Training Tuesday: When trimming your dog’s nails, good can be better than perfect

German Shepherd puppy wearing a graduation cap and looking at cameraOne of my spring training goals was to condition Milo to like, or at least more stoically endure nail trims. He always let me take care of his nails, but he hated it, and a mani-pedi left both of us severely stressed.

I put us on a pretty standard counter-conditioning plan, which we’ve been following fairly closely.  It worked. To a point. Things got better. Now, he will hop happily up on the nail trim spot, give me a paw, and sit still while I give each nail a quick grind with the Dremel.

But, we hit a roadblock. Milo calmly, even nonchalantly, accepts me grinding all the nails on one paw. Paw number two though? No way. As soon as I ask for a second paw, he starts panting. We’ve been stuck at this stage for a while, and I’ve been wracking my brain, trying to figure out why we can’t move forward.

The other day I had a thought that changed everything: why be a perfectionist about this?

Where we are now is actually good enough. There is no reason why I need to trim all his nails in one session. His nail trim spot is always set up, and it is dead easy for me to do one paw a day. It only takes about two minutes.

There are two ways that I can think about where we are now:

  1. I’ve failed to foster the perfect attitude in Milo because he gets stressed out before I’ve trimmed all his nails.
    or
  2. Milo and I have succeeded at getting to a place where it is easy on both of us to keep his nails healthy.

Option one leaves me feeling frustrated at the nail trim process and at myself for not being a good enough trainer.

Option two lets me give up that frustration and celebrate a practical success.

I have a suspicion that the combination of letting this frustration go and continuing with positive reinforcement might be just what Milo needs to continue to make progress.

But, even if he doesn’t get to a stage where he is happy to have all his nails trimmed, it is OK. We are fine where we are right now.

milo's nails.jpg

We’re taking it one paw at a time. I’d like his nails to be shorter and neater, but I don’t need to trim them all at once to get to that point. I would love it if Milo learned that a pedicure is a treat, not a torment.