Published as “Handling Feet and Trimming Nails,” TTEAM Up With Your Horse, Vol. 1, No. 4, Nov./Dec. 1997
HANDLING FEET AND NAIL TRIMMING: CHUNKING DOWN THE PROCESS
By BARBARA JANELLE M.A.
This article is based on ideas developed by Linda Tellington-Jones, Robyn Hood, and many TTACT Practitioners.
Jane Lovering of Whitby, Ontario wrote to me two months after she and Meadow, her Bernese Mountain Dog, attended my 2-day clinic in Toronto last year. She said,
“As you know, trimming Meadow’s nails was impossible as she refused to do anything but struggle and I was always frightened she would hurt herself flailing to get away. The weekend after the workshop, I did my daily TTouches on her and then said, “Meadow, let’s go trim your nails.” I asked her to sit on the corner of the couch and I sat beside her. She was cradled between the arm and back of the couch and me (but not restrained). Then, I said, “I won’t hurt you and I know you don’t like this but you will feel much better when you are walking after we do this” and I trimmed her nails. It was done in a few minutes. We were both very proud of her. Her nails get trimmed every two weeks now. Thank you.”
Before this breakthrough, Jane would take Meadow to her veterinarian to be tranquilized and have her nails trimmed. She felt uncomfortable doing this but it was better than forcing the clipping and running a great risk of injuring the dog.
This is all too common a problem. Wrestling with a dog can, as Jane says, result in injury to the animal, but it can also erode the trust that the dog has in the owner. Simple Tellington TTouch usually solves the problem fairly quickly as illustrated by Jane’s letter. However, there are some animals that require more work, or rather greater breakdown in the steps toward developing the animal’s confidence.
THE BODY AND BEHAVIOR
Often, dogs that do not like their feet handled and nails trimmed, have a number of similar characteristics. Because they are uncertain about their feet, they often walk as if they are not sure of the ground, and they can be clumsy (slapping feet down without awareness, tripping, or accident-prone) or nervous as they move. Their physical ungroundedness is often mirrored by their emotional and mental uncertainty. They may be fearful, high-strung, worried, instinctively reactive, and resistant to learning because they do not focus well.
The legs and feet may be cold indicating poor blood circulation and limited awareness in the limb(s). Other parts of the body can express the fear related to ungroundedness. The tail may be tucked or tense. The hindquarters may be cold and tight. The mouth may be dry and pinched. Ears and body posture may indicate an overall lack of confidence.
In looking at this list of physical signs, it is evident that many behavioral problems are related to the lack of grounding that poor awareness in the feet brings. Problems like fear of thunder, loud noise, people, other dogs, sidewalk gratings, bridges, etc. can be addressed in part, by developing the awareness in the feet.
TOUCHING LEGS AND FEET
In working with a dog that does not want its feet touched, I try a number of approaches. The first is to start with Cloud Leopard TTouch on the neck, trunk, tail, head and legs. If the dog pulls away as the hand gets closer to the foot, I TTouch another part of the body and then come back to the leg. Changing the position of the hand is very useful. It is usually much easier to TTouch the paw (top or bottom) with a knuckle or with the back of the hand.
Other variations on direct touch include:
a) Using a soft cloth or sheepskin mitt to do the TTouches.
b) Placing the dog so that a paw is resting on the back of the owner’s hand allows the owner to do circles on the bottom of the paw with the knuckles. This is particularly easy to use with lap dogs.
c) Using Noah’s March to touch with firm, long strokes from head to tail, then head-to-shoulder-to-front leg-to-paw-to-ground. The key here is not stopping at the paw but continuing to the ground and then repeating it. This can be done starting at the head or neck and going down either the front or hind legs too.
d) Employing Robyn Hood’s great idea of using one paw to make a circle on the other paw
e) Holding the leg and making a small circle on the ground or tapping the ground with the paw.
Each touch, no matter how it is done, contributes to a change in awareness in the leg and foot.
Changing the animal’s position is useful. A dog may feel most vulnerable when it is lying down, so having it stand while Cloud Leopard TTouch and Python Lifts are done on the shoulders, front legs, trunk, hips and hind legs is very effective. Dogs enjoy this hands- on work and the lifts relax muscles and deepen breathing. As the animal feels better, there is greater willingness to allow the human to add to this work.
In the case of a dog that is very timid and concerned about its feet, movement is a valuable. The owner can walk the dog a few steps, stop, do some TTouches anywhere on the body and repeats this until the legs and tops of the paws can be handled. The Homing Pigeon is very useful. For example, in the case of one very reluctant Saluki, who was afraid of touch and strangers, the owner and I put the dog on two lines, and stroked him with a wand. Within two minutes, the owner could touch his legs and pick them up; another minute and he was able to do circles on the bottom of the paws with his knuckles. He was quite amazed!
In my experience, dogs seem more willing to have a paw touched when it is picked up while they are standing. Adding leg exercises to standing and moving is an interim stage. Picking the front leg up at the knee or slightly below it (similarly with the hind legs), and circling the leg to move the shoulder or hip increases relaxation and builds awareness. Adding TTouch to the bottom of the paw is a next easy step.
Finally when all else fails, introducing TTouch through ground exercises works wonders. By focusing on moving over and through obstacles, stopping, walking and trotting, with frequent, quiet, verbal praise and TTouch, it is possible to get to almost any part of the body very quickly.
A year ago, a woman brought her dog to me for a half-hour private consultation at Camp Gone to the Dogs. She could not touch the dog’s feet nor trim his nails. The dog was normally very anxious and he walked on tiptoes. He had very little self-confidence and tended to shy away from just about everything. I watched his owner try to touch his feet. He leapt away, hid, and covered his feet by sitting or lying on them.
Using some of the TTouch and movement procedures described above, we were able to handle all four feet within 20 minutes. I recommended that she continue with the TTouch for a while before trying nail trimming.
The owner brought the dog back for another consultation this summer, and reported that she could touch his feet and go in between the pads easily. His behavior had changed dramatically with the handling of his feet the previous summer. The beautiful animal was much more confident and trusting. The previous summer, he was so nervous that he kept jumping at small noises and movements. Now, he stood on the grassy slope looking at everything with great interest. His walk was more confident and all of his feet had good contact with the ground.
However, the owner still could not trim the dog’s nails. Whenever, she’d bring the clipper out, he would run away. So the challenge now was to find a way to chunk-down nail trimming.
I started by handling the dog’s feet and found that it was quite easy until I tried working around the nails. I realized that the clipper would knock against the nail and perhaps pull or push against them during the process of trimming. So I started with Raccoon circles around the nails. When I started to do this on the bottom of the nail, the dog withdrew his foot.
I tried working through a sheepskin mitt, but that did not work as he kept pulling his foot away. Finally, I pressed his foot to the grass and circled it, letting the ground push against the nails. After this, I was able to press the nails with my fingers.
Because the foot is often held firmly in nail trimming, I taught the woman to do the Butterfly TTouch, which firmly holds and spreads the feet. She did this on the dog to his great interest and delight.
Rather than show the dog the clippers, I had him stand facing away from them. I picked up a front paw and started touching and tapping the nails with a variety of things – a sheep wool mitt, my fingers and the metal clip on a dog leash. Because of his position, he could not see what I was doing to his foot. The owner then tapped the nails with the clippers and finally trimmed a nail. This went very smoothly. The dog seemed to realize that a nail had been trimmed and he remained very calm.
After the consultation, I realized that part of the difficulty with trimming lay with the owner’s expectations about how the dog would react. I know this affected her breathing and made her hands tense. It is difficult not to tighten when so much past experience says that the dog will be upset. Now she had an experience where trimming a nail was easy, so the possibility of changing her expectations is greater. A very useful interim step for owners is to visualize the nail trimming: imagine it going easily, image the trimming of each nail and see the dog remaining calm.
More work will be needed to introduce the clippers visually to the dog too. The best approach is not to focus on presenting the clippers but to have them with several other things. For example, have a brush, a glove, keys, a hat and the clippers. Rub the dog with each item and praise him each time. Have the dog retrieve each thing as it is thrown or feed the dog a favorite treat by placing it on the clippers. There are many different ways to do this.
The trimming of nails does not have to be done all at once. It is possible too to build nail clipping into some thing else. For example, developing the habit of cleaning the dog’s feet when it comes into the house on rainy days, and trimming a few nails in the process is an easy procedure.
Some of the important components in overcoming problems with handling feet and trimming nails are:
- to use small steps to get to the goal
- try something different if something does not work
- work calmly rather than intensely
- change position and tools readily
- use visualization
- do things in stages and over time if necessary
The animal’s subsequent comfort, confidence and trust in owner are all worth it. Rather than struggling with or tranquilizing the dog for nail trimming, using these TTACT approaches works faster, costs less, does no damage and results in happier owners and dogs.
After Camp, I stopped to see my friend Jen Kesner, a dog trainer in Massachusetts. That evening, Jen sat with Tuscany, her 3 1/2-month-old Spinoni puppy on her lap. She rubbed Tuscany’s belly and clipped a nail, rubbed her belly some more, and clipped another nail. The puppy was in seventh heaven! Jen noticed me watching and said, “This is the way it should be done in the first place.” So true!