You have a great canine partner. You’ve taken care of service dog certification and the two of you are looking at a long, equally beneficial relationship. However, you have some new equipment to introduce to your four-legged buddy and it may take some getting used to. Take heart, with patience, common sense and a little luck, you’ll be able to make a positive connection between your dog and the new gear. Here are some tips that should help.
The younger the dog, the easier he is to teach. When you have to get your service dog accustomed to something new, like a harness, for example, you need to convince him that things he hasn’t seen or experienced before are okay. Take your time with the introduction of a new piece of equipment. Let your dog examine it and get used to seeing this new thing in his environment. He’ll sniff it, tentatively pick it up in his mouth perhaps. Allow him to give this new object a good going over.
Associate Treats With Proper Behavior
Most dogs are motivated by food, and you can use that to your advantage. Choose a certain type of treat, one you know your dog craves, and offer it when he exhibits acceptance of the new gear. Your partner will eventually come to associate that particular treat with wearing his new harness. You could use a favorite toy and a little play time in place of a treat, if that works better.
Dogs are intuitive. They know when their owners are experiencing anxiety or discomfort. You don’t want to transfer any sense of nervousness to your pet. Remember, this is a working animal, listed in the U.S. Registry for Service Dogs. He has a job to do and you can help him if you stay positive and upbeat about the new gear you want him to try.
Cuddle, Pet and Use Your Happy Voice
When you begin working with your dog, use your normal, calm voice. Remember, however, that dogs react more positively to a voice that has a higher pitch. Therefore, once your good buddy has made progress with the boots or the vest, use a higher, happy voice to praise him. Get silly, use a little baby talk. Give your partner lots of cuddles and pets. The goal is to let your dog know he is doing well by accepting the new articles, and that you are very happy with him.
Start With Short Outings
When your dog is wearing something new, allow him to get used to it slowly. Sometimes a piece of new equipment, like a harness, requires that your service dog use new muscles. Just as you would start out slowly if you were to begin a new running program, your dog will need the same consideration. Daily walks are important, but when new gear is involved, go for short outings to begin with and add to them over time.
Be observant. When your dog is trying out new equipment, be aware of his signals. If your pet appears to be stressed while you’re out on a walk, don’t push. Take him home and resume the walking routine another time.
Create a Good Experience
If your service dog has a bad experience with a new piece of equipment, he won’t forget. It will take you a long time to correct the unpleasant association he has with those new boots, for example. To avoid this, make sure that his initial interactions with the boots are good moments, even fun moments. You will have cleared an important hurdle and can forge ahead confidently, knowing it’s only a matter of time now until your buddy will eagerly embrace the new gear.