Keeping your dog's ears clean and administering medications as needed is an essential part of caring for their health and wellbeing. However, many dogs are resistant or fearful of having their ears handled or being given medication. With time and positive reinforcement training techniques, you can help your dog become more comfortable and compliant with these necessary activities.
Some of the main reasons why regular ear cleaning and proper medications are important for dogs include:
- Preventing and treating ear infections – Dogs' ears are shaped in a way that makes them prone to infections. Regular cleaning keeps wax and debris from building up and allows you to spot signs of infection early.
- Facilitating exams and treatments – Veterinarians need to regularly examine a dog's ears to check for issues. Accustoming your dog to having their ears handled makes visits less stressful.
- Administering medications – Dogs often need medications for pain, infections, or chronic conditions. Training your dog to calmly accept both oral and topical medications helps ensure proper dosing.
- Reducing risk of injury to handler – Dogs in pain or fearful of ear cleaning may snap, scratch, or bite. This poses risks to the handler. Positive training reduces these behaviors.
While some dogs are naturally tolerant of ear handling and medications, many will resist or become anxious. By gradually and positively training your dog, you can help save them stress and discomfort while protecting their health.
How to Get Your Dog Comfortable With Handling of Ears
The first step in helping your dog accept ear cleanings and medications is to gradually get them comfortable with basic handling of their ears and head. Moving too fast with cleaning or medications could scare them and set your training back. Here are some tips for this initial stage:
- Start by gently petting and massaging areas around the ears, rewarding with treats.
- Touch the outer ear flap only briefly at first, paired with rewards.
- As your dog remains relaxed, hold the ears for slightly longer periods before treating.
- Gently fold the ear flap in your hand, give a treat, then return ear to neutral position.
- Rub the ear and gently pinch the base of the flap as your dog remains calm and content.
- Progress to holding the flap up and angling the base of the ear toward the ceiling for a few seconds prior to rewarding.
- Keep sessions brief at first to avoid overwhelming your dog.
Proceed gradually through these steps based on your individual dog's comfort level. If at any point your dog seems anxious or avoids you, go back to an earlier point in training. The key is to associate handling with something positive rather than inciting fear.
In later sessions, you can incorporate verbal cues like "Hold" as you handle their ears so they associate the word with remaining still. Be sure to use a calm, soothing tone of voice and praise throughout the process.
Introducing Ear Cleaning Products
Once your dog is comfortable with basic handling of their ears, you can start introducing cleaning products. This stage helps the dog grow accustomed to the textures and scents associated with ear cleaning:
- Let your dog sniff the bottle of ear wash or cleansing wipes you plan to use so they can become familiar with the smell.
- Place a small dab of the wash on your finger and allow your dog to lick it off as a treat. This starts building a positive association.
- As your dog lets you hold and massage their ear, apply a small amount of the cleanser to your finger and lightly rub it around the outer base of the ear flap. Reward your dog for tolerating this new step.
- Gradually work up to rubbing the cleanser further into the ear, making sure to NEVER insert anything into the ear canal. Always reward patience and obedience.
- When rubbing the cleanser on the ear, mimic motions you will do during full cleaning by gently folding the ear flap in your hand to expose the base of the ear canal. Give treats and praise.
You want your dog to view the smell and feel of ear wash products as a signal for rewards rather than distress. Introduce quantities gradually. If sensitivity arises, dial back to a previous step.
Simulating Full Ear Cleanings
Once your dog seems comfortable with handling and products, you can start simulating an actual ear cleaning:
- Apply cleanser to a cotton ball, wiping cloth, or whichever tool you plan to use.
- Lightly rub the cotton ball around the surfaces of the ear flap as your dog remains settled.
- Move to wiping around the outer ear canal opening without applying pressure or inserting cotton into the canal.
- Gently fold the ear as needed to access all surfaces, using your verbal cue like "Hold".
- Reward with praise and treats throughout the process.
- Gradually increase the intensity of your rubbing motions until they mimic a real cleaning.
- Repeat the process on the opposite ear as your dog remains compliant.
Avoid rushing this stage or inserting anything into the canal. You want to get your dog comfortable with the general motions and sensations of a full cleaning before attempting the real thing.
If your dog seems very uncomfortable or resistant, consider a vet visit to rule out underlying ear issues before continuing training. For healthy ears, proceed based on your dog's reactions.
Performing Full Ear Cleanings
Once simulating the process reliably keeping your dog settled and content, it's time to try full cleans:
- Have your dog sit or lie down and stay.
- Apply cleanser to your cleaning cloth or cotton as you give verbal cues to stay still.
- Fold ear gently and rub cleanser around all surfaces.
- Using only the amount of pressure recommended by your veterinarian or product instructions, wipe the outer ear canal using twisting outward motions to remove debris and wax. Reward intermittently.
- For easier access you can drape your dog's head over your arm as you clean.
- Use a clean dry cotton ball to gently wipe away any residual cleanser.
- Provide generous treats and praise when finished!
- Repeat process on the other ear.
Be attentive to any signs of discomfort or resistance. End the session and step back to a previous phase of training if needed.
If your dog remains compliant, continue practicing full cleanings during your regular ear care routine. Your positive conditioning should keep the process stress-free.
Getting Your Dog Comfortable With Medicating Eyes and Ears
In addition to ear cleaning, dogs often need eye drops, ear ointments, or other medicating that owners must administer. Once again, a gradual and positive approach sets them up for success:
- Let your dog inspect the medication bottle and reward them for calm interest.
- Squeeze a small dollop onto your finger for your dog to lick off before rewarding. This builds positive associations.
- With empty bottle, simulate giving eye drops by gently holding their head and hovering over the eye region. Reward.
- Add sensation by gently pulling down on skin beneath the eye as if administering drops. Reward cooperation.
- When drop administering, tilt the chin up so the eye region faces ceiling. This prevents dripping down face which may startle dog.
- When applying ear ointments, briefly show the dog the tube before gently squeezing a SMALL amount into your finger. Rub gently around the outer ear flap following previous training methods.
Take a gradual approach based on your dog's tolerance thresholds. Be aware of any signs of discomfort or fear. Stop and dial back if needed. Always pair with rewards!
With patience and consistency, your dog can learn to comply with medicating while staying relaxed and trusting of your care. This protects both their health and your relationship.
Being Kind and Patient With Your Dog
While this guide outlines a thorough positive training process for dogs to accept ear and medical treatments, the most crucial element is your kindness, empathy and patience as their caregiver.
- Remain calm and avoid expressing frustration at their fears or resistance.
- If your dog shows signs of distress, discomfort or avoidance, STOP and take a break rather than forcing interactions.
- Adjust techniques based on your individual dog's sensitivity and thresholds.
- Make sessions brief to avoid overload.
- End each session on a positive note with rewards so they retain trust.
- Consult your veterinarian if cleanings elicit pain that training does not resolve.
- Consider anxiety relieving supplements if your dog's fears persist despite a gradual approach.
While this process requires time and diligence from you, the payoff is a dog who remains at ease with handling and medicating. Your patience and TLC as you train makes all the difference in creating a positive, low-stress experience.
Troubleshooting Common Problems
Despite your best positive training efforts, some common challenges may arise:
- Fear of the sensations – Some dogs are inherently sensitive to having their ears touched. Take steps back to brief handling sessions with high rewards. Consistent counterconditioning can overcome sensitivities.
- Squirming – An active dog may have trouble staying still. Use command cues like "hold still" and give treats during brief moments of compliance, extending those periods through repetition.
- Discomfort from infection – Dogs with active ear infections may associate cleaning with pain. Have the infection treated to relieve discomfort before continuing training.
- Wax buildup – Heavy wax preventing cleaning can cause ear pain and head shaking. Seek veterinary help for flushing and treatment.
- Insufficient positive reinforcement – Ensure treats and rewards ALWAYS pair with handling/cleaning. Avoid scolding or expressing impatience.
- Traumatic past experience – Previous negative experience being held down for cleanings can instill fear. Revisit initial handling steps. Go extremely slowly.
- Poor timing – Rewarding at the wrong times can inadvertently reinforce negative behaviors. Mind your treat timing.
Do not hesitate to consult your veterinarian if training difficulties persist. Some dogs benefit from anti-anxiety medications while undergoing behavior modification.
Making Cleanings Quick and Efficient
With enough practice, you want your dog to view cleaning and medicating as a quick routine rather than prolonged event:
- Streamline the handling of ear positioning so you spend less time fumbling.
- Have all your supplies ready to go before starting.
- Incorporate verbal commands like "Hold" to keep them still and compliant.
- Get in a rhythm of cleaning motion, treat, next section, treat, etc.
- Provide a high rate of rewards.
- Stay calm and avoid prolonging the process unnecessarily.
- End on a high note with praise and a treat jackpot!
The goal is quick compliance without distress or avoidance. A structured routine prevents it from becoming a drawn out struggle.
Be sure to monitor your dog's ear health between cleanings. Consult your vet promptly at the first signs of infection or irritation rather than waiting until the next scheduled cleaning.
Signs Your Dog is Ready for Successful Cleaning/Medicating
When your dog demonstrates the following behaviors, you can be confident they are ready for routine ear care and medicating:
- Happily approaches the location where cleanings take place rather than avoiding.
- Allows gentle extended handling of ears and head without shying away.
- Remains relaxed and compliant when ear flap gently folded back.
- Does not pull away or paw at hand when ointments or drops applied.
- Sits still when given verbal cues like "Hold still" or "Hold."
- No signs of pain or major discomfort during full cleaning motions.
- Tolerates simultaneous handling and rewards like treats or praise.
- Eagerly anticipates treats and attention during process rather than fearing what comes next.
If ALL these benchmarks are met through your training sessions, you can be confident your dog will cooperate with cleanings while staying comfortable. Be sure to keep rewarding their compliance during ongoing care.
Some minor squirming or hesitation may still occur at times, but regular positive training should overcome any major resistance. Contact your vet if significant stress responses return.
Patience and compassion go hand in hand with diligent training methods. By following this guide and tailoring it to your individual dog's needs, you can maintain their health AND trust during ear cleanings and medicating!