It is important that you teach your puppy to be comfortable being handled.
In addition to normal handling, it is essential to prepare your puppy to be handled in ways that they might find frightening or painful. Most people (and all children) act inappropriately around dogs because they do not understand the things that upset them. The number one bite provoker is some variation on a behaviour that humans consider friendly approaching and reaching toward the dog. Owners need to take the time to teach the puppy that human proximity and actions are not threats. Gently and gradually accustom the puppy to accept inappropriate human actions. Some exercises to help with that are listed below. If done properly, the puppy will quickly come to enjoy these exercises and look forward to being suddenly grabbed, restrained, and stared at.
Have people interact with your puppy by tossing them a food treat that lands behind your puppy. As your puppy starts to enjoy this game they will start to happily approach people. Start to increase the number of people you allow to interact with your puppy. Always ensuring that it is a pleasant experience for your puppy and letting your puppy decide how close he wants to get to a person.
Start by holding a food treat by your eye and when the puppy looks up, give the treat. Slowly increase the time he must look into your eyes before he gets the treat. Then have visitors and strangers do the exercise.
Repeatedly offer a food treat with one hand and slowly reach down with the other. After a few trials, make contact, first one scratch behind the ear, then two, then several, before each treat.
Once your puppy is comfortable with you reaching down and touching him. You can teach him to be comfortable being held in place by offering a food treat as you hold him. Make sure your puppy is always confortable being held and gradually build up the time he is being held.
Many children will go up to a strange dog and give it a hug. This is often considered unwanted restraint to the dog so we must teach puppies that being hugged is not a threat. Hug the puppy and then give a treat. Do it many times before letting a child do it. Always making sure that the puppy is happy with the experience.
Yes Please! The Magic of Cooperative Care
Husbandry is the care and maintenance that is required to keep our dogs happy and healthy. It often involves doing things to our dogs that they find uncomfortable or often even scary. This can include nail trimming, ear cleaning, grooming, bathing, teeth cleaning, eye drops, ear drops the list goes on.
This is one area of dog training that is often overlooked, many owners when bringing home, a new puppy will just get on with any sort of husbandry like grooming or administering eye drops etc because that is what the puppy needs. They spend very little time preparing the puppy for these procedures which can then cause a lot of stress and unhappiness to the puppy. It should be said that this is normally through no fault of the owner, they simply don’t know that there is a better way to do this.
Don’t wait to teach your puppy cooperative care procedures, make it part of his regular training, and save them some stress when you need to perform a quick examination or give them eye drops. Cooperative care training involves teaching the dog that they have a choice in the matter, they can willingly participate or not, ultimately giving them a voice. One of the most important parts of this training is that the dog has a choice, if they feel stressed, overwhelmed, or unhappy with any part of the activity then they can say no, and the session stops there.
Research has shown that not just for humans but with all animals, having a choice in an unpleasant situation makes it more tolerable. Teaching our dogs that they have a choice in a husbandry situation will increase their confidence, reduce stress, and fear and build up their tolerance. Which in the long run makes husbandry a quick, tolerable, and often becomes a pleasant experience for both you and your dog.
There are many ways in which you can introduce cooperative care into husbandry training, my favourites include:
- The Bucket Game by Chirag Patel:
- A Start Button Behaviour
The Bucket Game – The Game of Choice
This fun and easy animal training game is designed to empower the learners. By creating an environment where our dogs have choice and can communicate their intentions to participate. The Bucket Game gives dogs the ability to tell us:
- when they are ready to start
- when they want to take a break
- when they want to stop
- when they want us to slow down
The bucket game was designed and brought to the world by Chirag Patel – a training and behaviour expert. Chirag encourages conversations between animals and people. The bucket game can be used in many instances like grooming, vet visits, nail cutting, collar grabs, etc. and as a confidence builder, phobia reducer and for fun.
What you will need:
- A bucket (size appropriate for your learner) – can be any small container
- Rewards (high value food or treats)
- A safe place
- A behaviour to condition – touching, collar grab, nail trim, noise, brushing etc.
Step 1: Teaching manners & impulse control around the bucket
- Place 20-30 pieces of kibble or treat into the bucket.
- Start by holding the bucket out to the side. You can be seated or standing.
- Reinforce for looking at the bucket but not jumping or lunging at it. So, each time your dog looks at the bucket, Mark e.g. say “Yes” and give him a piece of food from the bucket.
- You can then put the bucket on the ground/chair and reinforce the animal for looking at it but not jumping toward it.
- Repeat until all the pieces in the bucket are gone. Then move on to Step 2.
It doesn’t matter what position your animal is in (sit/down/stand). What you are reinforcing is looking at the bucket. If your dog paws at or lunges toward the bucket, pick it up and wait for your dog to settle before starting the game again.
Watch this video for a good example of how to start the game:
The animal is allowed to look around between focusing on the bucket –remember this is a game of choice and a conversation between you and them. No need to call them, shake the bucket, tug on lead etc. Let your animal make the choice to engage and participate in the training program. Playing this game in a safe place – will give your dog confidence that they can take a break as needed.
Step 2: Start reinforcing longer eye contact
Begin to require longer eye contact with the bucket before you reinforce. Don’t increase your criteria too soon or quickly as this may cause your learner confusion.
Step 3: Add the behaviour you are conditioning (grooming, touch, etc)
This example uses an ear touch:
- Wait until he can focus on the bucket (remember it doesn’t matter what position the dog is in – it could be a sit/down/stand).
- When he is focused on the bucket and able to hold his focus for a few seconds, I’m going to start moving my hand to his side (not touching him etc).
- At this point he can choose to continue to look at the bucket –and if he does, he will be reinforced. If he looks at my hand or away from the bucket, he has communicated that he was uncomfortable, and I will stop –remember the game of choice.
- When he re-engages with the bucket, the game begins again. This time don’t move the hand so fast or far. If he can maintain focus on the bucket –he is reinforced.
- This continues, until the dog can have his ear examined.
Important: The game of choice, will only work, if you allow the animal to communicate that they wish to begin, pause, and stop the game. If the animal looks away from the bucket, the game pauses/stops. When they re-engage with the bucket, the game continues.
A Start Button Behaviour
A start button behaviour is a behaviour that the dog does to say ‘yes’ to something else happening. The dog is in complete control of the session. We give them a way to say yes by turning a behaviour into a start button. Practically speaking, this means we only perform the husbandry after the dog offers the specific start button behaviour. The dog learns that if they don’t give that behaviour, the thing we are doing to do to them doesn’t happen. Therefore, they are in control! Common examples of start button behaviours are going on to a mat or a chin rest.
Example of the start button behaviour – of going to a mat
Let’s say your start button behaviour for brushing your dog is your dog being on a mat. When they are on the mat, you brush them. If they don’t go on the mat, it is a no, and it is important that we honour that no. Initially, we spend time reinforcing our dogs for stepping onto the mat and then sending them off. After a few repetitions the dogs offer to come onto the mat. At this stage I brush the dog and reinforce with a food reward. Gradually I increase the length of time spent brushing and always stop brushing if the dog moves away from the mat. This builds up a predictable sequence of steps for brushing the dog.
Example of the start button behaviour – A Chin Rest
Let’s say your start button behaviour for giving your dog ear drops is your dog resting their chin on a cushion/or your leg. I teach this by initially teaching my dog to put their chin on my palm.
Step 1: Raise your hand palm up to your dog’s chin, as soon as you make contact with their chin, say your maker word e.g. ‘Yes’ and reinforce. Repeat around 10 times. (All you are rewarding here is the contact of your palm to their chin).
Step 2: Next, move your hand up close to your dog’s chin, but don’t touch their chin. Wait to see if your dog offers the behaviour of touching their chin to your palm, if this happens mark with ‘Yes’ then reward.
If they don’t offer the behaviour, then go to step 1 again.
When your dog starts trying to put her chin in your hand you can add the signal chin. Then to add duration mark and reinforce after 1 second instead of just touching, then two and then three and gradually increase the length of time the dog offers the behaviour.
Building a chin rest into Husbandry training requires first working on duration for the behaviour and building up a reliable verbal signal. I then progress by working on a chin rest behaviour to a cushion or my leg, this way you have two free hands to do any husbandry work.
First, you are looking for a few seconds duration for the chin rest, once this is reliable you can begin to add in small distracting movements. For example, sit on the floor in front of your dog, keep one hand on your knee, and give your ‘Chin’ signal, once your dog’s chin is resting on your hand or the cushion then subtly lift one finger off your knee, If the dog’s chin remained in chin position then mark and reinforce but If the dog lifted their head to look at your finger then stop and start again but next time make it easier by making it less distracting. Over time your dog will start to understand that they are being reinforced for remaining in the chin position. Then you can incorporate the ear drop bottle. Then move the ear drop bottle towards the dog’s ear and so on until we can quickly add the drops to the dog’s ear with their cooperation. If at any point the dog’s chin lifts from the cushion, then we will stop what we are doing and only start again if they rest their chin back onto the cushion.
Cooperative care is rooted in empowering animals to be willing participants in their own care. In practice, this means we give them a way to “say” yes and no. Practically speaking, this means we only take our action after the dog offers the specific start button behaviour. The dog learns that if they don’t give that behaviour, the thing we are doing to do to them doesn’t happen. Therefore, they are in control! As you may have guessed, cooperative care hinges on the ability for your dog to “say” no. So sometime this needs to be reinforced to ensure the dog isn’t being coerced into saying yes. I often include a Free-work station (like a sniffer mat or similar) in my husbandry training. Which gives the dog the ability to say No without any intimidation to say yes from the food. You might be thinking, but if your dog has two ways to get treats and only one of them involved enduring something that they don’t like (aka getting their hair brushed), why would they ever choose the option that involved something they didn’t particularly enjoy? Because giving your dog the gift of choice AND control is magical, it is making the husbandry behaviour a secondary reinforcer! Giving our dogs the choice to ‘opt in’ and ‘opt out’ builds up trust and cooperation!
Have Fun With Your Dog All Year Long!
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