When I took Perri off of Nosework hiatus, one sub-area that I decided to give some attention to was Perri's aversion to harnesses. Perri often wears a harness for hiking - as soon as she begins running through the woods she forgets that she is wearing it. Perri wore a harness for her nosework ORT, but I had to put the harness on Perri before we made the 90 minute drive.
When I put Perri's harness on, she cringes her head down to the ground as low as she can go and shrinks downward. She is clearly saying, "I do not want that on me." Perri has a therapy dog vest and her reaction to this small piece of equipment is even more dramatic: she will roach her back violently and actually try to run away from it. (while it is on her body) It is not tight, and neither are any of her harnesses. Perri has been this way from her first day home with me about any equipment, and I will never know why. She used to cringe from a leash being clipped onto her collar, and even from collars. I do not know why she is more accepting of collars and leashes now, while the harness aversion still remains.
This is my newest lesson taught to me by my dogs. Perri needs to have a choice about the harness. I want her to wear the harness on hikes, and no doubt it is a far better piece of equipment than her collar. But it needs to be Perri's choice.
In Nosework, the harness is supposed to be a cue to the dog that Nosework is about to happen - they are supposed to be excited about it! For Perri, the harness has the complete opposite effect. It sucks the joy out of her entirely, to the point where she will barely search. We have done nearly all of her training either with the "put the harness on and wait several hours" approach, or without the harness.
Step One: No more harness on Perri unless she chooses to wear it.
Step Two: Get Perri to want to wear the harness.
We've been spending some time with lots and lots of treats and the harness. I wasn't sure how to go about this, but I sure do know how to read Perri these days (three years of living with a martian, you learn a few things.) I laid the harness on the ground and used the clicker, and at first it was simply c/t any behavior other than head down misery. We've been working it slowly over the past few weeks. But the cringing behavior has gone away, and I believe that Perri realizes that she has a choice. Perri is now allowed to make decisions about the harness. It has to be this way moving forward. I wanted to write about this tonight because when I began this evening's session, Perri did something she has never done before ever when she has watched me reach to take her harness off of the hook that it hangs on. Tonight, Perri kept her head up, her ears up, and her tail up. Eyes bright and interested.
I like where this is going. I love giving my dog a choice. I love seeing the shift in her attitude.