Husbandry Training: finding positive reinforcement

I have had great expectations for over five years now to start brushing Marley’s teeth and to be able to trim his toenails on a regular basis but my progress to-date has been minimal. Marley doesn’t like his mouth being touched and doesn’t like his paws being touched and still does not like having his toenails trimmed.  I have paired the experiences with more liver and canned tripe than I can count but he is still more likely to pull away than to allow me to continue.  After my sessions with Marley, I tend to feel a little deflated by the experience and my enthusiasm for working on the behaviours diminishes; a recipe for a great downward spiral of less practice and as a result even less success.

And then, two years ago, I made a huge mistake with Marley.

Marley needed to have his teeth cleaned.  It had been over 3 years since his last cleaning and I could tell there was a lot of tarter built up on his teeth.  I really didn’t want to have him put under anesthetic because he was approaching nine years of age and I remembered reading somewhere that being put under anesthetic could be dangerous.  While trying to decide what to do, I came across a brochure from someone who did anesthetic free dentistry.  To make a long story short, while his teeth got cleaned it came with a price.  One month later, I went to the vet with Marley for something else and Marley was terrified.  As a puppy, going to the vet was a non-issue.  As an adult, there was some increase in his stress but nothing a few really good treats couldn’t solve.  This time, he was terrified.  I felt sick and utterly heartbroken because I knew right away that the cause was the handling he experienced with the anesthetic free dentistry (I was asked to stay out of the room during the procedure to minimize his stress….that should have been my first clue!)

Even though I realized that Marley is now petrified of going to the vet, I am still having a hard time working through my lack of motivation to train some good husbandry skills and on reducing his stress when entering the vet’s office.  I have thought about why and recognized that I need three things:

1)      Some way to get reinforcement from Marley that what I was doing was working

2)      Some way to be accountable to someone so that I would keep training even if progress is slow

3)      Plans that I can work through so that I do not have to try to figure out what to train, in what order and how to train it.

Over the last two months, I have discovered two resources that I am excited about and that I think will help with the second and third items on my list:

1)      I learned about the Academy for Dog Trainers Husbandry Project and put my name forward to help test the next iteration of their plans.    “The Husbandry Project’s goals are to create, test, refine, and publish training plans to help all dogs feel comfortable and happy at the vet’s office, and with the common veterinary procedures carried out on conscious dogs. These training plans will be accompanied by all the information a dog owner needs to carry out the training: step-by-step instructional videos, troubleshooting information, work plans, and so on.”

2)      I was introduced to the Fear Free certification project.  Fear Free Pets – taking the pet out of petrified.  I have enrolled in the program and am looking forward to earning my certification and learning how to incorporate giving the animal choice into the handling experience.

As for the first item on my list (reinforcement from Marley), I hope that by following the pre-defined husbandry plans and working through the ‘Fear Free’ program that I will  start to see positive changes in Marley’s response to handling and a reduction in his stress when going to the vet.  As a dog owner and trainer, what better positive reinforcement could I receive from my dog than that?

Thanks for reading.

P.S.  I came across an excellent blog post written by Dr. Peter Dobias.   Check out his Complete guide to natural dental care for dogs .  I only wish he would have written it a few years earlier!!

2018-train-for-rewards-buttP.S.S. Thank you Zazie for hosting the #2018 Train4Rewards Blog Party.   Click the image for a chance to read lots of great ‘train for rewards’ blogs!

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