Nailed It – The Art of (not) Cutting Your Dog’s Nails

Photo: Ruby Schmank @rubyschmank

Photo: Ruby Schmank
@rubyschmank

Knowing others is wisdom, knowing yourself is Enlightenment.

- Lao Tzu

Nail cutting time.  My favorite. If given the choice between cutting Sparta’s nails and skipping voting on mid-terms this year…I’m going to still fucking vote!!! Are you crazy?! Register!

Seriously, though, there’s nothing I hate more than cutting Sparta’s nails.  Her nails are black.

 

 

I’ll admit, I was even terrified to cut my kids’ nails when they were little.  Unfortunately, I had a bad experience with my first dog, Darwin.  He had black nails as well, and the first time I tried to cut his nails, I cut a little too deeply.

 

It was awful, and it scarred me forever.  Looking back, I barely nicked him, and literally a drop of blood came out, but still, I was traumatized for life.  So for the rest of Darwin’s life, he went to get his nails trimmed at a groomer. Same thing with Orion and Sparta.  Now here’s the problem, though.  I have plenty of clients who would tell me that their dog was terrible about getting their nails trimmed, getting all Cujo on them.  They would ask while I was there if I could show them how to do it safely.  Sure thing!

I would Pilot  the dog, moving slowly, but confidently. I would take the clippers in my hand, continuing to maintain calm.  I take the dog’s paw in my hand, position the clippers on the dog’s nail…

“And then you cut”, I would say.  But here’s the rub. I never would actually cut the nail myself because I was terrified.  In my mind, my rationale was that my clients weren’t having problems cutting the nail, it was cutting the nail without being shredded by their dog that was the issue. I didn’t want to project my on neurosis onto them, so I faked it.  My clients would always take the clippers from me, Pilot their dogs as I had just shown them, and then actually cut the dog’s nails.  Voila!  Mission accomplished.

However, something about it didn’t sit right with me.  Yes, technically I solved their problem, and they were happily cutting away at their dog’s nails, but I felt awful that I couldn’t make that leap myself.  So a few months ago, I became determined to do it.

I grabbed my clippers and had Sparta in a down position on my floor.  I grabbed my clippers and headed towards her holding her paw out.

Yeah…she kinda sensed there was a slight problem.

 

Now here’s the thing: I have Piloted Sparta through some pretty terrible things.  For example, when she was 11 months old,she tore her ACL.  The examination by her vet was pretty rough and painful.  Her vet took her leg, and gently moved it, causing Sparta to jump up in pain, swing around, and pretty much ask if she could bite the vet.

My answer was “no”.

Remember, Sparta was in pain, and she was asking if she could hurt the vet to make him stop hurting her.  I obviously knew that the exam was indeed necessary to help her heal.  Yes, it hurt my heart to tell her that the vet was allowed to hurt her, but she accepted my answer.  Because I accepted my answer. I had complete faith and trust in my answer, and was able to convey that to her.  She calmed down, accepted the exam, and was set on the road to recovery.

But this was different.  I was still terrified of hurting her.  And she knew it.  I was acting differently.

We’ve secretly replaced your regular Pilot with Nervous, Shaking, Train-Wreck Pilot.  Le’ts see if Sparta notices.

Oh, yes, she figured it out right quickly, but I kept pushing on, ignoring the body language she was giving me. I had neglected to adhere to my own training rules:

1) Control yourself; and

2) Control the situation.

But I was plodding along like a dolt, ignoring the fact that Sparta was absolutely terrified.  Suddenly I realized what was happening.  Sparta was actually going to bite me, and I had been ignoring all of her body language that was absolutely screaming at me to stop what I was doing.  She wasn’t being willful nor disobedient; she was simply scared.  She was telling me with her body the equivalent of, “Don’t make me shoot, ’cause I will”.

I’ve written before about knowing your physical limitations when it comes to Piloting your dog, but mental limitations are a real thing, too.  And I suddenly realized that I was forcing a situation without having control of myself, let alone the situation.  That I had come *this close* to Sparta biting me, all because I kept pushing through a situation without taking the temperature of the situation.

So I stopped.  I put down Sparta’s paw and dropped the clippers.  Instead, we played a game.  The “I’m Not Clipping Your Nails” game, meaning she started to get positives for being calm (learn about positive reinforcement here).  It started with me taking Sparta’s paw, with the clippers on the ground. I would pinch her nail gently between my fingers, and then immediately give her a treat (frozen green beans – her favorite).  Pretty soon when I started to grab her paw, she would immediately look to the green beans, anticipating the Good Thing that was to come.

Next, I would take her paw in my hand, gently tap her paw with the clippers, and then give her a treat.  Sometimes I would just pick up the clippers, put them back down again, and give her a treat.  Soon, all things regarding the clipper were a Good Thing.  Finally, after a few days of this, I was ready.  I picked up her paw, did our usual game, but at this point both of us were condition to the clippers being No Big Deal.  I wasn’t a nervous wreck anymore. I was ready to cut.  Not trim her nail to where it should be, but just cut.  Such a small cut, that it really made no difference in the scheme of things except that I had just cut her nail.

And nobody died.  Nobody got bit.  Nobody was terrified.  And Sparta was looking immediately at the bowl of green beans, waiting for her treat for playing the I”m Not Cutting Your Nails Game. It had actually happened, though.  There was a little teeny-tiny piece of nail on the ground, proving we had done.  I didn’t stop there, but, more importantly, I didn’t push forward.  In other words, I continued our usual game of tapping her nails with my fingers, and generally messing around with her, but that day I only cut that tiny little piece of nail.  But I had done it.

Each day, we would do one more nail.  Sometimes two.  Just a little bit.  Now when I grab the nail trimmers, I usually feel comfortable enough to do all of her nails.  If I spend a little too long holding her paw while trying to determine how short I can cut the nail, I stop, put her paw down, give her a treat, and then resume the examination.  Things were going beautifully.

Until this past week when I realized that yes, I could cut her nails without drama now, but I was still being ineffectual.  They were growing faster than I could safely (in my mind) cut them.  I felt like a failure.  What was the point of this exercise, anyway?!

The point is twofold.

1) I re-learned how to control myself in a scary situation.  Piloting does indeed require a uniform.  Confidence. By making Sparta feel I had control, she felt safe enough to continue with The Scary Thing.  And the by-product was that the more I wore my Piloting uniform, the more confident I became.

 

 

2) I prepared Sparta for the groomer.  She will be getting her nails cut by a groomer, just like my other dogs, only this won’t be a new sensation for her. I’m sure she will look for a treat as her nails are getting done rather than for an escape route (or even worse, making her own escape route!).  But the difference now is that I know I can do it. Yes, I will be trusting a better Nail Pilot to cut her nails, but remember: Piloting is a contest,however, we all want who ever is best to win.  Mariah at Pet’s General is a much better Nail Pilot/Grooming Pilot than I could ever be. I will give it up to the professionals, but knowing full well that if it ever came to it, I could do it.

 

 

With a little more time…and green beans.

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Nail Cutting Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

What That Pet Store Puppy Represents

I am a great believer in found families and I’m not a great believer in blood.

Joss Whedon

Puppies-at-a-pet-shop-in--001

A few weeks ago I was chatting online with a friend of mine.  He wanted to know what I thought about a certain “breed”of designer dog.  His wife wanted one for the family, and she had fallen in love with a friend’s new puppy, and they wanted one, too.  He told me that the puppy was from a well-respected “breeder”.  They got the information on a breeder website….as in, “We breed schoodles, morkies and shih-poos…”.  As soon as I saw that, flags went up.  This wasn’t a breeder – this was a puppy mill.

I tried to explain to him that respectable breeders didn’t advertise online.  Nor did they specialize in more than one breed, let alone claim to be breeders of dogs that aren’t even a breed.  Unfortunately, it all fell on deaf ears.  They proceeded to purchase a puppy.  I don’t believe they even set foot in a shelter.  Rather than rescuing a new family member, they attempted to purchase a designer label.  But at what cost?

Puppy Mills

We all know the horror behind-the-scenes of a puppy mill.  We’ve seen the numerous dogs who were rescued.  I’ve worked with dogs who were saved from years spent in a tiny 2′x2′ crate, giving birth to litter after litter in squalid conditions.  These dogs are no more than livestock, there as a commodity, conditions be damned.  Each one of those viable puppies is worth between $800-$1000.  Unfortunately, those chasing after the supposed prestige that comes with having a purebred dog usually don’t want to pay purebred prices.  So they buy a knockoff.  Unfortunately, just like knockoff Prada, someone always pays the price, usually behind the scenes.  Child labor in sweatshops or abused and neglected animals. Both victims of the “designer” label.

ipj53

 

If you buy from a real breeder, you should feel as if you are applying for the CIA.  Background checks may be involved.  These are their lives’ work!  A breeder’s dogs are more like a family dog/work of art/live’s mission all rolled into one.  They will never let ou pick a dog from their litter – they interview you to find out which one of their puppies’ personalities will fit best in your household.  In other words, they have dogs, not investments. They aren’t a money making device!  Breeders typically don’t breed their dogs more than a handful of times in the dogs entire life!  According to Animal Rescue Corps., dogs in a mill have a much different schedule:

“Females are bred repeatedly, usually twice a year, every year, until they can no longer produce puppies. This is incredibly stressful on their bodies but they are viewed as moneymaking machines, as disposable property, not as individuals with inherent worth. Female dogs are commonly bred before it is safe to do so because the earlier they start, the more puppies they will produce in a lifetime. Puppy mill breeding dogs are often given hormones and steroids to try and increase the number of puppies they produce. These drugs can cause extreme pain and serious side effects – all in an attempt to increase the number of puppies for profit.”

But at least you got your cute puppy.

Designer Puppies

I just got a new niece. Her mother is Chinese, and her father is a mix of Finnish and Irish.  The baby is beautiful.  However, I am intelligent enough to know that she is one of a kind. I can’t recreate her, no matter how hard I try, even with parents of the same ancestry.  She will always be unique, from her looks to her personality.  My own children don’t even look like they’re related to each other, and their personalities are about as polar as they can be.

River and Eric at their favorite ice-cream shop.

River and Eric.  Or as my husband and I call them, Machete and The Professor.

So why are you trying to recreate your neighbor’s adorable puppy, who happens to be a something-poo?  Your inability to realize that you can’t recreate a living being is disturbing to me.  I can understand having a type…. I personally prefer Am-Staffs (or pitties). I also love Shepherds.

Yes, Orion.  Papillons too.

Yes, Orion. Papillons too.

But here’s the thing:  I can rattle off why I love those breeds:  I love how fun-loving and goofy pitties are.  How they are desperate to have a rollicking good time and want nothing more than a good snuggle, followed by more fun.  I love how Shepherds are always so desperate to learn something new, and how absurdly stoic they can be.  I love how Papillions are such lively little creatures who are really too big on the inside for those tiny little bodies.  I love how they are just as rugged of a dog as a Coonhound or a Lab.  I understand that each dog in a specific breed will always have its own personality, it generally falls within a certain area.  If you’re going with a purebred, finding out breed standard for that specific breed is a very good start to having a wonderful companion rather than a chore, or even worse, an owner surrender to the local shelter.

In other words, I love these dogs based on more than how I think they look. When I asked my friend why they were heading towards the designer “breed” they had in mind, the response was, “he’s cute”.  Seriously, they’re basing living the next 10-15 years with a dog on nothing more than “he’s cute”.  Temperament is merely an afterthought.  As is exercise requirements and how much Piloting the dog will need.  It is imperative to come up with a list of wants vs. needs when choosing a new dog, whether it be from a shelter or a breeder!

Remember that a mutt (which is what your designer dog is) is a dog that can not be reliably bred to have a certain standard.  In other words, if I were breeding Golden Retrievers, I can with a high degree of certainty state that the next litter will contain pups who will grow to be a certain size, with a very predictable temperament (fun, easy going, eager to please, and friendly).  Same with Poodles:  I can reliably breed very intelligent and active dogs of a certain “look” who, while easy to train, want to know why they should be listening to you and not following their own orders.  (For that reason, I generally steer families with small children away from poodles.)  Now, let’s breed a Golden and a Poodle together.  What do you get?  Just about any mix of all these traits.  Anywhere from a dog who looks exactly like a Golden but acts just like a Poodle (and vice versa), to a complete blending of the two looks and temperaments.  In other words, a mutt.

Mutts are awesome, but just like every other dog, they must be judged on an individual basis before you decide to buy/adopt. Judge the dog on who they are, not what they appear to be.

You Blew Your Chance to Save A Life

Seriously, Robin.  Don't be a douche.

Seriously, Robin. Don’t be a douche.

Let’s not forget the biggest reason to adopt rather than shop. Or rather the 2.7 million reasons to adopt.  That’s the number of dogs and cats euthanized each year.  Yeah, sure, you can argue that you can only rescue one,and what’s “one” in the face of such a large number?

"Just one" is the most important number Boise can think of.  He only has a 1/600 chance of making it alive out any shelter.  Check out Boise, who's up for adoption, at the Cuyahoga County Animal Shelter.
“Just one” is the most important number this little guy can think of. He hopes it’s his, because as a pittie, he only has a 1/600 chance of making it alive out any shelter.

To be truthful, I had high hopes of convincing my friend not to shop for a puppy, especially not from a place that hit every single hallmark for being a puppy mill. I’d like to say this hasn’t changed how I view my friend, but there are only so many matted, filthy dogs I can help rehabilitate before it becomes personal.  Only so many dogs I can work with who are afraid of everything, who’ve never been outside their breeding box in the 2, 3 or even 8 years they’ve been on this planet, before I become judgmental and angry, even with longtime friends.  There’s a finite number to the dogs I can say goodbye to, and take them for their last long walk and few moments of fetch, before their time is up before it gets personal.

Yes.  It is personal.

Keep calm and pilot on

 

 

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio