Thursday, February 28, 2013

Holistic Grooming and Handling at the Shelter Part 2

My second talk on Positive, Holistic Grooming and Handling was at the larger Washington Humane Society shelter, in the heart of Washington DC. As before, I asked to use any demo dog who would enjoy it and could help illustrate some of the benefits of mindful handling and grooming.

This time, my first demo dog was Honda. Honda is a wiggly little thing who just couldn't get enough kisses in. Like many of the pitties in the shelter, she had some dry skin and dandruff and she was shedding like crazy. It made me think of how all the dogs I've taken in as fosters have started out with dry skin and patchy, dull, scrappy-looking coats that have shaped up and gotten nice and glossy after just a week or so at home. This is through no fault of the shelter, and is not to toot my own horn--it is just a function of how stress causes dogs to dump their coats, and regular brushing, even with those short pittie coats, distributes the oils and makes skin healthy and coats shine. 

It was nice to watch Honda calm down as she was brushed with the Zoom Groom, and incredible to see the pile of fur we were able to generate.

Next up was a shy little pup who didn't really want to do anything but hide. She would definitely benefit from some calming touch, but in a room with multiple people I didn't want to introduce her to grooming tools for the first time. She will likely be going to a rescue or to foster care where she can get the one-on-one attention that will help her build confidence. 

Then I got to work with Danny, an absolutely ridiculous little mini-Fozzie. Good God. I'm supposed to remain coherent when you give me a little thing like that? Once I pulled myself together, I was able to brush Danny's teeth and demonstrate how great it is to get a little gum/muzzle massage in.

Then, we settled in to a nice demo of nail clipping. Danny was surprisingly amenable to the whole thing! Unlike many dogs, he let me clip those nails with no trouble at all. It didn't hurt that he had a room full of people stuffing his face with treats as I trimmed each nail.

How is YOUR dog with nail clipping? In the event that you don't have an easy time of it like I did with Danny, I have recorded below a step-by-step process for nail clipping that, over time, will help even the most sensitive dogs accept the process.  
  • Get your dog used to having his paws touched. For a few days, just touch each paw, then give a treat. If your dog is really nervous about this, just touch one paw during a session, then rest and play, and come back to the next paw later.
  • Bring out the clippers and place them near your pup. If she sniffs them, click and treat. Leave them out for a couple of days.
  • Put some treats near the clippers. If your dog gets the treats, praise.
  • Use a “touch” cue to get your pup to touch the clippers. Do this multiple times until the pup is touching the clippers readily.
  • Now sit down near the clippers with some really good treats and have your dog lie down near you. Slowly bring the clippers over to a paw and gently touch one nail with them. If she pulls her paw away, look away and ignore her for a moment.
  • Try again until you are able to touch the paw with the clippers. When that happens, click and treat. Repeat several times, for several days.
  • If your dog keeps pulling his paw away, then click and treat for even allowing the clippers within a couple of inches of the paw. Gradually get closer.
  • When you can touch the paw with the clippers easily, raise the criteria by touching the paw twice before you click and treat. Then three times.
  • Repeat the process for all the nails/ paws. When your pup is comfortable with this, you can clip the smallest edge of the nail. Then click and treat. Do just one paw at a time and keep sessions short.
  • Trim nails a tiny bit at a time, and keep them short so quick never grows out.  
  • For very nervous dogs, don’t be surprised if it takes a few weeks of slow introduction and counterconditioning before you can clip any nails. The process can, however, go surprisingly fast if you do not rush it, and use high-value treats.
And a great idea contributed by Alison Coates with the Behavior and Training Department at the shelter, who took all these pictures and--along with Marika Bell--helped set up these talks: when you get to the point where you can clip your dog's nails, or close to that point--do one nail right before dinner each night! Way to set up the positive associations.


  1. Hi Kirsten, hmmm,that's why my mom and dad used to handle my paws so much when we were really little. They've never actually cut my nails. We have to go to the groomers for that. My dad's been whispering a lot so I think that means we're going again soon.

  2. Great step-by-step. Glad you mentioned how long it can take for a nervous dog to feel comfortable. I think the biggest problem with nail trimming is human impatience.

  3. What a great idea! One nail every night. We take Freedom, Casper & Nikki to a local groomer for a clip about once a month. Then, if I'm doing what I'm supposed to do, I use a nail grinder to help keep things up. I need to be better at my end of the bargain though.

  4. That is exactly how we got Georgia to tolerate getting her nails cut! Except for the treats part. I don't remember giving her any of those, poor thing. Do you know, we've NEVER brushed Georgia? I didn't think it was necessary, her being such a short haired dog. I might give it a try after reading this :)

  5. My dogs are pretty good about getting their nails clipped. Sampson doesn't like it because he has very sensitive quicks and we have nicked those a couple of times. I try to just take the curve of the nail off.

    My questions is, how often should I clip their nails?

  6. That is so great that you are able to spend time with the shelter dogs and show/teach people the benefits of touch. We're lucky that those who need nail trims are relaxed about it. As for touch, lots of hugs, kisses, cuddles and massages at our house!

  7. Great tips! I really do prefer using the human nail file on Blueberry though - it seems to be working well for her and for me. Since she has black nails I hate cutting them because I can't see the quick. The nail file makes it idiot-proof which is perfect for me. :)

  8. Really nice and useful post. With my scaredy schnauzers, this is really something we have to get to grips with. SusieBelle has been reasonably good, just kind of freezes and plonks herself down, with Twinkle, I'm not at all sure how we're going to get on, but we did manage a beard brush the other day :)

  9. Those are great tips! Hades is such a nut bag about nail clippings. He screams and cries before you even touch him. I'd been trying three nails at a time and making great progress. Then he'd run away and we'd stop on his terms. Then one night the clipper got caught on his nail (it just jammed up he wasn't heart) but he started shrieking like I was cutting his throat. It was horrible, he wouldn't come near me for an hour after that. Overall he does better with me handling the clipping than Jay. I'd like to take him in but I'm truly worried he'd go ape shit and they'd tell us they couldn't do it. He has no problem with you touching his paws, but I think his feet are so sensitive since they flare up constantly with his allergies that is part of what makes it worse.
    On the other hand you could chop Braylon's nail and make her bleed (happened on accident one time) and she won't flinch or make one peep. I will have to try some of these tips for sure to help our pup.
    Thanks for posting!

  10. Impressive tips and advices for sure i learn more knowledge from here. Please keep on posting.

    Dog Grooming Toronto


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