This Chapter introduces the following topics: -

Introducing a harness to a dog

"Hand shy" dogs


This is a very effective way of distracting a dog and giving it something to concentrate on, and is particularly useful with getting a dog used to having a harness put on, or to desensitise "hand shy" dogs.


Tightly hold a tastyfood treat between your fingers and thumb - a very small piece of cheese, cooked meat, burger, sausage, or a crunchy dog biscuit is very effective. Then allow the dog to lick and nibble at the treat so that it gradually manages to get the treat from between your fingers and thumb, rather than allowing the dog to take it in one quick gulp! Even when the treat is gone allow the dog to lick every last molecule of the treat from your fingers - What we often do not realise is that part of the reward for the dog is to make absolutely sure that they have left nothing behind.



If you are introducing a dog to having a harness put over its head, lure the dog by holding the treat between fingers and thumb between the straps for the neck hole while holding the harness with the other hand. While the dog's head is bowed and concentrating on nibbling the tasty treat, slip the harness over the neck with the other hand.

Do not attempt to do up the buckles of the harness on this first occasion.

Allow the dog to make a pleasant environmental photo of having the harness going over its head and around its neck as it plays the Nibbles Game. Repeat the Game as you remove the harness over the dog's head and allow it to get another treat from between your fingers.

Repeat this exercise on a number of occasions and gradually work up to fastening the harness around the dog in between games of Nibbles.

You can gradually phase out playing Nibbles once the dog is so desensitised to having a harness put on or off, but always keep the element of surprise by occasionally playing Nibbles at harness time.


"Hand Shy" DOGS

Nibbles is a great way to help dogs overcome their fear of being -

  • Approached by, or introduced to, strangers.
  • Examined by the vet, or by judges in the breed show ring
  • Groomed, especially puppies or rehomed dogs

Hanley, a very wary Springer Spaniel who would not allow anyone to come near or touch him, really enjoyed playing Nibbles. He was first introduced to putting on and wearing a harness (see above) and then began playing Nibbles first with his family, then with their friends, and eventually strangers such as the vets; children of different ages and temperament; people wearing hats or glasses, carrying haversacks, umbrellas or walking sticks; etc.


The secret of the success of this game is that the harness is used as a "target" for the humans to touch rather than trying to touch the dog anywhere else on its body - most of the dog's stress is caused by not knowing where on its body humans are going to put their hands. The dog's confidence grows as it realises that everyone consistently touches only the top of the harness (and nowhere else), a place where the dog can look round and see what the hand is doing, . Eventually the dog will become so pleased to play Nibbles that it will actively seek out people to touch first its harness and gradually allow people to touch it elsewhere on its body. Once again, the dog has built up a rewarding environmental photo of people approaching it and reaching out their hands towards its body.


Never approach a dog in a confined space where it will feel trapped and unable to escape the situation - the only solution left to it in these circumstances is to ATTACK YOU before you "attack" it.


If the dog is on a lead the handler should walk with the dog in any direction that it chooses, as though it was off-lead. The dog needs to feel that it is free to make its own choices and decide for itself where it wants to go and what it wants to do.

We also recommend that everyone uses "polite" calming signals when approaching and greeting the dog, such as -

  • Slowly approach the dog in a wide curve - do not walk towards it "head on" in a straight line.
    - If the dog becomes anxious or uses calming signals, walk even more slowly or stop altogether until the dog gets used to your presence.
    - If all else fails at this stage, sit down on the ground, turn your head and eyes away and wait for the dog to approach you. I have been known to "talk to the ants" as a displacement activity that makes the dog so curious that it comes over to see what I have found so interesting and exciting that it has my attention - devious, but it works!
  • As you approach the dog avoid making direct eye contact with the dog, and perhaps turn your head away as well to help calm the dog down.
  • Our relaxed facial muscles and a gentle smile, particularly around the eyes, is also very effective with many fearful dogs.
  • Other displacement activity you can use to relax the dog is - stopping and pretending to tie up your shoe laces, humming or singing quietly to yourself, look at your watch or something from your pocket, quietly blow your nose, etc.
  • Approach the dog sideways on - do not stand over the dog or reach your hand out towards it.
  • Crouched down by the side of the dog, still avoiding eye contact, and if you do speak use a calm quiet confident voice rather than an excited one.
  • Begin playing Nibbles but wait for the dog to approach your hand rather than invade its personal space.


It may take quite a lot of time in the first session to overcome the dog's nervousness, but be patient and as long as you are consistent with everything you do on the next attempt the dog will begin to relax and trust you and your motives.

Do NOT ask too much from the dog at these early stages - it may take three or four sessions before the dog is happy for you to reach out and gently touch the harness it is wearing.

Never attempt to grab hold of the harness or hold the dog - it will feel trapped and may defend itself if it feels cornered. If it does give you a "warning" (such as a growl, snarl, snaps at the air close to your hand, or rolls over onto its back with its paws in the air in full submission) respect what it is trying to communicate to you. You obviously pushed the dog past its limits, you need to slow down the training programme and watch the dog more carefully in future for any calming signals it may use to calm the situation down.


This web site has been written by Sally Hopkins (unless the author of the web page is stated otherwise).


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