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Empathy Gap


June 26, 2013 by Julia

If you are like me, you feel a lot of empathy (or at least sympathy) for your animals. Aaron and I have been near tears when our dogs have been injured or ill. We’ve had heavy hearts when they’ve looked at us with heavy heads and sad eyes as we left the house. But sometimes I have noticed gaps, areas where we seem to ignore empathy because it gets in the way of what we’re doing. In most cases, the goal is something that serves the dog. We close ourselves off to what they are telling us because we know what we are doing is good for the dog in the long run.  

I have been especially guilty of this when it comes to nail trimming.  I use a rotary tool to grind my dogs’ nails. It doesn’t pinch the quick like a traditional guillotine-style clipper would and I can shorten the nails more precisely, but it takes more time. When I first started using the rotary tool, I was careful to desensitize my dogs to it. I’d run it nearby and give them treats for not reacting to it. I’d touch it to a nail and give them a treat. I slowly worked up to being able to groom one paw in between jackpots. I experimented with positions to find the one that was the most comfortable or tolerable for them. During all of this, I did my best not to push and to be sensitive to their needs.  

After a while, nail trims with the rotary tool became routine. There was the occasional quick-nick incident and yeasty paws sometimes made my grip uncomfortable. Somewhere along the way, I lost my patience for listening to my dog. Trimming the nails on two dogs is a tedious chore and having either (or both) dogs fight you on it does not make it any more enjoyable. When either dog would start to fight me, I would chide them or tighten my grip on their paw. If Aaron was watching, he’d inevitably comment and chide me for my grumpy reactions. I resisted listening to him (he is the resident un-trainer, afterall), but after a while I had to relent. Yes, the dogs were unhappy, they were clearly telling me so, and why wasn’t I listening? Because it had to be done, they didn’t have to like it, and of course, they were overreacting.

But after one particularly frustrating session with Dash, I finally relented and realized that I needed to start listening to what my equally frustrated dog was trying to tell me. I’ve done their nails a couple times since this and things have been better.  The sessions take a little longer because I am more deliberate and take more breaks. Sometimes the nail isn’t quite as short as I want it. It is still a tedious chore, but I’m no longer overcome with dread when it is time to tackle it. 

Now I just need to remember this lesson when it is time to clean Dash’s sensitive ears…

“Mr Low Ears” showing his displeasure after his right ear was cleaned.



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