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Desensitization is the process of teaching your pet that a specific stimulus (nail trim, ear cleaning, injection, etc.) is non-threatening over time, this process can be very rewarding with the desired end result, but can take a lot of patience and time to complete. If desensitization attempts happen too quickly, you can cause more aversion to the trigger, so it is important to move at the pace dictated by the pet.
In order for desensitization to work, you must first identify the trigger stimulus and a reward that your pet finds AMAZING. The reward has to overcome the trigger, so that they learn to expect the reward after allowing the trigger event to occur. For some dogs, the reward could be a yummy treat, like hot dogs or peanut butter. Other dogs are not as food motivated, so you have to be a little more creative and possibly use their favorite toy or petting. Either way, your dog must find the reward absolutely AMAZING!
After identifying the trigger and reward, you can start to get to work. For the first few sessions you may never actually complete the task, but the process will begin none-the-less. If your dog is sensitive to having his toe nails trimmed, the first few sessions should be focused on starting to touch your dog's feet by rewarding your dog when they allow you touch their neck, then shoulder, then gliding your hand down their leg, and very gradually working your way towards picking up their foot and touching their individual toes. From here you can slowly introduce the nail clipper again taking the time to reward every small allowance. If you reach a point where they begin to resist, this is where you go back to the step before until they allow you to move further. If you start to push them past their resistance point you can begin to make the experience negative, making it even more challenging in the future.
If you have any questions or would like assistance in formulating a desensitization plan for your pet, please call us to ask us about our new Victory Visits! These visits will help desensitize you pet to a range of events, from nail trims to subcutaneous injections for things like insulin, fluids, or joint supplements, or simply just a visit to the vet! Watch the video below and call us for an appointment 970-963-2371.
Preparing Your Dog to Visit the Vet
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