When owning a dog, there are many situations where desensitization is very important. Desensitization is taking the opportunity to help your dog react less or to be less affected by something, and eventually even be able to enjoy whatever that something is. To keep things simple, I will use the example of desensitizing your dog to wearing a doggie jacket (since it has still been pretty cold in our area). Keep in mind, these tips can apply to just about anything you want your dog to get used to doing, seeing or wearing.
Every dog is different with novelty items, especially if it is something new that is to be worn on their bodies. Some dogs may be completely comfortable with a jacket, as if they have worn it their entire lives, while others may be uncomfortable with the new item that is now on their body. If your dog is the latter, then now is the time to practice desensitizing him to the new jacket!
As in most important training sessions, you want to stock your pockets (or treat bag) with the tastiest treats you can find. Make sure it is something your dog loves and that it is high in value. Now is the time to pull out the pieces of chicken, hot dog or cheese. Now, a few sessions of desensitizing must occur before it is time to even put the jacket on your dog.
First, take the jacket out and let your dog investigate it. As soon as he looks at it, give him praise and a treat. As soon as he sniffs it, give him praise and a treat. Timing is important here. You want to provide treats and praise the moment he is looking and the moment he is sniffing. Essentially, you want your dog to think “jacket = good things!”
If you practice this several times and your dog seems to be accepting the food and not seeming uncomfortable with the presence of the jacket, you can then move to the next level. Place the jacket over his head for a couple of seconds, take it off, and then immediately provide a tasty treat. Then repeat this step many times, until your dog seems comfortable and at times, even poking his head through the jacket in anticipation of a treat. After this is accomplished, depending on the type of jacket, repeat the same steps for the arms of the jacket, any straps it may have, etc.
If at any time your dog seems too uncomfortable or begins nipping or squirming around to get away, do not get frustrated. If this occurs, give your dog a break and try again when he seems calm. If he tries to bite at the jacket at any time provide him with a non-reward mark of “eh-eh” or “no” (whatever word you like to use for letting him know he is not going to get rewarded), end the session momentarily, and put the treats away. Once he seems calm again, or even the next day, you can try again.
Eventually, with some tasty treats, repetition, and patience, you should be able to put the jacket on your dog with ease and he should seem comfortable putting it on and wearing it.
Good luck training!
Trainer, Perfect Pooch