More and more lately Karma has become suspicious of having treats placed on her nose. She suddenly seems to think that terrible things will happen when I reach for her face. This behavior is seemingly out of no where, but I’m sure it comes down to human error on my part. Karma is a sensitive girl, and while usually I’m hyper aware of her surroundings and my own actions, somehow the cause for her head shy behavior has slipped through my fingers. There are multiple solutions to help her overcome this “hands in face” fear. I’m starting out by simply teaching her to bring her head closer to me.
I practice a style of training called Force-Free Training, the name speaks for itself, but if you’d like more information just take a glance at the Force-Free Trainers of Wisconsin website. Force-Free Training can really help build up the trust in a dog-human relationship.
So Karma and I are working on a new trick that I’m calling “Chin.” The end goal is to have her confidently place her head in my hand for a few moments so that I can place a treat on her nose. But if you work on this often enough, “Chin” can be used for a number of things like checking your dogs nose, teeth, gums, eyes and even ears for health. The possibilities for this move are almost endless and as time goes on, I’m sure I will have even more stories where this trick has come in handy.
I start out by resting my hand, palm up, on my knee. Out of curiosity she sniffed my hand to see if there were any treats and I quickly said “yes” the moment she made contact. Karma already knows that “yes” equals a treat, so within moments I delivered her first reward and she was catching onto the game. At first it was just a sniff, then a little nuzzle, and soon her chin was in the palm of my hand.
I might never know the exact moment when she lost this sliver of confidence, but as it’s been said “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” And the way is not through force, but through incremental reward and shaping of behavior. Karma was in full control of the situation, I wasn’t holding her head or forcing her to do anything that made her nervous. With the help of some treats, and some precision “yes” marking, in just minutes Karma had gone from shying away, to willingly resting her head in my hand. Five minutes of simple training had changed her reaction, and over the next few days I’m confident that she will return to being a treat balancing champ.
If you have a dog that is head shy, chin up! There are ways to soothe their nerves and build confidence, this is just one of many tricks you can use. Shaping is often used to teach dogs how to think creatively to overcome obstacles and problem solve. If you have never used shaping as a training technique before, I encourage you to read this helpful article by Pat Miller. So chin up, and start shaping!