How to stick tweezers into your dogs nostril!

Now now! Don’t wince and dismiss this blog as some psycho’s sick fetish. Bear with me a bit. I am now going to head back to Nishi’s health and some coping strategies we used. As my earlier blogs indicate, Nishi’s accident left the right side of her face completely damaged. Her right nostril does not produce any moisture resulting in crusting on the inside. We have to frequently clean it out (at least once a day) using tweezers for this purpose. How annoying and scary for a little dog like her. While few of you have perhaps had to stick something up your dogs nostril, I am sure you frequently encounter situations where your dog has some irrational fear of something and you want your dog to get over that fear and get comfortable with that object or situation, just the way I needed Nishi to get over her fear of tweezers and get comfortable with me putting it in her nostril. So, here’s how dealt with this.

Picture taken 3 months after her accident showing the constant crusting in her right nostril

One afternoon, we found ourselves sitting on the floor and pinning Nishi baby down, trying to calm her down, wrestling with her and the tweezers and losing the battle, losing patience and the will to continue. Finally I gave up, stood up, threw the tweezers away and yelled out that I could not do this any more. What the hell were we doing? Here was a puppy who had just been through hell and we were making things worse. We are her parents. We had to be making things better! “Why won’t she understand that this wont hurt and it’s for her own good Uttam?” I yelled. He calmly said “How is she to know that?”.  I huffed and walked away.

Finally when the frustration gave way to reason I kept turning that question in my head. “How is she to know that it won’t hurt her?”. I had to tell her. I had to somehow tell her. But how? I took a deep breath. I knew then that I had to learn to communicate with her. She was so good at telling when when she was afraid or happy or sad or hungry. Could I not tell her something? I went back out and found her sitting in a corner, feeling utterly miserable about this whole episode. My heart went out to her. I took a few cookies and went up to her, knelt in front of her, apoligized and gave her some cookies. She tentatively look a few then started slowly wagging her tail and licked my wrist. Bless her little soul for getting past it so fast. A tear dropped down my cheek and I was determined to make it all better.

I got up, shook myself the way she has taught me to shake myself [and fetched her ball. We started playing. We forgot all about the episode and we had a fun fun game. She finally collapsed after a tiring game of chase .(update: I no more recommend playing fetch with  dog).] I took a few more of her favorite treats and went up to her and started giving her the treats one at a time. I slowly pulled the tweezers our and put it on the floor, far away from her and continued giving her the treats. I don’t think she noticed the tweezers. I kept the treats coming and slowly started moving the treats towards her, talking softly to her. At one point, she noticed it from the corner of her eye and froze. I stopped moving it and pulled it away. I continued talking softly. Wearily she moved her attention back to the treats. I slowly moved the tweezers closer again. She kept an eye on it, while she continued to take the treats. I stopped moving the tweezers. Just kept talking to her and treating her. Finally she lost interest in the tweezers and rolled on her back asking for a belly rub. I took the chance and moved the tweezers closer. After a 30 min long session of treating and conversation, the tweezers were right under her nose on the floor. She had examined it and decided that it was not worth thinking of. Battle 1: WON! “Tweezers are are not the enemy.”

UPDATE:I now recommend different methods. If I had to do this now, I would just put the tweezers down and sit calmly around it and allow Nishi to examine it. I know she will take time and pretend like she is not interested in it. But eventually she would examine it. If I saw she was not nervous around it anymore, I would encourage her to examine it by leaving a few treats near it and just giving her time to examine it at her own pace, even if it took an hour 

Now I had to move to step 2:” Tweezers are friends!”. For this, I went back again, picked up a few more treats, and everytime I dropped a treat on the floor, I dropped the tweezers with it. At first, she jumped back, looked at me confused, then slowly steered clear of the tweezers and picked up the treat and bolted! But as we continued doing it, she started to ignore the tweezers. After the 10th time, we moved to the next level. I’d drop the tweezers first, then drop the treat a few seconds later. By the time I had done that a few times, she got the idea. “Tweezers means Treats”. Now the tweezers had become her friend. She started wagging her little stubby tail when she saw that small piece of metal.

This step was so successful that by the next day, when I pulled the tweezers out she would start prancing about. So we started playing a game. I would touch it to her little nose, make a little high pitched sound – “boop” – and then run. She would chase me and when she caught up to me I would pet her, treat her and repeat. She would stand look up and offering up her little black nose for the “boop” and ready to chase.

UPDATE:I now recommend different methods. If I had to do this now, I would tone down the excitement, slow down the process so that she had time to realize learn and process faster

After 2 days of this, on the 3rd day, I decided to go for the last and final step. I dreaded it! If just getting over the fear of the apparatus took so long, how long would it take to put it in her nostril and clean? I took a deep breath [and we started with a high energy game of ball.(update: I no more recommend playing fetch with  dog).] When she was exhausted, we collapsed under the fan and we started playing a mild version of the “boop” game. “Boop” and treat and pet. No running. After a few attempts, I tentatively put the tweezers a little into her nostril and quickly pulled it out and treated her, dreading that she was going to get up and bolt. To my utter surprise, she had no reaction at all. She just kept playing the “boop” game, slowly losing interest in it. She finally fell flat on her side and just wanted to be petted. I continued the “boop” game, petting her everytime I put the tweezers a little deeper into her nose. She seemed to have lost all interest by now. After a few seconds, she just shut her eyes. I am not sure if she was sleeping. I ventured trying to clean up a bit and no reaction! So I went ahead and cleaned it all up. No reaction at all! Hmm…perhaps she was tired. I had to try again to be sure. So later in the day, we tried the whole thing again. First ball play, then the “boop” game. This time, it was right after her meal. So she was not particularly interested in the treat and she had lost all interest in the “boop” game, but did not really care about the tweezers. It was as if she was telling me “Mommy! Please stop with that silly game. You want to clean my nostril? Just do that and get it done with. This boop game is no fun at all”.

Today, we breeze through it. Before bed, we have a routiene. I have to brush her teeth, clean her eyes, put drops in them, clean her nose, put moisturizer inside her nostrils and on her snout. She is quite bored through all of it. But she is not scared. She tolerates the whole thing, waiting to be done. Then we start petting her profusely. If she is interested, she stays back and gets petted. Else she bolts after the toy that has been on her mind all along.

It’s been two years since I managed to get Nishi over her fear of that dreaded metal object. Now, after a lot of reading, I realized that this technique has a name to it – Desensitization and Counter-Conditioning or DnC or D&C.  

Desensitization is what I did as Step 1 – teaching her The Strange Object is NOT THE ENEMY. So exposing her to the object at a distance or intensity that will not spook her and then slowly increasing intensity or decreasing distance. Till she finally is close enough and is realizing “This is not scary. It’s not going to hurt me”.

Counter-Conditioning is Step 2 of this process – teaching her that this non-enemy is actually HER FRIEND. So, basically, every time she is in the proximity of the object, treating her to something she loves. Eventually, as approaches the object, she starts expecting great things. In her mind “Tweezers are cool. They get me treats” and the very sight of this object makes her so happy.

We have since, used this method to deal with so many fears. We got her over her fear of water and taught her how to swim. In fact, we even taught the vet about it. When we took her to the vet and he had to clean her nostril, she started wriggling. We told him to slow down a bit and play the “boop” game and give her some treats. I had carried the treats with me that day. He was amused, but humored us. Now, he and Nishi are best of friends because she will let him do anything to her – Anything! The “boop” game is powerful 🙂

This is a video of Nishi swimming. 
Desensitization was achieved by us getting into the water.
We stood 2 feet apart and let her swim between the two of us.
We did this till she realized that she could swim then gradually increased distance
Since she loves to play, we used her favorite floating toy for Counter-Conditioning.

If anyone reading this has other suggestions on how they got their dog over irrational fears, please do leave comments. I would love to know.

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