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Easing dogs’ fears about bath time

Our dog is afraid of baths. We were initially successful at getting him into the tub with some treats. Those stopped working after a couple of sessions. When he sees that we have food anywhere near the bathroom he bolts. What else can we do?

Food is an excellent training tool. All healthy dogs eat. All healthy dogs are motivated by food. However, there is a right and wrong way to use food.

There are ways to get a dog into a happy-go-lucky good before giving them a bath.
There are ways to get a dog into a happy-go-lucky good before giving them a bath.  (Dreamstime)

It is correct that pairing food with bath time can create a positive association. For dogs with mild apprehension, luring the dog into the water may be sufficient. It’s also risky.

Luring backfires on dogs with moderate to severe fears. When they are lured or baited with food, they learn that food predicts nasty things. That the food is a trap. Over time, they snub the food because the it was used in the wrong way. Food becomes tainted.

Instead of baths taking on a positive association, food takes on a negative association.

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To create a positive association, the food must appear after the fear-inducing trigger. Owners will need to start at whatever place the dog is at behaviourally. Dogs that show fear walking into the bathroom will need to have this addressed first.

Begin by hiding some high-value food such as meat or cheese. When ready, take the dog to the bathroom door, and no further. Then surprise the dog with the food. Let them eat it and enjoy it. End the session.

Do this several times a day. With repetition, owners should see trust returning. Dogs will start moving towards the bathroom instead of running away. When this happens, watch for even the slightest step into the room. Start paying the dog for small, baby steps. Always make sure the food is hidden until they have taken those steps.

When ready, make the first tub experience short and positive. Use a non-skid mat. Keep the tub empty. Encourage or help the dog in gently. Then feed generously for a few seconds. Ask the dog to get out and give a long break. With time, the dog will begin trying to get in on their own.

Once this happens, water can be added. Start with one centimetre at a time. Gradually increase the amount of water. Always remember, if you want to create a positive association towards something scary, the food must appear last.

We do not want our dog on the furniture. It’s simply that our dog is far too big to share the sofa with. We have tried to ask him to get off whenever we catch him, but he just seems to do it more often. How can we convince him to go lie elsewhere?

There are two secrets to getting a dog to lie in a specific place. First, make sure you’re not accidentally reinforcing your dog for going onto the sofa. Many dogs find human attention at least moderately desirable. If a dog is engaging in the problem behaviour more frequently, something is absolutely rewarding that behaviour.

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Instead reinforce an alternative. Choose a comfortable location that they might like. Some people dedicate a piece of furniture, such as a fabric covered ottoman. Others choose a specialty bed such as a kuranda raise mat.

Make this location rewarding. This can include attention. Do increase the level of reinforcement by pulling out all the stops. Use food to train them to go to their spot. Offer busy toys. Make a point of teaching them that this location is the place they would most likely want to be.

Yvette Van Veen is a Dorchester-based writer and a contributor for the Star. Reach her via email: advice@awesomedogs.ca

Source: https://www.thestar.com/life/2018/09/26/easing-dogs-fears-about-bath-time.html

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