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  • Hannah Sadgrove

💭🐶Husbandry training - my own experience💭🐶

Husbandry training, cooperative care, whatever you want to call it - is about preventing and reducing fear and stress in day to day handling procedures by teaching dogs to tolerate, volunteer for (and hopefully enjoy) procedures rather than be forced and manhandled. These skills and behaviours can be as simple and overlooked as going into their crate, or as complex as having them offer a leg and stand still for a blood test, along with nail clipping, ear cleaning and everything in between.

When I first got Taurine (almost 10 years ago), I had no idea what husbandry training was. I was a bit old school in my thinking and my training, and I was still of the mindset that these are things you just do, and they need to just get used it and do as they’re told. I ended up with a dog (sorry Taurine) who is scared of having her nails clipped, petrified of the vet clinic, and shuts down when she has a bath. I didn’t think what I was doing was scary, therefore she shouldn’t be scared. What I didn’t realise what that I was using more force than she was comfortable with (restraining for vaccinations etc.), ignoring ALL of her really polite communication that she was uncomfortable, and I wasn’t making any effort to create positive associations with these events. I’m extremely lucky (or am I?) that Taurine is so tolerant of my learning curves and that she never snapped at me, though looking back I now believe she had every right to. Her tolerance didn’t do her any favours either, it just allowed me to push on without taking the time to work her through anything. Maybe if she had bitten me I would have stopped and learnt sooner and we’d have an even stronger relationship today. Who knows.

baby Poodle working on face desensitisation in preparation for grooming

Fast forward 9 years, lots of learning, undoing previous mistakes and apologising to my dog, and I now also have the Poodle. He is the most body sensitive, head shy and naturally untrusting dude ever. I can’t make the same mistakes with him that I did with Taurine, or he probably just wouldn’t come anywhere near me. I have to think through my interactions in advance, and ensure that everything I’m doing with him will result in him becoming MORE trusting and MORE willing for the next time we do that procedure or interaction.

Some dogs are pretty bomb proof in their temperament and not a lot shakes them, I believe these are probably the minority. Most dogs, and definitely almost all dogs that I see for training, have something about their life that they aren’t enjoying, something thats spooking them, something that their owners need to but can’t do because they absolutely hate it and as a result are either a fearful anxious mess, or are getting defensive and aggressive with their owners, vets, groomers etc. It really doesn’t have to be that way.

Using modern training techniques we can prevent dogs developing negative associations to husbandry procedures, and we can work them through procedures they already have negative associations with.

I found this quote the other day and cant for the life of me remember where I found it. If you know who’s it is, please tag them or let me know so I can credit them because its brilliant.

“You can’t train a behaviour at the time that you need it - develop the tool before you use the tool”

Essentially what this means is, if you wait until your dog has an ear infection, and then require that they stand still for daily, painful ear cleaning - you’re setting them up to fail. Of course they’re going to hate it, and of course they’re going to protest. You’ll be breaking your trust with them each time you go near their ears, and depending on their temperament they’ll either become avoidant of your hands, shut down altogether, or get defensive with you. Its too late.

We cant always predict everything that will need to be done with our dogs over the course of their lifetime, so you cant pre-emptively train for every situation. However we know what the most common situations are, and the more of these you train, the better off you’ll be when you hit a curve ball because you’ll have already built up so much trust with your dog.

Take this basic list, baring in mind it could literally go on forever:

Putting a collar on / collar grabs Putting a harness on Nail clipping Ear cleaning Vet visits / full body health checks Groomer visits / bath time / being brushed Injections / Blood draws

If you have a puppy, AMAZING, this is as close to a blank slate as you’ll ever get, so training all of these will be easier now that ever. If you have an adult dog however, take a look at your daily interactions with them and see if there is any procedure or interaction in their life where you are currently needing to force them into doing it because they dislike it. I bet there’s something.

Like I said earlier, poodle has been head shy since I got him at 8 weeks old. He’s a bucket load better now, but it’s not completely gone (maybe it won’t ever be, that’s ok too). But there are a bunch of problems with owning a head shy poodle…

  1. EVERYONE TRIES TO TOUCH HIS AFRO which makes him less trusting with every stranger that tries to touch him. #IGNOREMYDOG.

  2. Poodles need grooming. On their head. With loud buzzing clippers. Bugger.

  3. If you ever need to restrain your dog by their collar, or put their collar/harness/lead on, guess where you need to go. Yup. Right next to their head.

So, in his situation, here is what we do. We create a really clear picture in our minds of the final goal: - A dog who doesn’t avoid hands, but anticipates good stuff as a result. - A dog who can have his face shaved without and force. - A dog who you can grab when he’s off leash without him darting away. Then we take one of those final goals, and we break it down into small enough pieces, that its below any level he finds aversive, and that he’s almost guaranteed to succeed at and enjoy. We take those tiny pieces and create games with them. All sorts of games. Where all of his favourite things come as a result of hands near his head. And we slowly build from there.

First we taught him a nose touch my palm, so that he was 100% in control of his head coming into contact with my hand. Nose touch, treat, nose touch, treat. Hands = food. Then we progressed to collar grabs. Collar grab, ball, collar grab, ball. Collar grab = ball gets thrown. Once he stopped actively avoiding me personally, I could start getting him used to the yuckier stuff. Like the rude over the head pat of a stranger. Head pat = treat, head pat = ball. You get the gist.


The most important rule is that you’re working at a level that the dog finds FUN and EASY. If they are averse to what you’re doing at all, you’re already going too far. Break it down smaller. Make it easier. We want to create positive associations. If I had gone straight in at session 1 and tried to hold and shave his face, it would have been game over. I want a poodle who sees the grooming clippers and bolts to the grooming table with excitement. Not bolts out of the room with avoidance.

In this video, not only am I in my pjs and working on my bed, but I’m also starting to teach the poodle to self collar. To voluntarily put his head through his collar rather than me invade his space to do it. In this situation, he doesn’t actually mind me collaring him myself, however he’s not super keen on me putting his harness on. Whenever it comes out he kind of shuffles on the spot a little bit and leans back in a really polite ‘no thanks’ gesture. So we’ll master the behaviour with his collar, and then progress to his harness. Breaking it down. Making it easy.

Im not interested in a relationship with my dogs where I have to force them to do stuff. I don’t think its fair. Sure there are some unavoidable instances, those are unfortunately just a part of life. But most of the time it is avoidable, and its our job to help them like these events. We are in the 21st century now. The advances in behavioural science are there. The techniques are there. Its proven. It works. We just need to implement it. Tigers in zoos are getting taught to offer a leg for a blood draw, and bears are getting taught to open their mouths for dental exams, so why are our companion dogs still getting manhandled and their discomfort still getting ignored? I vote for a culture where we work with our dogs to make them more comfortable, more trusting and more willing so that as a result they want to work with us too.

If your pooch has a procedure they avoid, are scared of or get defensive about, I challenge you to take 5mins out of your evening tonight to see if you can break the behaviour right down to a level they’re comfortable working on it. Video it if you want so you can draw a baseline picture to work from. If you have any issues, feel free to flick me an email and ill happily help develop a plan to work through it with you. hannah@thinkdog.nz


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