Handle Me! :
Week 2 - Exposure
Now that we have gotten to know our dog’s better based on how they eat food we can start desensitizing them to different equipment and locations.
It is important to remember that neutral exposure to something doesn’t create a positive association. The fact that the equipment doesn’t kill your dog is not enough to make them feel safe having them used on them. We need to intentionally build happy value towards the thing we want them to feel safe around.
To do that we use food. So we are going to need A LOT of food. Since we are working with dopamine to effect these associations we need special food. I used turkey hot dogs in my videos, but you can use chicken, cheese, tuna, steak, liver paste, meat baby food, eggs, etc… Just try and stay away from processed dog treats. They can work but the dopamine created from processed foods is shorter lasting in the brain.
Before we get started with desensitization, there are a few more skills we need to practice this week. So let’s get those out of the way.
Nose Touch Part 2
Now that your dog is taking food from your hand, it is time to take the food out of our hand and reward them for the behavior. Simply offer your hand and when they touch it, say “yes” and place a reward in the hand that they just touched.
Another behavior that makes handling, grooming, and vet care much easier is a “chin touch.” I was just at the vet on Friday with all my dogs and when the vet gives vaccinations and takes blood, my dog is doing a chin touch and being rewarded for it. Once all the pieces of this course are put together and practiced, you can have the same experience as well.
Here is how you start:
(This takes some practice on our part so be patient with yourself. I recommend practicing without your dog first.)
Hold your hand out, palm up at about your dog’s natural chin height.
Have a treat in your other hand.
Raise the treat up above your palm and let your dog’s nose follow it, but don’t release the treat yet.
Now lower the treat below your palm so that as your dog follows it, they rest their head on your hand.
When their chin touches, say “yes” and raise the treat back up above their head and release it to them.
It is important to practice on all kinds of surfaces. Be creative and go slow if your dog is scared. Start with the feeding tension exercises from last week and try to do 2-3 surfaces a week. Once they are calm with feeding tension, try nose touches, chin touches, and if they are confident, move to the desensitization exercise below.
Surfaces to consider practicing on (more than once!):
Just the presence of a new or previously scary object will cause stress in your dog (even if that stress isn’t obvious). So we need to create positive associations with any equipment we need to use on our dogs.
If at any point your dog wants to stop this exercise - LET THEM. They get to dictate the pace of desensitization. Stop when they show any apprehension instead of waiting till they want to bail out.
Start by feeding your dog and, at the same time, present the objects on the surface your dog is on. That’s it. Just keep feeding them and then end the session. After one or two short sessions like this (can be done in the same day) you can start picking up the objects and moving them around. But do not turn anything on yet! Repeat feeding the whole time. By the end of the week, objects that have little to no reaction, you can slow the feeding until the dog acknowledges the object.
Once the silent physical object has a positive association, you can add in sound. You will want to start further away with it at first. Don’t surprise them. This include the sound of the clipper clipping, the dremel spinning, etc. But don’t touch them with it yet. Just let the object make noise. Be careful if they try to sniff it that they don’t get hurt. Once you’ve done a bit with the sound, you can touch them out of context, such as in the video below where I touch Mashi with the back of the dremel while it is running, on us body to feel the vibration. Note how often I feed him.
Practice Nose Touch and Chin Touch 3-4 times this week.
Pick 2 objects and 3 locations and practice desensitization with them. Share your progress.