I helped out tonight with our “Special” dogs class tonight. This class is for the dogs that have issues with other dogs or are just a bit bonkers. All of our puppies are making significant progress and will eventually play well with others.
Tonight we added a very sweet hound to the mix. This dog was very shy especially with men. It wouldn’t take food treats but worked very well for praise. We experimented a bit with various treats and finally found that puperoni seemed to be an attractive treat. By the end of class he was taking some treats gingerly from my hand and the woman that was handling him was having good luck getting him to perform certain behaviors. A pretty good solution for him. He seemed to be a bit more relaxed in the company of strangers by the end of class.
Another pup, a mix of Australian Cattle dog and border collie has a bit of ADD. This pup is a rescue that had a few bad months before finding a new owner that has experience with high strung dogs. One major problem that she experienced as a young pup was having her nails clipped. Her former owner just kept cutting until her nails bled. Now she won’t even allow her new owner to touch her paws. She has progressed a bit and will offer a paw to shake but if the clippers come out no amount of coercion will get her to subject herself to those nasty things.
So, the owner is working on two things. First with a treat in her hand she is touching this little girls feet. This is a technique called reconditioning. It is a slow process. Each day for a short time she will offer treats and touch paws. The intent is to replace the bad experience with a good one in the dogs mind. Second, she leaves the clippers out where the dog can see them and experience them in a non-threatening way. Eventually, she will get used to the clippers and not see them as a threat.
The clippers will never again be used to trim the pup’s nails. Instead the owner will introduce a new device called a grinder to do the pup’s nails. This process will also take some time. The grinder needs to be introduced slowly so that the pup can tolerate them. The grinder is basically a rotary tool with fine sandpaper on it. The pup will need to get used to the sound of the grinder and eventually will need to learn to tolerate the vibration on its toenails.
So this week, the owner will introduce the sound of the grinder while giving the dog treats. This should provide the dog with a good association. The sound of the grinder means that treats are coming. Pavlov did experiments that associated the sound of a bell with food. The dogs began to salivate when they heard the bell. This is a similar idea.
Once the dog is comfortable with the sound of the grinder and the owner can touch the dog’s feet without causing the dog to pull away, she will carefully touch the dog’s nail with the grinder while treating the dog. Just a brief touch. Just one nail. With luck and patience this pup will eventually tolerate having her nails done. In the interim, the vet will do the job. The vet will try to minimize the trauma so that all of this training is not wasted. A sedative may be necessary until this training is complete but eventually she will get there.
If you introduce a pleasant experience with nail trimming you may not need to go through the pain and these sort of issues with your pet. A liberal dose of positive rewards when doing your dog’s nails can make this process both less traumatic and perhaps even pleasurable to your pet.
Here is a clicker training video where they use the techniques discussed. Click to Trim Toenails