Doing something to our dogs that they don’t want us to do.


Now, as most of you know, I couldn’t be a bigger cheerleader for having a great relationship with your dog, for advocating for their needs, for communicating with them in a way that they understand and for avoiding forceful interactions.




Sometimes we just have to do something that our dogs won’t enjoy. Dependent on our dogs that might be tooth brushing, nail clipping, ear cleaning, checking for ticks, cleaning wounds…..and the list goes on.



So how do we make these things the least aversive for our dogs as possible?




The obvious ones are:

* Take time

* Use baby steps

* Do only the necessary

* Use de-sensitisation or counter conditioning techniques with the help of a trainer



A less obvious option is:

* Train an aversive marker (for example, when I put on my flowery gloves I’m going to cut your toenail and then when they come off you will get a treat) << I don’t LOVE this one but it works for some dogs.



And my favourite?


Ask for permission!



If I go to the dentist for a root canal and my dentist says “ready?” and I say “no!”. I don’t expect them to touch me. If they say “ready” and I say “ok then”, I don’t mind as much.


When I say “stop” (or hold my hand up in the dentist example) I would not be happy if they carried on, but if they stopped and gave me a minute then I’d probably say “ok, continue”.


And this is exactly what we can do with our dogs.


We give them the power and in return they give us the trust to do what we need to do.


Here are the steps using tooth brushing as an example:


Step One

We need to teach a behaviour where we will have easy access to where we need to be. In our example I would choose a “chin rest” so I could easily access my dog’s mouth. So first I would teach my dog to rest their chin on my hand using positive reinforcement training (think clicker and treats). When they know this really well move on to step 2.

Step Two

Next I would start a session with the tooth finger brush next to me and every time my dog offered the chin rest I would pick up the paste, gradually moving closer to the dog.

Step Three

Now your dog has the idea that chin rest equals tooth finger brush, you’re ready to make contact. Wait for the chin rest and the gently touch your dog’s mouth with the finger brush. Gradually progress to moving inside your dog’s mouth, brushing one tooth at a time, retreating and offering verbal praise and a treat (don’t worry about feeding whilst brushing for now, you’ll need less food once your dog is comfortable!=)

Step Four

The Key! At any point the dog moves away from the chin rest STOP.


I cannot reiterate STEP FOUR enough. The dog offering the chin rest is their way of saying “ok, proceed”. When they step out of the chin rest they are saying STOP. Respect this and wait for them to offer the chin rest again before proceeding.



At first I’d probably do a couple of teeth at a time. You can build up slowly.



With all steps, if your dog shows signs of anxiety or fear stop your session. Next time you train take it back a few steps. You just moved a bit too quickly.


Let me know how you get on 🙂



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