The GOLD STANDARD IN rehabilitation treatments and wellness programmes for dogs

How do you handle an injured dog?

As a Canine First Aider how you approach and handle a dog will have a significant impact on your safety, the success of your first aid assessment and the chosen interventions.

When approaching an injured or ill dog you should:

  • Approach the dog very slowly from the side
  • Avoid startling the dog and causing it to move further into a survival behaviour
  • Avoid reaching out with the palm of your hand for initial touch – use the back of your hand as it’s less threatening for the dog
  • Lower your body so that you are not looming over the dog
  • Do not stare at the dog or look directly into it’s eyes as this could be seen as a threatening behaviour
  • Use slow blinking as this will calm the dog
  • Use a quiet vocal tone that is slow and considered
  • Work with the dog and not on the dog

Dogs are ‘watchers’ and mainly communicate through complex communication signals in the form of body posturing, facial expressions and signals to express how they feel. This is different from humans who are ‘listeners’ and our main communication is through verbal language. As such this mismatch often leads to misinterpretation.

A dog in pain will use additional warning signals and unpredictable innate survival behaviours which can create an even more complex situation. A dog in pain and distress will send out a range of signals that may include:

  • A crouching position
  • Growling, snarling or snapping
  • Sucked in cheeks and withdrawing from touch or movement
  • Profuse licking or yawning
  • Urination
  • Ears flat back
  • Forehead flattening
  • Whites of the eyes become strongly visible
  • Tense jaw with the mouth closed – often appearing to hold their breath
  • Hair standing up
  • Tail may be slowly wagging, low or tucked under the body
  • A lack of focus
  • Shaking

Your main priority when dealing with a canine casualty should be the safety of yourself and the owners. You must always ensure your own safety before dealing with an emergency situation. Safe handling techniques include:

  • Use an appropriate lead, collar or harness to restrain the dog
  • Understand how to apply a muzzle to ensure the safety of the situation and assist the dog but be aware of vomiting or difficulty in breathing.