Before I became a dog-walker at the RSPCA, I really thought I understood dogs. I was quite naieve to think that because I have had a family golden retriever dog all my life, it meant that I knew everything about dogs. It is not crucial to understand everything because there is a lot to know, but most certainly to understand your dog just like you would a friend. Being a dog-walker at the RSPCA has developed and expanded my doggy knowledge. Our canine buddies can be our best friend or biggest enemy if you want them to be. It is always about the owner, never about the dog! This especially applies to dogs at the centre. Dogs are not born as vicious, scared, nervous, and worried but their owners make them that wayI This is such an important point.
Now, a dog that has experienced years of awful abuse will be scared and on edge but if you really spend time sitting and being by their side even if it's through a kennel, then you can build up such amazing trust again that could be there for life. Unfortunately you get those dogs that you are unable to build trust back up with. It's devastating to think why they have such lack of trust with humans. What have they really been through? It's beyond sickening. I haven't experienced a case so bad yet...but I know it happens.
It is crucial to appreciate and recognise that it's alright to muzzle your dog! I had a view before I started dog-walking that muzzles were somewhat cruel for the dog or that a family with children couldn't take on a dog that has to wear a muzzle but quite the contrary. Some dogs are so incredible around humans but a bit unpredictable with other dogs, therefore muzzling them is the safest and best option. If people judge you or the dog for it, then that's their problem, you could potentially be saving lives! You also get those dogs that could be amazing around other dogs yet perhaps scared around certain humans. There are a couple of dogs at the centre who have had a negative history with a man so can be unpredictable around them. Now, I think this is more to do with a demeanour and how a person holds themselves. It is all about body language and approaching the dog correctly and calmly. Judgments and perceptions towards muzzling must be eliminated even towards smaller dogs. Muzzling isn't mean!
When I walk into a kennel, especially first thing in the morning, and a dog is going wild or barking because they are just so excited to be going for a walk, it can be like a military operation to get their lead on. One thing I have noticed which may seem obvious but not always easy to put into use is to carry treats! If you have a majorly excited dog pre-walk then keep close to them, prepare the lead; throw the treat down and bingo! It used to be an ordeal for me to get these bouncy dogs even out of their kennels, but now the lead operation seems to run much smoother when we work as a treaty team.
Another lesson to be learnt is approaching a dog with confidence. Again this may seem so obvious yet people don't understand how sensitive dogs are to body language and people's physicality. It is certainly no good to be too overbearing but knowing that you are in control. Befriend you dog but don't scare them away. Even saying in your head 'I am in control', can make all the difference to how you approach the dog.
Lastly, dogs are so easily distracted. When I am walking at the RSPCA with dogs who aren't so used to seeing birds, other dogs, traffic, etc then they can sometimes jump or start to bark quite a lot. Now, generally speaking dogs in kennels are much less used to seeing the outside world compared to domesticated dogs. I have developed a specialised technique of distraction to get the dogs focus back onto me! Sometimes you can appear a little crazy or mad but who cares as long as their attention reverts back to you then you are onto a winner! All you need to do is repeat their name in a high pitch, excited voice around ten times and their attention switches.
These ideas may not seem new but certainly a reminder from one doggy lover to the next from time to time does no harm. Getting the balance between being their leader and their friend isn't easy. But once you got it, it will become automatic and both your lives will be a serious treat!