Thursday, 31 March 2016

Trimming those Nails

I am a huge fan of using the dremel to shorten dogs nails. The toenail never gets pinched, and "if" you get to the quick, it is a tiny, little blood spot, similar to a pin prick. My dogs have all been relaxed about the dremel and most have fallen asleep.

All the puppies that come to me are introduced to the dremel, the older dogs are not always, it depends on them. With puppies you can easily take control (and most of the time they are really young when they come and basically unaware). With adults there's the noise and the vibration and the willingness that you need to work through.

First lets talk about the equipment.  I use a pink sanding stone on my dremel. I've used the same stone for probably close to two decades. It's shortened thousands of nails. I use a cordless dremel because I like the ability to walk a fussy puppy around. With my established dogs, the plug in variety works just as well. Treats, initially I use high value treats, whatever the dog really likes, Toad thinks hot dogs are amazing, so that's what he gets.

The important thing is to keep sweeping the nail, we are sanding not grinding! I typically do 5 sweeps then move to the next nail and repeat until they are all shortened. In 15 minutes a week Bosun (my other dog) has his nails done and they are short enough that there is no clicking as he walks.

Toad... my sweet Toad.... has long nails, which is no surprise. I did give each one a quick clip with the trimmers just to keep some of my sanity.... clicking toenails are a pet peeve. As I start to introduce him to the dremel, I thought I'd better drag you along for the process. This beginning stage takes as long as it takes. There is no shortcut and no rushing. If it takes 6 months then it will be worth it in the end... rushing it and having a dog who runs when you start the dremel is not the goal, Calm, relaxed, easy nail trims are.

So here's the sessions we've done. They are short, about 5 minutes, and happy with lots of verbal praise and tonnes of treats. They are sometimes broken up into 2-3 mini sessions, watch your dog, boredom or flight are not the responses you are looking for! It's noteworthy that Toad will run away when I turn the dremel on high, the speed necessary for sanding. He's never had it near him, to my knowledge. So I have no idea how long this will take us! Another point I'd like to make is that while Toad is sleeping near me, I play with his feet which will also help desensitize him to the process.

Day One; I cut a hot dog into 52 pieces. Present the dremel in the off position. Initially reward for a look/sniff or any interaction. One piece of hot dog per interaction x 20. Up the expectation to a touch for the next 20 pieces. You can help then at first, and make it more difficult at the end.  The last 12 pieces I turned the dremel on and lowered the expectation back to "any interaction" Put it all away... lots of "good boys" and hands on praise. AT NO POINT should your dog get scared or panic. If he/she does, back up, hold the dremel further away, go back to the first step and stay there until their confidence builds. Do not rush this.



Day Two; 130-ish treats. I cut the hot dog the same and added kibble, microwaved it all for about 15 seconds (the hot dog fat mixes with the kibble). I start with a refresher of 10 times interaction with dremel off. then move to 40 times with the dremel on. Next I move the dremel near his foot (off again) and reward 40 interactions. Last 40 I simply touch the sanding stone to a toenail, say "good boy" and treat. This is all a happy, fun, easy tone. No frustration. If Toad at any point starts to back off or show discomfort, I back up a step, it indicates I moved too fast.

Day Three: About the same treats as yesterday. Started with 40 or so touches in the off position, Turned the dremel on (no touching) for 15 or so. Touched a single nail. Toad reacted strongly. next 50 with dremel off, When they react strongly, it's important to back up to the last place they were confident. In this case... being touched with the dremel in the off position. I backed up on more step, increasing the "wins" for him, and finished with the touching in the off position. Second session of the day, started with dremel off, touching nails without any resistance! Turned it on (to high) he still didn't like but didn't go as far. Back to off, then onto "low" I used the butt end of it on his foot, so it he could feel the vibration. Breaking it into a smaller step. He's 100% comfortable with the vibration on the top of his foot. Turned it off, finished up the treats and call it a day.

Day Four; A quick session today. All treats (same hot dogs and kibble pieces) distributed in one session... a small handful scattered near me on the floor. As Toad ate them, I started with the butt end of dremel (on low) touching his foot. By the end with minimal wait times (for him to acclimatize) I ended with touching 3 nails numerous times (with the sanding stone). So we have touching on low! Big step forward!

Day Five and Six: Day five was a rest day meaning day six was a reminder day. We back tracked, started from where I knew he was confident and moved forward to touching on low. He is still taking a step back when possible (treats run out) and trying to avoid this, so I know we need to stay on this step. I did add a "down" to the routine, it's a new command for him and he doesn't stay in it long. But ultimately this will be the position I want!

Day Seven to Eleven; Repeat, remember I started with a dog that ran when he heard the dremel turn on.  During this time I did two things, First I changed the doling of the kibble to AFTER I touched a nail with the turned on dremel and second, I changed the speed to "high". Timing of the kibble changes it from being a lure to occupy his mind to a reward for a behavior. The speed is the one/noise/vibration he will be needing for actual sanding.

Top Nail is shaping up Day 13
Day Twelve; Stepped it up, I was confident that Toad was no longer afraid, but needed to break through a barrier. Peanut Butter in this case is what I used. I smeared gob of peanut butter on the cupboard, while he was licking I could pick up a back foot and quickly sand a toe nail, a single pass then rest. Repeat until the cupboard was clean and gave him the spoon to lick (reward after the behavior).

Day Thirteen: Big gob of peanut butter in the kong (remember Toad still doesn't have down/wait learned) put the kong under my foot, so he had to stay close and was able to work on his feet for about 10 minutes! My hope is he becomes desensitized to the process (there was zero resistance from him) and once I can get him into a "down/wait/have your kong" I can move him out of the kitchen. He is at day one at any other area in the house, indicating this is not a "generalized" knowledge for him. That can be worked out later.

So here we are... Day Fourteen: I am now able to sand for about ten minutes at a time (while he licks peanut butter out of a kong). The nails are certainly starting to shape up, he's showing no stress and with repetition he will need less and less motivation to endure it.

There you have it... each day had 1-3 sessions each about 10 minutes long, and I now have a dog that will willingly get nails sanded. I'll continue to work with him daily, getting all the nails to this point. After that its just maintenance!

I highly recommend the dremel, it is easy, it's pain free and when you introduce it slowly, zero stress for you or them!

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