Buster goes to the dog wash

This was a visit a couple of days ago.

This was a practice visit, he was settled and secured. He is somewhat relaxed, his right elbow is wide so his chest is not tense. Buster was rewarded, then we left. A couple of days later we returned and he was familiar with the environment and relaxed almost immediately.

The goal of this type of exercise is to get Buster used to (conditioned to) being handled, pushed, pulled and squeezed by humans.

This transfers into the home environment relatively simply and when done well Buster will generalize the acceptance of handling, the trust in humans and the different environments, groomers and vets.

To start with we are getting him used to it.

“Getting used to it” is termed “desensitization” in dog training terms.

Not entirely enjoying it, but stable and quiet.

After the desensitization we can work on “counter-conditioning” which means that he is not only tolerating it because it is not such a big deal, but actually welcomes it.

As an aside it is important that you work on the behaviors and reduce the anxiety first, the desensitization, before working on the counter conditioning. If you have not taken care of the anxieties first, trying to counter-condition can make the behaviors worse or block progress entirely!

The extra value in this environment is that any dog who is a bit reactive is being lightly stressed while getting a wash, shampoo and dried, (they would rather be somewhere else) so you get to learn something about your rescued dog in this environment. I will often bring the dog in shortly after arriving from the shelter as part of their behavioral and personality evaluation.

During this workout session I make sure that I touch Buster anywhere and everywhere, in particular his legs and feet, also his mouth, tongue, lips, ears, armpits, groin, tail and butt.

Each time I raise his paws individually I will restrain him for a few seconds and then release, putting my finger between his toes and in the palm. This is useful later to search for burrs or foxtails and also when he needs a blood draw. This is often a sensitive area. For many dogs this is quite threatening as a dog who has his paws damaged is at a real disadvantage in a prey/predator survival situation.

So I am careful to mark each moment of relaxed compliance with the clicker and a treat and do many repetitions with no negative consequences from the dog’s perspective. Soon when I take his paw he lets it go slack immediately and looks up in anticipation. We are making good progress!


My role is to evaluate the dogs performance under stress so that I can see what aspects need work. Do not try this at home with a newly rescued dog, the dog will already be stressed from all the changes.

To place them in this stressful environment early in the adoption and poke and prod them can be quite unsettling for a dog who has no experience.

(The first visit to the vet when they stick a thermometer where the sun doesn’t shine always seems silly to me. Hey, not on a first date!)

So you can see behaviors exhibited here that are unusual for the dog in normal circumstances when he has settled into your home.

For a Labrador or a Golden Retriever, often the water side of the equation is a minor surprise and no more than a minor irritation, some of them actually enjoy it! Although I think more frequently I see a dog that will dive into Lake Tahoe in February without a second thought when chasing a stick somehow turns into a quivering wreck when confronted with a warm bath!

For some dogs, with a few notable exceptions, I would generalise Border Collies and Aussies among them, it can seem as if you are a monster intent on killing them.

Have you ever seen anything more pitiful than Ellie in the bath?

Would you want to do a personality evaluation on this dog?
Check out what she really looks like in the next photo!

Personality and Behavioral Evaluations
are environmentally influenced!
Behavioral Evaluations in the Shelter environment
are not worth the paper they are printed on!

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