Helping Your Pet Tolerate Handling and Grooming – July 26, 2012

Being held, petted, mildly restrained and groomed should be enjoyable, or at least tolerable, experiences for any pet. Even unsocialized dogs and cats, or ones that come from feral backgrounds can learn to tolerate routine handling and grooming. It is much, much easier to accustom puppies and kittens to these activities than to work with adult animals that might have already had bad experiences.

The biggest mistake you can make is turning these interactions into a match of wills and believing that you have to “be dominant” over your dog, or that your cat must submit to you or else! If a pet has a bad experience the first time you bring out the brush, comb or nail clippers, he’ll remember it. This will only make grooming and handling more difficult as time goes on.

Instead, you want to create an expectation that being held and having body parts touched are enjoyable experiences. Start with whatever type of petting, handling, or grooming your pet will currently tolerate without being fearful or aggressive.

For example, let’s say your cat or dog will allow you to lightly brush or comb him around his neck and shoulders, but won’t let you comb his hindquarters or back legs. Start by brushing those areas your pet will allow and offer him several irresistible tidbits at the same time. It may be easier for one person to do the grooming and another to be in charge of the tidbits.

Move the brush a tiny bit farther toward your pet’s back legs than he would normally allow while putting several tidbits right under his nose. Rather than trying to feed your pet from your fingers, put the treats in your flat palm and let your pet eat them from there. Some pets may do better if you put the treats on the floor. Continue practicing with many brief sessions, each time working your way closer to those areas your pet doesn’t like

Giving Pills and Brushing Teeth
Add more experiences. Open your pet’s mouth and put a treat in it. Use something you know your pet likes. This will help him become less upset when you need to look in his mouth or give him a pill or other medication. Run your finger over your pet’s teeth. This might be the first step in teaching him to tolerate tooth brushing.

Nail Trims
If you’ve ever had pets that panicked when you tried to trim their nails you know how unpleasant, and even dangerous their behavior can be. It’s much better if your puppy or kitten learns at a very young age that having their feet touched and held is not a bad thing. If a pet’s first experience with a nail trim is a bad one, it can result in him hating nail trims for the rest of his life.

To help your pet tolerate nail trims, start with what your pet will allow. You may need to begin by merely picking up your pet’s foot offering a tidbit with the other hand, and releasing his foot. Repeat this simple exercise until your pet is not anxious or struggling and gives signs that he is expecting a tidbit.

Next, hold or gently squeeze the paw while offering the tidbit. The nextstep might be to get your pet used to the feel of the metal clippers against his nails. Gently tap each nail on a foot with the clippers. Each tap should be followed by a tidbit. You may only be able to work with one foot, or perhaps even one nail per practice session. Keep these work sessions short so your pet doesn’t get tired or frustrated. Tap each nail on all four feet before attempting to clip any nails. After tapping a nail, quickly trim thesharp tip, release the foot, and give your pet a tidbit. Repeat with eachnail. This entire process may take 10 or 12 sessions, before you complete a full nail trim.

If your pet has had a bad experience, just the sight of the nail clippers may cause him to become upset. Practice as described above by just leaving the clippers lying around, and also with the clippers = treats approach. If you haven’t cut don’t hurt your pet.

What Not To do
Nail trims and other grooming procedures are never emergencies. Avoid having anyone hold your pet down or punish him to allow these proceduresto be done. It’s much better to sedate your pet if he requires grooming ornail trims until you have worked through this training process.

Practice Makes Perfect
Practice grooming and handling with your pet regularly – at least several times a week. If your pet only sees the brush, comb, or toothbrush every now and then, he won’t become familiar and at ease with these tools and procedures. Many pet owners make the mistake of brushing their pet infrequently, after the fur is matted and tangled, which guarantees the experience will be more difficult and unpleasant than regular, frequent grooming sessions.

If you expect your adult dog or cat will be groomed regularly, take him to the grooming saloon as a puppy or kitten to accustom him to the facility, staff, and procedures. See the article on socialization to learn more about how to structure these socialization visits. These visits should be brief and pleasant, rather than for a full grooming.

The time you spend practicing body handling and body care procedures will pay off big throughout your pet’s life. Think how easy it will be if you have to pull a thorn out of your dog’s foot, or clean your cat’s ears if your pet has learned to relax and be still. It isn’t fun for you or your pet if handling always becomes a wrestling match. If you work consistently with these exercises, you can avoid this unpleasantness.

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Raise the Bar for your Puppy – July 18, 2012

To keep your puppy or dog interested, keep asking for his very best. When you are starting out, every tiny effort toward good behavior is rewarded. But once a behavior is basically learned, it is time to raise the bar.

Use these criteria:
If you repeat yourself (don’t!) or physically help your puppy get it right, praise but no treat. Put the treat right to his nose then put it away. Too bad –try harder next time! You’re not angry but he doesn’t get a gold start for C- level work. If you want to encourage his best, treat only for A-level responses. Save your treats for the best performance your puppy can currently offer. Give a few small treats in a row for great responses or a breakthrough response (first correct effort). If your puppy offers a behavior without you asking for it, say ‘thank you’, but don’t treat.

While you are feeding, smile and praise. Don’t fake the praise – feel it and your puppy will feel it. Keep making it clear to your puppy what you really like (his very best!). If his slow Sit after two commands gets the same treat and praise that an immediate Sit with full attention gets, how is he supposed to know which is better? If you want the best, reward the best with your best.

Brian Kilcommons, a well-known area trainer puts it very well:

“You get what you pet”. In other words, if you pet your dog while he’s jumping, you’ll get jumping. If you pet your dog while he is sitting quietly, you’ll get quiet sitting.

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Provide Leadership for your Dog – July 11, 2012

This tip comes compliments of Trish King, well-known trainer and Director of Behavior and Training at Marin Humane Society.

Dogs naturally tend to live in a structured society – with a leader and followers – a family, really. It helps to think of your relationship to your dog as that of a parent to her child. Your dog needs to understand the rules of the household, and to depend on you to take care of him. He needs to know that you are a fair and generous parent. If you don’t take the leadership role, the dog might find himself filling the vacancy, making decisions that are often inappropriate, sometimes even becoming aggressive. This handout will help teach him to enjoy being a member of your family, and to leave the responsibilities of leadership to you.

Get his attention. Getting your dog’s attention is your most important tool. It’s difficult to train a dog that’s paying attention to something else. One way to develop attention is by seeking eye contact before you give him something, like food or a treat. In addition, examine how often you pay attention to your dog, and make sure that he doesn’t constantly demand attention from you by pushing, nudging, barking, or whining. If he does, practice ignoring the behavior some or most of the time. Be slightly aloof, and he’ll want to please you more.

Exercise. Make sure your dog gets enough exercise!! Most adults need a couple of good romps a day; puppies need shorter play periods more often. A tired dog gets into much less trouble than an under-stimulated one.

Reinforce good behavior. Play lots of ball and any retrieving game he likes. Make obedience work fun. Praise behaviors you like, using your voice, treats and petting. Ignore or control behavior you don’t like. Try not to lose your temper with your dog. Getting angry – especially using physical punishment – accomplishes little if anything, and teaches your dog not to trust you.

Groom him regularly. Your dog should allow you to groom him at your will. Often, dogs that seem to enjoy attention actually only like it when they want it. Make grooming pleasant, but do brush him, check his teeth, trim his nails, and generally manipulate him to your satisfaction.

Control his feeding schedule. Your dog needs to know who is doing all the hunting in the family! We suggest you feed him twice a day, and have him watch while you put the food into his bowl. Perhaps even hand feed him some of the food, which develops dependency – and attention.

Control his territory. Defending a whole territory is a huge responsibility that belongs to you, not your dog. He can be the lookout, but that should be it. If he routinely barks at strangers walking by the fence or below the deck, either confine him to the house or a portion of your yard where he doesn’t see the strangers (human or canine), or call him as soon as he starts barking. Your neighbors will probably thank you!

Use an indoor leash. Attach a leash to your dog’s flat or leather collar (not to a choke chain), and have him drag it around the house. Especially with adolescence, this gives you an invaluable tool when your dog misbehaves. Without having to grab his collar, you can pick up or step on the leash quickly, and redirect the behavior. The length of the leash can vary with the dog’s problem, size and speed.

Try a tie-down. Just as a child needs a playpen, dogs sometimes need to be confined to one area, especially when they’re young. We often suggest a “tie-down.” Attach one end of a 36-inch tether to the wall, or under a very heavy piece of furniture. (Bicycle chain is a good choice for chewers, because it usually is covered in rubber and won’t damage items.) Attach the other end to the dog’s flat collar. Place it in a well-used area such as a kitchen or family room, and put a comfortable blanket or pillow on the floor for the dog to lie on. This is where he gets to munch on a chewy. He can’t interact with you, but you can with him. We suggest you start out with short periods, and gradually increase to about half an hour.

Doorway access. Dogs often love to go through doorways first – and sometimes tend to lie right in thresholds. We suggest you restrict the dog’s access to doorways, and don’t always allow him to precede you into or out of a room whenever he wants to. Teach him “Wait” to stop at doorways, and “Move” when he’s lying at the threshold and you want to pass. You don’t have to go through every doorway first (what a pain that would be!), but you should make sure he obeys your cues to stop.

Bed privileges. We often suggest that you do not let your dog sleep on your bed, which some dogs see as a position of power. Other high places also seem to be very valuable to dogs, and some will defend those places, sometimes growling to tell the people to back off. If you decide that the bed or couch is where you want him, then teach him to get off cheerfully on your cue.

No matter what, he should sleep in a place of your choice, much as you would have your child sleep in his or her own bed.
Walk him away from the neighborhood. Oftentimes, dogs will extend their territory beyond your yard. With these dogs, it’s a good idea to drive elsewhere to walk them, and preferably to a variety of places, so he doesn’t think he has to defend certain spots.

Toys. If your dog likes toys and you tend to have dog toys lying about, pick them up and put them in a toy box or drawer out of his reach. Give him one, two or more at a time, and when he’s finished with them, put them away.
Play lots of ball. Any retrieving game will do.
Games. Be careful with tug of war. Though it can be a fun and useful game, make sure that it’s you the dog wants to play with, and that the toy loses its value when you’re not playing. Also, take care if you tend to play roughly with your dog. Some dogs become far too excited, and can’t control themselves. Don’t let him play keep-away with your objects (a very popular game with dogs!) unless you can retrieve them easily.

Hold at least two training sessions every day. Each session should be approximately 10 minutes, should be fun, and should end on a successful note, even if you have to backtrack to make the dog complete an exercise well.
If your dog has not gone to a class, it’s a good idea take him. This not only helps him know what’s expected of him, it often helps you learn to communicate clearly with him.

Try not to lose your temper with your dog. You need to be in control (or at least appear to be).

Dogs have different personalities. Some dogs are far more strong-willed than others, and some will need more management for a longer period of time than others. With your attention and care, you can help your dog be a better companion and canine citizen.

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Good Behavior Spontaneously! July 3, 2012

Wouldn’t it be great if your dog naturally offered you good behaviors all the time? Just think about life with a dog that you didn’t have to nag to get them to sit, down or watch you. Is this an elusive dream? NO! It’s all possible and quite easy to achieve. To start this process you can do a couple things. The first way is to capture the behavior when it occurs. This basically means catch your dog in the act of doing something good, mark it with a word like “YES” or clicking so he knows he did the right thing and reinforce him with a treat. I prefer to use this technique whenever possible. For example, wait for your dog to sit on his own, yes/click and treat.

The second way is to lure the behavior. With this technique, one would use a food lure to get the dog to do the behavior, yes/click and reinforce him. Once the dog understands how to do the behavior, you can begin to teach him to offer the behavior on his own.

For sits begin by asking for or luring a couple sits to “prime the pup” and then reinforce. Now move so the dog will get up and you just stand there and smile at your dog. You can talk to him, but don’t cue the sit in any way. The second he sits, YES/CLICK and treat. Repeat every time he offers the sit. The more you reinforce it the more ingrained it will become, until your dog begins to offer it as a default behavior any time he wants something or doesn’t know what else to do. For eye contact carry some non-perishable treats around with you or stash them around your house. If your dog spontaneously gives you eye contact, YES/CLICK and treat. Repeat this often.

For downs repeat the same process you used for the sit. Lure a couple downs and then just wait for your dog to offer it on his own. Be sure to reinforce him when he does. If he doesn’t offer the down on his own, help him out by using the down hand signal only and reinforce when he does. Now gradually fade out your hand signal. For example, if you currently have to move your hand all the way to the floor to get your dog to down, the next time stop your hand 2 inches from the floor, etc.until you don’t have to indicate the down with your hand at all. This is a good spontaneous behavior to teach dogs who jump on people.

Reinforcement doesn’t always have to come in the form of treats, although using treats at first will speed things up. If can be a toy, a kind word, a smile, petting, a walk, chasing a squirrel, etc. Be sure to always reinforce good behavior in some way every time.

Most dogs do not like to be pet on top of their heads initially. They usually don’t mind if you come back to their heads, but most do not like the sight of your hand coming down towards their heads. It can be intimidating to them. When you reach your hand towards your dog’s head how does he react? Does he look away, back up, lick his lips, yawn, duck his head or run away? If you answered yes to any of these questions, your dog does not want to be pet on the top of his head.
Keep in mind that in the winter when it’s dry and there is a lot of static electricity if you pet the top of his head and shock him, you’ve not only NOT reinforced him, but you’ve punished him too. Remember, reinforcement must be reinforcing to your dog not you! If your dog does not like it, it’s not reinforcing.

Get in the habit of observing your dog and then reinforce them for good behaviors. He won’t feel compelled to do bad things to get your attention because doing good things will always pay off for him. Train yourself to be more in tune with your dog and you will be on your way to a loving, well-mannered and respectful relationship.

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