Because Abe is going to have to go to the vet and get exams, he’s going to have to get used to standing on a table and being examined. I also am going to have to clip his nails, which is a separate problem, but I can address both issues with one process: using a grooming table.
I bought a basic grooming table with an arm, like this one:
But, to get him used to the idea of standing on a table, I started by using a table that he sees every day. The “desk” I used in college is still in my basement, sitting behind the couch. It’s just a large banquet table with a slightly grippy top, so it’s got more than enough space and won’t be too slippery for him.
Everything that I teach goes with treats, but the kind of treat he gets depends on what I’m asking him to do. For basic stuff like sit and down, the stuff that he’s proficient in, he just gets bits of a Pup-eroni treat. They’re small, moist, and tasty, but not overly so. For more advanced/scary stuff, he gets bits of hot dogs. To get him over his fear of my dad, for example, my dad would toss him tiny bits of hot dogs every time he came in contact with him. Now Abe gets a wiggly butt when he sees my dad, although he still growls and/or barks occasionally. If he growls or barks, he gets no correction, but he doesn’t get a treat until he’s quiet. For the extra-special stuff, like climbing up onto the table and hopping into the bathtub for a bath, Abe gets the jackpot: peanut butter. PB sticks to the roof of his mouth, requiring a lot of attention and effort to get it off, which works as a great distraction.
To introduce him to the table, I started by putting some peanut butter on a plastic knife (not sharp, obviously), showing him that I had it, and asking him to hop up on the couch. Then I coaxed him up onto the table by having him climb over the cushions on the back of the couch. He willingly obliged in order to follow the peanut butter! Once up on the table, I let him have a bite of the peanut butter. I didn’t hold him too tightly, where he wouldn’t be able to move; instead, I want to teach him to stand still on his own. While he was focused on getting all the PB off the roof of his mouth, I touched him in all his “safe” places, the places that don’t cause him anxiety. I continued to let him lick at the peanut butter while I rubbed and praised him. The way I touch him isn’t forceful or timid – I touch him casually, confidently, and firmly. Fearful dogs (and horses) will look for any indication that their handler is nervous; if they sense that you think there’s something to be worried about, they’re going to believe you! Once he finished all the PB, I let him stand for a few seconds, then asked him to turn around (away from the edge of the table) and get back down. I repeated this probably 4-5 times, for a total of about 10 minutes. I don’t like to continue sessions past about 10 minutes, especially if it’s something new, so he doesn’t get overwhelmed.
As you can see in the video, his body language shows that he’s a little worried, but he’s not scared. His tail isn’t tucked – it’s hanging down relaxed behind him. When he’s happy and excited, his tail is curled over his back (part of his border collie lineage). He’s not flinching when I touch him, nor does he seem overly concerned about being up on the table. His ears aren’t forward, which would show that he’s excited, but they’re not plastered back against his head either, which would mean that he was scared. This is essentially exactly what I’m looking for. He doesn’t have to be overjoyed that he’s up there, but he shouldn’t be scared, either.
I will repeat this daily until he willingly hops up there when I ask. Then I will transition to the actual grooming table and start the process over.