Why You Need Unconventional Canine First Aid Education

I am a bit unconventional. And I have an unconventional view on canine first aid. So today I want to discuss the flaws of “traditional” canine first aid education. Because I contend first aid education should be approached from a whole different angle. Let me start by giving you an example.

We will keep this example super basic. So here goes:


When you notice something is wrong with your dog, or he/she isn’t acting right that is a problem, agree?

And what we WANT in that moment, in its most simplistic form, is a solution and a tangible action step to fix that problem.


There is a gap between your dog "not acting right” ... and making him "right” again.


It’s the gap between what you are currently experiencing and what you want.  What you want is your dog to go back to his normal self…. And this is the end goal. When you experience this gap your mind immediately starts collecting and brainstorming speculations and solutions. The gap triggers a thought process of: “what is wrong?” and “what can I do to make it right?”


My point (I am getting there, promise) with this blog post is summed up perfectly with a quote from the late Andy Grove, genius and former CEO of Intel which is…


“I have seen far too many people who upon recognizing today’s gap try very hard to determine what decision has to be made to close it. But today’s gap represents a failure of planning sometime in the past.”


And before I get burned at the stake or blasted on Facebook let me just say that a dog’s bodily system(s) can and will fail- but system failure isn’t what we are discussing here. Today we are using Mr. Grove’s quote as an example to discuss the need for well-rounded canine first aid education as it pertains to accident avoidance.


And accidents will happen. Shit sometimes “just happens” … but you can dramatically reduce the chances of that shit happening by being prepared/proactive and aware... which inevitably will result in accident reduction.

And my big beef here is that “accident reduction” is not taught in most traditional canine first aid courses and manuals.


Alright I will get to it. Here at Wanderdog we view canine first aid education through three different lenses. And that is three pillars or core principles. Most canine first aid education only includes one of the three pillars.


The Wanderdog First Aid three pillars are:

  1. preparedness
  2. awareness
  3. and tactical/tangible skills.


Most traditional first aid teaches the tactical- hands on- shit has already hit the fan stuff.  But, having such a narrow view of canine first aid is incredibly limiting. We all want to know how to use it when we need it… but what if we began implementing practices that dramatically lessens our dog’s risks… which results in rarely or never actually needing the skills in the first place?


Let me explain:

First pillar: Preparedness

Some preparedness principles need to be taught as it is a learned skill. It’s the most vital information you need to know for accident avoidance. Preparedness will lead to prevention and a few of MANY examples are: the knowledge to appropriately acclimate your dog to warm weather in the spring, the realization that your dog might be the equivalent to a living, breathing vacuum cleaner- so you better be hiking with hydrogen peroxide, the checkup at the vet, the flea and tick preventative, the vaccinations, the carrying extra water, the having a well-stocked first aid kit, and having an emergency hike out system etc.


Second Pillar Awareness: 

Then we have awareness. Awareness can be viewed as basic safety and wilderness safety principles, the knowing that there are venomous snakes in your area, or that a particular plant is poisonous, or that there is a rocky outcrop straight ahead with 40 feet of exposure, that your dog’s right eye is looking a little funky today, that his skin is a touch red between his 2nd and 3rd digit on his right front paw, and that he is panting a little harder today so ya better cut it short or take a break. You all have been practicing your physical exams… right???


Third Pillar: Tactical

Everyone wants to teach the tactical/tangible part. And I liken the tactical part to the hands-on skills. If you go to a first aid class, they are most certainly going to teach these skills. And yes, this can be taught over the course of a couple hours. This is the CPR, the Heimlich, the how to bandage a cut, etc etc. Which all is incredibly important mind you, but teaching these skills alone does not result in a well rounded education or promote mastery.



If you learn and implement the two first pillars of canine first aid, then take all the information you have collected from prevention and awareness, then compile it all and execute the tactical pillar... Then you are better set up for success when you are confronted with a crisis. Although... you just might never find yourself in a crisis after learning and executing the first two!


I caution you with all this information because it is important to realize that symptoms of abnormal in your dog are not always obvious. Remember they cannot verbally speak to us! And I am here to tell you that sometimes practicing improper first aid can be dangerous, cause further injury, or delay recovery if you do not have a full understanding of what is going on.


And finally, this is why sometimes I cringe when I read advice online. Whether it be in a Facebook group, or in an opinion blog. THE WHOLE PICTURE- is so important. When you don’t have a firm understanding of the whole picture and you do not have all the pieces of the puzzle it is easy to misread a situation, as it changes your perspective. Let’s just say that if I had skipped an entire course in vet school, I would have a piece of the puzzle missing and would not have been awarded my diploma.


So, do not underestimate the first two core principles and do not fail to educate yourself on them. They are just as important if not more so and should be included in any canine first aid program or manual.  Because without learning them you have skipped the warmup. You have skipped the pre workout- the intro- the prerequisites.


It’s been said before that what is going on upstairs (in your head) is a direct reflection of what is going on around you. Another way to look at this, and I have said it before and will say it again... That the things we practice in life are 90 percent mental, and 10 percent hands on or "the doing" (the tactical stuff). Preparedness and awareness results in the confidence, mental clarity, and perspective that is the 90 percent.


Am I re-inventing the wheel? Perhaps. Or, maybe I am just trying to shift perspectives.

You can have the tactical skills alone and hope you never need them, or you can do the work up front and avoid it from happening in the first place by lessening the risks. We started with a quote, so we shall end with one, which is the great Ben Franklin who said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”


And if you want help in this journey of canine first aid education our membership site is relaunching on THURSDAY!!!! That is July 25, 2019!!!!

So stay tuned for all the deets!

Until then, cheers my friends!!


Libbie Fort, DVM



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