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I'm posting this as part of a set of helpful 'easy reference' articles for common questions and problems. Feel free to add additional info on separation anxiety in this thread but please start a new thread for specific questions relating to your dog. The article was written by Jacksdad - thank you!

Nail maintenance

The solution with trimming a dog’s nails is training.

If your dog runs when you get the nail trimming tools, that simply means past experiences were unpleasant or scary. This is always based on the dog’s perspective, and we reach this reasonable deduction by observing their behavior of running and hiding, or the use of aggression. Because aggression is always a possible option to deal with fear (particularly if escape and avoidance isn’t working), as such any training plan should leverage learning principles that minimize the risk of a dog choosing aggression.

When you reach for the nail trimming tools, this predicts something to your dog, and they react based on the conditioned emotional response to what follows the predictive action, getting the nail trimming tools. If that experience is reinforcing, they stick around and want more. If that experience is aversive (scary, unpleasant, painful), they will use behaviors that try and avoid the experience or to prevent it. Escape and avoidance, or aggression are basically the options they have.

Classical Condition is an excellent principle to leverage for either changing or creating associations. And if your dog is already had unpleasant experiences with nail trimming this is where to start.

If your dog prefers a food reinforcer (reward/treat), be sure to choose REALLY, REALLY good stuff. The store-bought stuff isn’t sufficient for most dogs, but yours might be an exception. But real meat like chicken or hot dog is generally the place to start for this since you are going to have to overcome past experiences.

Step 1 –

This step has two parts to it and they can be worked on at the same time. Initially you will do them as separate training sessions. You do not need one to be “mastered” before working on the other.

Part one. Condition your dog to being handled.

This starts off by getting those super yummy treats ready. Then pet your dog down their back, one “stroke”. Give treat. Scratch their chest 3 seconds, give a treat. On “day one” you do NOT try and touch any sensitive areas. JUST where your dog is already comfortable. The reason is so they are not moving into a fight/flight state and are more likely to learn that their person’s touch predicts treats.

You do this for a couple days. THEN start, for example, moving down their legs no more than quarter of the way. At this point you want to be SUPER generous with the treats. It is a lot like the joke about mixing a rum and tea. In theory it should be LOTS of tea, with just a little rum…but some people do LOTS and LOTS of rum…and just a little tea. Think of the treats as the rum and your touching as tea in the joke. There needs to be LOTS of treats to the small amount of touch.

When I do this, I start moving my hand down the dogs to just below the shoulder, and while I do that, I am giving one, two, three, four, five, six etc treats. Basically, treats continue as long as I am touching the dog. When I stop touching, the treats stop.

Key points for this phase of the training –

Touch MUST happen first, then treat happens.
As long as you are touching the dog, treats happen one at a time
When touching stops, treats stop
Dog is always free to move away. If they do, a mistake was made. Went too far, too fast, and/or rate of reinforcement was too low.
ONLY move closer to the sensitive places such as toe nails a little at a time. And ONLY move closer when the dog is relaxed with where you are touching. No squirming, no stiff body, no licking your hand, nuzzling you, biting, mouthing, growling etc.

Part two –

Lay the trimming tool on the ground. Then anything your dog does other than run away earns a treat. For example, your dog looks at it. Sits next to it. Paws at it. Doesn’t run away. Lays down next to it etc.

Next progression is you touching the tool while it is on the ground. Dog stays ‘there’, equals treat. And be generous. Pay well. I do at least 5 treats in a row when doing this.

But what if you can’t even do that? Start with small movements of your hand towards the tool. Small enough that your dog doesn’t take off. Reinforce for staying. Pay well, be generous.

Next you pick up the tool, set it back down. When your dog is relaxed with this, move to the next progression.

Next pick up the tool, move it just a small amount towards the dog.

Be SUPER generous with the treat when your dog isn’t running off. If your dog runs off, a mistake was made. Back things off to the level that doesn’t trigger running away.

The goals with step 1 is to get your dog to have a more “yippee, it is nail trimming time” response to just being touched on the paws and you picking up the trimmer and moving it towards them.

Step 2 –

Simulate the nail trimming. Start by using your fingers to put pressure on the nail. This gets treats.

Pick up the nail trimming tool, move it towards the dog’s paw. This gets treats.

Pick up the nail trimming tool, move it towards the dog’s paw, have it just touch the nail. This gets treats,

Pick up the nail trimming tool, move it towards the dog’s paw, and do everything you would need to make an actual trim, BUT do not. Just let the dog “feel” the sensation of the tool about to trim. This gets LOTS of treats.

Finally, trim 1 nail. This gets a big celebration of treats. And might even be all you do for that day. It might take 5 days to trim all the nails on one paw. But the idea is not to overwhelm your dog.

Just like with step 1, move in small increments that do not trigger escape behaviors. Pay really, really well. Do not be stingy.

DO NOT WORRY about some future day where you would like to not have to use so many treats. That day will come.

If you use a dremal for nails, you might have to adapt the handling work describe above to conditioning the sound. Show the tool, treat. Turn it on 1 second. Treat, treat, treat, treat. Etc. then work for it running for 2 second, then 3 etc. but always at the level that does not trigger your dog to be afraid.

Mistakes will be made. It happens. Just remember, mistakes are part of learning. Take a break, end the session, start over another time at the last successful point and move forward.

It is possible the dog in front of you might need things to move even slower than I describe. But it is also possible the dog in front of you might move faster. We always move at the dog’s pace. Not where we think the dog should be, but where they show they are. We only push just a little bit more toward the goal when it is clear the level you are at is super easy for your dog. A touch of stress when a push is made is also just part of the learning experience, but if there is clear anxiety, panic, escape or aggression a mistake was made and too much was asked of the dog.

Video example of what is possible with training:

Video notes –

1. She doesn’t show the steps she took to achieve the results in the video. I can’t tell you the literal steps/plan she used, but I do know the principles she leveraged regardless of what words she used. They are illustrated in my post above.

2. Note the dogs seeing the trimming tool and picking up on the routine and they all want in on it to some level. This is an example of CER, conditioned emotional response. They are not going “oh crap”, they are going “yippee”.

3. She indicates she is trying to build value for the food with one dog. Given her reputation she probably has a reason for this, BUT that step is not actually required.

4. Note she allows the dogs breaks. She isn’t trying to do all the nails on one dog at once.

5. She is right that if the dog is struggling and you allow the dog to get away you have reinforced escape. HOWEVER, it is BETTER to have that happen from time to time “once”. Then stop the session, regroup another time with an adjusted training plan that moves at a better pace for your dog. Making it safer and more reinforcing to stay. Remember, if the dog is struggling to get away, a mistake is being made and you need to adjust your plan or where you are in the plan.

6. Note she also increases what the dogs have to do get their reinforcement as the dog’s progress and become more skilled.
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A few other things I've picked up:

The most often recommended clippers are Millers Forge: They're not big, but as effective on my BIG dog's nails as anything else I've tried.

When you start clipping, only take the smallest slivers off - you'll end up progressing faster this way.

You might also want to add a step between closing the clippers next to the claw, and actually clipping the claw - clip bits off a strand of uncooked spaghetti right next to the paw, to accustom your dog to the clipping sound.

And if all else fails, or you feel you need to do something to shorten your dog's claws in while you're training, teach your dog to use a scratchboard - this is much more acceptable to many dogs. Teach Your Dog to do his own Nails! | Deb Jones Dog Training

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