Sometimes you’ll find you need to create a behavior, but for some reason it’s impossible or near impossible. This is where a workaround can help.
Recently, I had to take Cash to the vet for a burst and abscessed cyst. It was just on the side of his ribcage, and when we got there there was no way — no way –– he was going to lay down and let us look at it. It was too sore, and he doesn’t like showing his belly to strangers at the best of times. Thankfully, I realized this in the waiting area when one of the receptionists asked to see it, and he wouldn’t lay down and roll over for me.
For the next ten minutes we worked on this “trick,” using treats the vet keeps on the counter. I quickly realized, however, that no matter how tempting the treats or how insistent I was, he was not going to roll and show us that wound. He would, however, roll to his other side.
Ah ha! Here was my workaround. We practiced rolling to the wrong side over and over, until he was happy to roll over and show people that part of his belly. Then we practiced rolling a bit farther each time, until he was rolling full on his back instead of just on his side. Now we could get to that other side and the wound! When the time came, he wasn’t willing to roll fully onto his back for the vet, realizing that something new was happening, but he was willing to roll far enough so she could see. Workaround complete!
Here’s another one. One of my clients has a little boxer named Sachi. She was mentioning that she couldn’t get Sachi to lay down on command, no matter what she did. I boarded Sachi for a weekend, and tried myself. None of the usual tricks worked. I was stumped; I couldn’t get her to lay down, either! Since it wasn’t a high priority, it was more of a funny quirk than anything we were worried about. Then one day I was watching her at my client’s house, and saw her lay down chest-first.
“Huh,” I thought. She had laid down the normal way as well, but a glimmer of an idea started to bubble. “Sachi,” I said, “come over here a second.” (I often talk to dogs like they’re people, but note that this is an optional command. I didn’t give her an order to obey, I just caught her attention and asked her if she’d like to come over.) When Sachi came over I grabbed one of her favorite treats and put it in my fist on the floor. Like usual, she bent her head and nuzzled at my hand. Then, instead of any of the other dozen tricks I’d tried before, I pressed gently down and back on her shoulders. Sure enough, her chest went to the floor. Treat.
We did it again, and again her chest went to the floor. This time, though, I slid my hand down her back and encouraged her butt down as well. Down it went! Treat.
Within thirty seconds she was laying down on command — chest first. Another workaround!
It takes a little bit of creative thinking, and sometimes some internet searching for ideas, but often if you have a behavior a dog doesn’t find comfortable or doesn’t want to do, there’s a workaround for it. You’ve just got to think outside the box!