The concept of cooperative care is a simple one: teach pets behaviors that will allow them to willingly participate in their own health and grooming care. When they do, brushing and combing, injections, pill-giving and more are easier on everyone—especially your dog. The chin rest is one such behavior and it has many applications. Here’s how to teach it and use it.
The Behavior in a Nutshell
Dogs frequently rest their chin on us as a way of seeking attention. For a trained chin rest, the dog rests their chin and face on an area or object for a given duration to permit handling or procedures without the need to hold the animal in place. Generally, a chin rest occurs with the animal in a stationary standing position, but a sit, down, or other position may be beneficial for a particular aspect of care.
Purpose and Application
While holding a chin rest, the animal can be examined, handled, acclimated to equipment, or accept procedures such as nail trims, vaccinations, blood draws, or application of eye or ear medication. It’s useful not only for health and grooming care but also to help dogs learn that being handled can be pleasant and rewarding.
What You’ll Need
Everything you need to teach a chin rest behavior can be found easily and inexpensively at home. Here’s what to gather:
- A target item for the chin to rest on (this can be a towel, washcloth, blanket, pheromone-impregnated soft cloth, Snuggle Puppy, Scents of Security, or other soft toy)
- Platform for target item’s placement (stool, chair, or box, ideally at a height to allow for easy placement of chin on item while dog is in a stand position).
- Note: the palm of a hand may be used to position the animal’s chin; however, an inanimate object is ideal when possible to allow for full movement of the handler (whether that’s you, a veterinary technician, veterinarian, or groomer) around the animal and to provide added space for safety and to adjust to hospital or grooming facility procedures, especially when performing a more invasive procedure that may inadvertently cause the animal to react.
Make sure everything is in place before getting started. If you don’t have a Treat-Ment Station set up in your home, watch the video mentioned below or choose an appropriate place with few distractions to serve as your training area.
- Start with the animal in a standing position, ideally on top of their nonslip Treat-Ment Station.
- Encourage the animal to move their nose, face, and eventually their chin over the target item by rewarding with treats small movements toward and over the object, with the eventual goal of the chin touching the object. Say “treat” (or the word of your choice) or click a clicker to pinpoint for the animal the reward-worthy moment that’s earning the follow-up treat reward.
- Alternatively, use a luring technique to get the animal’s chin on the target item, rewarding in small increments as they move closer.
- Once the animal’s face is over the target, continue to feed in this position. If the animal shifts into a sit or down, use a food lure or toss a treat out and away to encourage the animal to move into a standing position.
- Once the animal is orienting their head over the target, build toward the animal resting their chin on the item by marking downward movement of the head with a word or click. You can also use a food lure to encourage the animal to rest the chin atop the target.
- Initially, keep the feeding hand just in front of the nose to encourage the animal to stay in position. Then transition the behavior by feeding treats out of the other hand while the first hand is shaped as if it has a treat, but with none inside. Then, eventually move hands out and away from the face, continuing to reward for duration of the animal keeping their chin in place. If the animal moves out of position, try prompting the animal back into place, potentially using a pointing gesture or hand shaped as if it has a treat inside, rewarding the animal once their chin is back in place atop the target.
- Over time, increase duration by mixing in slightly longer durations with short durations. This helps to keep the animal’s interest while building duration.
- Separately, add in distractions and other changes in variation to the care scene, such as change in handler’s position and orientation relative to the animal. If the animal breaks the chin rest and moves their head up, make the next try even easier to ensure a win. Build variations slowly, using a pace at which the animal remains willing, relaxed, and successful.
When incorporating new tools, such as nail trimmers, allow the animal time to get used to the object, letting them sniff it and then rewarding them for being calm in its presence.
Incorporate the new item gradually, first touching the animal in an area they’re comfortable with being touched, then using a gradual sliding touch to move to more sensitive areas of the body.
A head-up position indicates unease. Pause, adjust, and potentially stop the handling or care. If head and chin remain down, that signals the animal’s green light to proceed.
Chin Rest Resources
Use this Searchable Directory of Fear Free Certified Veterinary Practices and Fear Free Certified Professionals to find Fear Free care in your neighborhood.
This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.
Mikkel Becker is a certified trainer specializing in dogs and cats, co-author of five books in the “Ultimate Pet Lover” series, and the resident trainer for Vetstreet.com. In her professional work, Becker uses positive reinforcement and non-force training strategies based in scientific learning theory. She is an honors graduate of the rigorous and prestigious Academy for Dog Trainers at the San Francisco SPCA, a graduate of the Purdue University Dogs and Cats course, and a graduate of the Karen Pryor Academy. She completed an internship at the Purdue Animal Behavior Clinic with Dr. Nicolas Dodman and Dr. Stephanie Borns-Weil and is a certified professional dog trainer through the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, a certified dog behavior consultant through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, and the resident trainer for veterinary behaviorist Dr. Wailani Sung.
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Published February 2, 2024