Body handling with our SideKicks - and regular practice of it - is something that's been on my brain a lot lately.
A recent visit to the vet with my SideKick, Ruby, was pretty eye-opening - to say the least. Getting vaccinations were difficult; drawing blood for testing was impossible; even listening to her heart and lungs with a stethoscope was not going to happen.
She wasn't comfortable in the environment; she wasn't comfortable with strangers touching her; and she wasn't comfortable with some of the weird stuff they wanted to do to her at the vet. I'll be frank; the vet visit was frustrating and overwhelming and even embarrassing - though the vet and vet technicians were all great and very accommodating.
This vet visit reminded me of a valuable lesson that I often teach to my clients: regular body handling is important.
Admittedly, some of our difficulty during the vet visit was because we were lax in our body handling practice since Ruby's last annual visit; but, there were also new things we found out we need to work on that we hadn't considered or practiced before.
What is body handling?
I couldn't honestly offer an official definition of what body handling would be; but, for the purposes of this blog post and for the purposes of conversations with my clients, I refer to body handling as activities that involve touching your SideKick or doing something to your SideKick. As you can imagine, this may encompass a lot of different activities.
In our house, there are a lot of activities that do or have been considered body handling with Ruby:
Application of skin ointments/oils (for allergies)
Paw touching and towel-wiping
Introducing, fitting, and wearing a new body harness
Application of monthly flea/tick treatment
Practicing vaccinations (with items similar to a needle)
Most of the time, I recommend against activities that mean you have to do something TO your SideKick. I always prefer that your SideKick have the opportunity to tell you they are uncomfortable with something by opting out of that activity; however, there are a lot of medical and grooming activities that simply need to be done; we and our SideKicks don't have the choice to opt out of those activities for the health and safety of our SideKicks, but we always have a choice in how we go about those activities.
The Importance of Body Handling
Dogs are not programmed to understand that a lot of these medical and grooming activities we do as humans are normal. And body handling can be frightening to a lot of dogs (particularly if done by strangers). Our SideKicks need to be taught that body handling is OK; in fact, I want us to teach our SideKicks that body handling is more than just OK - I want it to be rewarding!