Guest-article written by John Woods, a member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and editor
Being in a new, or different, environment can often be a source of worry for us humans, never mind dogs. Being in day care or a kennel setting can be exciting for some dogs, for others it can be their worst nightmare.
But how do we know? Dogs don’t speak! We watch them closely! It’s a dog’s behavior and body language which lets us know.
Here I have put together my top 5 top tips for kennel technicians when working with dogs.
Most of you will have heard of the age-old way to approach dogs. You should approach at a slow walking page without making any overly loud sounds and put your hand out for Fido to smell (it’s often modified to an open palm). Depending upon how the dog is feeling will depend on their response:
If Fido is feeling stressed enough to not engage with you, he will already be on high alert. He could see your hand as a threat. If he doesn’t attempt to nip at you, he will at least retreat even further away from you.
Dogs who are happy and excited will have likely already jumped all over you or at least engaged with you in some way.
If you have a nervous dog who doesn’t want to engage, that’s fine too. Ignore him. Be calm in the same area. You may want to throw some treats on the floor around you to entice him. Allow him to come to you. It really is that simple. Once he’s figured out, you’re actually OK, he’ll probably never leave your side.
Watch Their Body Language
Another great tip for kennel workers is to understand some basic dog body language. Dog’s can’t speak, but they do tell us how they’re feeling. We just need to watch their body language:
A stiff body with a rigid tail – he’s highly aroused at something. This may not end well. He needs to be removed from the situation until he’s calmer.
Soft, relaxed and fluid movements – he’s pretty chilled out and happy with the situation.
Panting excessively - unless he’s just been running around outside, he’s stressed. He needs to be removed from the situation so he can calm down.
Excessive yawing is a sign of stress too.
Snarling or “smiling” is a fear response; whatever is happening needs to stop
Ideally, you want dogs to be soft in body, soft eyes, wagging tails and have fluid movement. Any tentative movements like skulking tell you something isn’t right.
Learning about dog body language is your best skill in avoiding any potential disasters.
Not only is their body language a true give away, so is their behavior.
Is a dog spending a large amount of time retreating or hiding away by isolating themselves? They are likely stressed or fearful!
On the other side of this scale, you should also be mindful of that super-aroused dog. He may be running around. Now many dog breeds are high energy, the poodle for example, but, in this situation, the dog would seem even more aroused than usual. Their stress levels are high, and they just don’t know what to do with themselves. In this situation, you could introduce some brain games and work on impulse control in a calm environment in an attempt to bring their arousal levels back down.
Interestingly, this is a common response to jealousy, and as a kennel technician, you will be sharing your attention between many dogs.
Watch for Signs of Illness
Working across many kennels and dogs, along with avoiding potential disastrous interactions between dogs, you need to ensure that all dogs on your premises are healthy – for their own benefit and for infection control.
You will soon know the energy levels of the dogs in your care, watch for signs of lethargy or fatigue.
Monitor how much they are drinking. Also, watch them when they are toileting. Are they urinating more than usual? Is it normal in color? How are their stools?
You should have an infection control procedure in place which would advise appropriate steps to take in this instance. But your first action should always be to isolate the sick dog until you establish what to do next.
Classifying Dog Behavior
In general, when we are observing abnormal behavior in dogs, it can be helpful to classify the behavior, so we know what we’re dealing with and how much risk is posed to themselves and others. There are three main categories I use when assessing a dog’s behavior:
Aggression (Fear, play, inter-dog and predatory)
Barking, snarling, lunging, biting, nipping, growling and body rigidity.
Lunging and barking
Pining, whining, barking, crying, urinating, defecating, chewing, digging
Remember, the aim of any kennel technician or daycare attendant is to keep the dogs in their care, safe and healthy. I hope my 5 tips will help you do that.
Article written by John Woods a member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and editor at All Things Dogs.