October Goals

We’ll be working on lots of things in October, because we’re always working on lots of things. Tricks, obedience behaviors, and sidewalk-walking will all continue apace. I’m hoping to improve Silas’s rear-end awareness, and we’re continuing our quest to have more fun.

But, we also have official goals this month.

Nineteen of them, in fact.

Dog nails that need to be cut

Yep, that’s a real-live, just-taken photograph of how horrible Silas’s nails are.

Silas hates having his nails done. Like a lot of his handling issues, we’d settled on the pragmatic–do it fast, get it done, have a party afterwards. Because Silas’s very first stress response is to stop eating, he’s tricky to counter-condition with food in the moment. But while the post-procedure party worked wonders for bath time, nail trimming was just not improving. Then, for reasons that are only reasons to an anxious dog, it started getting worse.

Now Silas has determined that he will not be put on the table, then only place he didn’t squirm too much for me to safely trim. It wouldn’t be too important, except that Silas spends very little time walking on concrete, so his nails grow quite quickly.

That means my big October goal is to counter-condition the process of nail clipping. I really hope it doesn’t take all month, but it may. Past attempts to work through this have always hit a plateau somewhat before actual clipping can happen.


I had this post largely drafted yesterday, when I heard that Dr. Sophia Yin had passed away. I’m incapable of writing a tribute that can do her justice, but this post is very much in her spirit. Dr. Yin cared deeply about how dogs and cats felt about being handled during grooming and medical procedures, and she used her position within the veterinary community to both advocate and educate on their behalf. I can’t write her an appropriate tribute; I will try to practice one instead.

13 thoughts on “October Goals

  1. Good luck! I found that dremeling was way more effective for my fearful dog, at least partly because with the dremel, her suddenly flailing couldn’t result in me accidentally chopping off way too much nail. I’m not sure how Silas would do with the noise of a dremel, though. For a while, I actually used human nail files and just hand filed the nails. It took a lot of time, but was probably the least stressful way to get nails shorter of all the ones that I’ve tried.


    1. Silas is so skittish about dremel-like sounds that I’ve never tried. Maybe I should give it a test (not on him, of course); sometimes I underestimate him.

      I bought a coarse human file, but never got anywhere with it. If I strike out again on the nail clippers, I might try working on the file some more.


      1. I don’t think it is ideal for long term nail trimming, but it might help between big sessions. And you might even want to train a dig behavior and get a sandpaper board, and teach him to do his own nails. I know a number of people who have done that. Again, not the ideal way to care for nails long term, but hey, it all helps, right?


  2. I’ve had the best intentions since before we even adopted Nala of taking advantage of her clean slate with us to preventatively countercondition routine handling, and we’ve gotten a decent start on it. But I’ve been putting off nails. All but three of her nails are black, and I’m terrified of quicking her.

    No more! After silently choking back tears on the bus over Dr. Yin this morning, I’m gonna grit my teeth, get it together, and follow your lead here. I think kikopup’s upside down settle will be a good fit for us–I’ve already used Nala’s blissful response to having her chest rubbed to CC the undercoat rake, so for us, slow, calm, patient procedures are definitely the way to go.

    I guess I also need to purchase clippers (and maybe a dremel) so that I can CC their existence.

    Thanks for helping me find something constructive to do with my feelings.


    1. I still cry every time I think about it. Just crushing.

      As for cutting her nails too short: even on Silas’s white nails where you can see what you’re doing, it’s murkier than you would think when you’re standing there with the clippers. I solve this by just not cutting them very short. As long as they don’t clack on the floor, I’m good. I am a chicken, and I know that it would be a huge setback for him. I think dogs without baggage don’t think it’s a big deal. Just buy some styptic powder when you buy your clippers.


  3. I was wondering about the dremel too. Sampson does not like it, but I think it’s the vibration of the tool, not the noise. He has very sensitive quicks.

    When I pull out the clippers Sampson goes and hides his head. Delilah hands me her paw. Not sure if she likes having the nails clipped or the treats. Who am I kidding? It’s the treats for her.

    Good luck with the conditioning.


  4. Good goal! At least his nails are white and you have no question about where the quick is (at least in that pictures)

    Elka doesn’t mind the dremel noise, and doesn’t mind the dormant dremel touching her, but I haven’t touched it RUNNING to her nails yet. She’s quite fine with paw handling, but her nails are so tough, and thick, and oh yeah, I can’t see the quick. Sigh.

    I was also very, very sad to hear about Dr. Sophia Yin.


  5. Honey’s breeders started handling her feet as a tiny puppy. And I’ve done counterconditioning her entire life. But she still doesn’t love getting her nails clipped.

    Unfortunately, although we do walk on concrete every day, her nails grow very quickly. I’d hate to show you a picture of hers. They’re impossible to get as short as I want them.

    I’ve seen YouTube videos where people taught their dogs to scratch on a piece of sandpaper mounted on a board (or a skateboard). The dogs keep their own nails short. And it looked fun. Since Silas is so smart, maybe he’d enjoying learning that trick.


  6. I hate doing nails too! I just did Norman’s. He doesn’t like it but he’s patient. I’m a wuss though. I barely trim them and then finish them off with a human nail file. They’re still too long though. Both dogs sometimes chip their nails which I know could turn ugly.

    The one and only thing in life that Kaya is scared of is the nail clippers. She was terrified as a puppy. With a lot of counter-conditioning, she is find now but I only do her dewclaws. She wears the rest down.

    I think I’m going to give the dremel a try…


  7. Yes, Haley hates having her nails trimmed too, even though I’ve never cut her quick. I’ve tried the fast, get it done method and the relax, give her a massage when she gets tense method. Neither method works great, so the relax and get it done quickly is the way I try to do it. It looks like Silas is in good company with hating having his nails clipped 🙂


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