One of my favourite things in a Better Pets and Gardens store is the “do it yourself” dog wash facilities. It’s easy to use and I don’t get soaked while washing my dogs! Plus, it only costs $10 for 10 minutes!
Unfortunately some dogs aren’t quite as thrilled about using the dog wash as my dogs are. If your dog falls into this category there are some things you can do to make it less stressful and more enjoyable for them.
Dogs learn by association. If they always have a good experience when doing something they will learn to love it and will get really excited when they see signs from you that it is about to happen. Think about your dog’s reaction when you go and get its lead. This is because it has a positive association with you going to get his lead because it is followed by going for a walk.
On the flip side, if your dog experiences something unpleasant, it will start to get stressed when it sees signs from you that it thinks might lead up to this unpleasant event again. Think about when you are about to trim your dog’s toe nails. As soon as it sees you pick up the nail clippers, it will likely make itself scarce in anticipation of the negative association it has with the nail clippers.
If we apply that principle to anything that our dogs may encounter in life, we know that we need to make our dogs new experiences good ones so they develop positive associations. To create the positive association you need to attach something the dog loves to the experience, ideally right before it happens. The easiest and most commonly used method to do this is to use food rewards as part of the interaction.
Food to a dog is like money is to us. It has a differing value depending on what it is. So let’s say that a dry dog biscuit is the equivalent of 50 cents and a T-bone steak is the equivalent of $10,000 to your dog.
Let’s put this into some perspective. Most of us don’t like going to the dentist and do anything to avoid a visit. However if I offered you $10,000 for getting into the dentist chair, your response to it would be vastly different and you would probably want to go more often than you needed to! If I offered you 50 cents your response would remain unchanged. This is how it is for our dogs. If I want to create a lasting impression on my dog I would firstly identify my dog’s favourite food and then I would use it every time I wanted it to do something. This guarantees my dog’s positive association.
Each dog is different and what we assume is their favourite food may not be the case so experiment to see what food your dog really goes crazy for. Don’t assume that what he loves at home he will also love in a stressful environment. My dogs will all get excited for a dog biscuit at home but if they are out somewhere with a lot going on they won’t be interested at all. I recommend trying things like BBQ chicken, grilled sausage or cheese.
From now on every time you take your dog to Better Pets and Gardens, take this very special food with you. I suggest you take lots of it! Feed your dog all around the dog wash including outside before you take your dog in. If you have to wait for your turn, even better! While you are waiting, sit outside the dog wash and give your dog treats just for being there. When it’s your turn, feed your dog when it’s walking into the dog wash area and of course when you want it to get into the dog wash. Once it’s in the dog wash keep feeding him.
To make things easier ask someone to go with you who can continue to give your dog rewards throughout the entire washing process. If you are by yourself, take the time to give your dog a few treats every 30 seconds or so. If you do this every time you visit the dog wash, over a period of time you will start to see a change in behaviour and if you have given your dog a high enough amount of rewards, it will start to anticipate the rewards it now associates with the dog wash. And this all equals one enthusiastic dog and a happy owner!
Karen Phillips is the owner and trainer of Riot, the beautiful border collie that is the Better Pets and Gardens mascot. Karen has had immense experience and success with her border collies as well as little Cassie, the very fast papillon, and is currently involved as a trainer with the Agility Club of WA. Karen is also a regular expert on our Facebook page every Monday night.