Thursday, September 12, 2013

How to help a dog that is afraid of nail clipping.

Our little Beagle, Cody really does not like to have his nails clipped. He is a senior guy and his nails are thick and they seem to grow fast.

The Lovely Shane and I adopted Cody in June. Since then, we have noticed that he is really anxious in certain situations. He does not like getting shots at the veterinarian. I can't say that I blame him, I am afraid of needles too! However, Cody yelps like he is in extreme pain before the needle ever touches him. (I have stopped yelping when the doctor pulls out the needle... now I close my eyes)
He only has to see the needle to become anxious. I suppose he is associating the needle with the pain of the stick ( not an irrational thing to do at all in my opinion).

Cody in his basket.
He is also afraid of the nail clippers. I speculate that perhaps at some point in his life, someone accidentally cut into the quick and hurt him. Of course now, I speculate, that he is associating the pain he once experienced with the nail clipper. We could use one of those dremel tool type devices that grinds the nail but I doubt he would be thrilled about that either.

The problem, in my opinion (based upon experience with other dogs), is that he is associating people doing things to his nails with some painful earlier experience. Much like people, some dogs are just naturally more anxious than others. Cody is generally slightly more high strung than our Whopper Beagle, Copper. Copper generally does not get nearly as anxious as Cody.

There is a reason I am writing about Cody's anxiety here. There is a technique for addressing this problem. I have had a lot of success with it in the past. Dog Trainers call this technique Counter Conditioning and Desensitization. Sometimes, just so we can sound cool, we abbreviate it CC&D.

Cody and I ready for a little nap.
It is outside the scope of this blog post to teach you all the details of this method. However, the way I usually explain it to people is as follows:

As I mentioned, the real issue here seems to be that the dog is associating pain or something negative with the nail clippers. Simply put, our objective is to get the dog to associate something positive with the dreaded nail clippers rather than something negative.

It is important that you remain patient during this process. It will not happen immediately. It takes slow, methodical steps. Like virtually everything else in dog training, patience and routine are really the keys to success here. It is very important that you not get frustrated.

What we do is find something that the dog loves.It should be something that motivates him. Something that is of "high value" to the dog. For some dogs this may be a food item like a frankfurter (we do not say hot dog :) ) or cheese. For some dogs this may be a favorite toy.

Me when I learn the Doctor is going to need
to use a needle.
Once we have identified the motivation, we very slowly, in a controlled environment begin to get the dog to associate the motivator with the nail clippers. In other words, we are desensitizing him (making him less sensitive) to the nail clippers by associating the nail clippers with the motivator (maybe a nice piece of stinky cheese). This helps to "counter-condition" him from associating the clippers with pain and he begins associating the clippers with fun good stuff.

I know this sounds like a lot of psychological theory. I am not a psychology professor (however I do occasionally play one on T.V. :) ) I do however know what my experience has been .It does really work. I have seen it work many times. In the beginning, I was skeptical of this technique. I am a reformed believer now!

The Lovely Shane and I are going to begin this with Cody very soon. I will keep you updated on our progress.

If you have a dog that is afraid of the nail clippers or anything similar, this is a technique that we can use to help your little guy or girl. There is hope! It just takes the proper technique, time, and patience.

Please contact me and I will be glad to help you help your dog to deal with his/her anxiety.

Till Next Time


William Moore
William Moore Canine Training

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