- We stopped worrying about his long nails – His nails were overgrown, but getting him to accept handling was more important than having them trimmed up right away. So long as they weren’t hurting him, it was okay to leave them long until his training was finished.
- We broke the trimming process into baby steps – First, we taught Mayday to accept handling, and to stay still while we handled his feet, grabbed his collar etc. Then, we introduced the sight of the clippers, followed by the sound of the clippers (clipping a stick), followed by the clippers actually touching him…all before we actually clipped his nails. Patience is a virtue when it comes to cooperative care.
- We traded him for treats – At every step, we worked to build a new association with our actions by trading him for treats. For example, we’d touch his foot, and trade him for a treat…we’d grab his collar, and trade him for a treat etc. We stayed at each step until he was comfortable before moving on (some steps required more repetitions than others), and if at any point he showed stress, we backed up a bit and made it easier so we could set him up for success (Mayday could leave the session whenever he wanted).
- We paired the reward with the pressure, to help him form new associations with the tough stuff. That means, rather than rewarding AFTER the nail was clipped, or AFTER we let go of his foot, we rewarded WHILE we clipped, or WHILE we were holding his foot. We’d use a marker word (YIP!) and then let go of his foot to get and deliver his treat. When paired with the tough stuff, that marker word serves to help our dogs learn that the tough stuff = good stuff.
- We kept our sessions short – Sessions were always about 3 minutes in length give or take. Long sessions would stress him out, so it was important we never pushed too hard and we practiced frequently.
- We broke up the sessions with movement – Because this was scary stuff for Mayday, we didn’t do too many reps in a row. Instead, we’d handle him a bit, and then toss a treat away to get him moving, and help him release any stress he may have been building during the exercises.