For some reason, I’ve been thinking a lot about the poodlie’s toenails lately. Maybe because Rush is back to clicking his nails against the bedroom door to wake me up during the night… maybe because I let them grow a bit too long and now have to get them back short, a bit at a time, so I’m doing a little bit every two or three days.
Years and years ago (March of 2010, in fact), I spent time training Elly and Dancer to allow me to Dremel their toenails. I remember holding a paw in one hand, the Dremel in the other, with a clicker under my foot so I could click. It was around then, in fact, that I started training “yes!” as a clicker substitute. It made it a lot easier. I started by rewarding them just for jumping on the grooming table with the Dremel in my hand; I moved on to lifting their feet and putting them down. I touched their nails with a silent Dremel. I picked up a foot and ran the Dremel and put the foot down. In short, I looked at every single part of Dremeling a dog’s nails and rewarded every step ten times before moving on. I fed them their meals with the Dremel running on the other side of the room, gradually bringing it closer. I did everything I could think of to make the Dremel, its noise, and the grooming table into very good things.
This morning I got treats and the Dremel and put the grooming table up… and Rush came running and jumped right on. With his new (post-neuter) interest in communicating his annoyance with me–rather than just snarking at me immediately–he was very clear about where the ticklish (or otherwise annoying-to-him) bits were. It took two treats per paw instead of the usual single treat per paw–but he was polite about it. (He was quite insistent, though, that the third toenail on his back left foot was especially challenging today, giving a slight growl-and-glare about it, twice. I stopped and checked for injury, quick location, pad tears… didn’t find anything; he let me finish the nail.)
The instant I told him “all done,” though, he jumped off the table and went right into his crate. I think he would have slammed the door behind himself if he could have. It was a masterpiece of communication: “that was tough!” But he did behave and he did lift his paws for me, and he did get eight liver cookies for his trouble.
I am consequently feeling quite smug. I spent months training all those pieces of behavior–and five years later I’m still reaping the benefits of that slow and painstaking training.