Animal Handling Reflection

Updated: Mar 15, 2019

Most of my animal handling experience is with horses, although since starting volunteering at the Dogs Trust in April 2018, I have built up my skills with handling unfamiliar dogs. However, I generally feel more confident handling horses, than I do dogs, and at present I feel less confident when faced with handling cattle, as this is where I have the least experience. I feel that I would be confident and capable to handle most horses in the majority of situations, due to past experience.

Despite never really being fearful towards new animals, the first time I was handed an unfamiliar dog to work with on the first day of the Caninology Canine Body Worker course I undertook, I was feeling slightly cautious. I think this was because I knew that I would be dealing with this dog in a professional capacity, rather than a playful, recreational one. The majority were from a local greyhound rescue centre, therefore they were unfamiliar with both the environment and the students. To begin with, they were all nervous and unsettled, however, I called on previous knowledge of calming my own dogs, as well as those at the Dogs Trust, and the greyhound I had been given (Beau) began to relax.

The rescue greyhounds relaxing

One of our first tasks was to learn how to appropriately lift a dog and lay it in lateral recumbency on a table. When we were first shown how to, I thought it would be something I would struggle with learning to do. Surprisingly, despite the class watching our group and the dog being slightly apprehensive, I found that I was more than capable of performing the task, and I started to relax.

Towards the end of the course this became second nature, although as some of the dogs were not comfortable on the table, which I concluded could be due to pain when lifted, it was important that I took the animal’s needs into consideration when deciding where to work, so as not to cause them any distress (Hall et al., 2018).

I feel that something I could improve on is my potential overfamiliarity with dogs that I do not know. Volunteering at the Dogs Trust and working with new dogs on a weekly basis has enabled me to learn not to be too familiar with new dogs, however, outside of the rescue centre environment, I have found that I am not quite as mindful. Whilst being careful to not be intimidating, I must be conscious that not all dogs are comfortable around new people, so as not to put their welfare, or the safety of anyone involved, at risk, which was highlighted by Flint et al. (2017) and McGreevy et al. (2014). I believe it is one of the most important skills for a Veterinary Physiotherapist to possess, to be able to recognise when an animal is uncomfortable in a situation, so as not to cause any welfare issues.


Flint, H., Coe, J., Serpell, J., Pearl, D. and Niel, L. (2017). Risk factors associated with stranger-directed aggression in domestic dogs. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 197, pp.45-54.

Hall, C., Randle, H., Pearson, G., Preshaw, L. and Waran, N. (2018). Assessing equine emotional state. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 205, pp.183-193.

McGreevy, P., Henshall, C., Starling, M., McLean, A. and Boakes, R. (2014). The importance of safety signals in animal handling and training. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 9(6), pp.382-387.

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