Why force your dog when you can ask!

Dennis Fehling and his friends for life

Hello everyone, it has been awhile since my last post so I thought it was time to get writing again about my passion Dog Training.

I was recently hired by a very nice woman to help her with her very fearful Chihuahua male.  Her biggest concern was his fear of new people and car rides.  He would tremble, urinate or deficate depending on the length of the car ride and this was really starting to become a problem for her and her dogs. 
My client is an older woman with several female friends that get together a few times a month to quilt or just get together.  Her dog was becoming so afraid of these visits that her friends did not really enjoy the visits as much as she would like because she was always having to comfort her dog.  He would bark for most of the visit or just dart back and fourth between her guest and was not really having a good time.  My client has another little older male Chihuahua with severe health issues so she thought that getting a younger dog would help him have a better quality of life.  So she did what she promised herself she would never do, she bought  puppy from a pet store.  This store in particular has a long history of selling damaged dogs and cats.  These dogs are rarely ever handled or walked and most come from puppy mills  < great article please read and then come back .  My client wanted me to help her right away with helping her dog overcome his fears of car rides.
 I began my work by first making friends with this little guy. I knew I had my work cut out for me but I love a challenge.  We started out by going out of the house and running towards the car, we got about ten feet from the car then I  gave him his favorite treat and ran back to the house.  I repeated this until after about 15 minutes we were actually sitting in the car together, he was on my lap.  I would then toss a treat out of the car and he would come back for more.  My client was saying the whole time that “this is so amazing” he has never gotten into any car by his own choice.  I told her when we ask our dogs and not force is can really be amazing what we can accomplish in a short amount of time. If we build trust by asking and not forcing then our dogs feel safe and not threatned.  The session was going so well I decided to end it on a very positive note and gave her some easy homework to do until our next session. 
My client called me to say she was ready for another session but this time it was to teach her to trim her dogs nails.  This is something she is very finicky about and has not had very good experiences with groomers in the past when it comes to nail trims for dogs.  Now don’t get me wrong there are some amazing gentle talented groomers out there as well as some less than gentle ones just like trainers some are gentle and use positive reinforcement training while others rely on harsh punishment based training to work with dogs and humans.  I explained to her that we might not get one nail done at the session but I would give her the tools to do the job gently and without causing any undue stress to an already fearful dog.  I had a(friend) assistant come with me to keep her other dog busy and also to teach her how easy it can be done.  In no time my friend had made friends with both dogs.  I wish they were all this easy.  Most are not.
I started the session by just lightly touching each paw and treating.  For very shy dogs you can do this with another object than your hand like a paint brush( Learned this in TTouch).  After all most dogs do not have have a bad history with a paintbrush so this is a great way of helping your dog to overcome their fears of having their feet touched.  Fortunately I did not have to do this with my clients dog as he was very willing to let me touch his feet for food.  At the first session I auditioned treats to see what really rocked his boat and this is what I used for the nail session(loved natural balance).  I then started to apply just a little more pressure to the paw touches until I could actually hold his paw for five seconds without him pulling away. Important note> It is really important to give a lot of breaks while doing this.  I had my client play tug with him and throw a ball between each session which lasted about five minutes. 
After about twenty minutes I then started to have the dog nose target the nail clippers and treat then I would squeeze the clippers together and treat.  I then used a match stick to duplicate the sound a nail would make being clipped.  Each session was followed by a break.  I then would build the length of time I would hold his paw then treat.  when I could hold his paw for about ten seconds I then actually was able to clip one of his nails.  My client let out a yahoo and was about to start dancing.  I then started to say to her dog in a very happy voice”who wants to do his nails” and would then touch the trimmers to his nail and then treat.  To make a long story short we ended up getting five of his very long nails done in a hour and a half.  She actually did three of them. 
What she said to me next was so uplifting that it really makes me happy doing what I do.  She had told me that a Groomer/trainer where we live had been doing his nails and the way she did it was not the best of experiences for her dog.  This person would restrain this little guy or have my client restrain him very tightly and fight him every step of the way to get his nails done.  Most of the nails were cut to close and he  bled every time she did them.  She said the whole time we were doing it today he did not seemed stressed and we did not have to restrain him.  He could have left at anytime but chose to stay with us. She told me that this Groomer/trainer was very rough with him and she did not feel right about the last visit when most of his nails were bleeding so she did not go back. 
The reason I decided to write about this example is to really show that there is no reason to force your dog to do anything and  you can do so much more with positive training then with force based training.  there is so much bad information going around as far as what the right way or wrong way to train a dog or that if we use food to train we are not really training but bribing our dogs.  Well when we work we get paid is that bribing or is that for a job well done. So when I ask my dog to do something instead of forcing my dog I get much faster results and a much happier dog that really wants to learn.  Why do so many people feel the need to always be forcing their dogs to do things when it is so much easier to ask. I am continuing to work with little Oliver and my client to help him be a more confident happy dog.  More to follow.
Dennis Fehling CPDT(KA)