In the last chapter, I introduced you to our first family dog, Tobbie. He was quite the adventurous little dog and he loved getting dirty.
But the problem is that Tobbie hated being groomed. In fact, trimming his nails was a huge struggle and you’d never know when he was going to snap and bite you. It was so bad, that we couldn’t even bring him to the groomer without worrying about what might happen.
His aggressive behavior diminished greatly once we started to exercise him daily. But his distaste for being groomed, touched and handled remained. What we did was “bribe” him with treats while we groomed him. But we had to be quick because as soon as the food was gone, the bad behavior returned.
My original instinct to use food was correct, but my understanding and application of positive reinforcements was wrong. I was giving the food at the wrong time, and sometimes I’d even give the food right after Tobbie’s bad behavior. This actually reinforced the bad behavior!
What I did with my second dog was to use the food to reinforce the behavior of being calm and accepting of my touch. She would only receive the treat if she was in a peaceful and calm state of mind.
Did it work? Absolutely!
My dogs now love being groomed! And I’m not exaggerating—one of my dogs will actually jump up on the grooming table to be brushed. This is solely due to the fact that I created a positive association to being touched and groomed.
Will this work with any dog? Yes!
I’ve successfully used this training concept with an older dog, about ten years old, to overcome her fear of being petted on the head. For some reason, she was fearful of anyone touching her on the head. I suspect that her previous owner might have hit her.
I practiced the exercise below for one week. The results were remarkable! She was allowing me to touch her anywhere on her body, including her head and ears!
So if your dog is not enthusiastic about being touched, groomed or examined, then you will love this exercise! And if you have a puppy, this will be even better because the conditioning that you do now will last a lifetime!
CAUTION: During this exercise, you must be alert and visually attentive to your dog’s responses. Be careful and if you see your dog showing his teeth, growling, lunging or trying to bite you, you should immediately stop this exercise and seek professional help. Although these exercises have proven to be extremely beneficial for my dogs, I am in no way responsible if your dog bites or injures you.
Grooming Exercise #1: I Love Your Touch
Description: The purpose of this exercise is to create a positive association to your touch, so that you can touch any part of your dog’s body. This is essential to being able to groom your dog.
Set-Up: Ideally, you should exercise your dog with a walk or a hike before practicing this exercise. This will make your dog calmer and it will be easier to train him.
Analyze your dog’s response to your touch. If your dog is uncomfortable or showing signs of stress when being touched in a specific area (like licking his lips, yawning, tail between the legs), then work around that area for a few days until your dog can accept your touch there.
Remember, this type of training takes time and requires patience.
Tip: To make this exercise more efficient, bring a treat to the same hand you’ve touched your dog with before giving it to your dog. This will increase the value for him of your hand being near his body and touching him (see attached pictures for clarification).
Grooming Exercise #2: The Grooming Experience
Description: The purpose of this exercise is to create a positive association to the sight and feeling of a grooming brush. This will make your grooming sessions much more enjoyable as your dog will see the brush as something pleasant.
Set-Up: Practice “Grooming Exercise #1” for two minutes before attempting this one. This will make your dog calmer and more at ease. You should also place your dog on a grooming table or wherever you are planning to groom him on a regular basis.
Continue practicing this exercise until your dog is comfortable with you brushing every part of his body.
Tip: As your dog begins to enjoy being brushed (due to the treats being given), you can increase the amount of brush strokes for every treat that you give. You could stroke your dog two, three or four times before giving him a treat.
Summary: I know that this exercise is time-consuming, but the results are well worth it! The time that you spend now will give you a dog who enjoys being groomed.
Grooming Exercise #3: The Evil Nail Clipper
Description: The purpose of this exercise is to create a positive association to the sight and sensation of clipping your dog’s nails. This is such a great exercise to practice with your dog, because once this is trained correctly, trimming your dog’s nails will be no big deal.
Set-Up: Since you will have both hands tied up with your dog’s paw and nail clippers, your helper will be in charge of giving your dog a treat at the right moment. Let your helper read these instructions.
As soon as the nail clippers are touching your dog’s paw, your helper should immediately give your dog a treat.
Practice this simple exercise with all four paws, and don’t proceed further until a day or two later.
Begin by picking up one of your dog’s paws with one hand, and trimming a nail with the nail clippers with your other hand. Each time a nail has been clipped, your helper should immediately give your dog a treat.
Be very careful not to be quick in this exercise—you want to make this as pleasant as possible for your dog. Cut off small slivers of nails in the beginning for training purposes.
Tip: You don’t have to trim all of your dog’s nails all at once! The objective is to make trimming your dog’s nails a pleasant experience for your dog. So if your dog is becoming anxious or nervous, let him go and continue this exercise a few hours later.
Summary: This might be another time-consuming exercise, but the conditioning that you do now will pay off later, when you will be able to trim your dog’s nails with ease.
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