Would you believe me if I told you that when I have to bust out the Cone of Shame that I have two dogs who run toward me with wagging tails? Well, it may be a BIT of a stretch… until this week, I only had one dog who did this…but now I have two.
Bandit has been licking his feet (away from our spying eyes) and has some soreness so I’ve been using the Elizabethan Collar to prevent further issues. He’s never really had to wear one too much before–certainly not one this size (we had a bandit-sized one for a while but it has since been lost). To help keep stress low, I wanted to desensitize him to the cone a little (something I’ve done with Shayne extensively due to her injury-prone nature).
It was actually rather difficult to work with Bandit because the whole time Shayne was trying to shove her head through the collar! Who would’ve thunk that this would be my biggest problem with the cone of shame? Most of the dogs I see wearing cones of shame are shaking their heads, trying to get it off, running away from the person with the cone, or not comfortable enough to walk around with it on.
I want my dogs to feel comfortable when wearing the cone-of-shame. Chances are, they are in it because of some sort of injury and that alone will cause some stress/anxiety, I do not want the collar causing more problems. I really want it to be as low stress as possible and creating a good association with the collar is important in my opinion.
The first time Shayne had to wear the cone of shame, she broke a nail so severely (spiral crack all the way up to the nail-bed) that I took her to the vet because they had to cut the nail almost completely off (to prevent further injury and opportunity for infection). It was painful and she wanted to lick her feet so I opted for the cone of shame (I would love to get a comfy-cone or the inner-tube like inflatable device but those were more than double the price). Shayne freaked out! Scaredy dog couldn’t tolerate it for even 1/2 a second when I put it on… she started backing up frantically, head down, pawing at the foreign object and panicking. I had food and planned to just feed and remove but she backed away so quickly it was done. It took a full day and lots of bacon (yes, I busted out some HIGH VALUE reward for this one) but now when Shayne sees the cone she is desperate to put her head in the cone to win bacon! She loves wearing the collar and is completely comfortable with continued use (after a few hours of acclimating to being a wide-load, she doesn’t seem to have any mobility issues).
Conditioning the cone of shame is actually pretty simple. The very first step I use is that I make the cone very very loose (so the dog can get their head in and out without any “hitches”) and lure the dog to put their head through the cone to get the treat. Or if the cone doesn’t get that big, I put the cone on the ground with the smallest part on the ground (like a “v” shape from the ground up) and put a treat in the center and have the dog put their head in the cone to get the treat to start. From that point, I’ll use a treat to lure them through the normal neck opening when it’s at its biggest.
When I have the pup easily putting his/her head into the cone (no duration of the cone on, simply putting his/her head through the opening). I slowly make it smaller and smaller until they have to push their heads through the opening. When the dog is comfortable pushing his/her head through the opening, I start working on duration of the cone being on.
The pup gets rewarded for putting his/her head through the opening and then continues to get rewarded with a high rate of reinforcement for a few seconds with the cone on… then I take the cone off and all reinforcement is removed (including my attention). I repeat this process until I am not rewarding at such a high rate over a longer duration. During this, I also start moving around and getting the dog to hand target and acclimate to moving with the cone.
I do this process a bunch of times over the course of a day generally–it took Shayne all of maybe 3 hrs (in which time I probably did 30-40 minutes of conditioning) to tolerate the cone and a full day to LOVE the cone. Bandit was much easier… it probably took 60 minutes to fully acclimate to the cone (more than tolerate and less than love).
It’s worth the effort to have dogs who are not stressing at all because of the cone and who don’t run away when it’s time to put the cone back on. The last thing you want to do with an injured/sick dog is scare them into panicking or stress them out with the scary apparatus–it’s better to do before you need it, but either way, take a few minutes to condition the cone of shame to be less concerning!