Teach Your Dog to LOVE Nail Trims !

Teaching Your Dog To “Like” Having His Nails Trimmed

Nail trims are an essential part of life for any dog but for dogs who can’t tolerate being handled they are pure torture. Having your dog’s nails trimmed on regular basis shouldn’t require anesthesia or 4 people to hold the dog down while a fifth person takes his life in his hands to do the trimming.  Even if your dog is cooperative it is a good idea to develop a training plan that you can do on a regular basis to prepare him not just to tolerate nail trimming but to actually look forward to it.

The nail clippers should be the first thing you desensitize your dog to. Many dogs run at the site of them which is an easy problem to fix.  Start holding the nail clippers when you do other things for your dog besides trim his nails.  Make them part of your food preparation ritual, pick them up, pour the food in the bowl, put the clippers down next to the food bowl. Have the clippers in your hand when you get your dog’s leash, pick up your keys, give him a cookie. Changing the association between the nail clippers and nail trimming is easy, just carry them with you whenever you do something for your dog that he associates with good things.  Soon your dog will come running when he sees you with the nail clippers.

Handling feet, legs and nails makes some dogs very nervous. Sometimes it’s because they feel trapped, other times it’s because they are anticipating something bad happening. Maybe someone trimmed a nail too short or scared him when they held on too tight during the last session.  In order to change his association  it is necessary to associate being handled with feeling good. Most people find that using a high value food reward is the best way to get your dog to begin to look forward to being handled rather than dreading it.

Here are some variables to work on to prepare your dog for a nail trim :

–       accept being picked up off the floor

–       stand, sit or lie down on a grooming or exam table

–       restraint which involves the technician holding the dog in a bit of a head lock

–       sight of the nail clippers

–       picking up the paw

–       touching the nail

–       squeezing the paw

–       extending the paw out from the body

–       actually clipping a piece of nail

–       holding further up the arm to get the dew claw

–       different environments: home, groomer, vet, inside, outside, distractions

Since much of the nail trimming process involves handling the feet of the dog a significant amount of time should be spent on teaching the dog to enjoy having his feet touched. You need tiny pieces of really yummy treats for this exercise. You will not need your clicker. It is important to note that the treats are hidden during the touch portion of the exercise and appear only after the dog has tolerated the level of touching you are working on.  This tool we are using is called classical conditioning, teaching the dog to predict that allowing touching produces goodies !

  1. Reach for paw but don’t actually make contact, if the dog does not move his paw away, give a treat.
  2. Reach for paw and touch lightly with one finger, treat
  3. Reach for paw and touch with whole hand, treat
  4. Reach for paw and lift it gently, treat
  5. Lift paw gently and hold for 1 second, treat.
  6. Build the time to 10 seconds or more, treat.
  7. Lift paw and touch toes with opposite hand, treat.
  8. As you hold paw gently squeeze, treat.
  9. As you hold paw gently separate the toes, treat
  10. Show the dog the clippers, treat.
  11. Touch clipper to dogs paw, treat.
  12. Pick up paw and touch clipper to nail, treat
  13. Pick up paw and touch clipper to nail, treat.
  14. Pick up paw and clip one toenail, treat.
  15. Pick up paw and clip next toenail, treat.

Remember that each dog is an individual and that you may need to move slower and break the steps down into more pieces in order to be successful. The goal is always to move at the dogs pace in such a way that he is begging for you to touch him, not resisting you and trying to move away. It is very important to make sure you do the touch part of the exercise first before the food appears and that you don’t practice too much all at once.  A good time limit for this exercise is one minute at a time.  You can work the exercise multiple times per day but you should not work for longer than a minute at a time.  I hope this helps you get your dog on the right track toward accepting and enjoying being handled for a nail trim. Remember that each repetition you do is investment for the life of the dog!!

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Teach your dog to touch a Target !

Teaching your dog to bump his nose to the palm of your hand is a skill we call targeting. Once the dog learns how to target we can put this useful behavior on cue and transfer it to objects in order to teach a new skill or use it simply to move the animal from one place to another.

Some people use targeting to get their dogs to move in and out of the bath tub or in and out of the back of the car especially if the clearance is particularly high and the dog is a bit uncertain. The targeting tool gives you options when you are working with your dog so that you can move them from one place to another without having to physically push or pull them where you want them to go. You can teach your dog to target with any part of his body but we are going to keep this simple and teach him to use his nose first.

Steps for Targeting : Dog’s Nose to Your Hand

Getting the Dog to Touch

Open your hand with palm facing dog and a treat trapped under your thumb.  As your dog’s nose touches your hand click and give up the treat. Repeat this 6 times.

Getting the Touch Without the Food Lure

Now offer your hand the same way ( palm facing dog) but without a treat trapped under your thumb.  If the dog bumps your hand click and treat (time the click so that you are clicking at the moment your dog’s nose touches your hand).  The treat now comes from the table or your other hand.  Repeat this until the dog is really enthusiastic about touching your hand with his nose.

Stand up

Holding your hand the same way, repeat step 2.  If the dog loses interest or seems confused go back to step 1, and trap food under your thumb for 6 reps before trying again without food.

4. Stand up and Follow

When your dog is easily bumping your outstretched hand while you are standing, try moving your hand so that he must follow it for a step or two before he can touch it to earn his click and treat.  If he won’t follow your hand go back a step for 6 reps and try again.

5.  Transfer to another person

Add another person only when the dog is doing well bumping your hand for a click and treat. Sit close together at first and take turns offering your hands for him to bump for a click and treat.  If he’s slow to go to the other person, go back to food in your hand for 6 reps before trying again without it.  Remember that the dog still gets the treat, but it’s no longer right in your hand.

6. Add Distance

When you are able to have your dog target both of your hands start to increase the distance between you by a few feet, until you can send him from across a room.

7. Add the Label

Call it “Touch” when the behavior of bumping your hand with his nose is well established (meaning he does it immediately when he sees a hand extended without food in it.)  Say “Touch” then extend your hand and wait, when your dog bumps your hand click and treat.

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Teaching Your Dog To Crawl backwards !

Last week I was on vacation in Maine and though they didn’t have much snow there was plenty of ice everywhere making it difficult to give 6 active Golden Retrievers a decent workout.  I don’t like to exercise my dogs on slippery surfaces for fear that someone with tear a cruciate ligament or otherwise get injured. We had to be creative about keeping everyone entertained so I spent alot of time dreaming up behaviors to teach the dogs .

I started out thinking I was going to teach them to back up but the sessions quickly turned into crawling backwards which was actually a little more interesting to teach. I taught each of the 6 dogs to do this behavior and it was interesting to see how each of them figured it out in their own way.

To get them started I tried to watch their feet and click and treat any movement backwards. Initially they started in a  standing position but since most of them defaulted almost immediately to a down position I figured I would just start clicking and treating them for shuffling their feet. Observation skills are very important here, you want to click and treat the slightest movement at first. Try to be generous with your initial clicks and treats so that you can get some movement started or you will spend alot of time just staring at your dog. The placement of the treat is also really important, after you click toss the treat so that it lands right between the dog’s paws at chest level. In order to eat the treat the dog will have to dip it’s chin down and hunt around giving you more opportunities to click foot movement.

Once the dog is offering some backward movement don’t be afraid to change the placement of the treat. When the dog is offering movement easily, varying where the treat is delivered can help the dog offer more variations and help shape the behavior toward your goal.  I like to rotate delivering the treat between the paws at first with delivering the treat a foot or so in front of the dogs paws. By varying where the treat is placed I can restart the behavior if the dog gets stuck because he runs out of room to back up.

Once the dog is offering crawling backward easily I delay the click until he shuffles backwards twice or makes more effort to extend his legs etc. By varying this a bit it will be easier to get the dog to offer crawling backward for several steps instead of just a few. When you are happy with your dog’s effort go ahead and start labeling it whatever you are going to call it. I am calling this behavior “back” . To help the dog learn the verbal cue for crawl backward I say the word “back” and then wait until the dog starts to shift her weight  and offer pulling herself backwards a bit. It is important not to chant the cue at the dog. Just say it once and wait for her to initiate the behavior then click and reward. I hope you enjoy trying out this new trick with your dog.  Happy Training !

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Teach Your Dog To Retrieve His Dish !!

What could be more practical than to teach your dog to retrieve his dog dish !  Lately I seem to be gathering up dishes in the back of crates and under tables. With 6 dogs to feed I’m often in a hurry when I put down the food and don’t always have time to collect and wash the dishes right away. I usually collect them for washing a few hours later but it can be a pain trying to find them all and then have to crawl in and out of crates to get the ones that got moved to the back of the young dog’s crates.  Solution ? Teach the dogs to get their dishes and save my back from dish wrangling !  My last generation of dogs knew how to retrieve the dog dishes which was such a convenient trick I decided to teach this generation.  This week I started with my older dogs who have some experience retrieving other types of objects but soon I will add this to the the young dogs list of behaviors as well. Any dog can learn to retrieve if you have the patience to teach them and are willing to break the retrieve down into tiny steps.

The first step in teaching the dish retrieve is to shape your dog to touch the dish with his nose. I started by using a small cat dish to make it easier for the dogs since it was lighter weight and smaller than the regular size 2 quart ones we normally use for feeding. I held the dish at nose level while sitting on the floor so that it would be easy to click at the moment the dog hit the dish with his nose. I stayed at this step until the dog offered regular nose bumps and was getting reinforced on a regular basis. Then I waited for the dog to offer a nose bump on the edge of the dish rather than the middle, then I tried to wait for an open mouthed touch. At first the mouth was just slightly open and then later she was mouthing the edge of the dish. This is a tricky step, some dogs linger on this step for quite a while before they decide to grab a hold of the dish. Sometimes you need to wait it out, sometimes you need to go back and reinforce the nose touch for a bit before holding out for the grab. It really depends on the dog’s personality and how high their tolerance is for frustration and figuring things out.

Once the dog is mouthing the edge of the dish you are ready to add step 2. The second step takes a different approach to shaping the pick up by starting with the dish on the floor between the dogs paws.

Go back to reinforcing nose targeting in the center of the dish and delivering the treat in the dish. You might have to reset the dish as the dog usually moves it around a bit when he gets his treat. This steps works the same way as the first step, work on reinforcing nose touches to the center of the dish first and then hold out for touches to the rim of the dish. As the dog begins to offer those more regularly you can wait for ones where the mouth is open slightly and later for hesitation and actual grabs.  As the dog gets the hang of this be ready to reinforce more advanced steps like actually grabbing the dish and lifting it up off the floor ! Some dogs struggle with this step and others get it rather quickly.

I like to work on both shaping the grab with the dish in my hand and from the floor because it seems to help the dog figure out what I want more quickly.  I find that if I start with the dish in my hand and just lower it to the floor it’s harder for the dog to figure out what I want. If I work it in two separate steps the dog gets reinforced more frequently and is willing to stay in the game longer to figure things out.

The key to training this behavior is to do a little training at a time and practice frequently rather than trying to do too much at once.  I normally do 10-20 reps at a time, take a break and play tug and then do another set. Depending on the dog I’m working with, I might go back and do another 2 sets and then quit for the day. How much you train at once will  depend on your dog’s personality and age. Don’t be afraid to do more frequent short sessions to keep your dog wanting more and having fun.  In no time your dog will be able to retrieve his dish and save you from crawling to the back of his crate or under the table to get it yourself. How cool is that !!

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Walk This Way !

Who among us has not been nearly yanked off our feet but an over exuberant dog ! Being a dog is all about joy and getting where you are going as fast as you possibly can. If you have 4 legs why not use them ? The pathetic bi-ped holding on for dear life in your wake can just hurry along right ? Well, not so much….

If you’ve attempted to walk a high energy dog who is curious about everything in his path and attempts to drag you around the neighborhood to see the sights it might be time to teach him some leash manners ! There are not many among us who look forward to walks with a dog we can barely control and honestly the dogs aren’t all that happy either. Though they look like they are having a good time many dogs who are out of control get into all kinds of trouble on leash which causes them alot of anxiety making the problem far worse then it needs to be. This week we are going to stop the insanity !!  Time to teach your dog some leash manners.

I have good news and bad news. The good news is that it isn’t very hard to teach a dog to walk nicely on a leash.  The bad news is it isn’t very interesting or exciting work and requires a lot of practice to get good at it. However, the payoff will be a dog that walks with you on your adventures so that you enjoy rather than dread your neighborhood constitutionals.

First of all do yourself a huge favor and invest in an Easy Walk Harness by Premier. They can be found in most pet stores and though they are a little pricey they are worth every penny.  They come in small, medium, large and x large as well as in between sizes labeled Small/Medium and Medium/Large. The tweener sizes can be purchased either online or through the MSPCA in Boston or Methuen (call first to check on availability). This harness has the leash clip in the front of the chest, which helps the dog learn not to pull by changing his center of gravity. When he pulls it makes him feel off balance so he slows down a bit. Is it a miracle ? No, you will still have to teach him to walk nicely next to you but you’ll have the advantage because he won’t be pulling quite so much and you will have more opportunities to reward him.

When you start teaching your dog to walk nicely on a leash, attach the leash to either his regular collar or to the harness and start walking. As soon as you notice that your dog is next to you, even for a second, click, stop and deliver the treat right next to your leg. Be exaggerated about where he will get his reward, you want him to be coming and getting his treat right on your pant seam. This builds value for being next to you. Remember your dog has zero value for walking with you right now. It’s boring to walk so slowly and it’s not very exciting to be hanked around. Each click for walking with you and each treat delivery right on your leg will be building up a bank account of value for walking with you rather than pulling your arm off.  If your dog starts to pull, turn and walk in the opposite direction and look down, when he catches up to you click, stop and deliver the treat on your leg.  Repeat this until your dog starts to understand the game. You ‘ll know when you gets it because he won’t be pulling as much and he’ll keep looking up at you to make sure he knows where you are going next.  Feel like a ping pong ball because your dog is launching to the end of the leash over and over again ? Slow it down and click and treat him every step or two at first so that he gets lots of reinforcement for slowing down and walking with you. Don’t try to build alot of steps at once, go for just 1 or 2 at first and then mix in the longer ones sporadically so that he never knows how long he must stay with you to get you to click.

Pay attention to the environment that you are working your dog in. If you have an excitable dog you can’t start outside on the street it’s too busy and you won’t get much teaching accomplished because your dog will be too distracted. Start indoors or in an empty parking lot and build a few steps at a time. Still struggling because he wants to yank you to ever sniffing spot ? When he hits the end of the leash, freeze in place and turn away from him. Wait until he finds you by looking back at you and click, then lure him in with a treat delivered close to your leg in the new direction. Some dogs need to practice this over and over again until he isn’t interested in exploring as much as he is interested in what you have. If you use really good treats and a hungry dog this will happen sooner than you know it.

Teaching your dog to walk nicely on a leash is about patience and repetition. It’s one of those behaviors that you just have to practice over and over again so that your dog gets good at it. Hope that this entry starts you well on your way to some pleasant strolls around your neighborhood. Happy walking !

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Taming the Inner Kangeroo

Do you have a dog that jumps, leaps and mouths and nearly knocks your company flat in his exuberance to say hello ? This week I am minding a 14 wk old puppy at our house who has no clue that there are other options to leaping at people. Even a puppy this young can hurt you with sharp nails and teeth in her exuberance to be loved. In the first hour that I had her I knew that this would be my focus for the week, it’s a behavior that just has to go !

No one likes a dog that jumps on them, tears their clothing and mouths their hands. Even a very exuberant puppy can learn to inhibit his enthusiasm and sit instead of jump on people. The behavior most commonly used to replace jumping is “Sit” and for my purposes I usually require a built in stay as well. The stay helps maintain the sit so that the dog doesn’t just sit for a few seconds and then launch himself again as soon as he’s been rewarded.

Teaching Sit

Using a treat held in your fingers lure your dogs nose up and wait for his rear to hit the floor, click and treat. If he’s very bouncy and is standing on his hind legs alot, put a leash on him and put your foot on it. By stepping on the leash you will limit his options and though he will attempt to jump he won’t be successful at it. It will also make it easier to go through his options and choose sit more quickly. By limiting his options with your foot on the leash you are teaching him which behavior pays off more quickly. If you don’t have your leash with you you can ignore the jumping but it will take him longer to figure out which behavior is paying off better.  Many dogs are self reinforced with jumping and will continue to jump for quite some time before they give it up.  A foot on the leash will shorten the time he takes to figure out that it’s the sit that pays.

Building in the “Stay”

Once your dog is starting to understand and offer “Sit” instead of jump you can begin to delay the click for a few seconds once he is sitting. By making him wait a few seconds at first and gradually longer before you click and treat you will be teaching him that sometimes he must freeze in position before he gets paid.  You should mix this up a bit, sometimes clicking and treating him very closely together for holding the sit and other times delaying the click and treat by a few more seconds so that he never knows how long he must hold the sit  in order to get you to pay him.  Remember dogs are gamblers at heart and if you layer this into your sessions it will make the game more interesting and easier for him to figure out.

Using “Sit “in real life

Dogs don’t generalize well and so though they may understand a behavior in one context they can’t always compare it to another context and be as good at performing the behavior. This means that though your dog may have mastered “Sit” to say hello around the house he may not be very good at it outside on walks, at the pet store or when new people come to the house. The way to work with this is to bring him new places and around new people so that he can learn that no matter who he is greeting and where he must perform the “Sit” quickly in order to get paid.  One way I help dogs learn this concept is through a process I call “teaching your dog to think”.  First I give the verbal cue “Sit”, then I wait 10 seconds with my foot on the leash for  him to figure out what I want. If there are a lot of distractions I might start a good distance away at first and then gradually move closer as he is able to perform the behavior quickly.  If he responds correctly in 10 seconds or less I click and reward him, if he doesn’t I use a hand gesture or a treat in my hand to lure him into position.  This “teaching a dog to think” lesson will help your dog learn to filter distractions and hone in on what’s important YOU !  You won’t beg or nag him to sit, you’ll say it once and wait. If he can’t do it because he’s too distracted you’ll give him 10 seconds to figure it out and then help him with a treat. Over time you will have to help less and less and he will learn what parts of his environment are important and which can be ignored.

Remember it’s a Work in Progress

Dogs that have been jumping and acting out of control won’t give up that behavior overnight. It’s been working for them for a long time and it ‘s going to take quite a bit of repetition to convince them that there is an alternate behavior that pays better.  Be patient, set your dog up for success by having your foot on the leash and making sure that he can’t reward himself for jumping more than you can reward him for sitting and soon you will see how brilliantly he replaces all that jumping with sitting calmly.

Well I’m off to train our guest puppy to sit so we can surprise her Mom when she comes to pick her up on Sunday !

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52 behaviors in 52 weeks !!

I spent some time this week trying to figure out how to be more consistent with a training blog and what would give my readers the most motivation to work with their own dogs and follow along with us each week.  After watching the movie Julie and Julia in which Julie blogs about cooking a different dish every night I thought why not do that with my blog.  So here goes…. 52 behaviors in 52 weeks has launched enjoy !!

This weeks behavior is Go To Your Bed. This is a really useful behavior to teach any dog and can be used at home and while visiting and traveling. A dog that has a Go to Your Bed cue can be part of the family festivities during holidays and visits from family and friends. This behavior can replace begging at the table, or door dashing when you have a delivery person at the door. You can use it to manage a dog that barks at people and dogs passing by the house to for a dog that begs from company. Teach your dog to be flexible about where it’s bed is and you’ll be able to have your dog use your coat or sweatshirt at a friends house or when you are on a picnic or at a barbecue. Imagine how much nicer it will be to enjoy having your dog with you when you have a behavior in place that ensures he will keep all the good dog manners you’ve taught him !

To start with the first goal is to build value for the bed or mat. Start by standing about a foot from the bed and wait for your dog to look at it, step toward it or sniff it. When he does click and toss the treat right on the mat. Repeat by clicking and treating any interest in the mat until your dog is repeatedly interacting with the mat. Withhold the click every once in a while until he puts more than just a paw on it or sniffs it. Wait for him to offer putting both front feet for instance or walking across it. As you build value for interacting with the mat your dog will want to get on the mat more often but it may be hard to tell after a while if he’s aware that he is getting rewarded for being on the mat all the way. To help him understand that he needs to put his whole body on the mat once he is hanging out on the mat more than not instead of tossing the treat on the mat click for him getting on the mat but toss the treat away so he has to get off the mat to get it. When he gets his treat be patient and wait, click any effort to get back on the mat on his own without prompting from you.

This is a tricky step for most dogs and some get stuck a bit. They might approach the mat but not get on. They might sniff it briefly and then walk away. Be patient, click any effort to interact with the mat and toss the treat on the mat again. This will jog the dog’s memory that the mat does indeed have value and it will pay to make an effort to get on it. If your dog stares at you don’t look directly at him but instead look at the mat and wait. Once your dog figures out this part he will be really enthusiastic about getting on the mat with his whole body and you will see him purposely put all four feet on it.

When your dog is convinced that the mat pays off when he puts all four feet on it, you can add in the down cue. If your dog doesn’t lie down on his own teach him to lie down separately before adding this step.  Instead of clicking when your dog gets all four feet on the mat, ask for “down” and when he complies click and treat him by handing the treat right to him. If he stays in position click and treat him every 2-3 seconds and then toss a treat away to restart the behavior again. When this step is complete the dog will see the mat, put all four feet on and then lie down. Once your dog gets this part you can rename the entire behavior chain “Go to Bed” as he is on his way to the mat. If he doesn’t immediately lie down wait 5 seconds and then give your down cue. Over time as he gets better at this you’ll be able to wait longer to help him and he’ll begin to guess that you are going to cue him to lie down and start offering it before you have a chance to ask him.  Later as he gets better at this you can send him from greater distances, change what you ask him to lie on and vary your position relative to his.

Once your teach this behavior and start using it to prevent begging at the table, running out the door, jumping on company, or managing your food delivery you are going to wonder how you ever lived without it. It’s such an easy behavior to teach with so many benefits you won’t know how you lived without it !

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