Chin Up! Teaching the Chin Rest
TEAM Cooperative Care Program
by Deb Jones
When I was designing the TEAM Cooperative Care Certificate (CCC) one of the things I wanted to make sure I did was cover all the foundations and then build up complexity on those through the three levels (soon to be five!) I chose the ten essential exercises with much thought. The number 1 exercise is the chin rest, and that’s intentional. To me, the chin rest is an excellent entry exercise that allows us to build up to more challenging procedures.
The term chin rest is fairly descriptive; your dog rests his chin somewhere. We start with the palm of one hand, then move to both hands, then other objects in your lap (like a towel or pillow), and then off your body (like a chair or stool). Once we add duration and steadiness to the chin rest we have a very strong foundation for other husbandry work such as ear and eye drops.
The true value of the chin rest is that it is a voluntary way to stabilize the dog. By building great value for this behavior our dogs choose to stay in position even as we present additional challenges. Once a dog is still and stable, then we can begin introducing additional handling and procedures. While in cooperative care work we are concerned mainly with physical care related to grooming and veterinary procedures, the chin rest’s usefulness extends well beyond this application. I find it incredibly helpful for teaching dogs to hold objects in their mouths. I’ve also used it as a nice clear target for straight front positioning. In addition, it allows me to quickly orient my dog towards me and also seems to have a nice calming effect. So there are plenty of reasons to spend some time teaching this behavior!
As with teaching many behaviors, the most difficult part is the beginning. We need to find a way to communicate to our dogs that chin in hand (or on object) is the desired behavior. Once we do that then adding in the variations and additional challenges tends to flow along pretty smoothly. I begin with the single-handed chin rest. I’m simply building up the behavior of my dog placing his chin into the open palm of one hand when I offer it.
I typically begin by placing my hand under my dog’s chin, using my behavior marker, and then feeding so my dog’s head remains stretched across my hand. I’m causing the contact, then reinforcing my dog in a position that encourages the positioning I want.
Once that is going well I start presenting my hand just about an inch below my dog’s chin and an inch forward. At this point my dog needs to make the effort to make contact with my hand. If he makes any effort at all by moving towards my hand I mark and reinforce that. This is a critical point. It’s not necessary to wait for actual contact, in fact that might be counterproductive. Effort matters at this point! I will continue to feed my dog in the desired position with his head stretched across my hand (doesn’t necessarily need to be touching, just stretched across). With this approach I’m likely to start getting some incidental touches of my hand, and can reinforce those even more highly (jackpot!) with more treats in position. At this point I’m likely to be able to transition into shaping towards the desired behavior.
Take a look at some early training here: