Breaking Things Down for Your Dog

Don’t do it all at once!

You may think it’s a little strange to hear that I only trim a couple of my dog’s nails at a time. My dog doesn’t particularly like having her nails clipped despite a lot of training and desensitisation. She sees the nail clippers, and she gets a bit stressed, which makes me stressed, and it becomes a vicious cycle. If I try to clip all of her nails at that time, I’m more likely to catch her ‘quick’ as I’m trying to be fast and she tries to move away. In this case, it is better for both of us to not extend the amount of time we’re trying to trim nails.

This concept works for almost all factions of living with our dogs, from training and husbandry to behaviour modification and sports. By working in stages, we allow our dogs to win more frequently, thus enjoying the experience – or at least tolerating it – more than if we pushed them too fast.

In training, breaking a behaviour down into stages helps our dog to learn. Think about a retrieve. There is a lot that the dog needs to do! They usually sit or wait as the object is thrown, are sent to fetch it and are expected to go straight to the item without deviating for a sniff or another distraction. When they get to the retrieve item, they then have to pick it up and run right back to their handler and release it when asked to. This is very complicated even for our Retriever breeds. By breaking it down into its different parts, we can work on each individually before asking for the whole chain. Initially, you may work on your dog holding the item or waiting calmly while something is thrown. The same can be true for prolonged behaviours like walking on a loose lead. We want the dog to be on a loose lead, to have self-control around distractions, and to not run into the road for example. Training for this can even start at simply getting the dog to respond to their name or a cue to look at us. 

For husbandry (handling of our dogs), you can even think about working through your dog in specific body parts. Have a schedule for which part of them is going to be brushed on different days as if you were going to the gym. Monday can be leg day, Tuesday we do chest… and so on. Can you wash a small part of their body if they’ve rolled in something grim rather than bathing the whole dog? If you need to bathe them completely, can you give them a break between brushing the coat and bathing? How can you make this a more enjoyable experience for them?

We don’t have to do everything all at once. It’s okay to make things easier. Whether it is training, grooming, or anything aspect of life with your dog – be kind to your canine companion and be kind to yourself.