I made adjustments to my training plan for nail clipping

I started out with the fist pump behaviour that Flint already knew – that worked fine, Flint was willing to give me his paw, however it was a high energy behaviour. For nail clipping I really want Flint to be relaxed, and still preferably, so that the actual clipping part is safer. So I knew I’d have to change approaches as it was unlikely the fist pump was going to get me there.

Another behaviour that Flint knows fairly well is a chin rest – I used it to get him to be OK with being brushed (he didn’t really like that either as a puppy). Flint rests his chin in my palm and I use the other hand to brush him, or check his ears. My new plan is to therefore use the chin rest to get Flint OK with me touching paws at first. Then I’ll transfer the chin target to an object instead of my hand so that I can have two hands free so I can eventually clip nails.

The thing I like most about this behaviour is that if Flint lifts his head from my palm, our agreement is that everything stops. It’s a behaviour designed to allow Flint to have some say in what is going on and whether he is fine for me to continue or if he needs me to stop.

Here’s a video clip of me using the chin rest for teaching Flint about paw holding. I mix in paw touching with other things like stroking or checking ears which he already knows.

Video 1 link

You’ll notice that after I’d touched his paw a couple of times, Flint was less happy about doing the chin rest. I had to give him a break, then try the chin rest again and do something else to try and keep up the rate of reinforcement.

Recently I’ve been playing around with the idea of using the chin target as a start button behaviour (look up Emelie Johnson Vegh and Eva Bertilsson for information on this, including this podcast with Hannah Branigan). I’ve been using it for brushing Flint mainly up to now. I show Flint the brush, then touch the body part I want to brush, offer the chin target hand, and if he puts his chin down I take that as an “OK go!” signal from him. If he doesn’t do the chin target, no big deal I give him a break, then show him the brush and touch another body part and see if that’s any better. It’s been working pretty well but I wasn’t sure whether he really understood the “rules”. Well I can wonder no more! Take a look at this second video where I decided to see if the start button could help with the paw touching

Video 2 link

Do you see what I do?

There’s more tail wagging in this video, and much less hesitation to do the chin target. Do you see at 1:48 I tap his front paw, then offer the chin target and he doesn’t do it? I ask for his chin again and he sighs at me? – That made me laugh, like hello Mum I just said no! So I touch his back then offer the chin target – and crucially I keep my word and just touch his back. Then I go back to the paw again after and he’s happier to take part?

I think this is so cool. From his attitude in the second video in comparison to the first  (they were actually all done in the same take I just cut out the part where I wandered off to get the brush) he seems to prefer knowing what’s about to happen before he decides yes or no – and frankly who wouldn’t?! And I’d say he understands that he does get to say no too. And for those of you who worry that if you give your dog the choice to say no he’ll never say yes – it’s clear that Flint does say yes more often than he says no here.

We have more work to do of course, but I think this method will help us get there and I’m excited to see if I can use start button behaviours in other areas too.