Behavioral First Aid
Over the past 30 years I have taken numerous first aid classes to complement my work leading recreational, outdoor travel groups. One of the texts, The Outward Bound Wilderness First Aid Handbook, in its first chapter called General Principles in Wilderness Medicine, includes this statement: Anticipating and controlling the development of swelling is one of the most important aspects of treatment in wilderness medical care.
The reason this is so important is that swelling and inflammation can produce pressure on tissue, veins and organs, and affect their ability to function effectively. Entire limbs can be lost due to the lack of adequate blood flow and should lungs or brains swell a patient can die. When limited by resources to deal with a medical emergency, managing inflammation as best as possible, may save a life or limb until sophisticated medical care is available.
While attending the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants conference this weekend in Rhode Island I had the opportunity to speak with a number of skilled and inspirational trainers. One told me that when she begins her work with a reactive dog she asks the owners to avoid putting the dog in ANY situation which provokes the reactivity for 4 weeks. During that time the owners are working on basic training and obedience skills to prepare for introducing the dog to situations which include its triggers.
This approach makes sense for a variety of reasons, and is also recommended for dogs who are fearful and are not necessarily reactive. It’s like anticipating and managing the swelling in a medical emergency. Further provocation of a dog, whether their response is to become aggressive or flee, is only likely to maintain or increase the amount of ‘inflammation’. Ignoring this can begin to compound the problem, and as with physical injuries, there can come a point at which healing becomes difficulty or impossible.
We need to compare the risks with the potential benefits when choosing treatments. When dealing with behavioral challenges controlling the factors that cause irritation and inflammation is a low risk treatment with a potentially high benefit outcome.