Positive reinforment training makes Bella truly a joy
November 2, 2009 -
Debbie McKnight, Accredited PetSmart Trainer
Bella, the wonder pug. I love her like she’s my own, but she’s not. She’s a dog that comes to Doggie Day Camp℠ at my PetSmart every day. She’s a celebrity with the customers and a favorite of the employees. Bella is the perfect dog… almost. She can wow with her obedience skills, ignore any distractions that confront her, eat more biscuits than the law should allow, and has a trick repertoire that would put a circus dog to shame. What, might you ask, is her downfall? Pedicures! While I find a pedicure to be 45 minutes of heaven, Bella thinks they are the scariest method of torture known to dog and should be avoided at all costs. When the nail clippers come out, Bella suddenly has the strength of three grown men and is more elusive than a leprechaun. Well, I couldn’t stand to see the pup I hold so dear be terrified of something (and maybe I’m just a little competitive and wanted to prove my training skills), so I decided to teach Bella to tolerate pedicures.
From all of our Click-a-Trick trick training she knew how to shake and high five. From our obedience training she knew how to down and stay. She is VERY clicker-savvy and has always been trained using positive reinforcement techniques. To make the process positive for her, she always had the choice to stop and nothing bad would happen. She could leave her paw in my hand and receive a cookie or she could pull it away and get nothing. Did I mention this girl likes to eat? I mean, nothing gets between a pug and her food! Needless to say, she left her paw in my hand more often than not. She was frowning and holding her breath, but she wanted that cookie and would do WHATEVER it took to get it!
I decided to use a dremel pet nail grooming kit as it’s my preferred tool of choice and most dogs greatly prefer it to clipping. We started by just holding her foot as I would when I was dremeling, then progressed to touching her nail with a pen (just to get her used to an object touching her toenail), using a file on her nail, I used clippers a time or two on her nails, and then the dremel. We did sessions with the dremel off and touching her nail or on and just nearby (to acclimate to the noise). The sessions were short because, although they were voluntary, they were still a little stressful. Then last Monday we made (Bella) history…
It was 2:00 on a sunny afternoon. The dogs were playing, the customers were shopping, and I, trainer extraordinaire, was about to dremel Bella’s nails for the first time. A crowd had gathered as the excitement built. I cued Bella up to her perch and into a down-stay. I sat down in front of her, took her toenail in one hand, the dremel in the other, and… ground her nail. Jaws fell open and cheers rose up from the staff. The disbelief was evident on everyone’s face. One of the supervisors said, “She trusts you so much. It’s so cool to watch the two of you communicate.” He was right. That’s what positive reinforcement training does. It builds a relationship between the dog and handler and it builds trust. She always had a choice about participating and that makes all the difference. It makes me proud to have accomplished it, but more than that, it makes me happy that she won’t be scared of a routine procedure now. As of last Monday, Bella is now the perfect dog.