Tips to Help a Santa Monica Dog Get Over its Fear of the Harness or Having its Nails Trimmed

By: David Codr

Published Date: June 23, 2020

For this Santa Monica dog training session we helped 1 year-old Chihuahua JRT mix Mikey get over his fear of the collar or getting his nails trimmed with a CER.

Mikey’s guardian had a number of questions about his behavior and how it was related to the dog behahvior issues hse wanted to work on. Much of it revolved around Mikey being confused as to what his role was or how he could contribute to his family. Dogs want to help us and if we dont provide them with a structured environment, some can get confused into thinking they need to protect us or our property.

Being a super nice person, Mikey’s guardian didnt have any rules or structre in place. This is common with rescue dogs but also happens to many peope who get puppies too. The problem is it can confuse the dog into thinking it needs to step up into a leadership role. And because the humans don’t see the dog as a leader, this causes much stress between humans and dogs.

But before we got to rules and structre, I saw that Mikey had a lot of energy so I suggested the guardian increase his exercise by practicing the doggy star master, playing some scent games and feeding him out of an Omega Paw treat ball and a Snuffle matt. These are sneaky ways to get the dog some exercise without the human needing to participte. Paired with or in advance of his daily walks, his guardian should start to notice the dog being calmer and less reactive to other dogs.

Next I suggested some rules and went over ways to enforce them. By asking the dog to stay behind invisible boundaries or restrain itself in various ways, it will build up some self control; a key ingredient when rehavilitating a dog who likes to bark at other dogs.

I also recommended the guardian start petting Mikey with a purpose and reward the things he does that she likes through Passive Training. Both of these seem minor, but they can become powerful ways to help add structre and increase a dog’s respect and confidence in us as its leader. It will take the guardian a month or so to get into a habit or rewarding the things she likes instead of behaviros she dislikes, but once she does, every time she pets the dog, it will help reinforce a healthy leader follower dynamic.

One of the issues the guardian wanted help with was Mikey’s reaction to her when she tried to put on his harness or trim his nails. Mikey would bite her hand when she tried to fasten his harness. I handed her my camera so I could demonstrate how to help Mikey not only get over his fear of the harness, but actually enjoy having it put on. You can learn how to teach a dog to stop fighting having a harness put on by watching the free positive dog training video below.

We call this a Conditioned Emotional Response or a CER and its a great way to help a dog get over a fear or things like having a harness put on. Ive used a CER to help dogs get over a fear of many things. Its an easy process that anyone can do, even if they are not a professional Jack Russell dog trainer.

Im not sure if the dog was scared of his harness or simply didnt like his guardian putting the harness on, but in either case, this technique should stop Mikey from fighting when she tried to put the harness on. The toe nail trimming fear will take more practice, but I have hundreds of clients who have used that method to stop the dog from hating having its nails trimmed.

Although this was plenty to work on, the guardian really wanted to work on his reactivity to other dogs. Usually I advise my clients to work on the stuff we cover on its own for a month to establish a solid foundation, but this session had been postponed due to the start of the Corona Virus so we headed out to do a little clicker training.

The guardian will need to prime the clicker a few times before she starts to use this method on walks. Once Mikey is feeling great about the clicker (after priming it 3-5 times over a day or two), she can start clicking anytime he looks up at her. We call this checking in. At first it will happen by accident so it will be very important for the guardian to pay close attention and have her hand on the clicker so she can click the instant he looks at her. After clicking, she should assign a command word like “eyes,” “focus,” or “attention.” With practice, this command will help the dog pay more attention to her and give her the ability to redirect his attention away from approaching dogs before Mikey gets a chance to react.

Id also like to see the guardian stop at times and ask for a sit, come or down on walks or at home. On walks this needs to happen with nothing around that Mikey dislikes or is afraid of. Asking him to sit or down with dogs nearby will be impossible until he is more relaxed with his guardian’s leadership which was addressed by the first part of this session. This video we shot with another dog explains the process in more detail.

That was quite a lot to work on in an initial in home Santa Monica dog training session, but the guardian also wanted to do something about Mikey’s barking at sounds outside his home. I went over how to countercondition him from reacting to these sounds, but would recommend the guardian waits for until she has accomplished the things we discussed at the first part of the session. I am concerned that so many issues were addressed due to my wanting to make up for the delay due to corona. But just like any other skill, they need to be praciced individually and often until mastered in order to achieve tangible results.

Since we went so far beyond what I normally cover in my initial sessions, I recorded a longer roadmap to success video to help Mikey’s guardian recall and reference them all.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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