Husbandry is an important job to keep our dogs happy and healthy. It includes nails, teeth, coat and regular health checks. Ideally a puppy will be handled from very early in their life so that they feel comfortable when we do the necessary husbandry, but unfortunately many are not. If they have not been carefully and positively physically handled by the times they are twelve months old, a dog is likely to find it strange and even intimidating.
As all dogs are individuals, the way they experience husbandry will be bespoke to them. Terriers for example are smart little dogs but don’t like being touched too much if they are not used to it. A Labrador might allow us to do anything for a biscuit or even a frozen pea, such is their love for food. It can be tempting to avoid doing husbandry altogether when a dog doesn’t like it, but I urge you to try and find a workaround because that will make vet visits and general healthcare easier on your dog.
Clicker training is perfect for consent-based healthcare. It’s one of the most imaginative ways to teach, for both ourselves and our dogs. It gets us both thinking and trying new things together. Clicker training is a really good way to find out how willing your dog is to try new things. Used well, clicker training only works with trying new things, that’s the whole idea of it. Designed initially as a way to click/mark completely natural behaviour choices with wild and marine animals, the clicker is ideally not accompanied with hints or clues. It’s used by skilled clicker trainers in a way that it only encourages new choices. Marking new choices and rewarding them, creates a dog who is interested and confident to start making them more often and that’s empowering.
For example, a clicker can be used alongside a file board to have a dog file their own nails and have fun at the same time. Or a clicker can be used the shape the behaviour of an open mouth so we can check the dog’s teeth. Or even helping a dog to be groomed and stay relaxed can be helped along with the aid of a clicker, just click with every brush stroke initially and remove the click as the dog relaxes more. Clicker training uses positive reinforcement. The sound is connected with a reward in the dog’s mind and then attached to a choice the dog makes. I won’t go into details of how-to clicker train here, because it’s covered fully in my other books, but I do urge you to take a closer look at it for healthcare and husbandry.
The best thing about the clicker (or any other marker-based teaching) is that the dog gets to choose. Choices are encouraged and when the dog makes the right one, a reward is given. It empowers the dog and helps them – and us – to become inventive. Other than to deliver the food every time we click and not to use it for punishment or recall, there are no rules. It’s perfect for following the dog’s learning lead and reinforcing all the excellent choices they make when they are trying to elicit that much coveted click.