Tag Archives: dog training

Scratching & sniffing – let your dog walk you

Have you ever let your dog walk you? Recently there have been lots of articles about dog enrichment suggesting that letting your dog lead the way is a wonderful way to let your dog relax and be a dog. 

Most of this Spring has been cold, rainy, and/or snowy and generally miserable weather-wise. But we had a sunny, if brisk, day last week and Hope decided to let her 7-year-old French Bulldog Torque lead the way on a walk.

This was a first. It’s not that they never go for walks. It’s just that they’re usually walks for either training or exercise. Just walking for the sake of it is not part of our makeup. We know there are lots of people who enjoy it, we’re just not among them. That’s why there are 32 flavors of ice cream.

Confusing lack of direction

Torque walks nicely on leash, so he was accommodating, if a little confused. He’s used to Hope always deciding direction and pace of the outing. Torque isn’t used to being in charge. 

Once he caught on, he had a wonderful time. There’s a “greenway” at the end of our street, just for people, bicyclists, and dog walking. It’s not all that wide, but it goes for a few miles and the path is paved. It’s landscaped with native plants and trees. Needless to say, it’s fairly heavily used. Especially with locals walking their dogs. The pee-mail was fascinating for Torque.

Sniff as you please

Small dog walking and sniffing

He may have thought he’d gone to heaven. At the first couple of trees, he glanced sideways at Hope to see if she was planning to call him off. When no “come on!” urging came, he dipped his head for a few more whiffs before moving on.

At some point Torque realized that he could do what he wanted. He sniffed, marked, and kicked back after each deposit droplet. And then he stopped marking and just started kicking. Apparently just for the sheer joy of doing it.

Ground scratching

Because we always want to know why, we checked to see what’s going on when our dogs kick back like Torque was doing. The name of the behavior is “ground scratching” and apparently it’s a normal, if uncommon behavior. Only 10 percent of domestic dogs do it, although it’s very common among wolves, coyotes, and other wild canids.

Of course nobody knows exactly why dogs ground scratch. Because it’s most often seen immediately after elimination, researchers speculate that it’s either to spread their scent far and wide, or to mask the scent so unfriendlies can’t find them. Which are directly contradictory reasons, so no conclusions drawn. We do know that dogs have sweat glands in their paws, and may emit scent and pheromones when they scratch. Again, nobody really knows.

Careful of the landscape

We learned a lot from our dog-directed walk. It was fun seeing Torque have such a good time. And we learned he’s only allowed to be in the driver’s seat on native-growing, public property. The neighbors probably wouldn’t appreciate a thorough ground-scratching session, no matter how much Torque enjoyed it.


How to trim dog nails without fuss

Do your regularly trim your dog’s nails? We just found out that a dear friend’s dog can only get nail trims under anesthesia. Consequently, this gorgeous five-year old Great Dane has only had this vital grooming procedure a couple of times in his life.

Fortunately, while long, his nails haven’t yet started to curl back into his paws. Probably because he’s a city dog, and goes for miles of walks on concrete, which helps keep his nails from becoming worse than they are.

Gotta help if you can

We’re working with our friend to turn things around for his boy Frankie. At this point, we don’t know if it’s going to work, but we have to try. It’s a great opportunity to put our convictions to the test. Frankie has to cooperate and consent. There’s no way we can force a 135-pound Great Dane to do anything. We have to teach him that it’s okay. He weighs more than we do. 

Fortunately, Frankie adores his person and is an eager and fast learner. We’re hopeful.

Step #1: Get used to the noise

We’ve told our friend to get a corded, handheld multi-tool with a sanding drum. While many people use nail clippers without an issue, we’ve never been fans. Probably because we’re terrified of hurting our dogs – especially the dogs with black nails that we can’t see through. Once you’ve “quicked” a dog, you’re a bit hesitant.

Boston Terrier shows consent to dog care by calmly allowing nails to be trimmed

Add to that the tremendous success we’ve had with the grinding tool. We even trim our Bearded Dragon’s nails with it! 

Boston Terrier Simon usually naps during nail grinding. We had to wake him up to take the picture.

The first step, after you get the tool, is to just plug it in and let your dog get used to the sound. Run it for a minute or less, feeding your dog yummy treats the whole time. If your dog is terrified, distance is your friend. Have the tool as far away as possible, and only gradually get closer as your dog adjusts. 

This may be a great time to use a “lick mat.” Just spread a soft food (peanut butter, yogurt, cream cheese, whipped cream) on the mat and freeze it. Save this special treat to use for nails only. If your dog adores something about the process, the rest of it will be easier.

Step 2: Play patty-paws

Get your dog used to you handling his/her paws. At first, without the grinder. In time, you can add the grinder turned on – but only if you also use the lick mat, or some other really high value reward. If your dog has a favorite chewy treat, use that if you like. 

Getting your dog to accept nail grinding is a process, especially if it’s been an issue in the past. We’re being completely honest with the dog. We need to do this. We want you to be comfortable with it. We’re going to give you every opportunity to adjust and accept.

Step 3: Moving on

When your dog is comfortable with the grinder in close proximity, and with you playing with his/her paws, you can try grinding one nail. If you have two people, have one person stay with the dog’s head and lick mat. The other person will be in charge of the grinder. Start with a back paw. Hold it gently. Tell your dog what you’re doing – you never want to try to fool your dog. 

If your dog pulls his/her paw away, don’t hold on. Just gently take hold of it again and try again. The harder you hold on, the more your dog will resist. This is the part that takes the most patience. Try a few times, or as long as your dog is working on the lick mat. If your dog freaks out, stop trying to grind the nail. Just let the grinder run while the dog finishes their treat.

Don’t give up

Getting your dog comfortable with normal grooming procedures is important for optimal health throughout your dog’s life. And it saves both time and money if you’re able to do it yourself. Think of it as an investment in your dog’s long, healthy, happy life with you.


Stop putting limits on dogs

We have a friend who makes us crazy. She’s constantly putting limits on her dogs. “He’s a French Bulldog, so he’s not a real dog.” “We can’t ask for too much in obedience – he’s a Frenchie.” She also has Border Collies, and we understand the two breeds are vastly different. But it’s not fair, not right, and not good to put limits on our dogs. Let them show us what they can and can’t do!

Reasons for limits

There are all kinds of reasons that dogs may have limits. They could be age, size, or breed related. But how do you know until you try?

It’s happened a couple of times with our own dogs. Tango, at almost 13, is certainly considered a senior dog. He doesn’t see all that well, especially in bright light. But he still gets his turn every morning when we play 2-Minute-Dog-Training Games with all our pups.

Tango's "Toys Away" game wouldn't happen with putting limits on dogs.

Between his age and lack of vision, there have been times when we proposed a new game or trick and Fran was, to say the least, skeptical of trying it with Tango. She was wrong to doubt him for even a minute. We may have had to put bright yellow tape on the box for him to find his toy box, but he puts his toys away. He might not get his huge yellow chicken in the bucket on the first try, but he does it. 

At least give it a try

Hope’s French Bulldog Torque loves doing Obedience and Rally exercises. And Hope expects his execution of every single exercise to be as perfect as the rule book specifies. It doesn’t mean that he’ll be perfect in competition, but it means we don’t “settle” because of his breed. If you don’t care, your dog won’t either. We find ways to make every single session fun for both of us. And getting our dogs to understand what’s “right” is our job – and our joy.

It’s really exciting and fun when your dog learns something new or tries something different. Maybe your little dog really can’t go on a mile-long walk right now. But if you start small and increase the distance a little bit every day, maybe someday soon they will! Putting limits on dogs is a guarantee they won’t succeed. 

Let your dog lead

Our friend with the Frenchies and Border Collies posted a video with the BCs chasing around a huge field, running, fetching, chasing each other and having fun. And in her comment on that video was the one that Frenchies aren’t real dogs, so weren’t allowed to play that way. 

She’s putting limits on her dogs without reason. Maybe they wouldn’t want to play chase and fetch. But how does she know unless she tries?

Dogs are listening

One of the absolute cutest dog behaviors ever is the head tilt. It absolutely never fails to make people smile. It’s like dogs are programmed to do it when we talk to them. It proves dogs are listening.

The head tilt is proof dogs are listening

There was a study that reported this week that dogs not only understand when their people are talking to them – they can also distinguish between their native language and a foreign tongue. The weirdest thing about the study was that the dogs also knew when they were being bamboozled and hearing nonsense words.

If you ask us, one of the most impressive things about the study wasn’t that the dogs understood. It’s that the dogs stayed quiet in the MRI machine to participate in the study. Good dogs!

Paying attention all the time

Interpreting their human’s language, attitude, and emotion is a unique trait of dogs. Almost everyone with a dog can relate a story of how their dog never left their side when they were feeling low. Over the centuries of companionship, dogs have become adept at tuning into human society and making it their own.

Does it work both ways? Are you as skilled at reading your dog’s physical and mental well-being? There are the obvious signs that something’s not right, like not eating, restlessness, or even cries of pain. 

Then there are the subtler cues. You can’t quite figure out what’s going on, but you know there’s something. 

Have a routine

One of the ways to “check in” on your dog’s wellbeing is to have a regular grooming day routine. And while you’re brushing their teeth, fur, handling their ears, paws, etc. keep up a conversational patter and see how they respond. If they’re accustomed to you talking to them, it will relax them and let them know everything’s okay. 

Just like us, dogs can have an off day, so if you notice an occasional something, it’s not a big deal as long as your dog bounces back quickly. 

Your dog’s response to your voice is one of the most telling cues they can give you. If you use Yoda-voice to get the head-tilt from your dog, and they don’t do it, that’s a clue. Not that we’re saying we would do that kind of thing. Or at least not more than a couple times a week. 

Talk to them! Dogs are listening

Dogs are great listeners. When nobody else cares what you have to say, they’re fascinated by every syllable. Be sure to use your power wisely – most dogs will think they’re in trouble if you raise your voice or start shouting. You may just be letting off steam, but they don’t know that. 

If you do need to make some noise, be sure to hand your dog treats as you do it. That will let the dog know that whatever is making you unhappy, it’s not their fault.

Best audience, ever

Aside from giving you their complete attention when you talk, dogs provide a great excuse. Back in the days before cell phones, people talking to themselves were often labeled crazy. Unless they were with a dog. Now everybody talks to thin air. But dogs are much better listeners than most people.