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Learning to Listen to Whispers

15/09/2020 - Fearful Dogs

Do you want to know a secret?


I am terrified of dentists.


Just like for many of our fearful dogs, my fear stems from an incident in my younger life. 


I just hate going, put it off, and my body is so tense in that dentist chair.


Well, a while back, when a dental emergency had me at a new practice with a dentist that just relaxed me and eased my fear.


Before she even started, she told me we had as long as I needed. She advised me that, at any time I wanted to stop, I just needed to raise my hand and they would stop immediately. She then talked to me the whole way through, letting me know exactly what she was about to do.


My body visibly relaxed and for the first time ever in a dentist chair, my hands were not clenched tight. I even made a booking on my way out! 


I was singing Hallelujah and dancing! This dentist was using the same techniques i use when working with a fearful dog. She gave me a choice to participate or not and she always let me know what she was about to do. If you are a client of mine you may have heard me talk about this experience.


However, I’m sorry to say, our relationship has soured. I had a visit recently that undid all her good work and it’s so relevant to our training with fearful dogs I feel I must share it. 


I was almost relaxed going in, and our consult started like the others - any time I wanted to stop, just raise my hand and she again talked about what she was doing.


Then... it happened.


Pain. I tolerated for a little while, but then I put my hand up to stop - the first time I had needed to. She kept going. I moved my head to get her attention. She stopped. She asked me to next time raise my hand, I said I did.... she apologised... she didn’t see it. She asked the nurse to watch out for it. 


Too late, the damage was done. That visit was horrendous, I was jumpy, I was anticipating pain, I made her work harder I know. It was not pleasant for anyone. But she had broken my trust.


I had a follow up this week. Still not good.as I settled into the chair I said to myself “If she hurts me I’m raising my hand right up to her face’. That shocked me.


Just like a dog, I had asked her to stop using the method I’d learnt, when it didn’t work, I had to escalate. It also ruined all the trust we had built up. 


We don’t only need to teach our dog how to let us know they are worried, we need to make sure we listen and take action.


We need to keep our promises.


And ... my favourite quote from Chirag Patel


“If we listen to their whispers then they don’t need to shout”