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Is it possible to make nail trimming enjoyable?

Conquering your dog’s aversions is as easy as Pavlov

What events predict when Rufus will jump for joy? That YIPPIE response you get whenever you pull out the food bowl or whip out that favorite toy.  Not to mention the over joy mint when the leash appears. Like most dogs there’s a whole array of events that elicit that happy response. Knowing these events will be instrumental in conquering your dog’s aversions. Aversions to such things as, toenail trimming, touching sensitive areas, grooming, ear drops, trips to the vet or anything else your dog may find icky.

Thank you Pavlov                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Thanks to the research already done for us by the late scientist Ivan Pavlov, we are able to apply science in preventing aversions from forming in our dogs, or to fix ones that already exist. Pavlov discovered that two stimulus linked together create a conditioned response. The two stimulus linked together was the bell and the food. The conditioned response was saliva. The scientific term for this linkage is called classical conditioning. The conditioned response of saliva only occurred after the bell because of the linkage with food. A similar experiment involving humans would link a bell with biting into a lemon. With every random ring of the bell the subject will be instructed to bite into a lemon. After a few trials of ringing the bell followed by a bite of the lemon the conditioned response would be puckering of the lips, anticipating the sour lemon.

 Pavlov 1

Your dog knows                                                                                        Whether you are aware of it or not classical conditioning is occurring all the time. Doorbell ringing, putting shoes on, opening the refrigerator, the crinkling of a bag are all examples of events that have most likely produced a conditioned response in your dog. The pairing of two stimulus can be used in many applications to change behavior. This purpose of this article is to demonstrate how to apply classical conditioning to change what your dog finds aversive into something he likes.

No wasted opportunities                                                             Opportunities to use classical conditioning to change behavior are abundant and available in many interactions you have with your dog in everyday life. No more taking for granted these prime opportunities that cause your dog to do back flips, instead it’s time to start linking them with his aversions. You will be amazed just how easy it actually is. It’s in the details, the application is quite simple.

Presenting the aversive                                                                Opportunities for application. While Rufus is doing the happy dance in anticipation of you putting the food bowl down, present him with the toenail clippers first then follow it up with his food. Don’t stop there! Not only do toenail clippers mean food, but brushing means a round of fetch or tug, baths mean leash walks and being picked up, or touched in that sensitive area mean ear scratches. The idea is to present the icky event first, followed by what he loves. Repeat these sequences with every opportunity that arises, the more opportunities that produce those “jump for joy” moments, the better chance of making the necessary connection.


Too much too fast                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Whenever applying classical conditioning to eliminate aversions, always pay close attention not to frighten your dog with too much too fast. Add the necessary steps to reach your eventual goal only when Rufus is doing well and clearly anticipating good stuff when an aversion is presented. When there is too much pressure you risk the possibility of the wrong association forming. If Rufus is shying away or is clearly distressed, the pressure is too great. This would be an example of classically conditioning your dog to hate what he used to love.


At Rover Rehab we are experts at fixing dog behavior problems and can always help with providing solutions to all your dog related issues.



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