If you look closely, you can see Nemo's nails as he wraps his paw around the empty water bottle. I posted previously that my latest project was to help Nemie become more comfortable (as well as myself!) with nail trims.
It's time for an update, so I thought I'd post immediately after our latest training session.
I've decided that I want to use a Dremel tool to trim Nemo's nails, as opposed to a guillotine-type trimmer. There are a couple of reasons behind that decision:
- The guillotine-type trimmer seems to cause the dogs a bit of discomfort when I trim.
- It's too easy to misjudge how far back to clip -- and hitting the quick isn't fun for me or for the dog!
The advantages to the Dremel include: no apparent discomfort, impossible to quick the dog as you're sanding the nail down, it's quick, and clean up is easy. The disadvantage, though, is that it's loud, it feels funny for the dog (or scary, depending on your perspective), and the smell of grinding nails might be aversive.
My goal was to practice each day with the dogs. Reality, though, is that I get to practice every other day. In a perfect world, I'd practice every day, two or three times each day (for about 5 minutes per session).
In an effort to make the Dremel tool a predictor of something good, I've been getting it out before I prepare the dog's dinner. What I want is for them to associate the presence of the Dremel with something really good (like dinner).
In addition, I'm using a really high-valued treat as a reinforcer -- wet cat food. It's smelly, it's delicious, and it's a rare commodity.
This is how our sessions have progressed:
- The first two or three sessions were just getting Nemo comfortable with me handling his paws. I would touch (just touch!) a paw, then click and treat. (I'd dole out a small lump of wet kitty food on a butter knife as the reinforcer.)
- Once he showed no stress signals (averting his eyes, pulling his paw away, etc.) I started to actually hold his paw (gently). Click and treat for every time he let me do that.
- Then I touched the clicker to his paw (simulating the touching of a tool to his paw) and clicked and treated each time he allowed that.
- Then I abandoned any and all foot work and switched the Dremel on. Just the noise of this device can be scary to a dog. So for Nemo, I switched it on (it's lowest setting) and treated several times. I'd switch the Dremel off and stop feeding immediately. Nemo quickly figured out that the Dremel is what brought the food to him.
- Now, I'm at the point where I ask him for his paw and touch the Dremel tool to his foot. It's important to note that the Dremel is still off at this point. I can now touch the Dremel to the top of his nail, the sides, and underneath.
He's still a bit stressed at this point with that last step, so we'll spend a couple days at this point until he can handle it without any trouble.
Our next step will be to have the Dremel on while I hold his paw (no touching the Dremel to the nail yet). Once he's comfortable with the Dremel on while I'm holding his paw, I'll move the Dremel closer. When he's calm and confident, I can then briefly (very briefly!) touch the Dremel to his nail while the Dremel tool is on it's lowest setting.
It takes some time to do this - but look at it this way: Nemo will hopefully live 10 or 12 more years. Dedicating a few weeks now to help him become comfortable with nail trims for the rest of his life is a great investment.