Nailing it from the start!

Nailing it from the start!

Nailing it from the start!


The other day I visited the cutest 11week old puppy! At one point, when she was being held securely by her owner, I touched her little paw! Giving each toe a light squeeze in turn, I reflected.There was no pulling away and there was a complete absence of any kind of anxiety-related body language. There was utter trust and seemingly no learning history(good or bad). It struck me that we should be looking at this now and ‘nailing it from the start’!

In short she was a clean, blank slate!

That wee puppy had never yet had the experience of nail filing and I realized just how life changing ‘getting it right’ at this tender age really is.


Nailing it when its an up-hill battle


Most of the world is filled with dogs who have had at least one (if not more) negative events in relation to nail filing. When we start our training, there is already a lot of learning history to make up for.

We might need to go slowly and it might take a bit longer but how exactly do we Nail it right from the get go?


1. Consider a comfortable position.


– Your puppy may be small now and we might be able to work with her on our laps but thinking about her eventual size and the position you might be able to cope with later on needs to be a factor. Getting a dog cosy on their side might work for some or even choosing a slightly more restrained option on or between your legs as you sit on the floor could be a good option for solo nail trimmers (as I have been). Practice marking and rewarding for still and settled behavior in that position regularly.


2. Work on handling first!


– Once in a good position for you, work on handling the pups (or dogs) feet.  Mark and reward for still, calm behavior and for the dog allowing her paw to sit in your hand for a small duration. As she gets comfortable,  start to take each toe in turn and apply the lightest pressure hold with your fingers.
Increase the pressure until it reflects the secure hold you would need to do, to secure the toes when clipping or filing the nail


3. Positively condition your tools


– Whether you decide to use a nail board, a Dremel, a hand file, nail clippers or a combination of them all, introduce your dog to them all in a positive way. Pairing the tools presence with food, treats, play, etc. will induce a positive emotion in the dog when they see them coming out. When using a Dremel, also ensure the dog is desensitized to the noise by switching it on and off and offering the treat (or toy) right after.


Toto doing dremel nail file training

Toto learns that dremel noises bring good things


4.Check your dog’s body language


– If you go too fast you will notice a change in body language. The dog might start to shy away or walk away, may pull away or avoid you. If this happens you are moving too fast and need to back track and reduce criteria (ie. ask for less). Below are a few great resources on Canine Body Language.


5.  Fear doesn’t mean Manageable fear 


– When dealing with anxieties (or prevention thereof) we are looking to progress when the dog shows no fear at each level. No fear doesn’t mean slight fear or manageable fear, so be careful not to push on It will eventually mean that you ‘sensitize’ the dog rather than the opposite.


6. Giving choice!


– Allowing your dog the choice to walk away, will actually build trust and co-operation in the longer term. If you get one nail done and your dog chooses to walk away, let him and make a note that you may have pushed too hard or for too long. When dogs have the choice to participate and you take each step slowly enough, you will end up with a willing participant rather than a restrained prisoner.


7. I’m sorry but… (the ‘not negotiable’ cue)


 – What about when you simply have to just get something done and revoke that choice? We want the dog to have as much choice as possible but it’s not always practical. There will be times when the dog won’t have a choice due to an emergency or situation when you need to intervene even if training hasn’t progressed to that stage. Thinking of a cue for this early on and being consistent in delivering it on those unavoidable occasions will help to retain your progress during regular training. A trainer friend stated recently that in this situation, she always says, “I’m sorry, I love you but…”


8. Clipping the first nail


 It may seem daunting once you get to that first nail clip (or file) but remember the small steps. Before taking the first clip you will have…

  1. Practiced the nail hold
  2. Repeated ‘clippers touch to the nail’ many times
  3. Practiced ‘clippers clip air in front of the nail’
  4. Repeated ‘scraping the clippers over the end of the nail’
  5. Practiced applying pressure around the nail with the clippers


All these steps plus the fact that the first ‘cut’ can take the smallest slither of nail possible will allow for little to no reaction from your dog.
Ensure you follow each step with a yummy treat and don’t miss out steps!


9. Don’t go crazy!


 – You will likely be pretty pleased with yourself after your first clip or file touch (and so you should be!). However, don’t go crazy and think the job is done!
Stop after one nail and back track once more with some easy exercises before continuing another day with nail number two. I’d suggest doing one nail every 2-3 days to start with and only once you see utter comfort after one nail increase it to two at one sitting, etc.


10. Dog Nail Anatomy


 – Before you progress any further do a little research on dog nail anatomy.
Before you start trying to take larger chunks of nail, you need to be fully aware of where the quick is.The ‘quick’ is the soft bundle of nerves and blood vessels in the inner nail. If your dogs nails are white, then the quick will show up as pink and is easier to see. However if your dogs nails are black, then it’s much harder to locate. Many people find the Dremel file easier to use for this reason.For more info …


11. Teach your dog to file his own


nailing it on a nail board

Pax ‘nailing it’ learning how to file his own nails on a nail board!

 Lastly but not least! I find this an extremely useful option to incorporate early in training.
Make a Nail board by sticking a piece of sandpaper to a board.
Secure the edges with duct tape and fastening a handle to the rear.
It takes most dogs less than 5 minutes to start to get successful paw swipes onto a nail board. Working with them for 10 minutes (once or twice a week) can make a significant difference to their front nails. If nothing else this cuts your job down by almost 50% .

It also builds a valuable, positive association with the scraping feeling, so that they are more likely to be comfortable with manual filing on the back nails or dew claws if that seems necessary.

To learn more check out my grooming and co-operative care info page here… subscribe to my newsletter!


Finding Contentment

Finding Contentment

Finding Contentment: Changing your thinking, adapting your behavior, turning your struggles into strengths! …and it works for your dog too!

This was the job I dedicated my life to at that tender and youthful age of 25.

After finishing a media production degree and then taking a year off to travel, I ‘landed’ back in London and I strived to make my way up a career ladder.
Retaining contentment in a job for that long is rare but to begin with, it was exciting and it all started well!

Exactly 50 days ago, after a quarter of a decade in the industry, I quit my well-paid job!

So what happened? It had all gone quite well for a number of years starting as trainee assistant and then moving into demo artist, software trainer and finally compositor, then ‘lead’ then ‘senior’.
I started to collect a string of credits on films that I was, at first, very proud of.

Going nowhere and shifting priorities…

At some point however I just stopped moving up! I stopped moving forward.
Co-incidentally, it was the exact time I stopped traveling to find work and the same time I decided to move forward with trying to have a baby. Shifting my priorities, I decided to become a single mom by choice. After 4 years of class 101 at the fertility clinic, it finally happened for me. I had a healthy baby girl.

You know what its like when you are so absorbed and involved in a difficult process!
There is little time to think. You grab whatever sleep you can and in between, you try to keep everyone alive!
Bringing up a baby alone with 3 dogs in the house was a challenge but an essential one. Not at one point did I consider it an option ‘not’ to cope!

Time moved on, I returned to my job. Finally, baby goes to daycare, then school and suddenly, as if by magic, you have a walking, talking, opinionated, self-sufficient human.

However, after nearly 19 years at one company (slowly sliding backwards rather than forwards) and around 25 years total in one industry, you see a lot of change. The real stand out thing for me, however, was that it just wasn’t ‘giving back’ anymore.

Its easy, isnt it? Easy to accept the paycheck, to keep going in every morning, to press the same buttons, to learn the correct responses (i.e.what people want you to say). Its the safe option but it can become soul destroying.

New Passions

Throughout this entire process, what I left out was that I had been striving once more but in a different area. My first dog had brought me huge challenges, many questions and had set me off on a pursuit of knowledge into Canine Behavior and most importantly how the heck you change it.
In short, a deep delve into Dog Training !

Today I turned 50!   Just 50 days after quitting that well-paid job!
Honestly, I’m not sure what the future holds…hopefully another 50 years.

So, what’s my plan? Oddly enough I’m looking at my own situation in a very similar way to how I view the dogs I have worked with.

Finding contentment!

Home is where the heart is…

Feeling comfortable and at ease in your surroundings is essential to setting good foundations on which to build. That’s where I’d start with a dog and it turns out a lot of this stuff is not species specific.

For me…

veggie gardenStarting with the home, I tidied, I changed things, I re-planned, I switched furniture. I created a living space I was happy and comfortable or at least I’m still actively working on it 🙂 I set up the spare room extension to rent out which eased financial concerns. I set up a veggie garden!

For the dogs…

Mirroring that advice for dog owners, I suggest you limit access or visibility to the outside street if motorbikes, passersby and other distractions might keep your dog barking and bouncing at the windows. In addition to easing the stress, adding enrichment (interesting things for the dog to do), especially when left alone is essential.enrichment slow bowl

Enrichment and Purpose

When you do a google search on ‘purpose’ and ‘enrichment’, it comes up with two kinds of results. One is centered on enrichment in respect to people(often children) and one with respect to animals.

Check out how similar they are. Enrichment is ‘providing opportunities to pursue their own area of interests and strengths’. ‘…a principle that seeks to enhance the quality of life…’

For me…

I find new hobbies! An hour long walk each day (weather allowing), time to fill in a crossword or similar and a swim on Fridays with my best girl! I enjoy a project (or 10) so starting a new dog training business creates opportunities to work through many, many challenges. I grow vegetables and set a weight goal with a new lifestyle change and diet!

For the dogs…

Turns out dogs benefit from enriching activities and puzzles too! Adding a Kong and another food puzzle to the day whilst saying goodbye to the boring food bowl that last 30seconds. Creating opportunities to ‘think’ and be challenged mentally as well as physically by throwing in some training sessions into the walk.

Changing your thinking!

Its easy to get stuck, not only in your behavioral habits but also in your thinking habits. You need to adapt the way you think, or at least challenge it, before you can get more flexible with your habits!

For me…

When you have been stuck in a bit of a rut for some time its hard to step back and be more flexible with your thinking. I’m not just talking about positive thinking either. I’m speaking of flexibility! Finding it within yourself to let go of preconceptions and re-examine what is working and what isn’t.
Can we recognize that different approaches might yield positive results? Keep data!
In short, don’t just do and think as you always have just because you always have!

For the dogs…

Again with the dogs!
A reactive dog (one that may bark and lunge upon the sight of another) has been stuck in a rut … behaviorally.

It’s a hard habit to break!

One of the really creative approaches to this was introduced to me in a training course by Absolute Dogs. Teaching ‘concepts’ as well as specific behavior changes can go a long way towards adapting how a dog thinks generally.
Let’s look at games which enhance a flexible approach!
What does a dog chose to do upon approach to a novel object?
We can reward him for a different more flexible choice each time.
The first time he is rewarded for 2 feet on, the second for a nose touch, the third for knocking it over, etc,etc. The dog learns that flexibility can also be rewarded and he can practice that in a context away from the habitual reactivity first.

Turning struggles into strengths.

Now is the time to start looking at specifics, those little every day struggles.
The things that challenge us can be looked at from two directions, as a problem OR as an opportunity to learn and conquer!

For me…

How do I become financially secure whilst still doing the stuff I love?
Can I create a habit of scheduling EVERYTHING!
If its not in the schedule, it doesn’t get done!
Finding the endurance to create solutions both in business and personal life.

look at meFor dogs…

Can they learn to approach an old problem with a new solution?
Rather than barking and lunging at the sight of another dog, can they learn to adapt that behaviour and still feel ok about things?

Finding contentment is an essential part of life!
Changing your thinking and finding it within yourself to feel empowered enough to find new solutions to old problems can be life changing!

Doing so lays the most solid foundation upon which to build, both from a personal level and as a basis for a dog training behavior modification program turning struggles into strengths!

Little Dog, Big Feelings!

Little Dog, Big Feelings!

10 ways to help your dog self-regulate when prone to over-arousal!


Even though over-arousal in dogs has had a fair bit of attention in some training circles in recent years , in terms of actually considering it strongly in a training programme, it is far too many times overlooked.

In fact when I hear comments or posts where people say, “oh ‘this method’ or ‘that technique’ just didn’t work for me, my first thought is whether it was due to over-arousal (or under-arousal) being in play.

Over-Arousal in environment

Winnie the Pooh – we adopted as her third home when she was 2years old

It is certainly something I can relate to given that I adopted a little BC cross dog a couple of years ago. Winnie the Pooh is a little dog who has really BIG feelings! Her tendency is to flip into over-arousal at the very slightest changes in the environment.
We have been experimenting with various methods and documenting patterns in her behaviour in an effort to really incorporate arousal manipulation into a training plan.

Ok, so firstly, let’s just define the term!


Definition of Over-Arousal


Arousal is the physiological and psychological state of being awoken or of sense organs stimulated to a point of perception.
Over-Arousal is excessive arousal!

If you consider the definition above, arousal is indeed necessary for every single task we (and our dogs) perform.
When arousal is at its optimum levels we are ‘firing on all four cylinders’ if I may use a rather old metaphor from an internal – combustion engine origin. At optimal arousal we will be performing at our peak, our greatest level of efficiency, speed or productivity.

So, arousal is necessary but where does it need to be, to be at this ‘magical’ optimum level and how do we get it there and help reduce the times our dogs tip into over-arousal?


Optimal Arousal


…  Yerkes-Dodson Law – Inverted U-model (or bell curve) clearly shows the correlation between arousal and performance.

… there is an optimal level of arousal which corresponds to peak performance but if arousal is too low, performance suffers.
At this end of the bell curve we often associate fatigue, disengagement, disinterest and inactivity.

At the higher end of arousal curve, over-arousal is associated with over-excitement, anxiety, panic and fear. Again performance is reduced!

In short, if we want to illicit good performance from our dogs, we need to be aware of where he(or she) is sitting in respect to arousal upon this curve.

Equally, if we can find ways of manipulating that arousal level, we can be directly influential in setting a perfect foundation for effective learning and good performance.


Manipulating Arousal


If we can find and adopt ways to manipulate arousal in the animal we are training, then we not only increase performance, we set our dogs and ourselves up to succeed as well!

Now every dog is different, so at any point where one exercise works perfectly to reduce arousal for one dog, it may induce frustration for another, so be cautious and observant.

A great ‘test’ for arousal is to pick a ‘default’ trick that the dog knows how to do very, very well. Ask him to perform it and rate the performance. If its sloppy, slow or worse, the dog can’t perform it at all, then chances are high, that over-arousal is in play!


Methods which may often decrease arousal include (but are not limited to) :


1. Distant Antecedents

Practicing calm at home! If a dog is barking at passers-by for instance for many hours a day when you are out, then you’d do well to manage the environment to allow the dog to stay calm for more of that time.  Feeding Kongs, blocking street window access, etc. For the amount of time the dog is engaged in high arousal, he also needs an equal amount of downtime to recover.

2. Scatter feeding

This encourages the dog to go into a scent search using his nose.

3. Find it!

Throw one treat to the ground and cue your dog to ‘find it’

4. Patterning

Simply pattern feeding. Feeding one treat by your left ankle and then another by your right ankle with dog facing you. I was introduced to this by Sarah Stremming who incidentally also coined the phrase ‘Big Feelings’ which I just love because it sums up our little bc cross perfectly!

5. Allow your dog to sniff

Heck! Encourage it!  If your dog is a sniffer on walks, he could be doing well to help regulate himself. Sniffing is a great activity for dogs with some people rating it so highly, they term their walks ‘sniffaris’!

6. Increase rate of rewards 

In short, reward your dog more for the behaviour you want especially in difficult situations. Just the actual act of eating can decrease arousal (assuming your dog ‘can’ eat : in extreme arousal or anxiety a dog may refuse to eat, which is a good indicator in and of itself that something in the environment may be pushing your dog above the arousal optimal level).

7. Fine Dining

This game (coined/named by Absolute Dogs) encourages and rewards stillness in the close presence of a treat. When the dog is still the treat comes to them. Bouncing and lunging makes the treat retreat!

8. Slow feeding

If your dog is over aroused then slow feeding might help. Nibblers can lick and nibble at a treat in your hand or you could try feeding from a squeezy tube that the dog needs to lick at to receive a reward.

9. Temporarily avoiding triggers

I’m defining ‘triggers’ here as anything a dog alerts to so strongly that he appears to be unable to respond to anything else. Allowing some downtime from such events and then re introducing them in a more controlled way can be a good way to set foundations for a desensitization program.

10. Decreasing Anxiety

Some dogs’ behaviour can become intense when they feel anxious. Where some dogs be withdraw, others will lash out, lunge and bark. There are various methods to reducing anxiety from medications, to T-touch ‘wraps’ to full and controlled desensitization with a professional.


Alternatively methods which may often increase arousal are :

Delivering treats actively, so tossing or cuing the dog to catch the treats rather than delivering to his mouth directly. Playing with a toy : Any game which mimics a part of the dogs natural prey drive, chasing (a ball), catching, running, tugging can increase arousal. Decreasing Anxiety : What may appear as under arousal could be inhibited behaviour due to anxiety. Determining what might cause the anxiety and ensuring the dog feels better about it will go a long way to improve the situation.

So the moral of this story … if a technique or method isn’t working for you but has clearly worked for others… and if you are certain that you are implementing it correctly…

…then check your dog’s arousal levels.