Teaching Dogs to Participate in Procedures


What do you do when your groomer say’s she can’t groom your dog anymore because of behavior?  Does your dog get uncomfortable when it’s time to put a harness on?  Does your vet ask you to muzzle your dog before you bring him in? 

Your not alone.

 I was talking to a student, Nicole who had been putting off surgery for he dog for sometime, because her dog; Muffin, a 180 pound mastiff mix would growl when she tried to put the cone on the dog. 

Nicole believed that Muffin was being dominate and that the restraint was causing Muffin to “act out.”   

I asked if she could bring Muffin’s cone to the next class so I could see. 

When she pulled the cone out of bag Muffin shut her mouth and backed away she was very scared. 

 I asked Nicole if I could have the cone and Muffins leash.  I threw the cone in the opposite direction of Muffin and as she very slowly crept up to the scary cone I clicked her and gave her a treat. 

Dogs are forced to participate in things medical and grooming procedures that frighten them.  The more scared the dog the more force that is required.  This has to stop.  There is a better less stressful way.   This causes vets, techs and groomers extra work, extra risk and causes your dog extra stress.  Procedures like putting a cone on, getting a bath, getting eye drops or even nail trims can be trained and put on cue.  Teaching your dog to choose to participate in these activities makes it so your vet and groomer have a easier time handling your dog this allows them to do a better job more safely.  It also make the situation so much less stressful to your dog. 

 You can teach any dog to be comfortable in these situations if you use counter conditioning.  

What is Counter Conditioning? 

Well in technical speak Counterconditioning is the conditioning of an unwanted behavior or response to a stimulus into a wanted behavior or response by the association of positive actions with the stimulus. 

In other words your dog see’s a cone and growls; because he has negative emotions towards the cone if you change the emotion the behavior growling will resolve it’s self. 


How should I work on my dog’s fear? 

  1. Teach your dog to associate the object with something good so for example when Muffin was afraid of the cone I moved it away from her and when she checked it out I marked it with a reward marker and gave her a treat.   I repeated this until she figured out every time she looked at it she got a treat.  This could also work for a brush or nail clippers. 
  1. Reward interactions with touching the object.  When I was teaching Muffin to put her head in the cone I raised my criteria when she started to get excited when she saw the cone.  Now, muffin had to touch the cone with her nose to get marked for the correct behavior and treated. 
  1. The final product. Now Muffin no longer had a fear response to the cone which means that I was able to stick my hand through the cone and lure her head all the way through.  When her head was in the hole I marked and reward. I continued this until she offered to put her head in the cone without a treat being on the other side. 
  1. Naming the behavior.  Now that Muffin was choosing to put the cone on all by her self I decided to name this behavior cone.  I held the cone open and said “Cone” since she was already offering the behavior on her own, she put her head in the cone. 


Now that Muffin understands that it isn’t scary to put her head in the cone Nicole can stand with the cone in her hand and say “cone”.  Muffin comes running and puts her own head in the cone.  This is less stressful for Nicole as 180 pound Muffin looks a little scary when she growls, but it is less stressful for Muffin too. 

Are you still wondering how this can work for bath time and nail trims?   

Click below for step by step how to:

Train The Love Of Nail Trims

Love Bath Time

big saint bernard


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