The Bucket Game




When it comes to handling, husbandry and vet procedures, some dogs really struggle. It can be a stressful experience but one thing which really helps is to empower your dog by giving them choice and a clear way to communicate with you.

The bucket game is perfect for this. The end goal is that your dog will look at a small bucket containing treats calmly if they are happy for you to touch them, groom them, trim their nails or for a vet to administer treatment. If they are uncomfortable and would like the procedure to stop, they will look away from the bucket.

Having a choice to start and stop the procedure as needed, really helps to build confidence and reduce anxiety.

In order for this to work you need to create clear communication rules and be 100% consistent while playing the game.

Start by putting some treats into a small container.

Show it to your dog and as soon as they look at it, mark and reward your dog with a treat from the bucket. If your dog is struggling to look at the bucket, moving it between repetitions can really help.

When your dog is quickly looking at the bucket each time, you can start to wait for your dog to look for a longer duration, before marking and rewarding.

Transfer the bucket to the floor and continue. If your dog tries to take food from the bucket at any time, just cover it with your hand to prevent them from reaching the treats.

When your dog can look at the bucket for 2-3 seconds you can start to add in distractions. This could be you moving your fingers at first, but you can progress to stroking your dog, or looking at their ears.

If your dog continues to look at the bucket, mark and reward. If your dog looks away from the bucket, stop what you are doing immediately. When your dog looks back at your bucket, start your action again.

By being really consistent and stopping every time your dog looks away from the bucket, you are building up their understanding of the game. They will start to realise that if they want you to stop what you are doing, all they need to do is look away from the bucket.

When your dog is doing really well and understands the game, you will be able to build up to having another person touch your dog whilst they are looking at the bucket, as well as practicing in a variety of different locations. This will really help to set your dog up for a lifetime of happy vet visits.

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