Train em, Don’t restrain em

Last night when I should have been doing other things or at least heading off to bed I was looking at Facebook. A friend had posted a plea for information about how to get ointment into the eye of her resistant little dog. Almost all of the suggestions included using some form of restraint, including wrapping him in a towel, which would create the level of helplessness the owner would need to do what she needed to. lili chin's poster about training wild animals force freeThe hypocrisy of it was that I suspected had she asked for suggestions as to how to get him to stop pulling on the leash, and had someone recommended a prong or ecollar, fireworks would have followed. It was topped off with a healthy dose of irony as yesterday Lili Chin’s fabulous poster about force-free training had been making the rounds.

I directed her to Canines in Action’s fabulous clicker training video Tucker’s Nail Trim, which remains my all time favorite for showing people how dogs can be trained to ‘be good’ even when being asked to do something they are not comfortable with. In many cases the bigger problem is the restraint, not the task that needs to be accomplished.

It was timely for me because for months a bottle of tartar removing tooth goop had been sitting on the counter, unused. I confess I do not brush my dogs’ teeth and we pay for it at the vet clinic with routine cleanings. When I had tried to squirt some in Annie’s mouth she was not pleased at all. The next time I picked up the bottle of tooth goop she promptly ducked her head and fled the scene. So I didn’t bother with it. But my friend’s request for info prompted me to grab my camera and see if I could show how I’d get a dog used to having something done ‘to them’.

The following video was a slap dash effort, warts, stupid chatter and all, it’s not been edited and professional trainers can find things to criticize but I hope the point is made that what I am doing is something ANY pet owner can do. Annie is very food motivated and we play ‘training’ games all the time, so she’s comfortable with how ‘you do this, I do that’ works. If a dog is not food motivated enough to want to engage in training games then pet owners would do well to come up with other reinforcers for their dog’s behavior. Play, ear rubs, butt scratches, tug, something. You need to have something that your dog finds rewarding enough to do things for. If there is nothing than before you start trying to get your dog to do stuff or change their behavior you need to work on that!

Just because I can forcibly restrain a dog doesn’t mean I have to. In the long run I’d rather not have to deal with the frustration and struggle that using force perpetuates and often escalates. And if I truly care about an animal why would I settle for forcing them to ‘give up’? I was a little sister and remember well the way it felt when someone bigger held me down and demanded that I ‘say uncle’. Sometimes it was funny but other times I ran off to ‘tell mom’. I’m the one policing my behavior when it comes to my interactions with my animals. I try to let the grown up in my head make the decisions.

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19 comments so far

  1. Melissa on

    I tell my more persistent Dog Whisperer clients “Have you ever seen a choke chain on a 5 pound cat, or a 2,000 pound horse? So why do you need one for your dog?”

    • fearfuldogs on

      It’s as though we have some kind of mental block when it comes to this stuff. Not sure why.

  2. 24 Paws of Love on

    LOVED your video! Don’t you just love doing it this way? I’m getting down, but my problem is I start to rush, but regardless I still get safe results. I loved watching you work with Annie, little bit by bit. The one move I thought was just too cool was when you put the toothpaste up and made sad sounds that it was gone because in order to get the treat, they had to have the “bad stuff” to get it. That was great!! Thank you so much for showing this. I really appreciate it. 🙂

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thank you for sharing your appreciation of it! I am often too lazy or make excuses to not take videos of the dogs. Your comment will be motivation for me in the future to do it!

  3. kdkh on

    Thank you. This gives me some ideas about ear cleanings. I can’t believe all it took was 13 minutes! Thank you and your dogs for being great role models.

    • fearfuldogs on

      I did the same thing with ear cleaning. She doesn’t like them but will put up with them and knows that a good treat will follow. Warm up the solution before you put it in the ear and start off with just a little when you do finally put some in. I also try to make the ear rubbing pleasant for her and she does seem to like that. That is something you can work on without the solution, as a building block of the final behavior. And it can make a big difference if their ears are sore to start with 😦 making ear cleaning a challenging task.

      • kdkh on

        Thanks. I’ll give it a shot.

    • fearfuldogs on

      It might take a few days so don’t try to rush it. You could see how engaged Annie was in the process, that made it happen as quickly as it did. You don’t want to lose them early on. You could spend a whole session on creating a positive association with the bottle.

      • kdkh on

        Thanks. I think both of us need to take some time and patience with the process. It was obvious that your dog understood the drill.

  4. Donna in VA on

    I’ve been working with both the tartar spray and ear cleanings recently.

    Max really hates having the stuff sprayed into his mouth. However he WILL tolerate me brushing his teeth after I have immersed the toothbrush in the tartar solution. Then he makes a big deal of sneezing and rubbing his face on the bed or carpet. I guess it doesn’t taste very good.

    He was also good about holding still with the cleaning fluid in his ears for 10 minutes or more, but hated having the water syringe rinse afterwards. However we did successfully get the wax plug removed from his ear (it really took about a month of daily or every few days repeating the cleaning process) and did not have to resort to anesthesia to clear it.

    • fearfuldogs on

      I had a cocker whose ears got so bad (my first cocker and I didn’t have a clue) I had to stand her in the tub and syringe her ears out. Poor girl. She was one of the nicest, most tolerant dogs. Hope Max can have a respite from intense ear treatments.

  5. Lizzie on

    Beats me why someone can’t just manufacture a doggy toothpaste/ tartar control that actually smells and tastes good, or at least bland, so that our dogs needn’t be subjected to something unpleasant in the first place!

    But as always it was a pleasure and an education to watch you do what you do best Debbie, thanks 🙂

    • Debbie jacobs on

      I’ve had meat flavored toothpastes but never get around to brushing. But you are right. Not sure that dogs find minty fresh breath all that appealing.

  6. Kay Liestman on

    Loved watching you with Annie–and Finn and Nibbles! It’s always helpful to see how it can be done the “kind” way. Thanks for sharing.

    • Debbie jacobs on

      Thanks Kay I appreciate it. I end up seeing all the flaws and hearing my heavy breathing!

  7. EngineerChic on

    I know you say this is un-edited (like that’s a bad thing) but it is a better training tool for humans this way 🙂 I think showing the full process is more realistic, showing just a montage of “we did this for 30 seconds, then time passed, and we did that for 30 seconds, time passed, and then we had perfection” helps people expect too much from their dogs too quickly.

    Sort of like the home renovation shows that demolish & rebuild a kitchen in 30 min. We all know it takes longer than that on an intellectual level, but at some point in a 8month renovation project you start thinking, “the people on TV are delusional, this is NOT fun.”

    In this case, it was good to see that in just 13-ish minutes you can make really great progress on a handling issue. I’m encouraged by seeing the full process (it’s more like This Old House, to stick with the renovation TV show analogy).

  8. Kate on

    Great video! I wish more people would spend time on training stuff like this – I admit I’m far from perfect on that score, but I’m working on it. And you’re right, often restraining an animal like that is seen as fine, and even recommended – even by those who would react terribly to a suggestion of coercion in other areas of handling. I guess because it’s for necessary medical care – but the animal is still experiencing stress, and unless it’s a true emergency, dog is bleeding all over the place kind of situation, there’s usually time to do the training, give them some choice and control over the situation, and help them be more comfortable.

    I’ve noticed a worrying trend with some people/trainers to view “gentle” (in their eyes) use of pressure/force as completely okay and never harmful — but even what we see as very mild or “gentle” pressure and restraint CAN be hugely aversive, stressful, and even terrifying for some animals. Some may not be too fussed by it – but I’ve seen some level of stress, even if “mild”, in even bold and outgoing dogs in response to some of this stuff. If there’s any possibility while still keeping everyone safe and well-cared for, it’s so much better to give them a true choice and build up to things gradually – no matter how “mild” one thinks their restraint may be.

    • Debbie Jacobs on

      Glad you liked the film. It’s not always necessary to work through a DS/CC protocol with a dog, some will be fine sucking it up and dealing for a minute or two. Today was our annual check-up for all the dogs. I have 2 dogs who are afraid of people. And none of my dogs enjoys blood draws or temperature taking, but each is able to be restrained by a tech while procedures are done and when they’re off the table shake it off and are right back into wanting to get treats for tricks. My cocker even kept trying to get back on the table when it was another dog’s turn. Apparently she wanted her anals expressed again (NOT!).

      On Thu, Mar 28, 2013 at 1:51 PM, Fearfuldogs' Blog

      • Kate on

        True, I have a couple of dogs who probably won’t EVER be 100% comfortable with vet visits, but they don’t fall to pieces over them (and I was really talking more about stuff they do themselves, things it’s much easier/more practical to do the training for (I can’t take my dog to the vets all the time for training, but I CAN do training almost every day at home for stuff *I* need to do to them) — but I also think it’s different for someone who can read dog body language well and would be able to tell if the dog had REALLY shaken it off or not, and the average dog owner – who just THINKS their dog is okay with stuff because maybe they wag their tail a bit afterwards – and so never bother with any DS/CC even in situations where maybe the dog really needs it, because “oh he’s fine/he’ll get over it” when, well, maybe, and maybe not.


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