Conditioning Body

You can create a positive conditioned emotional response in two ways: 

  1. Random pairings
  2. Training sessions

Let’s take a look at what each would involve:

Random pairings

Randomly, throughout each and every day, pair the implement with something fabulous. Do this just once and then put the implement and the food away and go back to what you were doing. The tip-off should be the implement…not a “ooooooh…what time is it, Fluffy?? It’s GROOMING O’CLOCK!!!” 

Training sessions

If you choose to do training sessions, you will have to be aware that you are competing with a few things in the environment. Distractions are not the only enemy here. There are other things that can predict the nail-clipping session: 

  • the set-up / gathering of the implements
  • the presence & smell of the food
  • the treat pouch / plastic baggie sounds

You can easily disconnect these from the training sessions by doing these things randomly and then nothing follows. Over time, your dog will be unresponsive to these stimuli and not pair them with the training session. 

Neither one is better than the other. In a classroom setting, we will likely opt for training sessions in the essence of time, however, at home, you might opt for random pairings in the essence of (a lack of) time and a desire for potency. 

Remember the Order of Events! 

You must ensure that the reach or touch predicts the food, therefore the reach or touch must happen first and then the food appears: 

Once we’ve created a Conditioned Emotional Response (see the reach or feel the touch > dog happily anticipates food), we know we’re on the right track! 

Let’s talk about some tips to make this easier.

Start out with something they like and really get them into the whole “touching thing”. Find the spot that they can’t reach and scratch it. That spot on either side of their spine, halfway down their back. Under the collar. The base of their tail / lower back. The front of their shoulders. Scratching these spots can make them feel good and you can adjust your pressure and intensity based on their body language. You want to see them contorting and leaning into it. When that back leg starts going, you’re doing it right. 

Use gradual touch. You’ll find that if you just touch part of your dog’s body out of the blue, they might startle a little and have to reset. If you use gradual touch, running your hand from one spot to another in a gradual motion with the same amount of pressure, they’re likely more forgiving and comfortable since it’s more predictable and less startling.  

You might find that giving a verbal predictor prior to handling makes it easier for your dog. In a soft voice, and only once, say “picking up your paw” (or whatever you want to say) and then run your hand from shoulder to paw or hip to paw and pick up the paw. Remember that gradual touch! 

If you have two people who can do this together, even easier! You both have to be on the same page and to be able to communicate well and in a timely manner. If one person says “picking up” and then picks up the paw, the other can start to feed. When the handler lets go of the paw, they can say “letting go” which will notify the feeder right away so they can stop feeding.