October Goals? Big fail.

Back at the beginning of October I wrote that my goal this month was to successfully trim Silas’s nails.

It has not happened.

This is not entirely from lack of effort, although I did flag a little mid-month. (We ran out of our A++ value cookies, and I was thwarted in replacing them.)

You know what the problem is? Silas is too smart for this game.

He’s perfectly happy to do anything involving the nail clippers, short of actual clipping. We worked through all of the following:

  • Approaching me while the clippers are nearby
  • Approaching me while I hold the clippers
  • Him touching the clippers with his foot while the clippers are on the ground (foot targeting is one of the first behaviors he offers in a shaping session.)
  • Offering me his paw while the clippers are nearby
  • Offering me his paw while I hold the clippers
  • Letting me hold his foot for moderate duration while I hold the clippers.
  • Letting me touch his nail with the clippers

But the little rat is quite capable of believing both that “this is some bizarre but okay shaping exercise that involves the clippers as a prop” and “Hell, no, you are not actually clipping my nails.”

We’re in a vicious cycle now, where his nails are long and very sturdy, but probably also sensitive because they are too long and clack on the floor constantly. I broke down last week and trimmed a few of the worst ones on the front. At that point I realized that my clippers have gotten really dull and are squeezing his nails too much. (It also hurts my cause that I went ahead with the clipping, but I am only human and couldn’t take it anymore.)

So, the next part of our action plan, in a roughly chronological order:

  1. Acquire new clippers. (Check.) Repeat as necessary until I get a pair that’s sharp.
  2. Persevere with the non-clipping parts of the counterconditioning, even though they don’t seem to be adding up to real change.
  3. Make him a scratch board and see if I can train him to “file” his own nails.
  4. Think about my actual clipping mechanics and match them better with the counterconditioning sessions.
  5. Focus on clipping the tiniest possible amount, rather than actually getting them to a tolerable level.

15 thoughts on “October Goals? Big fail.

  1. Oh yes, how I can empathize. It was Emily Larlham’s video on the upside down settle that helped Elli and I come over the hump that was preventing her from having even a tolerable experience with nail trimming procedures. Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EITYvqs32Hg

    She now has a job to do when I bring out the dremel (clippers are still the DEVIL, so I just use the dremel) and she appreciates and tolerates it so much more.


    1. Silas is, across the board, so bad at handling that I’ve been afraid the settle would just make him worse. Maybe I should try it.

      I don’t know why he’s so bad at handling; I’ve been working on it his whole life. HIs feet I can kind of see–we went on a rural vacation when he was about a year old, and I had to pick ticks out from between his toes. He’s never forgiven me for it. But he’s also bad at being picked up, having his collar grabbed, etc.


  2. Wouldn’t the scratch board damage his pads too?

    Sadly, Blueberry’s nails are pretty long again. They are always on the long side – but I have terrible carpel tunnel and lately filing her nails has become extremely painful, so the nails have gotten longer than even I like. I have thought about taking her into the vet to have them do it, but they always have the end goal of trimming them way back and end up getting her quick and that makes her even more resistant to having her nails done. I think I may have to try and get a new pair of clippers too – the ones I have are pretty dull by now.


    1. I think he could file just his nails, especially with them so long right now. It’s definitely something I would have to keep an eye on.

      I would absolutely take Silas somewhere else and have his done–he’s kind of resigned to being handled by the vet–but I’m still afraid to do anything traumatic related to the car.


  3. If it’s any comfort, I haven’t completed a full nail trim yet, either.

    I’ve put a few dollars in the CC bank every day, and I’ve shaved a little bit off of about half of Nala’s nails. Each time was the end of a session–clip, ten tiny treats, a rep or two of me just touching her nails and giving a treat, end. I’ve seen hints of behavior that indicate I’m right to be so cautious–concerned looks, startles, snatching paws back–but I’m also a coward.

    They’re bad, but we walk on pavement every day, so they could be worse. Training a nail-filing behavior sounds like a good way to simulate that effect, especially as it should appeal to his terrier sensibilities. 🙂

    Have you ever asked the vet behaviorist about his generalized handling issues (I’d assume so, but it may have seemed less important than some of his other issues)? I’m surprised that he struggles with all of it so much, given how fond he seems to be of cuddling–our foster spitz had handling issues, but also preferred not to be touched in general.


    1. Silas doesn’t handle any kind of physical pressure well. I can grab his collar all day long, but he will freak out if I actually try to move him that way. He loves to cuddle on his own terms, he hates to be picked up. Etc.

      I’m not sure it came up with the behaviorist, honestly. As much as I love her, and as helpful as she was, I feel like our sessions tracked in a way that didn’t always line up with his major problems.

      I think with a smart dog caution is always justified. If you screw it up, they’re going to remember. Not to make it sound even worse than it is, but that’s definitely been true for us.


      1. Thanks for the reassurance about my caution!

        Interesting to see the difference between your list and ours–Nala lacks any kind of solid paw offering behavior, so we’ve been doing more straight CC (with me watching like a hawk for baby CERs), including conditioning the clippers snapping shut like a clicker (not on her nails).

        I can see how the vet behaviorist visits may not have lined up with some of Silas’s most major issues–it must have been difficult to prioritize time in your sessions, and I find that similar things happen with our trainer (who is also wonderful, don’t get me wrong), especially via email. My inner (who am I kidding, it’s not particularly hidden) dog nerd would be curious about the behaviorist’s thoughts on his handling issues, though.


  4. An idea I saw recently, but have not ever tried myself, is instead of teaching the dog to have the thing happen to them (such as nail clipping, vet exam, etc), teach them a behavior that they have to perform, regardless of what else happens. Example being a long duration nose-touch behavior during a vet exam. This is the video I first saw it in, I think the channel has some other videos showing how to train this behavior, this is just end goal behavior on the video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=40I_fx6AH0M&feature=youtu.be

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Once again, our dogs are so alike. I had the same experience trying to CC Ruby to the eye drops. I could pantomime the motion with the bottle with the cap on all day long – as soon as I took the cap off, she KNEW the difference. To some extent, we’ve had the same experience with the nail clippers, but because I feel she is more annoyed than actually scared, I sort of just muscle through it with the peanut butter bottle. She knows when it’s “peanut butter paws!” time, and thankfully, with all of her digging and playing on the concrete patio, the other day I was worried her back claws were TOO short!

    Ruby likes handling only on her own terms. I can lean down and ask her if I can pick her up. If she’s in the mood she will kind of hoist herself up when I put my hand under chest. If not – she runs away!

    Lasya hated physical restraint, too, which was why it was particularly hard when she started to lose mobility.

    Then there is Boca…whose nails I clipped while she was laying on her side in the sun on the patio – not a care. It is so very interesting having the two of them,


  6. Smart pets can be terrible, no? Just their ability to distinguish between shaping and reality. Luckily, ours tolerates all things handling as a necessary part of life. (For the most part. The groomer was trying to trim her sheepdoggy face and was having a hard time trimming around her eyes. She would NOT hold still.) Nail clipping you can see the disdain on her face as she gingerly tries to take her paws back, but she tolerates it. Ear cleaning and bathing, she gives you a Look of Scorn, too. But brushing? I get the brush out of the closet and she runs for me. “Oh PLEASE with the scratchy loves!”


  7. What type of nail clippers do you use? The guillotine type or the scissors type? My vet recommended the scissors type but I’m thinking about switching or maybe trying a dremel tool since Haley’s not crazy about the whole process either. She’ll tolerant getting her nails trimmed, but it’s pretty much a two person job.


    1. I use the scissors type. Just make sure they’re sharp. Honestly, if Haley isn’t afraid of the dremel sound, I’d try it. Silas is terrified of noises like that, so we’re stuck with scissors, but for a lot of dogs the vibration is less scary than the pressure from clipping. If you look up a few comments, Ximena posted a really great video that uses the dremel.


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