1. Tips for Cutting Your Dog’s Nails

    October 9, 2017 by Susan Marett

    It can be tough as nails to give that mani-pedi to our dogs! Many dogs dislike nail trimming, and dogs who are truly tolerant are in the minority. Nail length, however, contributes to overall health and wellness. Ideally, you won’t be able to hear that tell tell click on the floor as your dog comes to greet you. If you can hear him walking about, his nails are too long.

    When a dog’s nail makes contact with the floor or ground, the nail is pushed into the nail bed. This can result in pressure on the toe joint or force the toe to twist sideways. Sore, even arthritic toes make moving and even standing painful — and throw off a dog’s balance. Long nails can also chip and break in ways that require veterinary treatment. Read our tips below so that nail trimming is less stressful for both of you!

    Desensitize your dog to his feet being handled. Advice to simply ‘play with’ your puppy’s or dog’s feet is not necessarily enough. For nail trimming, your dog will need to accept his paw being held for several seconds. Here’s a video that breaks desensitization down into small steps. Keep in mind that desensitization can take days or weeks.

    Choose nail trimmers. Do you want to use scissor nail trimmers, or would you rather use guillotine nail trimmers? Scissor trimmers may be best for large dogs, while guillotine trimmers may be best for medium to small dogs, and typically come with a guard to prevent too much of the nail from being cut. Before you even use them, it’s best to associate the nail trimmers with treats until your dog believes that the appearance of the trimmers means the beginning of a treat party!

    Alternately, consider using a Dremel to grind your dog’s nails. The finished result will be much smoother, and some dogs tolerate a Dremel better than nail trimmers. Patricia McConnell’s blog post “The Nail Wars” theorizes that the “click” of trimmers becomes aversive for some dogs over time… especially if you’ve quicked a nail. Here’s a video on introducing your dog to the Dremel. Note exactly how you should hold a paw when using a trimmer or a Dremel at the 38 second mark.

    Know where you’re cutting. Check out these two graphics for traditional and alternative ways to trim a nail from Susan Garrett. Remember to trim from top to bottom, not from side to side. If you’re unsure about where the quick is — the quick is the pink ‘live’ area and contains blood vessels — be conservative and just trim a small amount.

    Be prepared to treat a ‘quicked’ nail. Even groomers and veterinarians quick nails, so have styptic powder at the ready if you cut your dog’s nail too short. Cup a bit of the powder in your palm (or in a pinch use cornstarch) and gently press the nail into the powder. You can also use a styptic pen. Either way, these products will help the blood to coagulate and stop additional bleeding. Keep it happy and light — no freak outs please — and continue giving your dog lots of treats throughout the incident.

    Ready to create your own home spa?

  2. When Tough Love Isn’t Tough at All…

    September 10, 2017 by Susan Marett

    Do you have a dog who is fearful around strangers, children, or other dogs? If you believe in the tough love approach, you may introduce your dog repeatedly to strange people or to children — even if your dog continues to back away, try to avoid them, or display fearful body language. Perhaps you keep going back to the dog park, determined to socialize your dog no matter what. No wimpy dogs allowed!

    Forcing a dog to confront her fears over and over again is called flooding. “Flooding exposes a dog to a trigger in a way that immerses her, as she is simultaneously prevented from escaping.” Help For Your Fearful Dog by Nicole Wilde. Flooding can sometimes cause sensitization, an increase in fear. Do you remember the snake scene from Indiana Jones’ Raiders of the Lost Ark? The character of Indiana Jones is famously afraid of snakes, but becoming trapped in a pit of snakes doesn’t do much to improve his opinion of them! It’s a great example of flooding…

    There is, thankfully, a better way. There is a way to help our dogs overcome their fears without worsening those fears, increasing anxiety, or even destroying their trust in us. That way is called counterconditioning and desensitization. To quote Help for Your Fearful Dog

    “Desensitization exposes a dog to a fear trigger in a gradual, incremental manner. The process begins at a level low enough to avoid a fearful response, and builds incrementally to the level that originally frightened the dog… Counterconditioning seeks to change an unpleasant emotional response to a trigger into a pleasant one. Once the dog’s underlying emotional response changes, her reaction toward the trigger will change as well. Counterconditioning is accomplished by pairing a trigger with something the dog perceives as wonderful.”

    To create your own program for desensitization and counterconditioning, follow these steps:

    Determine specifically what frightens your dog. Is it men with hats, teenagers on skateboards, children under the age of six, large dogs over 60# but not small dogs? It’s important to be as specific as possible.

    Make a list of reinforcers that really motivate your dog. It might be food, but it could also be a tennis ball or squeaky toy — or perhaps play or interaction with you. If food is high on your dog’s list, go with highly palatable food such as chicken, cheese, hotdogs, freeze-dried liver, or ham in tiny pea-sized pieces.

    Find your dog’s threshold. The threshold is the distance at which your dog is aware of the trigger (stranger, child, dog, etc) but is not concerned or showing signs of fear.

    Locate great training spots. Sometimes it’s best to start outside of your neighborhood. At home, your dog may be bracing for the neighbor’s dog to race out to the edge of his invisible fence, or scan constantly for cyclists or joggers. A new location can be a beautiful blank slate! Make sure that your training sites give you lots of space — helpful if you need to increase distance to keep your dog under threshold.

    Get started by paying close attention to your dog. As soon as your dog sees the trigger, feed treats quickly, one after another. It doesn’t hurt to speak in a happy tone of voice simultaneously as well! And when the trigger disappears, you guessed it, the treats and happy talk stop too. For more information about this process, check out The Cautious Canine by Patricia McConnell.


    At the end of the day, we all want our dogs to be comfortable and to feel safe. We want them to enjoy being dogs and to enjoy being out in the world. Carefully choosing our training methods can help us to build confidence rather than breaking it down. Thank you so much for reading and have a great weekend!

  3. The Perfect Canine Host

    October 25, 2015 by Susan Marett

    Having a Dog Who is Enjoyable to Guests, and Enjoys Guests Too!

    We feel your pain! We often talk to clients about the stress of having people over, and wanting your dog to be the perfect host, able to greet politely when friends and fam come to the door, allowing guests to nosh without bothering them, and a cool customer when it comes to hanging out. Here are our quick and dirty problem-solving tips:

    A polite “hello and pleased to meet you!”

    Before your guests arrive, get out the treats. Whoops! Is that a bowl of treats for the guests? Nope, not chocolate but dog treats to get your dog’s attention and a civilized sit at the door. Having your dog’s leash on ahead of time is helpful too.

    Yours is yours and mine is mine!

    Ready to serve? Have a scrumptious stuffed Kong (freezing it makes it last longer) to occupy your dog while you and your guests dine. Think peanut butter, fruits and veggies, plain yogurt, dry treats or kibble. Bully sticks and marrow bones are terrific choices as well.

    Sit down and stay awhile

    Everyone settled to watch a movie or the big game? This is a great time to have your pup on his or own dog bed. Teach a “place” cue ahead of time, asking your dog to go to their bed or mat for just a few seconds to start. Keep it short and sweet in the beginning, gradually building up to several minutes or more. Make their bed a happy place by giving treats on the bed.

    Take a spin around the block

    Get those ya-ya’s out with a long walk or play session before guests arrive. Be sure to allow your dog time to relax and come down off the playtime high — but exercise always helps to curb excitement.

    Got a wallflower?

    If you’ve got a shy dog, it’s okay if they skip the party altogether! Get your shy or nervous dog comfy in your bedroom with an irresistible and longlasting chewbone or Kong. Play calming music such as a Through A Dog’s Ear cd — check out www.throughadogsear.com. Wearing a Thundershirt might help your dog feel cozy too.

    Is your dog having a blind date?

    Meet the new visiting dog out of the house and at the curb for a more low-key intro, then take a quick walk together to ‘get to know ya.’ Having all toys and bones put away before the new dog arrives can minimize potential squabbles and make for a more peaceful time.

    Written by Susan Marett and C.C. Bourgeois, originally published in Beau Magazine’s Autumn Issue 2015