If you mention giving dogs more control in training, most people envision a dog that chooses to run wild, chasing cats, stealing ice cream cones, and knocking over little old ladies.
Instead, we're talking about giving the dog some level of control over what happens to them in situations where it's safe and appropriate to do so.
One form of control we can give animals is to choose to start or stop an activity. I use this a lot in training, especially when it comes to handling exercises for grooming or vet care.
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!
A chin rest is one behavior we can use to give a dog a choice to start or stop an activity. 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 introduce stethoscopes 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 takes their needs into account. Because 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.
How To Teach A Chin Rest