Pet Tips

Tip – 34 – Dog training – Desensitizing dogs


The secret, is to desensitize the dog to reacting to being touched, especially when cleaning paws. Start by touching casually WITHOUT making eye contact since eye contact is always seen as a threat by a dog. The touch is to be just a light brushing movement with your hand. Pick a place where you get the least response (often this will be the rear or flank). If the dog growls when touched, this isn’t too serious BUT if the dog wrinkles nose, this means he is likely to bite. It also means that your touching has gone too far and you should back off immediately.

The actual method of touching that you should use is important. It involves using distraction. First, get down to dog level with your head level with the dog’s. Use the command “Touches, Touches”, then distract dog by showing, and then giving him a treat while you gently lay your hand on the dog’s body. Continue doing this over time until you can run your hand over the dog’s entire body without a negative reaction. Always be non-threatening by not looking at the dog, being at its level and talking in a calm, soothing voice. The idea is that the dog will eventually associate food with touching.

The secret to desensitizing a dog to anything they are fearful of is to present the dog with a very low level of what they are sensitive to and distract them away from the negative stimulus. Probably the most effective distraction is food and they will quickly associate stroking and fondling with food. As they become more comfortable with the triggering stimulus, you can slowly increase the severity of the threatening stimulus.

Be warned, however, that some fearful responses can be quite strong, and a fearful dog may bite. Be patient, and don’t rush things. If the dog snaps at you, or if its reaction makes you nervous or fearful it is probably time to seek professional help to get you through the first stages of the process.

© Copyright Stanley Coren, reproduction by permission only.

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