CHIN REST AND STOP/START SIGNALS
The chin rest is a useful behavior for providing general care at home, and can be used for low-stress vet exams and handling. This video shows the basic steps for training the chin rest. As with any how-to video, the length of time spent on each step is going to vary with each dog. Some dogs may progress through all the steps and hold a chin rest for several seconds on the first day, while others, including some of the dogs in this video, may need multiple sessions.
Also, this video shows the steps through building duration. Adding distractions, including the movement of your hands, introducing care tools like brushes, bottles, and more, will require additional training.
I find the chin rest is also extremely helpful when conditioning a dog to a muzzle (more on that in another post). A dog that has already learned the chin rest is able to quickly transition that behavior to the muzzle.
ADDING VERBAL CUE
Choose any word you like. "Chin," "Chinny," "Twelve," it really doesn't matter to the dog. They are all meaningless noises until the association to the behavior is formed.
You aren't ready to add a verbal cue until
1. The dog consistently and enthusiastically performs the behavior
2. The duration is at the level you want
If those criteria aren't met, you aren't ready to add the cue. Go back and do more practice until your dog is so consistent that your training is a clean loop. In other words, there are no other behaviors happening in between the treat and the next chin rest.
Once you have a fluent behavior, then you want to associate a verbal cue with it. The best way to do that is to set up your training session just like before. Now, right before your dog offers the chin rest, say your cue. Then click/treat as before. Repeat.
USING CHIN REST AS STOP/START SIGNAL
A Stop/Start signal is one way we can give dogs more control in training. It allows animals to choose to start or stop an activity. Especially when it comes to exercises for grooming or vet care where cooperation is most important.
When I was young, I had a dentist who didn't listen when I told him I was feeling pain. He told me it wasn't possible and continued the procedure. He didn't know what other dentists have since discovered - that I metabolize anesthesia at a faster rate than normal. I developed a severe phobia of dentists after that! Not long ago, I went to a new dentist. He instructed me to place my hand on my chest and raise it if I felt pain and he would immediately stop and address it. What a difference! Suddenly, I wasn't forced to endure something horrible, I could CONTROL what was happening to me! Here, the chin rest works the same way:
Chin down = Start
Chin up = Stop This video shows a dog who was uncomfortable with handling that even slightly resembled Scary Vet Stuff. He would do the chin rest, but if I moved toward him, he would angle his body away and even run away if he thought I was getting too personal. By giving him the power to stop the exercise by lifting his head, I give him control. That control reduces his stress, builds his trust that I'm not going to force Scary Vet Stuff on him, and increases his cooperation. Gradually, we will work up to touching ears, eyes, tail, and paws, plus restraint and other Scary Vet Things.
Giving a dog the control to make choices doesn't mean we let them make bad choices. It means that we structure our training in ways that take their needs into account. While it might seem faster to simply hold a dog down to clip their nails or clean their ears in the moment, in the long run, it will just get more and more difficult. Taking the time to build trust and cooperation by giving dogs a little control makes life easier for everyone.
To learn more about how to use this and other behaviors to build cooperative care at home and at the vet? Check out the Cooperative Care webinar.