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Kay Laurence | Learning About Dogs | Grooming and husbandry

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The Effect of Anticipation

Example: Grooming and Husbandry

first published July 2018

– outline

Anticipation can be used to allow for an uncomfortable procedure. When focussed on the food delivery the anticipation of that food delivery appears to allow for some mildly aversive procedures.

The recipient appears to permit the grooming or husbandry whilst the food source is present.

Not a procedure of choice

Author: KL

Merrick is a Gordon Setter with long coat on the underside, legs and ears. These are the places most likely to pick up rubbish and need grooming on a daily basis. She has disliked coat pulling from 8 weeks old. She enjoys physical hand contact but not equipment. This seems to be a genetic sensitivity in the skin as the littler siblings have the same issue.

Early introduction of being on the grooming table with a pot of treats, tongue click for stillness, and feeding in location enabled me to use both hands for grooming, clipping and nails.

At four years old she is able to hold position for 20 minutes, with 4-6 treats. She is not relaxed, she always needs to see the food cup and will not tolerate grooming unless this is present.

I am surprised by how long and how still she will remain for the food. I see her fight any inclination to move, and foot lifting needs specific cues to interrupt her focus.

I have tried to groom her when relaxed at my side on the sofa, but the introduction of any equipment, or even my hands removing a stick will cause her to leave the room. This is the first dog to be an issue, every dog I have queues for their time grooming, it is normally a high point of their day.

For her this is uncomfortable, and not a procedure of choice, but she will tolerate during the anticipation of food, but not toys.

Lesser of two evils

Author: Iris Maxfield

Here lies a moral and ethical dilemma for any one in the grooming industry

When I’ve fostered or accept a dog for re homing that is in a bad state, I can take time to get the work done over short rewarded sessions, there’s time to get to know each other and walk together before we start.

As a job that is booked, there’s an expected time frame and price, usually 2,3, or 4 hours depending on breed/type, not a lot of CHOICE in there, all we can do is be as sympathetic and sensitive as possible to the dog in front of us.
I make it clear to the owners of dogs with matted coats that while I will always try to keep a natural look, or some character at least, I’m not prepared to cause the dog to suffer, so if I need to remove coat I will.

I sort out a lot of neglected dogs, some rescue, some with families, the favourite excuse is usually “We went on holiday, when we came back he was in this state”. (A 12 month cruise springs to mind).

With most breeds I trim away hair from the groin and stomach, its a sensitive area with no solid muscle pack underneath.
In the past I’ve lived with and shown Old English Bobtails, so full coats, no judge ever saw the groin or belly area, the folding and friction of that fine tweaky hair makes it tangle and knot up. I’ve had male dogs in that can hardly cock a leg because one side is knotted across to the other, that’s not the reason they have been brought in, it’s usually the smell.

clipping nails

Nail trims

Very few people enjoy doing nail trims, unless the nails are white with obvious hooks. Even vets, if you know them well enough to chat away from the consulting room, the honest answer is they don’t like doing nails, there lies a problem to start before any one even asks for a paw.

In my opinion most people trim nails way too fast.

What ever clipper you use will cause some pressure, so not a good experience for dogs that are sensitive about their toes.

The nail file requires each toe to be held for a fair amount of time to make a difference.
I favour the battery operated Dremel nail grinder/file, being battery operated means you can trim nails wherever the dog is most comfortable, be that in the garden the back of the car or on their bed, your not tied to a grooming table with electric plug. It allows you to take the nail back working around the outside edge, with no need to touch the centre, but even then you have some noise and vibration. Hairy feet can be put in a fruit or veg net so the nails stick through, preventing the hair from getting caught up.

Out of my own dogs three prefer the Dremel anywhere, one prefers the clipper sitting on a dog bed in the kitchen and no other dogs around, then will allow a light file with the Dremel on the slow setting to finish off, a reward for every nail.

My advise to doggy friends that say they have trouble trimming their dogs nails, is get a treat pot out and teach their dog “This little piggy went to market, this little piggy stayed at home” very slowly.
The idea usually causes a giggle, but that gets the point over about removing the “we are going to perform a procedure, I hate it, you won’t like it either, but we have to get it done”

Even if once the trimming stage is reached, one nail on each foot was trimmed each day, most dogs having 18 some 20 nails, it would only take 5 days to trim them all, usually the back nails need very little trimming, apart from dew claws.

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sounds like a biscuit …….


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  1. lauracholder@gmail.com

    Fantastic example. I’ve experienced a similar—yet different—situation with Ernie. He has disliked having any body harness put on him since around 4-5 months of age. When I would pick-up the body harness for a walk he would literally run to another room. I’m not sure what may have triggered this behavior response, nor can I think of any interactions between us that would have caused such a negative association. For our detection work, we outdoors in fields and wooded terrain and I need to have a “vest” on him for identification and safety, so had to figure something out. I found that putting his cape on and immediately releasing him from his crate to begin work has been the winning ticket. He tolerates the cape slipping over his head and buckling of the strap below his chest. Going to “have a sniff” was an anticipatory reward much greater than any of the counter conditioning set-ups I was attempting.

    • Kay Laurence


  2. sowings42@gmail.com

    I am totally on the same page with this. I think of most of the husbandry work I do with my dogs now as “emotional back-chaining.” We start with context cues and the reinforcement process. “Come to this table and great things will happen.” I repeat this pattern without grooming tools until the anticipation is strong and clear. Fluent even. Then, I “fade-in” the tools, usually starting with pretty innocuous things. Any dip in anticipatory sparkle, and I go back a few steps. I’m much happier with the results than when I tried standard CC/D. One of my dogs needs weekly injections now and it is actually an enjoyable ritual for us both!

    Standard practice for counter conditioning is almost anti-anticipation, IMO. The animal is not supposed to have any inkling that you have amazing, delicious treats in your pocket (not sure how that is ever possible). It is supposed to be a surprise. You work front-chaining–show scary tool–feed treat. Show tool–feed treat, etc. I always got stuck somewhere along the way with a very meh, tolerant response. It wasn’t until I built up the expectation first that the tools part became much less relevant. All that matters to the dog is the pattern and all that matters to me is preserving trust in the pattern.

    • Kay Laurence

      Sarah: You work front-chaining–show scary tool–feed treat. Show tool–feed treat, etc. I always got stuck somewhere along the way with a very meh, tolerant response.

      Gosh, that is a completely new (and exciting) debate Sarah! I have never been too comfortable on the same street as “psychological approaches”. I like to feel that the dog has a say in how they are feeling about what is going to happen and construct that, not impose it.
      You have given a great illustration as to why this anticipatory phase has great potential, and is quite underused.

  3. sowings42@gmail.com

    I do have a question though…What are some thoughtful ways to mediate the danger of “poison cues” with any type of “food up front” ritual involving a potentially aversive experience? I’ve heard many stories of people distracting a dog with peanut butter to cut nails, and from then on, the dog avoids peanut butter. I think it is a good idea to get fairly narrow stimulus conditions around the husbandry procedures so that in the event of accidentally pushing the dog too far, you can hopefully change some of those cues and start over–a certain location, a specific food item laid out in a particular bowl, even certain verbal cues….and then I also think it is important to teach the expectation part first as I described in my last post. What do others think?

    • Kay Laurence

      Yes, I have seen the same reaction to food …. “poisoned chicken”. It was only ever chicken when there was a high predictability of other dogs present and a “reaction”. Until we saw “chicken” caused aggression to an empty room.

      Good intention without thoughtfulness is often going to get kicked in the bum.

  4. Kay Laurence

    Thanks Iris – always a sticky place to be stuck between the clients demands and the benefit of the dog. Do you have any video of your nail procedures?

    Mine tend to only need nail trims at about 4 weeks old, to save the bitch getting too scratched, and when they are over 10. But by then it does take a few sessions to make it tolerable. …. and yes, I do not like to do it!

    • Iris Maxfield

      Only just found these comments Kay, I evidently need to scroll down the pages a little further,will capture some nails over the next week or so.

  5. Iris Maxfield

    Sorry I’v not come back with video, problems with a small video of keeping anything close up, that moves, in the picture.

    Reading the above comments, I prefer to give as much choice as possible.
    Looking to one of my own, who had a lot of procedures and vet tables after an RTA at about 13 months old, then suspicious of any tables or being lifted etc, that’s understandable, I have that info, so she sits on a dog bed.

    I use the sound of the clip much the same as a click, not every nail needs clipping every time, but if they do she has the potential for 18 small tasty treats, plus every two or three nails clipped,I throw some kibble to move her off the bed, her return is voluntary.
    Initially I would only clip one or two nails, throw some kibble and high quality reward her return but finish on her return.

    I’ve never made a big thing about the equipment its self, and I think early on its important with very sensitive dogs to only take of the smallest amount off the nails, that gives you both the potential for more short sessions, so no big gaps left before repeating, that tends to turn everything back into “that procedure again” instead of potential for earning, that in time can turn to “can we do my nails”
    I don’t see a problem with always rewarding nails no more than always rewarding the lead on.


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