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Getting to Nail Trims, Part II: Increasing Duration and the 3 Ds

May 21, 2013

The goal of step one was to be able to slide your hand down your dog’s leg and off the end of the paw without your dog jerking the paw back. You should reliably be able to do this with your dog before proceeding with step two. In step two, the goal is to be able to take the paw directly and gently hold it to a count of five. Remember to work in small, short sessions and don’t practice any one step for more than 3-5 successes before stopping and coming back later for another session.

There is a concept in dog training called the 3 Ds, which stands for Distance,  Duration, and Distractions.  For our purposes defining them as Difficulty, Duration, and Distractions makes more sense, but either way the 3Ds are simply a way to remind yourself that whenever you are making one part of a skill harder for your dog you need to temporarily make other things easier or keep them exactly the same. For example, in step one we had no Distractions (working in a quiet, familiar area without the nail trimmer in sight) and the Duration was almost zero (sliding the hand past the paw instead of holding on), but the Difficulty (being touched in a place that has some scary associations) was high.

Now that we want to add Duration to our “paw slide,” it is very important to keep Distractions and Difficulty exactly the same at first. That is, for now we are going to continue to slide down the leg to the paw instead of taking the paw directly and the nail trimmer is still nowhere to be seen. Later, we can increase the Difficulty by reaching for the paw directly while backing off on Duration and still not changing Distractions. This will get us to our end goal for step two.

Start by doing the same sliding motion off the paw that we ended step one with, but add an ever-so-slight pause as your hand passes the paw. Click and treat at the end of the pause and then finish sliding off the paw. It is very common for dogs to regress slightly and want to pull back as you add the pause, and that’s ok. Just like in step one, it is important that they have the choice to do so, just don’t click and reward or otherwise react to pulling back. Simply try again. Most dogs will learn quickly that nothing bad is happening and allowing the pause earns the treat. If the pause is just too scary for your dog and you can’t make any progress, try simply slowing down the speed of your slide off the paw instead of starting with a pause. Then you can gradually go slower and slower until you transition completely to a pause.

Gradually make the pause at the paw longer and longer. Resist the temptation to move through this too quickly! It is very important that your dog becomes completely comfortable with having the paw handled for a length of time instead of simply being touched, since no one can trim nails in the time it takes to slide their hand off a dog’s paw. You want to gradually keep increasing the length of the pause, clicking and treating at the end of the pause.

Once you can reliably pause for a count of five, you can try to change the way you touch the paw from the sliding motion to taking the paw directly. This step is not essential, but if anyone else ever cuts your dog’s nails (such as a groomer) they are most likely to take the paw directly so it is useful for your dog to be comfortable with this type of touch. However, if it is too intimidating for your dog you can stick with the sliding method for now or even indefinitely.

Since we are increasing the Difficulty (reaching directly for the paw), you want to reset your expected Duration. I recommend trying a gentle “scooping” motion under the paw (demonstrated in the video); at first, just scoop and let go or slide off the paw right away. Then build duration exactly like you did with your slide down the leg: First pause briefly, then gradually increase the duration of your pause until you reach a count of five.

When you can reliably hold the paw to a count of five without your dog pulling back, you will be ready to move on to step three, where the goal will be to touch the paw and handle the toes and nails  with your free hand. Until then, continue practicing steps one and two.

The video is here:


Previous posts in this series here:

Introductory Post: http://www.grandavevet.com/blog/getting-nail-trims-prologue
Step One: http://www.grandavevet.com/blog/getting-nail-trims-part-i-good-touch

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