Many dogs and people hate this grooming task, but these owners found a unique way to solve the problem.
Leon was uncomfortable having his paws handled, which made nail trims no fun for anyone. While his owners work to condition him to be comfortable with traditional nail trims, an interim solution is this makeshift doggie emery board. You can make one with a Frisbee and sandpaper.
With the help some spray cheese, Leon is now happily filing his front nails on his own. Leon’s owners did a great job training this behavior in just a few days!
Here are two ways to teach this skill to your own dog:
"Do As I Do," Social Learning
Most dogs can learn to scratch an emery board through simple observation and imitation. First, show your dog the emery board and get her excited about it as if it were a fun toy. Next, set the board on the ground and demonstrate the desired behavior for your dog—scratch at the board with your hand. Then, invite your dog to try it. Offer lots of praise and treats if your dog touches the board with her paw. Gradually, praise and reward only more exaggerated scratches. Many dogs seem to enjoy the sensation, so once they get started the act of scratching at the board is self-reinforcing.
Teaching with a Paw Target
If your dog knows how to offer his paw, you can use this skill to teach the scratching behavior. First, have your dog practice his "Give Paw" behavior without the emery board. Next, hold the emery board in your hand and cue the "Give Paw" behavior. When your dog's paw lands on the emery board, mark "Yes!" (or click a clicker) and reward with a treat. Repeat over a couple of short sessions. Finally, cue the behavior and wait. Your dog will start to reposition or remove his paw when he doesn't hear the marker. Mark the movement of his paw on the board with a "Yes!" and then reward with a treat. Over several sessions, you can shape the paw movement into a scratching behavior.
Sarah Fraser is the co-founder of Instinct Dog Behavior and Training in New York City. She has worked with hundreds of owners to help dogs who have aggression, fear, and anxiety issues. Sarah owns an 11-year-old pit bull, Buster, CD, CGC, RN, and a 3-year-old mixed breed, Mozeez, RN, CGC, who competed in the 2015 AKC Rally National Championship in St. Louis. Sarah is currently working toward her MA in Animal Behavior and Conservation at Hunter College.