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Dog-Training Tips with Greg Kleva

The Martha Stewart Show, January 2009

A dog's instinctive response to touch is defensive. Through training and desensitization, however, you can change his or her perception, creating positive associations so that when an emergency arises, your dog will not feel threatened by the touching needed to administer first aid or other care.

You'll want to start this process while petting and playing with your dog -- giving lots of love and affection. Do this on a leash; if your dog attempts to get away, you can guide him or her back.

Part 1: Sit and Lay Down
First, get your dog to sit in front of you. Take food or a toy and place it on the floor to guide your pet's head down while you give the "down" command. Apply gentle pressure to guide your dog down while you pet. Use light, happy tones to encourage him while he's preoccupied with the food or toy.

When focusing on the rear, you are getting the dog accustomed to a vet examination, and this gives you an opportunity to uncover any pain he may be experiencing from hip dysplasia or tumors. The collar area also is a very vulnerable and sensitive area for the dog. While training your dog to be comfortable with touch, look for signs that he or she is uncomfortable, such as stiffness or stillness. If he's warning you with an angry look or growl, move your hand away and try a little later.

Part 2: Roll on Side or Back
Gently guide your dog onto his or her side. You can even try to roll him onto his back. You're teaching him to trust you in a position that can be vulnerable. You may need to use the food toy as a lure. Then, touch the dog's paws, spending plenty of time massaging his feet, in particular between the pads. Feet can be a sensitive area for many dogs, but if you're on a walk and your dog gets a piece of glass stuck in his paw, you know he's going to be comfortable letting you look for it. This will also get him more relaxed with nail trimming.

Part 3: Inside of Mouth
A dog's defense mechanism is its mouth, so when we put our hands there, the dog may feel like you're messing with his only means of getting out of a situation. It's important to be able to get your hands in a dog's mouth in the event he eats something poisonous or is choking on a bone or stick.

You can desensitize the mouth area by using a good doggie toothpaste in appealing flavors, usually chicken or beef. Begin by putting a bit of paste on your finger. With your dog sitting or standing in front of you, simply let him lick it off. Now, do the same thing, but put your finger in his mouth, inside the lips, outside of the teeth. And here's a little trick: Rub some of that paste in the heel of your hand. Then, while the dog is licking it off, massage his gums with your forefinger, or start to manipulate the mouth a little more.

If you need to remove an item, like a ball, from your dog's mouth, there are two ways to do so. Open the dog's mouth with your hands, or lure him with something better than what he has. Give the command "Give." and then shake a bag of treats.When he drops the toy, praise and reward him with a treat.

Part 4: Walking an Older, Arthritic, or Injured Dog
At some point in his life, your dog may need you to help him walk. You can teach him to walk while you suspend his back end in a sling. Make it a game; keep it light and fun and keep training sessions short. To make a sling using a bath towel, begin by rolling the towel long ways. Place the middle section in front of your dog's back legs with the two ends over his back. Lift slightly to help the dog support his weight. If needed, encourage him with a treat and lots of praise to take a few steps forward. This technique can be used for dogs with a leg injury as well.

Special thanks to Greg Kleva, dog behavioral therapist and host of Sirius Radio's "It's a Dog's Life," which airs at 8 p.m. Thursdays, for sharing this information. For more information on dog behavior, visit Get more ideas for your animals with television's top tips for pet owners.

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