Too often clients tell me that their dog ‘freaks out’ when they are at the Veterinarian or when they try to cut their nails or anytime they have to be restrained. These dogs are sometimes friendly in normal situations but the restraint causes them such fear they resort to biting. These bites occur during nail clipping or grooming, while they are being examined by a veterinarian or when they become tangled in a leash or caught on a fence by their collar. These bites occur because the dog anticipates pain even when no pain may occur. I have discussed this in my article titled “Good Stress” which I encourage you to read.
When dogs are raised in the wild, their mothers make sure they experience stress daily. The stress occurs quite naturally, for example, wild pups are stepped on by their mother, the mother leaves them for a while to hunt, and their mothers clean them roughly and will reprimand them with a bite and during all of these instances are non-responsive to their pups’ cries of distress.
As humans, we are taught how to deal with stress early also. We sleep alone in a crib without our Mother beside us, we are taught to wait, say please and thank you for our cookie, we are sent away from our Mom and Dad to go to pre-school and then school. We are reprimanded and left to ‘sit in a corner’ when we hit other children. We are taught how to deal with the consequences of committing ‘crimes’ against our schoolmates and siblings.
You may also want to equate “good stress” with self-control.
Then, why when we acquire a dog do we feel the need to eliminate all forms of stress? We don’t like a crate, so the dog sleeps in bed with us (never mind that the infant is alone in his crib). We feed the dog and give him treats as soon as he barks at us, we allow him to drag us through the neighborhood and jump all over our guests and family members.
Life Time of Restraint:
Your dog is going to have a life time of being restrained. You can make the next 12 years with your dog filled with stress for you because in order to clip his nails, have him groomed or seen by a Veterinarian will require a muzzle or sedation; or you can train him early on that being handled or restrained is not a big deal.
The route of the problem
The dog believes that you are not on his team; he doesn’t trust your judgment. The Alpha controls the pack; your dog must know that you are its Alpha, not its littermate or peer.
This training is a combination of some form of correction for misbehavior and reward for good behavior and this training starts as soon as I get my puppy. I teach a puppy early on that I’m going to look in your ears, clip your nails and brush you and you are going to sit or lay down while I do it. I also teach my young puppies to go on to a box, or platform and sit still or lie still. On this box is where a lot of treats are dispensed so most puppies willingly jump on the box. The box resembles a Veterinarian or grooming table but it is low to the ground (I actually use a pallet that I have covered with carpet). This is where I do my handling of the puppy so he learns that is where you are calm. If the puppy fights or argues with me, he gets corrected and is told to stay still. If he reacts calmly, he is treated with a high value treat. I also hold the puppy like a Veterinarian Vet Tech would, and reward calmly and with a treat for calm behavior. When I’m at the Veterinarian I ask them to speak calmly to me and my dog and not to over excite the puppy, this way it is easy for him to be calm during an exam.
Practice daily with your dog. You will see each day he is a little better. The only time you decrease the daily repetitions is when the corrections are zero and the rewards are plentiful. Sometimes you are just touching his nails and rewarding, sometimes you put him in a head restraint, or looking in is nails and rewarding. You do not have to clip all his nails in one day, one nail a day is good too.
Training that avoids all forms of correction, and only focuses on positive re-enforcement, is not going to teach your dog how to deal with being handled. Even a Dam will put her teeth on a puppy, why wouldn’t you allow your puppy to have the good experience of a correction when acting up so he learns how to deal with small amounts of stress? Take your dog to training class, teach him how to be handled and touched, allow him to experience time away from you and time in a crate; your veterinarian and groomer will love you for it and you will have 12 years of stress free Veterinarian experiences.