I realized that I haven’t talked much about Abe’s issues with being handled. He’s gotten much better, but in the beginning, he would get very fearful and tend to nip if I needed to put on a harness or anything that required me to handle his body for any extended period.
First of all, why would I need to use a harness in the first place? I don’t need to, but I prefer to use a harness rather than his regular flat collar for a few reasons. Typically, people use harnesses to help teach a dog to stop pulling on the leash, but I taught Abe not to pull as soon as I got him. I use a harness because it keeps the leash on his back and doesn’t let it get caught under his leg while we’re walking (it doesn’t bother him, but it drives me nuts). We walk a lot and go hiking frequently, so I want to be able to let him explore on a loose leash without worrying about it getting snagged underneath him and needing to stop to fix it constantly.
To work on this, I started bargaining with him using things that were very important and high-value to him. For a lot of dogs, that’s food. But Abe does not have a very high food drive (I’m working on that; I’ll talk about how I’m doing that later), so I have to use something else.
For a solid month, Abe had to let me put his harness on before he got to go outside. I would prepare to go outside, get him all excited, and open the main door but leave the glass storm door closed so he could see outside. He would wait for the door to be opened, and that’s when I would start to work on the harness. I want to make it very clear what my expectations are; he can see outside and knows we’re going out. I casually and calmly put the harness on him – I don’t pussyfoot around, but I also don’t go right at him with it either. If he nips, the door closes and he goes back inside – no verbal correction or anything. The lack of reward (going outside) is enough. If he lets me put it on, the door opens and we go outside!
Now he’s totally fine with the harness because he knows that’s his ticket to the outdoors. He doesn’t wear it much anymore because he’s off-leash trained, but I put it on him every once in a while to make sure he’s still good with it.
Recently I got a new harness that fits him better for longer hikes, and it gets put on differently, so I kind of started over with the harness training when I got the new one. The first few days, he wore it every time we went outside, even if he was off-leash. He’s cool with the new harness now, even though he would obviously prefer to go nakey.
Maybe I’ll put together a post on harnesses… Hmm…