At Second Chance’s low-cost wellness clinics, the request for dogs to have their nails trimmed is typically followed by statements such as “he simply won’t tolerate it from me.” From the perspective of a dog, why would we tolerate it? It is unnatural and just feels weird. The good news is, you can teach us that it can be a rewarding experience, like sit, wait, roll over and all those other things that don’t come naturally.
With all training it requires patience, positive reinforcement and time. Start by determining the location of touch your dog can tolerate without reacting fearfully or aggressively, defined in training jargon as “threshold.” It may be as far up as her shoulder.
Touch your dog briefly and gently at the spot where she is slightly below threshold and as soon as your dog notices your touch, feed her bits of a very high value treat like chicken for a few seconds then remove your hand and the treats.
Repeat this process until touching your dog at that location for one to two seconds consistently causes your dog to look at you with a happy expectant look for the chicken. In training jargon, you have achieved a conditioned emotional response (CER) meaning your dog’s association with the brief touch at that location is now positive instead of negative.
The next step is to increase the length of time you touch her at that same location, a few seconds at a time. Do several repetitions until you get the expectant look for more chicken at longer periods. Next, add more pressure as well as duration to the touch and then begin sliding your hand gradually down toward the paw using the same technique (only move further if your dog reacts positively, this can require sessions over a period of days or weeks, depending on how your dog reacts).
Once you have worked down to your pet’s paw and can touch, grasp, and put pressure on it, add lifting the paw, very slightly and gradually increasing, as you achieve the desired CER with each increase in lift. Repeat the process with each leg.
Now, you are ready to get your dog comfortable with the tool (clippers or grinders) you will use. Start the entire process over again until you can touch the tool to your pet’s nail. Gradually increase the duration of the contact with her nail, feeding treats again and again, until the appearance of the nail trimmer elicits a positive response. Repeat introducing the sound of the tool until there is no negative response.
Trim one nail a day until you get a positive response and can move to two nails a day. It may take time, but eventually you will easily be trimming your own dog’s nails in one sitting. Be patient. It may take a few weeks or months but the result, a dog who willingly participates in the nail trimming, is well worth the effort.
My name is Peanut, a 1-year-old female terrier mix. Although I am initially nervous around new people, gift me a piece of hotdog and win my heart forever. Some call that a cheap date; I call it keeping my priorities straight. I am playful and cuddly and really stinking cute. Call for an appointment to meet me today!
Second Chance Humane Society’s Animal Resource Center and Thrift Shops have been servicing San Miguel, Ouray and Montrose counties for more than 26 years. Call 970-626-2273 to report a lost pet, learn about adopting a homeless pet, or about emergency response, community medical, spay/neuter, volunteer, or other services. View shelter pets and services online: www.adoptmountainpets.org.