I’m sure you’ve all seen the video clips of scent detecting dogs being lifted onto the shoulders of their handlers before being carried around the search area to try and locate a scent source placed high on the top of a cupboard or door. A friend, and colleague, of mine says that she’s unable to watch these videos without picturing the dog as some sort of flesh-and-fur vacuum cleaner, the handler directing their dog’s nose into every crevice of the search area to suck out any lingering odour molecules. I must admit, I see this picture too!
Based on the number of videos posted across a variety of social media sites, lifting dogs for high hides appears to have become a more and more commonplace practice. What started out as a strategy employed almost exclusively by the “professional” handler has been picked up (no pun intended) and run with by an ever-increasing number of scent detecting “hobbyists”. Perhaps that’s not so surprising really given that, rightly or wrongly, there’s a tendency amongst many scent detecting enthusiasts to look towards the “professional” community for ways they might improve their handling skills and, ultimately, their dog’s performance.
So, is lifting your dog skyward for high hides a good idea? What are the likely outcomes for you? What are the likely outcomes for your dog? Is it a handling strategy that will increase your chances of scent detecting success or might there be a better way of working with your dog?
Every time you attempt to lift your dog from the floor, you’re engaged in a manual handling activity. According to the HSE (2020) “manual handling means transporting or supporting a load by hand or bodily force. It includes lifting, lowering, pushing, pulling, moving or carrying a load. A load is a moveable object, such as a box or package, a person or an animal”.
Worryingly, around 40% of all work-related ill-health and injury is associated with manual handling tasks (HSE, 2016). Self-evidently, manual handling activities are far from risk free and UK legislation – “The Manual Handling Operations Regulations” (1992/2002) – places a duty on all employers to protect their employees from the risk of injury and ill health arising from any hazardous manual handling task in the workplace (HSE, 2020).
At first glance, as a scent detecting “hobbyist” (as opposed to a “professional”), manual handling legislation may not seem particularly relevant to you. From a strictly legal standpoint, it probably isn’t, however, what might be highly relevant is the practical guidance it can provide. Remember, every time you decide to lift your dog from the floor, you’re engaged in a manual handling activity; you’re as likely to sustain an injury whilst engaged in your hobby as anyone else is during their time at work.
In addition, if you’re a scent detecting trainer, you’ll owe a duty of care to your clients. A duty of care can be defined as “the responsibility of an individual to not harm others through carelessness” (LawTeacher, 2013). At a minimum, for a duty of care to exist, there has to be;
- “reasonable foresight of harm” – if you advise your client to lift their dog then you need to be sure that this advice is safe.
- “a relationship of proximity” – unquestionably, as your client, this relationship exists between you.
Always keep in mind that Professional Indemnity (Liability) Insurance exists because poor advice from a trainer can result in injury or loss to a client. A sobering thought!
So, what might constitute best practice in terms of manual handling? If you do decide to lift your dog or advise your client to lift theirs, how can you avoid causing harm to yourself or others? One very important consideration is the weight of your load – Your dog!
The HSE (2020) provide weight categories where they consider the risk of injury to be low and where it is probably safe to proceed with the lift. Any weight outside these limits is “likely to increase the risk of injury” (HSE, 2020).
Close to Body Arms extended
Shoulder height 7kg 3kg
Elbow height 13kg 7kg
Knuckle height 16kg 10kg
Mid lower leg height 13kg 7kg
Ground level 7kg 3kg
Close to Body Arms extended
Shoulder height 10kg 5kg
Elbow height 20kg 10kg
Knuckle height 25kg 15kg
Mid lower leg height 20kg 10kg
Ground level 10kg 5kg
Already, you’ll be able to see that these weight limits, particularly those at shoulder height, are very low – anything between 3kgs and 10kgs depending on whether you’re a man or a woman or holding the weight close to or further away from your body. As the owner of dogs weighing in at 30kgs and 45kgs, it would be unsafe for me to attempt to lift either of them. As for getting any one of them to shoulder height ….. I’ll just leave that to your imagination!
The HSE (2020) also stipulate that these safe weight guides assume that “the load is easily grasped with both hands and is handled in reasonable working conditions, with the worker in a stable body position”. Here lies the next difficulty, your dog can be considered an unstable load. At best he’s likely to move, wriggle and adjust his position as he’s lifted from the ground, at worst he’ll struggle violently as he attempts to get away from you! Unstable loads place you at further risk of injury as does working in a confined or cluttered space whilst attempting to look around your dog to watch him work – your body position is no longer stable.
The HSE (2020) outline three key points that must be considered in preventing and managing risk – Avoid. Assess. Reduce;
Avoid – as far as possible, avoid any potentially hazardous manual handling task. Do you actually need to lift your dog? Can you, as the HSE (2020) suggest, do your work in a different way?
Assess – if you decide that the manual handling task can’t be avoided, you’ll need to assess the risk of possible injury and, as far as possible, find ways of reducing that risk. What weight will you be attempting to lift? Have you any pre-existing health conditions that might affect your ability to lift safely? Have you had any training?
Reduce – you must minimise the risk as far as possible. Can someone help you lift your dog? As Becker (2017) says, “the best way to lift a large dog is with two people”! Can you arrange the search area in such a way that there are fewer restrictions on your movement that could further compromise your safety?
To summarise, as a scent detecting “hobbyist”, unless your dog weighs less than 10kg (7kg if you’re a woman) and you can keep your dog close to your body as you lift him to shoulder height, you’re at risk of injury and should not proceed with the lift. Additionally, in considering the HSEs (2020) three key points – Avoid. Assess. Reduce – there can be little justification for lifting your dog for what is, at the end of the day, only a hobby. There is even less justification if your dog weighs over 10kg. You need to find another way of working with him.
Aside from the very obvious risk to your dog of being dropped, he may not actually like being picked up. As Becker (2017) points out, even if your dog never complains, it doesn’t mean he’s okay about it. With your dog at shoulder height it’s unlikely that you’ll be in any position to notice any signs of distress, anxiety or pain – lip-licking, yawning, half-moon eyes, looking away from you. For dogs with arthritis or joint disease, “lifting can be extremely painful” (Becker, 2017). Many dogs will endure a great deal of discomfort or pain without any vocalisation (Vogelsang, 2016). It is beholden on you, your dog’s handler, to act as his advocate and protect him from any unnecessary distress.
Injuries related to poor lifting techniques include;
- Picking the dog up under his front legs like a child – “strains the muscles in the front legs and spine, which can result in torn ligaments and even a dislocated shoulder or elbow” (Becker, 2017).
- Using the dog’s tail as a ‘handle’ – “Damage caused by pulling your dog’s tail can affect the nerves and muscles that move the tail as well as those that control elimination” (Becker 2017).
- Picking the dog up by his collar – this can “cut off his air supply and cause him to choke. It’s also a good way to do serious permanent damage to the very delicate organs located in his neck, including the throat, larynx and trachea” (Becker, 2017).
For a useful pictorial guide on how to lift your dog as safely as possible, you might like to refer to Pippa Elliot’s (2019) information sheet – “How to Pick up a Dog Properly”.
For me, the simple solution to the high hide problem (which will greatly reduce the possibility of causing any harm to you or your dog) is to train an unambiguous passive indication with duration. With a passive indication, your dog can point out the location of the high hide, with a great degree of accuracy, without his feet ever having to leave the floor. If you’d like to know more about the benefits of a well-trained indication, take a look at my blog from 2018 – “The Indication. It’s not an optional extra!”
In addition, I’d want to foster my dog’s confidence to climb and clamber. The closer he can get to a high hide, without having to be lifted, the better it is for all concerned. Your dog can still give his passive indication perched on top of a piece of furniture!
Very sadly, if lifting our dogs for high hides becomes “normal practice” within scent detecting circles this will preclude many handlers and their dogs from participating in this activity. If you work one of the large breeds or have an underlying medical condition or pre-existing injury … this could mean you!
- Will I ever lift either of my dogs for scent detecting activities? No. While there are other, safer, ways of working with my dogs, there’s no need. A well-trained passive indication is all that’s required.
- What will I do if my dogs start to climb and clamber by themselves? Support them. That’s one of the reasons they wear a harness.
- Are there any circumstances in which I would attempt to lift my dogs? Yes. If they were injured and in danger, I’d do my utmost to move them to safety. That said, a lift may not be the best option or, for that matter, even possible. Dragging and sliding may be a far safer practice.
So, keep yourself and your dog safe and leave his feet on the floor!
As with all of my blogs, I include a reference list. This allows you to investigate the topic a little further, check out the sources of my information and decide for yourself whether my interpretations of the literature are an accurate reflection of the author’s original work. Happy reading.
References and Further Reading
1. Becker K (2017) 3 Things Never to Do When Picking Up Your Dog. https://healthypets.mercola.com/sites/healthypets/archive/2017/02/17/how-to-pick-up-a-dog.aspx Accessed; 30.4.2020
2. Elliot P (2019) How to Pick up a Dog Properly. https://www.google.com/amp/S/www.wikihow.com/Pick-up-a-Dog-Properly%3famp=1 Accessed; 1.5.2020
3. HSE (2016) Manual Handling. Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992. 4th Edition. Crown Copyright.
4. HSE (2020) Manual handling at Work. A brief guide. HMSO.
5. LawTeacher (2013) Duty of Care Lecture. https://www.lawteacher.net/modules/tort-law/negligence/duty-of-care/lecture.php?vref=1. Accessed; 30.4.2020
6. McAllister L (2018) The Indication. It’s not an optional extra!” https://scentdetectfind.blog/2018/12/15/the-indication-its-not-an-optional-extra/?fbclid=IwAR2QaNQbyeUyaMuO5ExuYi2ORF05xhSnPyuhPHSwa-vQsVtR2leQcbm-pSg Accessed; 1.5.2020
7. Vogelsang J (2016) 5 Things Your Dog Wishes You Knew About Picking Him Up. vetstreet.com/our-pet-experts/5-things-your-dog-wishes-you-knew-about-picking-him-up Accessed; 30.4.2020
© Lesley McAllister – Scent : Detect : Find Ltd 2020