Rebuild Trust with Slow Desensitization

Question:
I brought our dog Oscar to a reputable trainer who recommended an electronic collar. I didn’t know how bad it would damage Oscar’s trust. Ever since the training, no one can get near him with a brush, especially around his neck. He goes nuts biting, growling to get me away. Otherwise, he loves me very much and trusts me. I tried the electric collar around my neck to see how bad it could be. It knocked me on my butt and made me feel even more horrible about what I did to my best friend!

Dr. Nichol:
Oscar is a good dog who has suffered significant damage.  Start by forgiving yourself and that misguided trainer. You can turn this around. The energy you invest in healing you r best friend will teach him that life with you is safe and predictable.

Punishment, usually intended as a quick fix, worsens many problems by injecting fear. If a pet’s underlying motivation isn’t addressed, one bad behavior will replace another. Whether a reprimand, a jerk on a prong collar, or a jolt of electricity, punishment does nothing to communicate the desired response. Confusion and “learned helplessness” are common results.

Leave the brush on the floor and sit or lie down with Oscar some distance away from it. Observe your dog’s body posture as you share affection that completely avoids his sensitive areas. Teach him fun tricks and reward his compliance with petting and treats. Brief sessions, about 3-5 minutes long, are best. Repeat hundreds of times.

When Oscar is relaxed you can up the game by engaging him a little closer to the brush. Repeat at this level until he’s relaxed, then move the event somewhat closer. Eventually touch the brush. Repeat that little move until it means nothing and then pick it up. With patience you can gently brush a neutral part of Oscar’s body. Repeat until he trusts you to softly stroke his neck. If you get stuck you are welcome to contact my office.

An excellent research-based article on punishment, written in layman’s terms, is available for free download. http://avsabonline.org/resources/position-statements. We frown on electrocution; it never seems to bring out the best in man or beast.