the keys on the keyboard activate the flippers, and two more act to “nudge” the table.
Of all the people in a dog’s life, a groomer sees them more than anyone outside of family. Additionally, groomers have dog-savvy that many vets, vet techs, trainers, and rescue people don’t. That means, with your knowledge, you are the perfect person to make sure a dog lives a long, healthy, happy life.