What to wear?

10-Jan-2011

There are many different types of equipment that can be used to help and support the training of a dog. Equipment ranges from something the dog wears or is attached to such as a collar and lead, or a clicker which is a tool used in training.

A dogs training can be enhanced as well as impeded by the use of equipment. What equipment we use and how we use it can be key to achieving any training goals. One area that influences success is how a dog may adapt to wearing a particular piece of equipment.

In order for equipment to be most effective, it is beneficial for the dog to be comfortable wearing it. This comfort relates not only to the physical aspect but also how the dog’s mental state is affected. So when introducing a new piece of equipment we should also consider that the physical, mental and emotional aspects of a dog are all interrelated; if one area is affected then it can influence the others.

The fitting of any piece of equipment is a form of restriction which may impact on a dog’s demeanour. Although most dogs adapt to equipment quickly, for others it can be a more difficult transition.

It is often as a puppy that a dog encounters a piece of equipment for the first time. Wearing a collar is a new sensation and can be greeted by a few scratches, shake of the head or spinning around to see what is there? Fortunately as a pup is younger it can find it easier to adapt to something new. By using some distraction and building up a positive association the pup gradually gets used to the collar.

A lead is usually the next piece of equipment to be introduced and most dogs will accept these quite quickly, as they learn to associate them with positive things such as going out for a walk. However, with other equipment such as a harness or a head halter, even though these may be associated with going for walks the effect of the additional restriction can sometimes override everything else.

When using any type of equipment there are standard things to consider:

  • Size, fit and comfort: Have you ever worn something that doesn’t fit correctly? It can be irritating and distracting and in some cases cause discomfort. Why is it any different for a dog? Along with affecting their ability to settle and focus, it may also influence posture which in turn can affect behaviour.
  • If something is easy to use it is more likely to be effective and you will use it again.
  • Quality can impact on the durability and safety of the equipment used.
  • Safety: The manufacturer’s guidelines must be followed to ensure safety of the equipment used.
  • Environment: Consider where and when you first introduce a new piece of equipment, as distractions as well as familiarity can influence a dog.
  • Why you are using it and what for? Select equipment that is appropriate for what you want to achieve.
  • Introducing the equipment: Prepare and breakdown into stages to set the dog up for success.
  • Importantly, equipment should never cause distress or pain to dog.

As a TTouch practitioner I often incorporate these techniques into a dogs training. Combining the TTouch method along with positive based training techniques helps to meet both the dog’s needs and training needs, and in doing so we can set the dog up for success.

Observation is an important part of TTouch and the information we gain from looking at the whole picture can be invaluable in helping our understanding of each dog. As we get to know a dog and their personality traits we also learn what they enjoy, what motivates them, along with areas where they may be unsure or have difficulty.

The TTouch method provides us with a range of techniques that have a wide application. If we identify that a dog may require additional support accepting a piece of equipment, we can draw on the relevant techniques taking time to prepare and introduce equipment gradually, this can influence the dogs association and acceptance of the equipment.

The specific techniques used will vary but may be a combination of TTouch method and training techniques.

Some points to consider:

  • TTouches – specific touches can help with a dog’s acceptance of equipment. Touches are based on specific circular movements, slides or lifts. They can be applied all over the body and help to provide feedback and awareness to the dog about its own body.
  • Groundwork - through different leading exercises we can encourage the dog to explore how to move differently. From these experiences a dog can gain an increased awareness of itself which can influence its self confidence, coordination and focus.
  • The TTouch method can help to positively influence the dog. You do not always have to work specifically on a problem in order to modify something. For example, if a dog’s confidence and focus increase the dog may be more receptive to wearing a piece of equipment.
  • For more information on TTouch and how to use these techniques visit www.ttouch.com or www.4dogs.co.nz

The head collar can be a valuable piece of equipment that is used for general training or in transition when helping to modify a particular behaviour. Although some dogs will accept wearing a head collar quickly, others without any preparation may experience a wide range of reactions.

  • There are a variety of types of head collars on the market and selecting the most appropriate for each dog is important. Ensure that the halter fits the breed you have and that it can be adjusted.
  • Break down the introduction of the head collar into stages and consider the circumstances of the individual dog. The number of stages can vary for each dog.
  • Introduce the head collar in a familiar environment where the dog feels safe and secure and at a time when it is more likely to be settled.
  • TTouches can help to prepare a dog before fitting equipment. Start by using the back of your hand or fingers stroking the area where the equipment will eventually go. If the dog is receptive to this then use the basic circular touch for more specific work in that area. Always observe your dog’s body language and reactions and do not continue if a dog is becoming concerned or anxious - stop and take a break. Do not force the issue and build up confidence gradually. Always seek professional advice if you are unsure.
  • Fit a calming band. It is a type of wrap which can be used to raise awareness to the muzzle. Used along with TTouch work they can help dogs become accustomed to a piece of equipment.
The calming band fits around the muzzle and has an adjustable strap and quick release clip around the neck. The elastic that fits over the muzzle allows the dog to open its mouth normally.

(Photo included with kind permission of the TTouch organisation.)
  • Feed the dog when it is wearing the calming band.
  • If the dog removes the calming band, don’t worry - you can try again later. Ensuring that the dog has some freedom of choice is an important part of the process.
  • Once the dog is comfortable in the calming band, fit the head collar over the top of the calming band (Do not attach a lead to the head collar at this stage).
  • At feed time, continue to feed the dog while it is wearing the head collar and or give a favourite toy.
  • Use short sessions.
  • Remember that you only move on to the next stage of introduction once there is a consistent positive result. If there is an adverse reaction go back to the stage where you were last successful.
  • Once the dog is happy having the head collar fitted over the calming band, attach a lead but ensure that there is no tension at this stage.
  • After a few repetitions you may no longer need to fit the calming band before the head collar. This part will vary with each dog and so only progress to the next stage when the dog has accepted the head collar without the calming band.
  • Before walking your dog in a head collar it is beneficial to introduce 2 points of contact. With this technique the tension is not constant on the head collar and this can help a dog adapt to wearing it.
  • The picture below shows one example of 2 points of contact.

2 points of contact is a technique that can be used to influence a dogs positioning and help the dog to learn to find its own balance. In this picture the lead is attached to the head collar and a harness

(Photo included with kind permission of the TTouch organisation.)
  • Once you have gone through this process you can begin to walk the dog. Choose a familiar area where there are limited distractions.
  • If you are unsure on how to use any of these techniques contact your local TTouch practitioner who will be able to provide you with more detailed advice for your dog.

Final word:

Whatever the equipment you use keep it positive, and take time to prepare and introduce the equipment whilst considering the dog’s needs. In the long term this will be beneficial and help to avoid any negative effects.

Lib Roe


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