Demand for canine first aid is rising, but pity any pooch that has to rely on my efforts in an emergency, says Jane Bradley
I never thought I would spend a Tuesday night with my fingers in the groin of a rubber dog.
But there I was, lining up to grope Caspar, the canine version of Resusci Annie, in a community centre in Midlothian.
The demand for canine first aid courses is soaring, tutors Ian Conway and Debbie Parker, who run Forth Training, tell me.
Ambulance paramedics by day and dog lovers at home, they run human first aid courses in their spare time - and branched out into canine emergency care a year ago.
The rise in the number of doggy day care and dog walking businesses has sparked an increased interest in such courses.
The twenty or so other students were all far more experienced than me. Most had their own dog-related business and wanted to take the course to reassure worried clients who regard their pets as as important as their children.
A first aid certificate gives confidence that a dog walker - or centre owner, or groomer - would not panic and would potentially be able to perform basic first aid while trying to get the animal to a vet. This is, the tutors insist, the aim. Canine first aid is not instead of using a vet - it is something to try to help the animal while professional help is sought.
As we introduce ourselves, I feel duty bound to reveal my status as a reporter - and a borderline dog phobic.
I don’t prove myself to be any more suited to a career in the dog industry when I am the only person in the class to fail to dislodge a blockage from a toy dog’s throat, using a special vest aimed at teaching the Heimlich manouevre.
“Keep trying,” Debbie encourages me as I feebly press the dog’s abdomen. “You’ll do it eventually.”
Everyone else has already managed to make the green rubber obstruction shoot out of the dog’s windpipe with a satisfying “pop”, but my attempts are bearing no fruit and my face is turning purple.
Even Debbie eventually suggests I should admit defeat.
“Maybe stick to the day job,” one of the other students suggests, kindly.
I agree that that may be the best course of action and move on.
My fellow students are, thankfully, better at it.
Jen Crighton, from South Lanarkshire, is planning to launch her Harvey’s Walkies dog walking business.
But her decision to take the course came when her own pet Jack Russell, Harvey, got his paw trapped in a door. “I had no idea what to do,” she admits. “I didn’t know if it was broken or not. That’s why I wanted to come here, so that I would know how to react in an emergency.”
Like Jen, dog walker Jason Wringe, of Walking Dogs Edinburgh, is also looking for confidence in dealing with an ill pet.
“I had a few little things happen, like a dog cutting itself, that made me decide to take the course,” he explains. “I want to feel more confident in this kind of situation.”
He is also aware of the business benefits of holding a first aid certificate.
“I think more and more, people are looking at websites to see if you have this type of qualification,” he says. “I know if I was looking for someone to walk my dog, it is something I would check for.”
Back in class, we are learning how to do a regular check on our pets, to look out for any potential problems.
“Smell their ears!” Ian tells us. “Sniff their breath and their butt. Know what is normal for your dog.”
Dog ownership is becoming more attractive by the second.
If we need to do mouth-to-mouth when we’re out and about with dogs, the tutors suggest, a “clean” dog poop scoop bag will do as a mouth guard if we’re not keen to get too up close and personal with Fido. Thankfully, we are issued with proper mouth guards for the class.
Rescusci Caspar gets a couple of puffs into his lungs and I begin CPR, having first thrust my hand into his groin to check his pulse.
Like humans, dogs need 30 compressions to their chests for every two breaths, at around 100 compressions a minute - following the British Heart Foundation’s campaign to encourage people to sing the song “Stayin’ Alive” to help them remember the rhythm.
“Ah ah ah ah” I sing in my head as I press Caspar’s chest. Again, I’m probably too small and weak to be able to manage this on too big a dog - or perhaps more worryingly, on an adult human - but I feel confident I could give it a go on a smaller breed, or possibly a cat.
However, some vets warn that in the wrong hands - mine, for example - too much knowledge can be a dangerous thing.
By chance, I happened to be sitting next to a canine cardiologist on a flight the previous week and mentioned to him that I was doing this course.
He told me about certain breeds of dog, usually Boxers, which have had flat noses bred into their make-up, who have a natural tendancy to faint - a problem which is rectified in less than a minute, leaving the dog totally unharmed.
“If you start performing CPR on a dog which you think has collapsed, but actually has just fainted, it could be dangerous,” he warned. “If they don’t know what they are doing, they could kill their pet.”
However, Forth Training reassures that someone who has done a comprehensive first aid course should know when or not to step in.
“You need to check for a pulse first before thinking about performing CPR,” insists Debbie. “We make sure all of our students know that.”
Probably something of a relief for any fainting Boxer I might come across to know, there is little chance I would attempt to have a go at reviving an animal, given my track record of failure to revive even a fake canine.
But if any pet is unlucky enough to be injured or fall ill on a walk, hopefully one of my fellow canine first aid students will be on hand.