But it's a necessary evil (actually it's not really evil, but that's how I feel about it!). And I need to teach myself and my dogs to tolerate it.
So today I worked with both Tango and Nemo on conditioning them to nail trims. Except we didn't jump right to nail trimming straight away.
There are lots of smaller steps we need to go through before a nail gets trimmed. And if we go too quickly or skip over a step, that will actually put our training back several steps. So what are those steps?
- First, the dog must be comfortable with my handling his paws. Tango's ok with this, Nemo is not.
- Next, the dog must be comfortable with the nail clippers touching his nails.
- Additionally, the dog must be comfortable with my handling his paws and the nail trimmers touching his nails.
- Finally, the dog must be comfortable with the sound and sensation of the trimmers actually cutting a nail.
I worked with each dog individually and used super delicious treats that they don't normally get. For both dogs, I started out asking them for their paws. I didn't hold onto the paws, simply wanted them to volunteer their paws. Each time the dog volunteered a paw, they earned a click and treat (c/t).
Once the dog was offering his paw, I began to gently hold the paw for a second (and only a second!). For the 1 second hold, the dog earned a c/t. If they didn't offer their paw, I didn't force them to give me their paw and I didn't pick up their paw. They simply didn't earn a c/t.
It's important to go at your dog's pace. Cooperation cannot be forced or rushed. If the dog is stressed, I'm going to be stressed. And I'm already stressed because I'm doing something I don't necessarily like – nail trims! So I want each of us to be as happy and comfortable as possible. Cooperation is the only way to get there.
Nemo began to slow his paw offerings. Instead of waiting for him to offer the paw, I gently touched his paw. At the very moment I touched his paw, I also c/t. By doing this, I was keeping him engaged in the "game," and lowering my criteria. I lowered my criteria because he couldn't do what I was currently asking: give me his paw voluntarily. He was quite happy to let me touch his foot for a c/t, so that's where we stayed until he was again offering a paw.
I was able to quickly move through that step and could then begin touching Nemo's paw with the clippers. Initially, he was a bit unsure of this step. (In the past, I've trimmed a nail or two while he's been asleep in my husband's lap. He's growing wise to my tactic, though, which is why I decided I needed to teach this skill, step by step.) But with only a few reps, followed by yummy treats, he quickly discovered that having the nail trimmer touch his foot was actually a good thing!
It'll take awhile before the dogs are ready for me to trim a nail (and before I'm ready!), but we'll keep working dilligently, a few minutes each day until each of us are comfortable enough with the process. I'll update the Blog with our progress!