Have you heard of the Dunning-Kruger Effect?
Do you know what you don’t know? What if you could find out what you don’t know?
We can be confident about the things we have experienced with. Things we know. And there’s always another tier of experience just over the horizon that we are not sure how to get to. What do we have to do to move to that next plateau?
The Dunning-Kruger Effect states that people with the minimal amount of training and experience think they’re much better than they actually are. And they also realize that they’re not quite as good as people who actually are good. They know that “better” exists but they aren’t even sure what it takes to be “better.” The DK effect suggests that there is an experiential learning curve to this awareness.
There is a phrase “little do they know how little they know.” It describes my journey as a massage therapist.
Here’s my story. When I finished human massage school I thought I knew how to give a good and thorough medical massage; and I did, in a perfunctory robotic way. I performed all the skills in the right order, chapter and verse, just as I was taught. Each session was essentially the same. A client would come in with muscle or joint tightness that needed to be resolved. They’d be in different orders of magnitude and different places; and with the massage I had learned, they were summarily dispatched. I was efficient and as effective as I thought I could be (DK). I hadn’t yet realized that massage had the potential for spectacular complexity. There are multiple ways to access and treat. There are multiple depths to every trauma. It took continuing education for my massage to become a high value event rather than a routine exercise like the massage of other similarly trained therapists’.
One afternoon I was trading practice sessions with another massage therapist. I was lying face down. She undraped one side of my body and using her forearm did a long slow deep stroke beginning on my ankle and moving all the way to my shoulder. Prior to that I had always massaged the body in sections. The shoulders were a section, then the back, then the hips, the legs, the ankles, the feet. This stroke connected the entire length of my body. It was a unifying stroke! It opened my eyes. It expanded my awareness to new possibilities. I felt conflicted. I felt thrilled to experience something new. I felt embarrassed that I had considered the massage I’d been giving to be professional and complete. I realized firsthand (pun) on several levels, how little I knew!
I soon discovered there were many other techniques that I could use to augment-and often replace-the Swedish massage I had learned. The approaches and techniques I gathered were from cultures all over world. They came together beautifully, integrating into a world-class service/product.
I had thought that I knew as much as I needed. The more I learned, the more I realized I didn’t know. There is more to know. And even more than that!
Soon, my clients were experiencing fresh, unexpected and unintended possibilities. Massage became transformative. This was the spiritual/life-affirming therapy I had dreamt of providing! Every session was exciting, fresh, fascinating, fulfilling, and for me, fun!
The DK application in the context of canine massage is that there are many people who feel that minimal training is all they need to perform at effective levels in massaging dogs. They believe that observing a session or two, watching a couple PetMassage YouTube videos, and reading one of my books is sufficient training for a professional level practice.
Au contraire, mon ami. Even the PetMassage Foundation Level Program is really just the beginning of your training. It’s very extensive. It covers everything you need to know to begin a career in canine massage. By definition it is the “foundation.” It’s the beginning; the fundamental content upon which you can then build your skills.
For those who’ve completed the Foundation Program and earned your Certification it is an accomplishment to be proud of. However, if you have completed the first level of training, there is the likelihood that perhaps you aren’t the expert you thought you might be. Like me, you thought you were good enough and knew as much as you needed. Now, like me, you realize there is more to canine massage than you know. This is where the Dunning-Kruger Effect comes in: With more experience, we get an inkling of what we don’t know. And that is a lot.
The next step is a big leap. Decide now to attend the PetMassage Advanced Level Program. This is the training program that reviews the fundamentals taught in the Foundation workshop and then expands your horizons; that shows you what you hadn’t known about, exists. It transports your level of canine massage to “better.”
This is the part where you tap your hands on your head, splay your fingers and as you pull them away, exclaim, “Whoa!”
Yes, there is some serious depth to the practice of canine massage. Please allow me the opportunity to:
- Be your instructor for your initial training in the PetMassage Foundation Level Program. foundation-level-program/
- Introduce you to and teach you to apply a range of canine massage skills you may not realize exist in the PetMassage Advanced Level
- Continue to help you mature as your practice evolves.
There are more ways than you know to achieve the practice and confidence you need to help more dogs, more dog owners, and yourself. Let’s work together to expand your canine massage skill set.
Please follow the [links] throughout the text or the following links to find out more about
- PetMassage Training https://petmassage.com/petmassage-workshops/petmassage-foundation-level-program/
- PetMassage Refresher Course https://petmassage.com/foundation-level-refresher/
- PetMassage Media https://petmassage.com/product-category/petmassage-media/
Massaging dogs at the Humane Society “Bark in the Park” event.
The above picture was pulled from this video. https://petmassage.com/wp-content/uploads/IMG_4659.TRIM_.mov
Last weekend the PetMassage School had a booth at a “Bark in the Park” summer fundraiser/ 5K race-walk for the Toledo Area Humane Society. The event was held in a grassy field adjacent to an outdoor mall. The field was busy and crowded. There were hundreds of dogs and their people. Many of the dogs brought their entire human pack.
We were one of dozens of vendors. There were activities for the dogs, obstacles to climb, tail wagging contests, soaking pools, treats everywhere and lots of other dogs. There were games for the kids, raffles, and lots of enthusiastic volunteers wearing bright green t-shirts. The weather that morning was spectacular. Random puffs of clouds drifted under bright blue skies and we were occasionally graced with just a hint of breeze.
Anastasia and I set up our tent with the PetMassage Training and Research Institute signage and a massage table. While we were setting up, the line began forming of people wanting to get mini-massages for their dogs at $1/minute. In the 2 1/2 hours we were there, I massaged more than a dozen dogs. Big dogs, little dogs, young dogs, old dogs. The booth next to us had a large wading tub; so we had another variation: dry dogs and dogs with wet paws.
The challenge for the dogs was processing all the distractions around them. The crowds, the other dogs, the pools, the movement, the cumulative energy, the ear-splitting loudspeakers with non-stop music and even louder announcements. Everything tugged at the dogs’ senses for attention. They could smell the treats from the pet food vendors, aromas from the food trucks, the grass, the humans, the Porto-potties, the markings of other dogs. Party!!!
Most of the canine massage sessions were 5 minutes long. In that time I wanted to demonstrate how valuable massage is to the dogs’ people and for the dogs, provide a quick, quality experience.
I didn’t have time to walk each dog to observe gait and demeanor. It was such a blurred rush, I didn’t even ask if there were specific issues they wanted me to address. My assessments needed to be intuitive and spontaneous; and, in the rapture of the moment, they were. My hands were instinctively drawn to the exact areas they needed to go. Time and time again amazed pet parents asked, “How did you know to massage there? That’s where he/she was injured/had a problem/had surgery/was weak or compromised.”
My sensory gates were open. My stream of awareness, flowing. Every dog shipped their oars, dipped their paws into their stream of life force, and observed the ripples as they drifted along. It was a canine massage portage party!!!
A boxer’s fascia had a threadiness along one side of his spine, that firmed. A tripod dog had muscles along the scapula that were bunched up from a lifetime of compensation, that softened. He’ d been injured in an auto accident when he was a puppy and one of his hind limbs had to be amputated. A little Shiba had an unusual hair pattern down the back of one of his forelegs, that fell back into balance.
There was a sweet Bernese Mountain Dog who as soon as we started, eased into spontaneous stillness. He stood, head down, savoring each and every touch. He was massive. It took two of us to hoist him onto the table.
A yellow lab made the whole crowd of onlookers laugh. After being assisted back onto the ground after her session, she kept jumping back up onto the table for more, more, more.
One memorable dog was the little tan puppy who was so distracted he reminded me of myself when I was little and taken to the circus (to enjoy-not drop off). Between all the distractions, in discreet moments, he paused, stared straight ahead, and accepted our shared connection. Something or someone moved and our connection splintered. His attention was diverted and he watched or smelled or thought about whatever had drawn him in. I could feel his energy coming and going in my hands. Leaving, pausing, considering, returning, connecting, and flitting away. I cannot judge. He had the attention span of a butterfly; and I went with him.
Ah, these shared moments in his young life were precious. With massage, I was able to facilitate him to get the most value of these moments. Together, we planted seeds. Created memories. The tiny course corrections he made in these moments will influence the rest of his life.
There, in the Bark in the Park, the puppy discovered catches of moments beyond time and space. Presence and stillness. Exquisite clarity. I felt it. His people felt it. And so did all the people around, watching and happily witnessing for him.
I encourage you to participate in your local dog events. Be a vendor. It’s always a rewarding experience for you, for dogs, and for their people. The only way people are going to recognize the value and accessibility of PetMassage is for you to show them. Put yourself out there and tell them, show them, and extoll the benefits. Support your local community. Give your community the opportunity to support you.
Want more ideas for marketing your canine massage business? Here’s the link [ https://petmassage.com/store/petmassage-creating-marketing-animal-massage-business-book/ ] to the book, “Creating and Marketing Your Canine Massage Business”
Thank you subscribers for taking the time to share your thoughts on my Dog Bite blogs. Here are some of the comments we received.
Thank you for this. Looking forward to next weeks. I find myself overly cautious/fearful at times after a very bad bite several years ago.
Tamarie P. (PetMassage Foundation and Advanced 2014)
Working in kennels, shelters, and doggie daycare I have been bitten multiple times. Most bites have occurred while breaking up dog fights. I found that petting known safe dogs is a good starting point. I am always shaky at first but the more strokes my hand does the more the fears start to dissipate. I also remind myself they are going through something that made them strike out. I then start feeling for the dog that bit me. When those feelings of “poor doggy” are entering my mind all the fear is gone. I always had to quickly be back with dogs so this method had me back to work immediately. Oh and breathe, do big deep calming belly breaths and feel the air moving throughout your body healing you. I exhale twice as long as I inhaled releasing the trauma. In with the butterflies and out with the bees.
Thanks for the excellent posts on dog bites & PTSD. Here are my thoughts as a graduate of another animal massage school & canine water therapy classes, & as a working stockdog handler (my Border Collies & I compete in sheep herding trials & help at a sheep farm & I also have Australian Shepherds.) If an Aussie snaps for whatever reason, people tend to conclude that it’s herding instinct, & sometimes it is, but not necessarily–as a training mentor impressed upon me, dogs don’t generalize, so nipping at a sheep’s hocks is different than a warning snap at a massage practitioner. And when my older Border Collie was younger & her breeder was doing a TV sheep herding demo & the TV cameraman stuck his big, scary camera in her face & she bit him, that wasn’t herding instinct; it was fear on dog’s part & poor judgment on the cameraman’s part. And then, to illustrate how irrationally emotionally people can react, her breeder was so angry at her for making her look bad on TV that for the next 6 months she witheld affection from this very loving dog. Afterwards, her breeder realized how irrational that was & felt terrible for having responded that way, but it was a very human response & I hate to think about how many people won’t work to rebuild their relationship with a dog who has bitten.
The one time I was bitten was when 2 of my dogs were fighting & I reached for their collars to pull them apart. I knew I was risking getting bitten & decided to anyway because although I’ve heard of other ways to break up a dog fight none of the trainers I know who recommend them have actually tried them, such as grabbing rear legs & backing both dogs up wheelbarrow style, but there was only one of me & 2 of them, & besides, grabbing hind legs seemed likely to make a dog turn around & bite the person grabbing. Both dogs were ok & my hand healed. Yes I was afraid they might fight again & that I might get bitten again, & time & focusing on building positive feelings between my dogs by feeding them treats around each other, walking them together etc. helped put my fears to rest, as did the fact that my dogs weren’t on edge around each other after the fight, so I worked on staying relaxed too, breathing & visualizing them getting along well together, which, happily, they did.
Reiki may also be very beneficial to recovery. A reiki treatment is great. Even better is learning level 1 where you learn self treatment. It’s also very beneficial to help one get quiet, focused and centered before giving a massage.
I have only been bitten once and I definitely learned from the experience. I missed a very subtle cue from the dog and since the foster saw it and told me, I was able to learn from my mistake. This helped me tremendously. I was very fortunate that the bite was not serious.
This was well written and detailed and yes I feel so responsible when my dog acts out and as you said dogs will be dogs. Look forward to part 2!
I really appreciate this post… I find myself since motherhood being overly fearful around the aggressive dogs I prided myself in being of service to… May be being pushed in a different niche as my energy is evolving..
I’d like to share I did a session with an Australian shepherd back in February on my table; he was a bit nervous but I saw a really positive response! I was not invited to continue treatment after that first session. I was visiting the other day with my son & I didnt even want to walk in the house! I felt like the dog (who is overly dominant) is not favorable of me as I put him out of his comfort zone.. I now am being guided to sell packages versus just one session.
Jonathan Rudinger/ PetMassage Instructor.
If you missed the two blogs we are referring to or would like to reread them, these and all my Helpful Hints are cashed on the website, www.PetMassage.com, https://petmassage.com/category/petmassage-blog/jonathans-helpful-hints/.
Please continue to share your experiences with me. Your story is important. Your words may enable others to overcome their fears. I’d especially like to learn about how you resolved the trauma of a dog bite and how you were able to move on and pursue your passion to help dogs practicing canine massage.
Dog Bites, Part 2. Resolving PTSD from dog bites.
Dog bites happen. Car accidents happen too; and we don’t stop driving. We’ve got places to go. So, we get back in the drivers seat and move on.
For people practicing canine massage, a dog bite need not end the journey – and a career you’ve trained for. Your commitment to helping dogs is stronger than that. The dog bites that I’ve gotten are lessons that I learned from, grew with, and still carry with me as the experience that makes my work more effective. The memories of bites remind me to be more mindful and careful.
If you work closely with dogs and you haven’t already been bitten, you will. As I said, dog bites happen. That’s one of the reasons I encourage people to massage dogs on tables. 1.) you are removing them from the floor, which is a space they think they own; and 2.) when you are standing you can react quicker and move away to safety.
Sometimes, the bites are inconsequential; in which case they are dealt with as minor inconveniences; and we continue on our path. Sometimes, the energy associated with memory of the trauma gets stuck. It gets mired so solidly in our neural fascia that we cannot move out of it. It paralyzed us. When we are held in its grip we cannot let it go. It won’t let us go. The memory and eminent reoccurrence of the trauma impacts every thought, every relationship, every aspect of our lives.
Dog attacks leave their victims with debilitating scars, both physical and psychological. The sound of dogs barking or even venturing outdoors can provoke fear and anxiety.
This is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD. Symptoms for PTSD may include nightmares or unwanted memories of the trauma, avoidance of situations that bring back memories of the trauma, heightened reactions, anxiety, or depressed mood.
These are the symptoms dog bite victims may experience:
Behavioral: agitation, irritability, hostility, hypervigilance, self-destructive behavior, or social isolation
Psychological: flashback, fear, severe anxiety, or mistrust
Mood: loss of interest or pleasure in activities (like being with dogs), guilt (because you define yourself as a dog caregiver), or loneliness
Sleep: insomnia or nightmares
Also common: emotional detachment or unwanted thoughts
The effects Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are devastating. When unfortunate events become part of our story, we need to be able to pick up the pieces and carry on ever after.
If you are suffering from a dog bite and are tormented with continued fears, nightmares, and difficulties handling difficult situations with life, call a grief counselor for a PTSD evaluation. There are tools that can help you recover from this trauma. You can regain the capacity to deal with the difficulties stemming from this very terrifying occurrence.
I asked a canine massage teaching colleague for her suggestions. She writes, “One thought I had re: the dog bite question, is to suggest Tapping/EFT as a healing modality to help dissipate the “charge” around that memory.”
Another canine massage practitioner offers these suggestions based on how she dealt with the aftermath of a dog bite.
- She received healing through an animal chiropractor friend who does energy workas well.
- She applied castor oil packs on the bite scar to aid in tissue repair, daily over a few weeks. TY, Edgar Casey.
- She took Bach Flower Remedies(she suggests Star of Bethlehem for emotional trauma, Mimulus and Aspen for fear of a known thing and general fear itself). Other remedies may also apply to a treatment bottle, depending on the person.
I personally appreciate and have found some limited success with tapping, flower essences, and essential oils. However, and I realized that this may not sit well with true believers, for me, I find that every time I go through the ritual of treating and applying whatever, I’m validating how impactful the memory of the trauma is on my thoughts and feelings. I’m replaying the tape and experiencing my emotional response to it. Daily treatment for me did not dissipate. It had the opposite affect. It reinforced the trauma. Every time I referred to the seed of the trauma I felt like I was burying it deeper into my emotional network. That’s a monkey memory I’m not feeding with my precious energy.
One suggestion is exposure to desensitize. It is the technique I used to desensitize my Arabian horse to fireworks, flags, and scary shiny things so we could participate in parades. The application for when you are stressing when you are around a certain breed, is spend as much time as necessary with “safe” dogs of the breed, -puppies, dogs with congenial personalities- until you get to the point where, when you massage them, your heart rate stays stable and your bile stays down in your stomach.
I spoke with my son-in-law, an engineer, who had another, highly logical, and insightful approach. He suggested that the victim remember the event while looking around and seeing that they are in a safe place. Then, recall the experience of remembering while in a safe place. Repeat and repeat. The memory of the trauma is still there but it is buffered with layers and layers of safety. The victim is enabled to function and move on.
I spoke with Cindy Baker, M.Ed., DCEP, Licensed School Psychologist, and Certified Energy Psychology Practitioner, a professional counselor who works with PTSD sufferers. She finds EFT and TTT highly effective in her practice. She became an enthusiastic proponent in EFT when, with 1 session, she was able to release her phobia about public speaking!
These are some therapies that are effective for the PTSD of dog bites.
EFT. Emotion Freedom Techniques is a very effective short term therapy used in helping people be free from the intense feelings of trauma. EFT is used to dissipate the charge associated with the traumatic memory so the associated emotions of distress are no longer triggered.
It is a safe, gentle and effective technique with over 100 evidence-based studies documenting its effectiveness. This research shows that EFT significantly reduces cortisol levels associated with stress and increases brain waves associated with relaxation. The Tapping turns off the body’s alarm system (stress response) which becomes triggered by cues which remind them of past traumatic experiences. EFT is simple to learn and easy to practice at home.
EFT can be wordless, in which the bodies intuitive wisdom chooses the correction; or we can use affirmative phrases along with tapping to specifically replace the phobic tapes. I asked Cindy what affirmations she would suggest for a dog bite victim? This was her response: “The phrases used in EFT are customized based upon the client’s emotions. I would guess that the dog bite victim would be fearful that he/she would get bitten again. So perhaps…Even though I fear getting bitten by this dog, I deeply and completely love and accept myself. Even though I worry about getting bitten every time I think about touching a pitbull (specify breed if it is a certain breed that triggers fear), I love and accept myself. Even though I become anxious any time I touch a pitbull, I choose to remain calm and centered.
“The following points are important for the technique to be effective: 1. Be specific. If it is the mouth of the dog that triggers fear, then state…’Even though I become anxious every time I see the lips of the pitbull tighten, I love and accept myself.’ Say this phrase 3 times while tapping on the karate chop point on side of hand. 2. Use a reminder phrase when tapping on specific other (acupressure) points. “This anxiety.” 3. Notice what comes up after a few rounds of tapping. Has emotion shifted? Have any other memories associated with the emotion of anxiety risen up? The emotions lead the way to the next step.”
Every coin has two sides; it can be helpful, with complete issue resolution happening like Cindy’s, spontaneously, with a single treatment, or it may take several sessions to disengage from the triggers. It’s also important to remember that you are delving into your most profound unconscious vulnerabilities. So, a word of caution: this and all the following therapies are safer and more effective when they are facilitated by a trained specialist.
TTT. Trauma Tapping Technique- Tapping without words. In this clip https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SSt8JjMKhz8 the developers of TTT describe how the families of victims of the genocides in Rwanda and Congo are being helped and spread tapping skills by teaching each other. Please take a few moments to watch the video. It’s a story of hope and trust in a place and circumstance where you’d least expect it!
EMDR. Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing is used also for Military Veterans and highly successful in freeing them from the intense trauma they have endured in war and used for auto accidents, dog bites, substance abuse, addictions and more!
EDMR is a powerful counseling technique which has been very successful in helping people who suffer from trauma, anxiety, panic, disturbing memories, post traumatic stress and many other emotional problems. Until recently, these conditions were difficult and time-consuming to treat. EMDR is considered a breakthrough technique because of its simplicity and the fact that it can bring quick and lasting relief for most types of emotional distress.
EMDR uses a technique called bilateral stimulation, (using right/left eye movement, or tactile stimulation), which repeatedly activates the opposite sides of the brain, releasing emotional experiences that are “trapped” in the nervous system. This assists the neurophysiological system (the basis of the mind/body connection) to free itself of blockages and reconnect itself.
The counselor works gently with the client and asks him/her to revisit the traumatic moment or incident, recalling feelings surrounding the experience, as well as any negative thoughts, feelings and memories. They then hold their fingers or a pen about eighteen inches from the clients face and begin to move them back and forth like a windshield wiper (this can also be accomplished through hand taping or alternating auditory sounds). The client tracks the movements as if watching ping pong. The more intensely the client focuses on the memory, the easier it becomes for the memory to come to life.
As quick and vibrant images arise during the therapy session, they are processed by the eye movements, resulting in painful feelings being exchanged for more peaceful, loving and resolved feelings. EMDR is the most effective and rapid method for healing PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) as shown by extensive scientific research studies.
This therapy protocol is especially effective for emotional problems or traumatic events that have taken place within the last three months. These would be Injury, Car Accidents or Work Related Accidents & Injuries, like dog bites. It also applies for people that Witness Violent Crimes / Have Relational Anxieties, Trouble Sleeping / Worrying / Phobias / Fears.
Rapid Resolution Therapy is a method of therapy that pinpoints and addresses an inner issue through clinical hypnosis. Similar to traditional hypnosis the counselor guides the client through their sub-conscious to find the root of their issues. Depending on the issue at hand the counselor will guide each client differently. Rapid Resolution Therapy is the quickest form of therapy for those trying to move on from traumatic events.
Somatic Release Therapy. Somatic simply means ‘having to do with the body.’ A somatic therapy of any kind is one the deals with the body. As a form of psychotherapy, somatic therapy is a way of affecting emotional changes via the body. Talk therapy is combined with mind-body exercises in a holistic approach to treating PTSD and other mental health issues. The theory of this type of somatic therapy is that our body’s natural response to a threat is extremely helpful for immediately dangerous experiences. However, the nervous system can become stuck in this state of tension, arousal, or shutdown. At this point, the nervous system remains in that state on a chronic basis.
The idea behind the somatic therapy used to deal with trauma is that traumas from the past caused instability in your autonomic nervous system. You may feel both emotional and physical effects of that instability. Psychologists use somatic therapy to get your ANS (Autonomic Nervous System) back into balance.
This is an important conversation. Dog bites happen. My hope is that the trauma of a dog bite will not thwart your ability and desire to massage dogs. You have so much to give. An isolated occurrence need not derail your entire train (of consciousness).
I appreciate all the Likes and Emojis you send on Facebook. This time, I’d really like to know what your thoughts are. It’s not just for me. Sharing your experience will help others.
- What have you done to recover from dog bites?
- What has worked for you and what hasn’t?
- What advice or encouragement can you give to others who are dealing with the stress induced by the trauma of a dog bite?
TY to contributors Cindy Baker, Monica Bernhoffer, Megan Ayrault, Kevin Macke, Anastasia Rudinger, the RVTs at MedVet Toledo Emergency Animal Clinic, and the dog trainers at Glass City K9 LLC, Toledo OH.
CTA: We emphasize safety and personal responsibility in our PetMassage workshops. We offer a home study course that addresses dog handling skills:
https://petmassage.com/store/confident-dog-handling-for-the-canine-massage-practitioner-petmassage-home-study-course/ Or, if you’d just like the video download: https://petmassage.com/store/confident-dog-handling-for-the-canine-massage-practitioner-petmassage-streaming-video-and-download/
Here is “Anastasia’s Affirmation” that aligns with this blog:
Even though I become anxious every time I see the lips of a dog tighten, I love and accept myself.
Thoughts on dog bites and how to recover from them. Part 1
A student writes, “I’ve been doing massages at our local shelter for over a year now . . . NO bites – a few signals that guided me toward not getting a dog out of his kennel, but no major problems.
“However, during the Christmas holiday, I was at my friends’ home, getting ready to leave. I had cuddled Etta, their female pittie, whom I had massaged several months back – and got the beloved pittie kisses – all was well. I was waiting by the back door to leave when the owner let the other 3 pits in. The intense high energy ignited Etta, who, in seconds, attacked and bit me 4 times before the owner could call her off. There was no warning, no chance to react. I treated my wounds and am fine, but I find myself not really fearing dogs, but being much more cautious and tentative when dealing with them.
“It would be helpful if you could suggest some exercises, some positive thoughts, etc. for dealing with a post-attack situation, as we’re all bound to have them at one point or another.”
This was my initial response to her: you learned a powerful and helpful lesson. We are not always the source for the dog’s behavior. Sometimes we are; but not always. Sometimes we are simply at the wrong place at the wrong time. You are correct noting that Etta was overcharged by the dynamics of the moment. It was probably not the first time. And, it wasn’t about you or anything you did.
This is an important conversation. Bite injuries are always a possibility for people who massage/assist dogs. The physical injury heals in a week. The emotional trauma of a bite can be devastating. It can last for years or forever.
Anastasia, my life and business partner, has always been a little stiff and hesitant around dogs. She was often intimidated by our first boxer and needed to be schooled in dog handling. It didn’t come naturally or easily to her. She’d been exercising her fear-the-dog muscles for 4 decades. She still backs away when she’s in the same room as a terrier. She gets so agitated when there are several dogs in the classroom that she has to leave, for fear of being caught in the middle of a dog fight. As part of the conversation we had while I was preparing this blog, she spoke for the first time with me about an incident that happened to her when she was 9-10 years old and on the way home from school. She had put her hand out to pet a friend’s dog and caught its teeth in the webbing between her thumb and pointer finger. It was a wound that never really healed. Her hand was fine. Her spirit was mauled. She was being friendly. She was coming from a place of joy and innocence. She did not understand, could not understand how, or why it happened. She was physically and emotionally violated.
I’ve met many adults who are still traumatized from childhood encounters with dogs. As adults they can intellectually understand how their body language and unintended actions were complicit and might have been the reasons for the attack. As adults they can be logical and rational. But when a dog passes by, they don’t respond as an adult; they revert to their emotionally injured child.
The legacy of fear is passed onto their children. Their kids beg them for a dog. They model their fears for their children. There will be no dogs allowed in this house! Hurt people hurt people.
I’ve met dog people, people that interact with lots of dogs, who are apprehensive around certain types of dogs. As part of my research for this paper I interviewed an RVT who works at an emergency animal clinic. Her words were telling. After talking about how everyone gets bitten occasionally and that they’ve learned to have at least two people in the room, and they sometimes use muzzles and e-collars, and that they deal with it and accept it as part of the job, she murmured “but I won’t have anything to do with huskies.”
So, she’d had toxic encounters with huskies. Her spirit carries the scars. The fear she projects is so profound that huskies smell it and act out because of it. I feared Chow Chows for many years because once, while on a walk, one attacked Oskar, my first boxer. For years, every time I saw purple on a tongue my heart would race, my eyes would dilate, and my throat would get tight. These are all signals that dogs recognize in prey.
Several years ago I was on a TV show in Ann Arbor, Michigan, demonstrating canine massage with a beautiful merle Australian Shepherd. Her eyes were intense; they tracked my every move. I was reaching my hand toward her paw when I caught sight of the flash of some very white and sharp teeth, snapping at my wrist. I was momentarily shocked. Nonplussed. And, in the same breath, I realized that her snapping at my hands was instinctive herding behavior, like nipping at sheep’s hocks. She was simply redirecting my movements. It was most effective. I understood. It is still redirecting my thoughts. Experience is a powerful teacher. I am always a little extra careful around herding dogs.
I’ve massage thousands of dogs and I’ve been tagged a few times. Teeth have found my hand, my nose, and my leg. As a loving, understanding dog person, I’ve always claimed responsibility for the event. Oh, I’m sure it was something I did that caused the bite. I leaned over too far. I didn’t give the dog enough space. I didn’t recognize the warning signs. The bite was my fault. My responsibility. My bad. If I’d done everything right it would not -could not- have happened.
As “responsible” dog people we feel we always have to take the ownership of the responsibility. “It’s not the dog,” we chant, “it’s us.” We want to believe that dogs operate in the spirit connected strata of perfect dog consciousness. Anastasia’s Affirmation #211
That’s not always the case. We’re not giving dogs enough credit. That’s us being arrogant and patronizing. We never know what’s going on in their minds. We might be doing something to trip a hardwired switch for a psychotic event. Then again, we can also accept that sometimes dogs lose it, too. Like children that scream, kick, and throw things, dogs don’t always think first. They overreact, get into fights, and occasionally make bad choices.
Dogs are not reactive robots. They are dogs. They think like dogs. It is the combination of thoughts going on in their minds that are the triggers for their attacks. Their own internal wiring gets crossed, sparks, short circuits, and flash-flares. That is what caused the bite. It wasn’t because our shoulders were not turned at the correct angle. It isn’t always because of us and what we are doing. They experience moments of silly, of clumsy, of irrationality, of crazy. They are like us; they do things they later regret.
Bites happen. It’s like lightning. It strikes and it’s not because of anything we did or didn’t do.
I interviewed a couple of dog trainers and dog handler instructors. They talked about the skills to avoid the bite. When pressed about how they process having been bitten, they admitted that it was a situation that they just dealt with and moved on. The most important point, they emphasized, was to not get angry at the dog or blame the dog. You can get angry at the experience. That’s healthy. Anger is an essential element in the stages of grieving and part of recovery of working through PTSD.
Next week: Resolving PTSD from dog bites.
We emphasize safety and personal responsibility in our PetMassage workshops. We offer a home study course that addresses dog handling skills:
https://petmassage.com/store/confident-dog-handling-for-the-canine-massage-practitioner-petmassage-home-study-course/ Or, if you’d just like the video download: https://petmassage.com/store/confident-dog-handling-for-the-canine-massage-practitioner-petmassage-streaming-video-and-download/
Here is the link to “Anastasia’s Affirmation”: Just like me, dogs are working through their issues. I am aware. I am safe.
Here is the link to “Jonathan’s Helpful Hints Blog’: Thoughts on dog bites and how to recover from them. Part 1