We had such a great response from our talented trainer's posts last month, that we thought we would keep it going. Here is Mallory's training tip on Avoidance.
Many of my clients report that when they are trying to "get" their dog or puppy, the dog is avoiding them and they are then forced to chase their dog. This is a very bad scenario! Sometimes at Puppy Play groups at the Planet Dog Store we actually have to corner the puppy with pillows so that the owner can attach the leash! Right away I always show the owner the Collar Grab exercise that is given below.
First, you never want your dog to practice eluding you. Even if your dog is great at coming when called, if the dog ducks away when you reach for the collar then you do not yet have your dog under control. Remember that for all behaviors, whatever behaviors are being rehearsed repeatedly are the ones that get stronger. This is why in class when we are practicing, say, a heeling exercise, many dogs will at first try to walk around and get in front of the handler to face them. Why? Because they are trying to replicate their most rewarded behavior, which in almost all cases is, "Sit". Generally people stand and face their dog when training, "Sit", so this is the position that dogs think is rewardable. They learn over time that many other behaviors and body positions in relation to their human are rewarding.
Starting with puppies, handling exercises are paramount to get those pups accustomed to having (especially!) their paws, ears and other parts handled. This can also work for adult dogs, but may take longer to achieve success, so be patient!
Paw Handling Exercise: Holding a treat in one hand let the puppy/dog gently nibble at the treat while you are gently handling the paws. (Pull your hand away if they nibble too hard, and try again.) Make sure to practice with all paws, as some dogs are more sensitive to front or back paws being handled. Do not force this! If the dog is trying to pull their paw away, then you are getting avoidance! If holding the paw in your hand is too much for your dog, then practice this: reach towards the paw only as far as you can without your dog pulling the paw away, then follow immediately with a treat. Repeat several times! Over time and several sessions you should be able to get your dog or puppy to accept paw handling if you proceed slowly and at your dog's pace. The dog will always tell you how far you can go by whether or not they are accepting the paw handling. If they do accept it, you may now raise the criteria by holding the paw a little longer. If they are pulling away, you need to back off and make it easier by not touching, but only slowly reaching, or not reaching as far into the dog's space.
Collar Grab Exercise: To associate good stuff with grabbing your dog's collar, gently reach for the collar first and then feed a treat. You do not have to yank on the collar or pull it up tight on your dog's neck. In fact, that may make your dog avoid your reaching hand! Always just grab the collar gently with no more pressure than would be required if you were attaching the leash to the collar. Your dog will tell you with their head/body language if you are working him/her under threshold. If your dog is uncomfortable, he/she might duck away, try to walk away, do a lot of lip licking, or repeated yawning. If this happens, you must back off and make it easier for your dog to succeed by simply reaching towards the collar rather than actually touching it. With many repetitions of "reach and feed" you will be able to get closer over time to being able to just take hold of your dog's collar. The key is to never, ever force it if you can avoid it!
Especially the collar grab exercise is one you can practice with your dog while sitting on the couch, watching TV! You will notice if you stand up and do this exercise that your dog might start to avoid you again, as it requires you to bend over your dog, which can be intimidating, even if it's you! Start this exercise while you are seated and after many successes you can begin to stand. Practice in different locations. If you are treat training anyway then you can actually practice every time you give your dog a treat so that he/she thinks that when they get their collar grabbed (or reached for) it's very rewarding!
Key to success in any handling exercises is always backing off and making it easier for your dog to succeed if they begin to avoid the reaching hand.
Mallory Hattie, CPDT
If there is a training question you have, feel free to share it with us in the comments and we will try to write a post about it.