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Toe nails or not toe nails

My idea of a pure, indulgent pleasure is to have a pedicure. For 40 minutes, I can close my eyes and have someone else make my abused feet look presentable again. I happily pay for this privilege. If I could afford it, I would do it weekly.

As a kid, I would convince my Weimaraner Misty to sit patiently while I did her nails, usually with a holiday theme. This breed of dog has lovely clear nails that made applying nail polish especially rewarding to an 8-year-old budding aesthetician. My favorite was Halloween, when Misty would sport alternating orange and black nails for the occasion.

However, not all dogs are so willing to have beauty enhancements applied to them, especially their sensitive feet.

Winthrop, my client’s four-year-old Jack Russell Terrier, would just as soon rip the groomer’s head off as endure the dog-equivalent of a pedicure – the dreaded biweekly toe nail trim.

If Winthrop’s owners so much as walk near the cabinet where the nail clipper is stored, the dog bolts from the room. His overlong nails can be heard clicking on the hardwood floor of the staircase as he takes the stairs two at a time up to the bedroom. He disappears under the bed; only a flashlight can spot him glued to the far wall. He won’t be seen again until the 11 o’clock news.

I was called in when the owners decided that taking Winthrop for a brisk trot on the concrete sidewalk is not the same as using a nail file. In actuality, their groomer had asked them NOT to bring Winthrop back, and the dog’s feet were beginning to look like a Guinness record holder. The last couple of grooming sessions resulted in a WWF-size brawl and Winthrop had to be muzzled, a very undignified position for a Jack Russell.

His owners, although embarrassed by Winthrop’s phobic display, knew that they were doing a disservice to Winthrop by avoiding the inevitable. Long nails make walking uncomfortable and worse, for the dog, and distressing to the family, who find the tap-tapping of his feet on the uncarpeted floors annoying, not to mention the scratches on their hands, legs and expensive wood finish.

As usual, I was called in as a “last resort.” I am trying not to take this personally.

In addition to bringing Winthrop to the groomer to do his nails, the owners had also tried:

  • Capturing and holding him down – at least two family members must be recruited for this;

  • Attempting to use the as-seen-on-TV nail grinding device that is supposed to work on even the most fearful of dogs – Winthrop practically peed when this item was turned on in his presence;

  • Giving him a dose of a homeopathic calming medication;

  • Giving him a dose of a stronger, vet-prescribed medication;

  • Cutting one nail per day while Winthrop slept (it didn’t take Winthrop long to learn to sleep with one eye open at all times)

Finally, it occurred to his owners that Winthrop needed an intervention. I was hired to fix the situation. And so we had a heart-to-heart talk: me with the owners, then me with Winthrop.

The owners agreed to A) not rush any close encounter Winthrop has with the nail clippers, and B) work on having Winthrop trust them again. That trust had been comprised when he had been held down against his will AND when he realized he could no longer sleep restfully for fear that his feet would be kidnapped and abused.

The pact Winthrop and I made was to A) give his owners another chance to redeem themselves in his eyes, and B) give in to his love of boiled chicken. Thankfully, Winthrop has a weakness for poultry.

The initial step was leave the nail clippers out in plain sight, and occasionally call Winthrop over for a piece of boiled chicken that was placed next to the nail clippers for him to take. At first, Winthrop approached the clippers tentatively. He’d been a patsy to other devious attempts to cut his nails, and he wouldn’t be played the fool again. But the prospect of chicken won out. After a week of the chicken-near-the-clippers tactic, Winthrop started hanging around the clippers, hoping for a treat.

In the meantime, every evening, a designated family member would get down on the floor with Winthrop to rub his belly. Here and there, one of his paws would be touched, rubbed, or held. Each time, the process would get longer and longer, until the dog allowed his feet to be touched without him reacting negatively.

They set small goals each week. They progressed to picking up the clippers and giving Winthrop his bit of chicken at the same time. When he could endure this, they picked up one of his feet while holding the clippers. Then, they picked up a foot and clipped off a bit of nail. And so on, until they were able to clip a nail, sometimes two nails, with no protests from Winthrop. Soon, it was taking less than a week to get all of Winthrop’s nails clipped – at home, by various family members.

If only Winthrop’s feet had been touched frequently when he was a puppy, and his nails clipped while he enjoyed a valuable treat (chicken!), he would have looked forward to this essential part of dog grooming rather than dreading it.

Its nice to see that more and more puppy parents are taking the time to introduce their pets – early and often – to the joy of the pedicure.

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