Archive | January, 2018

How to Help Your Dog with Grooming

Training Your Dog To Be A Good Grooming Clientdog groomed

People often wonder why they pay more to get their dog groomed than they might for their own haircut. One of the many reasons is that grooming dogs is hard! Groomers spend their days wrestling dogs into bathtubs, trying to get dogs to stay still while trimming their coat, all while trying not to get bitten, scratched, peed or pooped on.  If you want to become your groomer’s favorite client, work on teaching your dog some of these husbandry behaviors. Husbandry behaviors are behaviors you can teach your dog that allow them to voluntarily participate in their own health care in a less stressful way.

Here are some behaviors you can train to make them a better grooming client:

  • Stand: We often teach our dogs sit and down, while heavily rewarding our dogs for offering these behaviors, but teaching them to stand on command can be just as important, especially at the groomers. Watch this video to see how to train your dog to stand on command.
  • Stand Still: Great, you got your dog to stand, but that does the groomer no good if your dog stands for a second then sits back down or becomes all wiggly and excited. To teach your dog to stand still, start extending the amount of time between when your dog stands and when they get the treat, and then keep treating while they stand to encourage them to stay in the position and not move. While treating to keep your dog to stand still, introduce the command for the behavior, such as “still” or “stay.” When you are done, use a release word to let them know it is OK to move.
  • Nail Trims: Train your dog to be a pro at nail trims using the tips in this video! The trick is to take it slow and make the experience positive and relaxed. If you are experienced with a clicker, it’s highly recommended to use a clicker to train your dog to be comfortable with nail trims.
  • Handling: Groomers usually have to touch your pet all over in order to properly bathe and clip them, so it is important to desensitize your dog to being touched in different parts of the body. Many dogs are sensitive to their ears, faces, and paws, and some dogs don’t like their stomachs or parts of their back to be touched if they were not properly socialized as a puppy or if they had a painful experience in the past. Identify your dog’s sensitive areas and then use clicker training or other positive reinforcement methods to get them used to being touched in that area, similar to the methods seen in the nail trimming video. Again, take it slow and keep it positive! Be sure to let your groomer know if your dog has sensitive areas so that they can approach them cautiously.

Finally, one of the most important things you can do at home to ensure your dog is a good grooming client is to stay on top of your dog’s grooming! Many dogs learn to dislike the groomers because they may go in matted, tangled, or with overgrown nails. This can make the grooming process painful for the dog and create a negative association with being groomed. Regular brushing at home, keeping nails trimmed and filed down, and keeping your dog on a grooming schedule appropriate for their breed and coat type will help make grooming a more positive and relaxing experience for everyone.

Clicker Training for Your Dog

Clicker TrainingDog clicker training

We talk a lot about clicker training at TGDS so you might be wondering what it is and why you should use it when training your dog. Clicker training is a form of classical conditioning, where a neutral stimulus (click) is paired with an unconditioned stimulus (food). It is a positive reinforcement training technique where you use the click from the clicker to “mark” the behavior you want from your dog. For example, if you want to teach your dog to sit, you would wait for your dog to place their butt on the ground then click the moment they do to let your dog know that is the behavior you want. In order for the clicker to work, it has to be “charged.” In other words, the sound of the click has to be paired with a positive reward, such as a treat, to build the association that a click means the dog did something good. To charge the clicker, you click and treat multiple times in a row. Your dog will quickly learn that the click means a treat is coming, and then the clicker will become your most powerful training tool. To maintain the power of the tool you must always pair the click with a treat, even if you make a mistake in clicking. In more advanced training, there can be a longer time between click and treat, or during a sequence of behaviors, but for novice trainers you must always pair a click with an immediate treat.

Many animals, including dogs, learn by the consequences of their behavior and they will only do behaviors that work for them, meaning behaviors that give them some sort of reward or gain. Whenever your dog is doing a behavior, think about what he is gaining by doing it. If your dog is doing a behavior you don’t like, ask yourself what is rewarding about that behavior. For example, if your dog jumps on you, do you pay attention to him? That is rewarding whether you pet the dog or yell at him. Why does your dog pull on leash? Dogs pull to get to a spot them want to sniff. If they get to that spot, then you just rewarded the pulling. Clicker training helps you accurately target the behaviors you want your dog to do more of and provide a reward with the behavior. The more your dog gets rewarded for those good behaviors, the more he will offer them and the less he will offer behaviors he does not get rewarded for.

Learning by consequence is called operant conditioning. There are four quadrants of operant conditioning: positive reinforcement, positive punishment, negative reinforcement, and negative punishment. Positive reinforcement is defined as adding something to the environment to increase the occurrence of a behavior (e.g., treat for sitting). Positive punishment is defined as adding something to the environment to decrease the occurrence of a behavior (e.g., bark collars that adds a shock to decrease barking). Negative reinforcement is taking something away from the environment to increase the occurrence of a behavior (e.g., releasing pressure on a choke or prong collar when your dog stops pulling). Negative punishment is taking something away from the environment to decrease the occurrence of a behavior (e.g., removing your attention when your dog jumps on you or gets mouthy). Scientific evidence shows that positive reinforcement training methods are as effective, if not more effective than aversive training methods (those that rely on positive punishment and negative reinforcement, e.g., shock collars or choke collars), and are better for dog welfare.

One of the main concerns with using clicker training is that you will always have to have treats on you for your dog to listen. This is not true. Clicker training is merely a tool to teach your dog the behaviors in a quick, efficient manner that they understand, and then you can gradually remove the clicker. It still helps to have treats on you for the occasional reward, but once the dogs learn the behaviors they will continue to offer them even without the click and treat. They usually do so enthusiastically as well, because they have a positive association with training and are excited to work with you.

If you are interested in implementing clicker training into your training, there are many great online resources or you can sign up for a local class with Exercise Finished or Dakin Humane Society. The staff at the TGDS is also experiences with clicker training, so feel free to ask us any questions! Happy clicking!

For more information on clicker training visit Karen Pryor’s website.

Other sources:
Ziv, G. 2017. The effects of using aversive training methods in dogs – A review. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research. 19:50-60.