Recently I was asked by a journalist to answer questions related to purchasing pet management tools specifically hair removal products. In answering the questions I paused to put my ANZO THINKING cap on, to try and take the position from the animals perspective which, of course, is so difficult to do because we experience the world differently, from different sensory perceptions. So often we purchase products based on our own needs and experiences overlooking the pet animals needs.
Over the years I’ve found it best to evaluate products from the perspective of the pet in the home. Regardless of the product I buy for my own pets and recommend to clients, my main objective is to consider the species unique sensory perception, their “umwelt”, and individual learning history, including past learned experiences. A dogs most important faculties are olfaction (smell) and audition (hearing). Compared to us they literally have super sonic smelling, hearing and some some breeds better visual powers. As individuals, they may have been born or had experiences that changed their level of sensitivity.
Considering where we remove the hair matters and how we introduce the product is critical since, if we do so too quickly and abruptly we’ll end up sensitizing (scaring) them away. Slow and steady introductions are best where we allow the pet to investigate on their own. Remember first impressions? They are important because they have lasting impressions. We are always aiming to help the animal learn they are safe and to maintain trust in our intentions. Positive associations with new products and allowing the animal to opt out of an engagement if they wish help with gaining trust. Don’t you feel better when you’re a willing participant in an engagement rather than forced or intimidated? Depending on where I plan to remove pet hair from also makes all the difference in what and how to choose products. For example, if my intention is to remove hair directly off my pet I will consider a tool that is gentle on the hair and skin, and can be exposed to water while also facilitating removal. Rubber, natural bristles come to mind. For double coats stainless steel combs and or brush with rubber tips are also good however, again careful not to pull on the hair. If the pet has had a bad experience with a brush, comb or sound of clippers just the sight or sound will be enough to move them away trembling. They won’t be willing participants going forward and then you’ll be in a position to need to desensitize and counter condition them until they can trust you again. If my plan is to remove hair or fur from floors and furniture, finding a vacuum cleaner made for sensitive ears is a great choice and if the dog is absolutely terrified we can move them farther away from the sound to another room with a toy or chewy providing them a reprieve. We could also choose a simple old fashioned rubber or bristle broom. Again the dogs history is important as some may have had a previously bad learning experience with the tool in question and be nervous around the tool you choose. Learning is occurring all the time and our pets like us are always making good and bad associations with their environment. That includes people, places and the “things” we use with/on them. As important is allowing them to make a choice. Our pets are constantly evaluating what’s safe and what’s not based on our actions and their experience both present and past history. Observing the pets behaviors without any intimidation or coercion comes into play more than most think. And the best way to start is with whether they are avoiding or approaching. Is it a subtle behavior or more overt. If your pet is not sensitized to the tool in question great, let’s work on keeping it that way by continuing to go slow and making rewarding associations with the tool you decide to buy but if they express concern or fear, go slowly and or return the product and invest a little more time in considering one better suited for your unique and individual dog.