In February my dentist sold the practice, my hygienist left, and I had the single worst dental cleanings I have ever had. I couldn’t eat comfortably for multiple days. I considered moving to a different practice but decided to give them one more try (we all have a rough day, right!?!?!).
I arrived early to use the complimentary preloaded disposable toothbrushes they always have. No toothbrushes. I’m thinking I am going to have that horrible hygienist again so I think, “Well, then, she can just deal with stinky coffee breath” (perhaps not my finest hour). Oh sure, you’ve ever had a really bad experience you’ve considered eating garlic for lunch just before a cleaning.
I was relieved that Hygienist from Hell wasn’t there (she apparently didn’t last, huge surprise) and I got to meet Kim. She introduced herself, showed me to the room where we were going to work together. That’s right the room where we work together! Kim and I work together to get my teeth cleaned. I know, weird way to think about it, right?!?! Kim asked if I had any discomfort after my last cleaning. I politely explained just how bad it was, that I had considered not coming back. I don’t think I am particularly sensitive about cleanings but that the treatment I received at my last visit was beyond the pale.
What did Kim do? She listened. As we worked together to get my teeth cleaned (the Dentist said they look great) she talked me through what she was doing, asked me if I needed breaks, and took her time. She told me, when I was thanking her, and apologizing for my coffee breath, that she watches the patient for signs of discomfort. This helps her to do her job better and to mitigate pain. Kim and I learned things about one another today. I made a follow-up appointment for next year, with Kim.
Kim’s choice to ask, listen to my responses and then adjust her actions kept me at the practice. My teeth are clean, and only slightly sore. Oh… and she moved the “complimentary” toothbrushes from where they were hidden in a cabinet, back onto the counter.
Okay dog trainer, what does that have to do with my dog? Well, think about veterinary care, grooming or any other of the discomforts our dogs experience. We have a tendency, as humans, to just usurp our dogs’ authority. We tend to not ask our dogs, “How is this for you?” It’s not that anyone is a jerk, we just don’t know that we should wonder how experiences are for our dogs.
I just received a bite call. As the gentleman was walking me through the two bite incidents his family has had today, I hear warning signs all over the place: A recent move from the city to the country, quick walks to potty on leash vs a fenced yard, middle-aged dog, changes in routine, and the kiddo home for the summer (starting to mature and smell differently too). Now add it’s the Independence Day holiday. It’s unseasonably hot. When the family moved, they stopped using the dog’s crate. Are you starting to see all these stressors adding up? The bites were“polite”, no damage. I am not saying it’s okay that the dog has bitten. Please be clear on that point. I am not excusing behavior, what I am saying is that dogs don’t lie in bed plotting against us. It is the incredibly rare bite that we can’t predict with the benefit of hindsight.
We are susceptible to “trigger stacking” and so are our dogs. Stressors will stack on top of one another and the impact will be cumulative. Your dog has a scare outside (trash truck) then comes inside and chews on a bone and bites its inner cheek, then when heading outside he runs and jumps down from the deck to the yard and jars himself, then he yells at deer in the yard then comes in and you are vacuuming. The impacts of these many small stressors stack on top of one another. Just like us, sometimes the dog “cracks” under the pressure.
As life goes on, if our dogs’ stress is dismissed or ignored, their responses must get “bigger” to be heard, an escalation. Just like us!
Where does that leave us? When are interacting with a dog, observe and take breaks, try to answer the question, “How is this for the dog?” Petting is a good example. One thing we teach kids, “pet, pet, pet” (collar toward tail) then “pause, pause, pause” (hands off). What does the dog say? More (moving closer, a nuzzle,etc.)? Meh (just stands there, lip lick, no motion toward you)? Thanks, I’m done (moving away, shaking off, etc.)? Simply asking our dogs and listening to their answers, following their lead a bit, giving them a bit more of a say in how things go, is huge. I am not saying dogs should never be stressed, nor am I saying to let them run the house. When your dog is stressed by something that you need him to do (toenail cutting) take the time to help the dog be comfortable. Wrestling him to the ground and pinning him won’t make it easier next time. It won’t make him trust you more.
“Be like Kim”. Be curious about your dog’s experience and adjust to help your dog be successful. He isn’t going to like everything any more than you are. Kim hurt me a little bit. She stopped and I extended grace to her because she cared enough to want to know how the experience was for me… and your dog does the same thing, tolerant creatures that they are. Be like Kim. Be curious.