A Good Distraction

I go on and on about  things that distract Guide dogs; smells, people patting and calling out, noises etc. Opal and  I visit schools and other venues instructing people on Guide dog etiquette. Distraction is a big issue for Guide dogs, sometimes interfering with the work and safety of both dog and handler. However, today I am here to tell you that there are moments when Guide dogs NEED distraction. In fact, I am giving food for thought that any dog owner can feast on.  This morning, Opal was fussing with her ear (again). Labs have drop ears (long and floppy) that cover the ear canal and other bits (which I don’t know the anatomically-correct names of).  This creates the perfect medium in which organisms and bacteria can grow… into infection, particularly in warm weather. It’s no big deal, IF you take care of your lab’s ears with regular cleaning and respond quickly when an infection takes hold. Smelling your dog’s ears will usually tell you what kind of shape they are in.  Of course, my girl tells me herself, in her own way.  I know the sound of a paw doing some furious scratching in an ear. I say firmly,  “get your foot out of your head”.  If this does not stop the ear scratching, then I move on to plan ‘B’.   I bring out the ‘magic drops’ (Burrow’s solution), prescribed by our vet.  I  use  them on  a semi-regular basis in the summer. I keep them on hand, so I am not running to the vet (Kaching $$$$) every time she gets a funky ear.  The vet also gave me some dandy little plastic syringes with which to suck up the correct amount of liquid. I discovered long ago that it is impossible to tell how many drops you have squirted (or not) into the ear if you are squeezing drops directly from a bottle. What does this have to do with distraction? Opal, like most dogs, does not appreciate having drops shot into her ears. Who would?! They are cold and feel funny (initially). I know that fifteen minutes after she has them on board, she will feel the itch and discomfort go away. It’s getting through that fifteen minutes that is key. This is when I need to distract her. I want the drops to stay in, and not to get licked out (Opal will stick her foot in her ear and then lick whatever comes out… she has no fingers).  Fortunately, my dog is a busybody. If I start doing something interesting, she will forget about the ear and become engrossed in watching me. Kids operate pretty much the same way. Harping about NOT doing something (example: “stop picking your nose!”) will get you nowhere. In fact, there is a good chance your kid (or dog) will get even more obsessive about whatever it is you are trying to get them to stop doing,  (just to spite you–grin). Hmm.  So, this morning,  the first thing I thought of to distract Opal, was to whip out the exercise machine. I hadn’t used the sculling rower for weeks, so Opal was very keen on observing her fat, old mum gliding back and forth on a beam, arms flailing, sweat pouring off, making huffing and puffing noise, and commenting that she thought (or felt) she had rowed to the mid-Atlantic. In fact, Opal was so keen,  that she forgot all about the ear she had been so determined to fuss with. Mum? She got some disparately needed conditioning.  Don’t get into a futile and circuitous ‘don’t do that’ exchange with your dog (or kid) when all you need to do, is DISTRACT them. A little distraction can be a useful tool in many situations.

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