Monthly Archives: December 2015

Nail Trimming – A Dog’s Biggest Nightmare

nail clippingNail trimming is a task most people hate because their dog gets distressed with the process but training can change that. When I adopted Willow, she was 5 years old and she did not like having her feet handled or her nails trimmed.  If I picked up her foot she would whip it out of my hand and become stiff in anticipation of another attack to her beautiful limbs.  For the sake of her health, I needed to teach Willow that clipping her nails was not a threat.  In addition, I needed to teach her regardless of the pain she may have suffered in the past, that I was not going to hurt her when I clipped her nails. All this can occur through training.

How to avoid clipping too far

QuickBefore we talk about how to train your dog to be relaxed with nail clipping, lets get the big question of how much nail to take off out of the way so you can relax.  The best way to not cause pain or bleeding while clipping a dog’s nail is to only take the smallest sliver off the nail each time you clip.  Each time you clip a tiny sliver off the tip of the nail, look at the cut edge.  If the cut edge looks crumbly or is solid, dead white material with no dark center or pink, take off another sliver.  When the cut edge starts looking less solid, more like a cloudy appearance or has a center that is different, you are getting into the softer tissue, stop clipping.

Training Dogs To Accept Nail Trimming

When it comes to owning a dog that is fearful of nail trimming, the goals are to:

  • Minimize damage when a negative emotional reaction does occur

With nail trimming there are 3 elements that need to be trained, acceptance of the handling necessary to trim the nails, the sight and sound of the tool (clipper or dremel nail grinder) and the feel of the tool. Each of these are different training exercises. Each stage of each training exercise must be mastered to the point of complete relaxation before going onto the next stage of training to ensure success.

When doing these training exercises, you will need to deliver treats to your dog. Because your dog has a negative emotional reaction to nail trimming you will want to use little pieces (no larger than the size of a plain m&m for dogs over 25LB) of meat or cheese, as opposed to store bought treats which are not as valuable and will make the training take longer.

Throughout the process, you need to evaluate for success. A successful trial is one in which your dog is completely calm and relaxed. This means your dog does not show fear; wiggle or try to move away but instead is eagerly looking to get a treat.  If your dog has:

5 successful trails in a row – do the next stage

3-4 successful trials in a row – stay at that level

0, 1 or 2 successful trials in a row – go back and do something more remedial

Because you want your dog to be completely calm and still, working on these training exercises when your dog is tired, right after exercise or when your dog is sleepy would be a smart choice.

Handling Exercise 1 – Restraining the leg, foot, toe
You will need your dog to hold still for at least 30 seconds, while you hold its paw in a position that gives you a good view of the nail while using your fingers to isolate the nail you want to clip.  If your dogs does not like this type of handling you will start at a remedial level.

What to do if your dog cannot be still
Regardless of the stage your are working at, if your dog is struggling to be still for 30 seconds, try for less time and build up to 30 seconds or do an easier stage.

Try to work on this training for 5 to 10 minutes, 3 to 5 times a day or 25 to 30 trials a day.

Stage 1 – Place your hands on your dog’s shoulder or hip and restrain your dog for 30 seconds. After 30 seconds, give your dog a treat, play with your dog for 30 second and then repeat. Do this training for each of your dog’s legs.  Evaluate after 5 trials on each leg to know whether you should repeat this level, advance on or do something more remedial. It is normal to be working on different stages of the training exercise for individual legs.

Stage 2 – When your dog has 5 out of 5 correct, repeat this training on that leg except now hold and restrain your dog by placing your hands on your dog’s upper leg or arm.

Stage 3 – When your dog has 5 out of 5 correct, repeat this training on that leg except now hold and restrain your dog by placing your hands on your dog’s knee or elbow.

Stage 4 – When your dog has 5 out of 5 correct, repeat this training on that leg except now hold and restrain your dog by placing your hands on your dog’s wrist or hock (ankle).

Stage 5 – When your dog has 5 out of 5 correct, repeat this training on that leg except now hold and restrain your dog’s foot making sure to hold it in the position necessary for clipping.

Stage 6 – When your dog has 5 out of 5 correct, repeat this training on that leg except now hold and restrain your dog’s foot while isolating a nail to be trimmed and making sure to hold it in the position necessary for clipping.

Handling Exercise 2 – The sight and sound of the tool
To do this training you will need:

  • Your tool of choice (nail clipper or a dremel tool)
  • Wooden dowels approximately the same diameter as your dog’s nails

A successful trial is one in which your dog remains calm and does not try to move away but instead is eagerly looking to get a treat.

Stage 1 – Either have a helper hold your dog on leash or tether your dog to an object your dog cannot move.

Take your tool and the dowel at least 20 feet away from your dog (but within view). Clip the dowel one time or sand the dowel with the dremel for 1 second.

Immediately toss your dog a treat. Toss the treat from your full distance don’t walk up to your dog. If you have a helper they can give the treat.

If your dog shows any degree of fear (tried to move further away or looks scared) move further away until you find a distance your dog is not scared.

After 5 trials evaluate and change your training accordingly.

Stage 2 – Each time your dog gets 5 out of 5 correct move 1 foot closer to your dog.

Stage 3 – Once you can activate the sound by your dog, it remains calm, does not try to move away but instead is eagerly looking to get a treat from you move the tool a couple inches towards your dog’s toes. Repeat this until you can use the tool right by your dog’s toe’s for 30 seconds.

Handling Exercise – The feel of the tool (Only start this exercise when you have completed all stages of the previous training exercises)
Hold your dog’s paw and isolate a nail. Touch the clippers or the dremel (turned off) to your dog’s nail. Just one touch, then give your dog a treat and play with your dog for 30 second. Repeat. Do 200 repetitions over the next 1-2 weeks. When your dog has been completely relaxed, does not try to pull away, struggle or show any degree of negative emotions for a period of time, you can advance to “putting it all together”.

Training Exercise – Putting it all together
When you have finished all these training exercise you can begin the process of trimming your dog’s nails. Expect it to take a couple of months to get to this stage.

Hold your dog’s paw and isolate a nail to be trimmed. Clip one nail, taking just a tiny sliver off or touch the dremel (turned on) to your dog’s nail for 1 second. Just one clip or touch, then give your dog a treat and play with your dog for 30 second.

Do Not Repeat today! Do the same nail tomorrow and the next day until you have trimmed that nail to the desired length. Then start on the next nail.

After a while you will be able take multiple clips before taking a break. And then you will be able to trim all the nails on one foot before taking a break. As time passes, you will be able to trim all your dog’s nails in one session. Maintain your dog’s new emotional association to nail trimming by doing some nail trimming combined with play and treats once a week.  If you accidentally clip to much nail and cause bleeding you can get the bleeding to stop by using a bar of soap.

When you really just have to get the job done

Life provides us with times in which we need to handle the dog in ways that may bring out a negative emotional response. Nail trimming is a common example of this. We need to get the dog’s nails trimmed so they don’t get too long and cause problems but if we just go for it and get the job done it makes the problem worse. Under these circumstances your dog’s reaction is going to get worse. Make the process as pleasant as possible. Use a ton of treats, get help and don’t cause pain. Give your dog breaks as you work to get the job done. Trim your dog’s nails as short as possible without getting them too short (getting into the soft tissue with nerve endings or bleeding). Hopefully, they will be short enough that you will not need to trim them again until after you have worked through this process.

Nail Trimming – It does not have to be a Doggie Nightmare

It took about 7 weeks to teach Willow to relax enough that I could trim all her nails in 1 session.  It was 7 weeks well spent, as I never again had to worry about Willow’s fear of having her nails trimmed.

How to avoid clipping too far

The best way to not cause pain or bleeding while clipping a dog’s nail is to only take the smallest sliver off the nail each time you clip.  Each time you clip a tiny sliver off the tip of the nail, look at the cut edge.  If it looks like solid, dead white nail, take off another sliver.  When the cut edge starts looking less solid, more like a cloudy appearance, you are getting into the softer tissue, stop clipping.

Socialization – dogs, people and the environment

socializationTo avoid fear based aggression and anxiety issues owners need to socialize there dog to people of all descriptions, other dogs and things in the environment. Socialization is not something that should just be done with puppies. The social behavior of the dog does not plateau until 3 years of age and even after that behavior can change. Dogs require continued healthy exposure to friendly people, dogs and environments throughout their lives. Socialization is only for dogs that do not already have fear or anxiety issues. If your dog already has these issues it will need a desensitization program instead.

Socialization with People

Because social problems directed towards people presents owners with the highest liability and puts the dog’s life at a greater risk it is imperative that socialization to people is each owners highest priority. When Dr. Ian Dunbar first popularized puppy socialization classes he had 3 main goals. Dr. Dunbar’s first goal was to socialize puppies with a vast number of people. Dr. Dunbar’s second goal was to teach bite inhibition so when dogs did bite they did less damage and lastly, Dr. Dunbar wanted to socialize puppies with other dogs. It is a combination of happy friendly exposure to strangers and learning bite inhibition that minimizes an owner’s liability due to fear and anxiety issues directed towards people.

Most people do not consider the vast category of people their dog needs exposure to in order to not have fear and anxiety issues. To avoid fear and anxiety issues around people dogs need to be happy or relaxed around babies, toddlers, children of all ages, male and female adults, people with facial hair, elderly people, people who look, smell and act “different”. Because the social behavior of the dog does not plateau until 3 years of age, owners need to continue to introduce their dog to brand new people on a regular basis. Making sure all types of people are experienced.

Being “OK” around people is not good enough; we need dogs to be happy or relaxed. The dog that is “OK” can have its emotions swung in the wrong direction too easily. To facilitate socialization with people, owners should be armed with treats and when a stranger wants to interact, they should be given treats to feed the dog. If the dog is already relaxed or happy around people it will easily take treats from the stranger’s hand, but if the dog is not happy or relaxed the person will need to toss the treats to the dog.

Socialization with Dogs

socializationIn addition to being sociable with people, we also need our dogs to be sociable with other dogs. By introducing puppy play sessions into puppy socialization classes Dr. Dunbar killed two birds with one stone. Through play and biting other dogs, puppies learn bite inhibition. A dog that learns to inhibit its bite will do less damage when it bites. It also gave puppies socialization with other dogs. But to be successful, socialization with other dogs must take play styles and confidence of each dog into consideration. If they are not a good match, one or both of the dogs will become afraid or upset resulting in social issues for either of the dogs.

The mistake owners make in socializing their dog with other dogs is they let their dog play with any dog that comes along. Our dogs should have opportunities to play with a lot of other dogs, but it cannot be just any dog that comes along. Some dogs really enjoy rough and tumble play, but for other dogs that type of play will crush all confidence the dog has and cause the dog to be fearful and then aggressive. To get a good play match for your dog, ask questions. Find out when another dog is introduced on leash to other dogs what it does behaviorally. Does it stand stiffly, sniff, or play immediately. When it does play, does it prefer chase games or wrestling games? If it likes to wrestle is it gentle or rough and tumble? Only if the play and confidence style of both dogs match up should a play session take place.

Not all dog-to-dog interactions should result in play. As a matter of fact you don’t want your dog to think, every dog on earth is here to be played with. As you walk down the street and you are passing another dog, stop with your dog off to the side and let the other dog pass. You might need to give your dog a lot of treats as they pass to get your dog to sit beside you. If the other owner stops and wants the dogs to interact, first find out whether the dogs play and confidence style is a match and then only if your dog is calm and sitting beside you should you let the dogs interact.

Socialization with the environment

Although socializing a dog to other dogs and people is a high priority dogs also need to be socialized with a vast number of sights and sounds within the environment. To be behaviorally healthy, dogs need to experience normal environmental stimuli without becoming fearful. Dogs need exposure to all types of vehicles, different floor or ground type surfaces, a vast array of sounds and simply all the weird looking things to be found out in the world. A lack of exposure to environmental stimuli can cause dogs to panic and try to escape. This is one of the reasons why the Jan 2 and July 5 are the busiest days of the year for animal shelters.

So, how do you go about the process of safely socializing your dog or puppy to other dogs, people and new environments? The easiest way to do this is to take your dog out with you. Take your dog on walks making sure you include routes that have schools and parks, go on hikes, you’re your dog while your run errands, go to training classes and arrange for play dates with other well suited dogs. In addition you can go sit outside a school or at the park, When you are out with your dog have treats on hand. If a person wants to pet your dog, hand the person treats and let them feed your dog. If your dog is afraid then have them toss food to your dog instead of trying to hand the food to your dog. When you are out walking, stop every once in a while and just let your dog check out things in the environment. And when you come across dogs, check to see if their confidence and play style matches your dog’s before they interact. If under any of these circumstances your dog is hesitant or fearful, increase the distance between your dog and what it is afraid of, be happy and give your dog treats. If the problem continues, then check with a trainer for some specialized training.

Having a socially well adjusted dog that can relax in different environments, around all kinds of people and dogs gives owners a lot more options with their dog and makes owning a dog a lot more fun. As owners we just need to remember to take our dogs with us, to be aware of what is going on in the environment and how our dogs are reacting so we help them when they need it. Above all dog owners need to remember that behavior is always changing and to socialize their dogs through out their lives instead of just as puppies.

Can I Afford Training?

afford trainingMost dog owners make sure they can afford veterinary care for their dog and are proactive about ensuring their dog will not become ill, but don’t understand the same commitment needs to be invested to prevent problems related to training. Owners invest in their dog’s health and their own peace of mind by taking their dog to the veterinarian for vaccines, spaying and neutering and annual checkups. Most owners understand the amount it would cost to treat their dog for an illness such as Parvo could be 10 times the cost to prevent against the disease in the first place and are willing to pay that money. In addition, most owners know the amount of emotional turmoil they would experience should their dog get sick would be great and to avoid having this upsetting event in their lives they prevent against it through preventive veterinary care. What most owners are not aware of is the cost and emotional turmoil of an untrained dog is just as great as that of an ill dog and they fail to invest in quality training or enough quality training.

Despite the fact that behavior problems are the number one cause of dogs loosing their home (re-homed, taken to a shelter or euthanized) some owners fail to invest the money and time in training their dog that is necessary to protect the other doggie investments they have made (veterinary care, the owners emotions, personal property etc.)   Much of the problem is not because of a lack of interest or desire on the owner’s part. For the most part, the reasons for not seeking out quality training or enough of it is because owners do not really understand the training process, how much time and support is necessary to reach the owners goals and do not know how to fit this into their already busy lives.

A Comparison Study On The Results Of Investing In Professionally Taught Classes.

Two sisters, Beth and Claire each bought Lab puppies from the same litter. Each puppy was healthy and received routine veterinary care. As puppies, both dogs were friendly with other dogs and people had a moderate amount of energy and desire to chew.

Beth stated from the beginning she wanted to bring her dog to class so she could socialize her dog, avoid behavior problems and get her dog to follow commands to the point in which it could go everywhere with her. Beth was proactive and began attending classes with her dog Spencer when he was 8 weeks old. Beth went to class on a regular basis for the first year of Spencer’s life. Beth not only learned how to train her dog, she had support and clarification along the way and learned how to use the training she was learning at home and in public so she did not have labor intensive training she had to do each day. Over the course of a year Beth spent about $900 on training.

Claire had trained a dog before and knew training would take some work. Claire thought she remembered much of what she had learned and did not want to spend money on training classes, so Claire supplemented her memory with some good dog training books. By the time “Lily” was a year old, Claire was at her wits end. She no longer enjoyed having a dog. At this point Claire had spent close to $2000.00 to repair or replace items Lily had destroyed, to clean the carpets and on a ticket due to Lily escaping and not coming when called. Claire could not have people over or take Lily out in public because she jumped and play nipped at people and was starting to display some inappropriate behavior around other dogs.

Claire was not negligent with “Lily”. She got books and she worked with “Lily”, but for the first year of “Lily’s” life she did not have the support of a professional trainer, she did not know how to apply the training to her life and the result was she no longer wanted to keep her dog. The emotional and financial investment she had made in her wonderful puppies physical well-being was at risk of being wasted.

invest in trainingThe good news is Beth convinced Claire to seek help from the trainer she used for Spencer. By the time Lily was two years old, she was trained just as well as her brother. Lily no longer destroyed things, jumped or nipped at people could walk while keeping the leash loose, would come when called and was no longer showing inappropriate behaviors around other dogs.

In the end Lily and Spencer had great manners and were well trained but Claire had experienced twice the expense, a tremendous amount of frustration and almost did not keep her dog because she did not understand the value of having a support system over time, how to train her dog and how to apply the training to her busy life. It is not so much a question of whether you can afford training classes, it is more a question of can you afford to not take training classes.

Yea! We Have A New Dog

new dogBringing home a new dog is a very special time. It can be filled with emotions of fear and stress for many dogs and owners. Here are some tips to help make this transition as smooth as possible for you and you new companion.

Take It Easy At First
Studies conducted by Michael Hennessy and Associates through Wright State University show the stress a dog experiences upon adoption is highest the first three days in a new environment. The study results showed dogs in a new living environment had cortisol (stress hormones) levels three times that of dogs with a permanent home. The fourth and fifth days cortisol levels began to return to normal.

As a result of these studies, it is recommended owners take their new companion home and let it get used to family members and its new home for three to five days before introducing their dog to other dogs, people and taking out in public.

Human Contact
Another interesting study conducted by T.F Pettijohn and associates shows human companionship has a greater effect on reducing a dog’s stress than the presence of another dog or cat. So hopefully during your pets first three days, it will be able to spend a lot of time with you and family members.

Play Reduces Stress and Is Great For Bonding
Exercise is a great way to help reduce stress. This is great time to start playing with your dog. Retrieving games are one of the most beneficial games to play with your dog. Your dog might not be able to play effectively in the beginning. This could be a cause of stress, lack of previous experience, and disinterest in the type of toy you are using or distractions in their new environment. Just keep at it. Have a good time playing regardless of the dog’s interest, most dogs come around and become very playful.

Further studies by Hennessy and associate indicate that twenty minutes of firm, deep, slow massage help prevent the elevation of cortisol levels during this stressful time. This is why many shelters now have volunteers who not only exercise the dogs, but also spend quiet time touching the dog in this quiet, relaxing manner. This is easy to do while watching TV. Just make sure you don’t accidentally switch over to mindless petting. Concentrate on making contact with the dog’s muscles, moving your hand slowly and breathing calmly.

Teach Your Dog To Sit
In the book Handbook Of Applied Dog Behavior And Training, author Steven R Lindsey cites one of the most common causes of stress for dogs is “poorly predicted and uncontrollable training events” (Lindsey vol. 1:112). For this reason many trainers and behaviorist recommend owners structure their interactions with the dog by teaching the dog to sit and then having the dog sit before they pet it, feed it, play with it, let it out the door, etc. The consistency on the owners part helps greatly with stress related issues and behavior problems in general.

To teach your dog to sit, hold a treat to the dogs nose and elevate the treat into the air enough so the dog tips it head up, but does not jump. When the dog sits, praise the dog and give it the treat. When it is easy to get the dog to sit, say “sit” before you put the treat to the dogs nose.

Appropriate Chewing
In addition to teaching your dog to sit, you also want to teach it what to chew on. Many dogs chew on things as a way of reducing stress. There are many great chew items on the market for dogs, just make sure what you give can not have chunks broken off. If your dog does remove chunks of the chew item, remove it immediately and upgrade to a stronger chew.

Owners Fears and Stress
Many owners also experience some degree of fear and stress over adopting a dog. This is a big decision, it is not uncommon to wonder, “Did I do the right thing.” “Did I pick the right dog.” “Is this dog going to destroy my house or be harmful in some way.” These are normal emotions. They are the emotions of someone who wants the pet to work out but also understands things can go wrong. The solution to owner anxiety is to be proactive so the owner is in control.

The first steps to being proactive happen before you have a new dog. Ideally potential dog owners contact a dog trainer before acquiring a dog to find out what questions they should be asking to screen out dogs that will have problems they are unwilling to work with. Owners also want to find out how to prevent problems from occurring in the first place and get those systems set up before bringing home the dog. Prevention techniques will ensure the smoothest transition and the least about of trouble.

Too late, you have already picked out your dog and have it home! That’s ok, you can still make changes to your household to ensure the dog learns appropriate behaviors and experiences the least amount of stress, contact a trainer now.

You will also want to speak with a dog trainer or behaviorist about training classes and plan to begin a class as soon as possible. Attending a structured training class gives you the support you need to ensure success; you will be in control instead of at the mercy of the unknown. You will be learning how to communicate to your dog and what your dog is trying to communicate to you.

Work Cited

     Hennessy, M B. Davis, HN. Williams, MT. Mellott, C. Douglas, C W. “Plasma cortisol levels of dos in a county animal shelter,” Physcology and Behavior 62 (1997): 485-90

     Hennessy, M B. Williams, M T. Miller, D. Douglas, C W. Voith, VL. “Influence of male and female petters on plasma cortisol and behavior Can human interaction reduce the stress of dogs in public animal shelters.” Applied Animal Behavior Science 61 (1998): 63-77

     Lindsey, Steven R, Handbook Of Applied Dog Behavior And Training 3 vols. Ames Iowa, Iowa State Press, 2000

     Pettijohn T F. Wong, T W. Ebert, P D. Scott J P. “Alleviation of separation distress in 3 breeds of young dogs.” Developmental Psychobiology 10 (1977): 373-381

Tug of War

tug of warBecause many behavior problems lye in a dog’s inability to control its mouth, I recommend many owners play Tug of War. It gives you the opportunity to teach your dog to drop objects it has in its mouth and to inhibit its mouth. Just make sure you put in these rules for the dog to learn. If you are already playing Tug of War with your dog you also will want to apply these rules.

Rules to establish when Playing Tug of War

1    The game is only played if you start it with a special command. Say “Get it” and present the toy with 2 hands.

2    The game is only played with toys – never forbidden or stolen objects.

4   Have the dog drop the toy after 30 seconds of tugging.  You can do this by putting a piece of food to the dog’s nostrils. This is also a beginning step to teach dogs to drop objects on command.

  1. If the dog grabs the object with out a command the game is forfeited.
  1. The dog cannot re-grip (chomping on the toy or working its way up the toy towards your hand). If your dog re-grips, drop the toy and don’t play.
  1. If the dog touches any of your body parts or clothing with its mouth, drop the toy and stop the game.

Ok, now it is game on!  Have some fun but enforce the rules.  In doing so you will be teaching your dog to not grab things from people, drop objects when asked, to not re-grip (dangerous with aggression issues) and to not playfully bite.