Our clients ask some really great questions! Every month Linda and I will pick one to answer in our newsletter.
This month Mary wrote in and asked:
“My dog doesn’t seem to like the table. Sometimes he’s good and holds very still but other times he growls at the judge. How can I teach him to be more confident?”
What a great question! Anyone who has been showing dogs for any length of time has seen many dogs that do not enjoy being examined, be it on the ground or especially on the table. You are not alone!
First teaching your dog to be more comfortable about the table itself is exactly the right approach. Think about it: your dog is being put on a strange, possibly unstable surface in a noisy and unfamiliar environment and then a stranger approaches him and puts her hands all over his body, even in his most personal of areas. That can be pretty scary! So create a positive association with the table. You can do this by pairing wonderful food rewards with being up on the table. Begin at home or any place he feels safe and secure and work up to being on the table in less familiar environments. Keep sessions short and fun but also frequent.
When your dog can’t wait to get up on the table, you will begin to teach him to get up there and hold his show dog pose (aka the “stack”) as well as be examined. As with being on the table, you’ll introduce each new element separately and at a low level, building on success. You never want to push your dog too fast and you certainly don’t want to punish him for growling!
Always work at your dog’s pace and pay attention to subtle cues that he’s not comfortable. Many times we see dogs at dog shows that hold very, very still but it isn’t always because they are well trained. Some of them are too scared to move! So watch your dog for “freezing”, wale eye or stiff posture. If you see this back off and work more slowly. The important thing to remember is that your dog should be relaxed and happy about the entire procedure. You know how your dog looks when he’s happy, anything else means take it back to basics!
Handling practices offer great opportunities to work on this sort of thing, provided the instructor uses modern, humane techniques but you always want to work at home between classes. Good luck, Mary, and thanks for the fantastic question!
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