Several years ago, I attended the annual conference of the Animal Behavior Management Alliance.  This group is for people who care for and train animals.  Most of the members work with wild animals, often very dangerous animals.  In training this type of animal, you can either train the animal to cooperate, or anesthetize them for any procedure.  There is no middle ground.  No one offers to hold the tiger while its nails are trimmed.  (Anyone?  Anyone?)

Some years ago, I trained some Grizzly bears (North American Brown bears, to be exact) to allow their nails to be trimmed.  Yes, the bears remained inside the cage, and I remained outside the cage at all times.  The bears where trained to sit next to the fence, and place their paws on the bars of the cage.  When training began, I would reach for the bear’s nail, and the bear would move his paw away.  I could, however, reach a very short distance toward the bear’s claw, and the bear would remain still.  The bear would be rewarded for this.  Eventually, I could move my hand all the way to the bear’s nail, and even touch it.  Training progressed as the bear allowed.  If at any time the bear was not comfortable with the training, he simply moved away.  I was completely dependant on the bear’s cooperation. 

I often think this is a great advantage when training an animal.  Image how your actions might be different if you could not force your dog to do anything.  There would not be any struggle to hold the dog down for nail trims or medical care.  The dog would simply allow you to trim his nails, or not.  No middle ground. 

I have trained dogs who previously needed several people to hold them while having their nails trimmed.  After training, the dogs would lie on the couch, eating small pieces of chicken, while one person very gently held a paw and trimmed the nail. 

I recently worked with a dog who would run away if he thought you were trying to get him in the car.  With patience and understanding, he now readily approaches the car, and in a few minutes will get inside the vehicle by himself.  He was not a bad dog, just a puppy who had difficulty getting his rear feet into the vehicle. 

The next time you find yourself thinking about your stubborn puppy, consider that the puppy might be afraid, might not understand your request, or might have physical difficulty with the task.  If you have trouble getting your puppy to cooperate, consider slowing down, taking the time to teach the puppy what is required.  It is rarely necessary to trim all the dog’s nails immediately.  Trim one nail.  Reward with a very valuable treat.  Try another tomorrow.  Be patient, be understanding, trust your puppy to cooperate when he is able.  Allow your puppy to trust you.  Do not force him to participate when he does not want to participate.  It is a little extra trouble at first, but you will be rewarded with a cooperative dog for life. 


Tricia Fagan

Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed

DogS Gone Good

(713) 557-1949