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Canine Behavior/Older Pomeranian Bites at Shots


I have a senior neutered male Pom, who was a shelter rescue.  At the time I adopted, the shelter thought he was around 8, so now he'd be around 10.  He was found wandering the streets, unneutered at the time, and his lower jaw had been broken at some point and not set properly (or not at all), leading to an adorable snaggle tooth but also a lot of dental problems which an oral surgeon repaired after adoption.  He walks very nicely on the leash and sits patiently and prettily when humans are eating, hoping for a bite, but I don't think he's had any formal obedience training.

He's a very sweet and loving dog most of the time.  During the last year of my mother's life, he stayed right by her side, keeping her company up on the bed once she became bedridden.

He will, however, growl, snap and thrash around if you try to use any implement in your hand on him -- brush, scissors, etc.  I've given up trying to groom him myself, and sometimes even the "trained professionals" have resorted to a muzzle to bathe and trim him.  My guess is that something in his apparently violent past haunts him when he sees something coming toward him.

This would not be a huge problem, except for this: He's recently been diagnosed as diabetic and I need to give him insulin shots 2x daily.  I can usually calm him down enough after the growling and snapping or hold him in such a way that I can administer the shots, but it's not pleasant for either of us.  It's not that I'm afraid of being bitten (and he's missing a number of his teeth due to his injury and subsequent surgery), but I'm afraid he's going to start hating the sight of me.  I used to represent treats and walkies and petting to him, I'm afraid that now he's only going to associate me with fear and pain.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated.  (And thank you for providing this service!)

Kudos to you for adopting a senior dog, and for taking on a project who came with known surgical needs. That speaks volumes about you.

So, he may have been handled roughly when groomed in the past or he may just never have been properly socialized to the whole process.

You can use a process known as Counter Conditioning to help him change his current fear/angst of these implements (grooming brush, nail clippers, needles) to happy anticipation.

The first thing to do is determine what his very favorite human food is. This could be chicken breast (or the skin), hot dog, string cheese, baby carrots, or even french fries or cheese burger. Any dog-safe human food is acceptable for this. If it's something like french fries, I'd encourage you to buy the frozen kind and then cook them under the broiler. This will allow you to keep the fat content down since you're not frying them in oil, and also to cook up just a few at a time, saving trips to the local fast food place.

Once you determine what his favorite human food is, he will never, ever get it again unless the scary item is present - until he's completely comfortable with the process. Then those treats can be used for other training. We'll talk needles since you have to do this twice per day with him.

This will be easier if you have someone else there who can hold him gently in their lap while you do the work (if he's comfortable being handled at all).

The first thing to do is make sure he's comfortable where he's sitting. So if he's already anxious or nervous, give him some of the yummy treat to help him relax and feel good about the situation.

If he's comfortable with your hands touching him - petting, stroking, patting, general handling, then you can skip to the end (find the **) where we just start to rub the area where the injection will go. If he's NOT comfortable being handled, pet, stroked, etc. Then begin with a lower pressure contact as follows.

Begin by simply presenting the syringe (just hold it within view), give him a couple bites of his favorite yummy, then remove the syringe from view at the same time that the food goes away.

1. Present syringe, then (1/3 - 1/2 second later) present food.
Now syringe and food are both present.
2. Food and syringe disappear simultaneously.

We are creating an association for him that the syringe appearing is a reliable predictor that his favorite food is about to appear. This is classical conditioning. Make sure you get that order correct. If the food comes out before the syringe, then he'll learn that the food predicts the syringe and he'll stop eating his favorite thing. So, when it's time to work on this, pull the syringe out and then get the food ready. Then sit down with him. Show him the syringe, THEN start feeding him. Both disappear at the same time.

Wait about 3 seconds, then present the syringe again (just showing it to him), followed immediately by the food. Repeat this 6 or 8 times, then put it all away. This whole session should take you all of about 2 minutes max.

Put it away for 5-10 minutes, then repeat the process. I'm not sure where on his body you need to give the injection, so I'm going to use his shoulder as the point of entry for this explanation, just adjust to where you plan to actually give it...

Now, the syringe is still capped, so the point is dull as far as everyone is concerned. Now, for this round, you'll show him the syringe and begin to feed him. While he's distracted by the food, you'll touch his body far away from the actual injection site (say tip of his tail). Remove the syringe just a 1/2 second before the food stops. This is first contact. He should be completely distracted by the food and so not even really notice that you touched him. Repeat, again just touching the very tip of his tail with the capped syringe, keeping him distracted by getting him eating before the contact occurs. The next contact will be an inch or so down his tail (moving toward his body).

Work your way down the tail and THEN BACK TOWARD THE TIP OF HIS TAIL. This is important. We are increasing the "social pressure" and asking him to remain tolerant as we do this, so we need to also decrease the pressure to reassure him that we won't push him too far. So, down and up his tail (at least 3 separate points on his tail, though you can do as many as 20 points to work down his tail and then go all the way back to the very tip to really relieve the pressure. You'll have to work out this detail based on his behavioral reaction. If he's comfortable and anticipating the food, you can work down his tail faster (fewer contact points). If he's really nervous, then you may only be able to move the capped syringe closer by a centimeter at a time.

Once he's comfortable with the tail, you can work onto his rump/hip area. A couple contacts and then back up his tail. Then his rump/hip and then waist (several small movements up his waist),then back toward his tail. Back and forth and back and forth as we work our way up to his shoulder where the injection will actually go. As you move closer to the actual area of injection, begin to put a little more pressure behind your touch. It's still a capped syringe, but we need to have some pressure added to it to increase the sense of stimulation.

^^Actually, I'm going to change a direction here... instead of using the actual syringe with the cap on, use an empty syringe - one without a needle in it. This way there's a small edge that's sort of vaguely pointy to use as you slowly increase the pressure.

** (if he's comfortable being handled - petted, stroked, patted - then skip the above and start here) Once you can comfortably go straight to his injection site, you should handle his skin as you will for the injection. If this means that you have to lift and pinch the skin together, do this with one hand as you treat him with the other, then let go of his skin just prior to discontinuing the food. This is where a second set of hands comes in handy - if you need both hands to do the injection, having someone else there to manage the treats is helpful. But be sure to communicate clearly ahead of time so that the treat appears just prior to the contact to distract him, and that the contact stops just prior to the treat disappearing. Even if you don't have to pinch the skin, I encourage you to rub the area vigorously for a second, as doing so overstimulates the local nerves and will deaden the sense of touch for a moment.

(ONLY DO THIS IF YOU HAD TROUBLE HANDLING HIM TO BEGIN WITH AND HAD TO WORK YOUR WAY ACROSS HIS BODY. If you had to go through the entire process of working your way across his body, then you would now begin again, but move more quickly. Start again at the tip of his tail, this time with the needle. You're not going to put any real pressure behind it and you're not actually injecting. We're just touching the sharp needle to his skin as it feels differently from the needless or capped syringe. Work down the tail and up the body (back and forth to increase and then decrease the "social pressure" of what we're asking him to tolerate). When you get to the injection site this time, I want you to rub the skin vigorously and treat, but no needle. Stop for a few seconds. Then repeat - rub the skin vigorously, pinch it together if you'll need to do that for the injection (treating the whole time), then stop. Repeat it a 4-6 times. Then, repeat again only this time you'll give the injection.)

Once he successfully gets through the routine one time without becoming agitated, the next time will be easier.

Once you see improvement, space out the frequency of the treats. Instead of a constant flow of treats every time the syringe is touching him, now you may give a treat after rubbing the area before the injection and another (multiple treat) after the injection is done. A multiple treat is a jackpot. This is where you give one treat at a time, but in quick succession. So you may give 5 or 6 treats total but instead of a fistful of food, it's: treat, treat, treat, treat, treat... pulling your hand away from his mouth for a 1/2 second between each presentation. Eventually you'll be able to just do the injection and then give a treat and not have to have the whole setup twice per day.

If you're working alone, I encourage you to choose a treat (that he clearly loves) like Beech Nut baby food (turkey/turkey broth, chicken/chicken/broth, etc), peanut butter, cream cheese, apple sauce, nonfat plain yogurt, liverwurst. Using a sticky treat such as these, allows you to put some out and he'll have to lick at it for a while to get it all. I'd smear it on a paper plate or regular small plate so that he can't just pick up a clump of food. This will help to keep him occupied while you're doing what you need to do. Simply swivel away from the dish when you're not touching him with the syringe. Then, swivel toward the treat so he can be licking at it continuously while you're making contact, then swivel away again when you break contact.

For the grooming, you can do a similar process, introducing him to the brushes, clippers and nail clippers/Dremel and build up his comfort with them.

Below is a link to Dr. Sophia Yin demonstrating this counter conditioning process with a dog who fears the nail clippers. With practiced hands and good timing, this process can often be done in as little as 5-10 minutes the first time around. Then as you repeat the exercise the next time, it goes faster. But don't rush. If your boy is really frightened by it, take it at his pace.

I hope this proves helpful. Good luck, and please feel free to followup if I can be of further assistance.

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Jody Epstein, CPDT- KA, APDT


IF YOU BELIEVE YOUR DOG IS ILL OR INJURED, PLEASE CONTACT YOUR LOCAL VETERINARIAN IMMEDIATELY. THIS IS NOT THE FORUM TO ADDRESS URGENT MEDICAL ISSUES. I AM NOT A LICENSED VET AND HAVE NO DIAGNOSTIC SKILLS. ***I have been answering questions on All Experts for over 5 years now. I enjoy being able to offer assistance in this forum. I do need to be clear, though. If you’re looking for free advice about a specific behavior question, you MUST submit your question to me via All Experts. If you bypass All Experts and write to me directly through my website, I will ask you to submit via All Experts. On the flip side, if you’re local to Los Angeles and you wish to speak to me privately about an in person consultation, please go through my website. I appreciate your assistance in keeping my volunteer work on the volunteer site.*** I can answer questions about the following canine behavior issues: obedience, timid/fearful & fear-based aggression, nuisance behaviors, families that are expanding with either new human or new animal members. If you have potty training questions please first read my trio of blogs at If you still have questions after reading the blogs you can post your specific questions here. PLEASE be as specific as possible when asking a question. Give me a detailed example of the situation - dog's behavior, body language, circumstances surrounding the issue, what the consequences are (another dog's response, your response), etc. I can only provide insight if I can get a picture of the whole scenario. If I ask for further details, please provide them. In person I would normally observe for at least 90 minutes to assess the situation and the dynamics before offering tools and suggestions to modify it. In writing it is ever so much more difficult. Thank you for your participation in the process.


I have been professionally modifying behavior and training obedience for 7 years. I have owned dogs my entire life. I have just changed the name of my business. It is no longer Good Dog! Dog Training. The new name is Nutz About Mutz!. If you see previous questions with the Good Dog! website information, that is my response.

I am a Certified Profession Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA), #2133301 ; I am a member in good standing with the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT), #77763 ; I am an AKC certified Canine Good Citizen evaluator (CGC), #71253

Publications ; ; Multiple articles in the local pet magazine Pet Press (found across Southern California)

I have a graduate education in animal behavior and learning. (While I completed my coursework and did the requisite research, I did not defend a dissertation. I am qualified, but not certified and so technically not a doctor. This is commonly referred to as Ph.D.-ABD which means All But Dissertation.) My educational focus was with non-human primates, but my personal interest is with domestic dogs and their relationships with humans and other animals. I continue to educate myself to canine-specific behavior through extensive reading, online interactive workshops, vidoes and attending canine behavior conferences.

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