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Fearful dogs: think tiny increments and the importance of how a treat is delivered

Working with small and fearful dogs is a fascinating project.

Being afraid of getting up and down stairs is not that unusual a problem for dogs, but for tiny dogs the problem sometimes is simply the fact that the angle of the stairs is so steep that the dog is actually in danger of toppling forward.

Before the lesson this little papillon managed to somehow pull herself up the stairs when lured with treats by the owner. But there was no way she could get herself down safely.

The video shows the solution I found for her: I taught  her to walk down sideways. that way the surface of each stair seems longer and the angle more shallow. But that was not quite “safe” enough for her.  So rather than tossing the treat on the step itself which I had tried unsuccessfully at first, I presented the lure in my open palm about halfway between the two step surfaces. That way it was much easier for her to get to the reward for her bravery. At the same time I blocked the scary view of the actual depth of the distance for her.

That little increment allowed her to become relaxed about the process.  I believe that presenting a treat in a way that requires the dog to lick has a calming effect since licking their lips is a self calming gesture dogs perform naturally.

A couple of days later the owner reported to me that her puppy wants to climb up and down every staircase leading up to a building entrance they pass on walks!

The moral of the story for me: Don’t be frustrated when you have to break up a process into tiny increments. It might seem inordinately time consuming at first but the pay off is priceless.  

And the proof!!

I just got a little video from Mochi’s humans: showing off:

  1. How adorable! Such manners for Nono and Sia. Very creative on the adults end.

    Comment by karen on June 10, 2011 at 10:42 pm
  2. That is totally hilarious! Great job and really fun to watch!

    Comment by Fran on June 10, 2011 at 10:59 pm
  3. Actually my friend and website designer Kendra Dixson was the person who sent me the video. So 99% of the credit goes to her!

    Comment by Elisabeth on June 11, 2011 at 7:55 am
  4. Hee hee, well a good friend of mine forwarded it to me so the list goes on. I think it is so cute and I’m amazed at how well the dogs are behaved, although you do see a little help from the human hands so they don’t dive their noses into their dish. lol

    Comment by Kendra Dixson on June 11, 2011 at 2:56 pm
  5. yes the dogs are great! I also liked HOW they helped the dogs by pretending it was a human “putting your chin in your hands” gesture. It is most entertaining.

    Comment by Elisabeth Weiss on June 11, 2011 at 3:24 pm