December 17, 2018

Expert advice can go a long way


Bad habits are hard to break. The process usually takes a while, and often the person with the bad habit has to be totally behind the switch, fully supportive of it.

The bad habits of a dog are even harder to break, especially if that dog is a stubborn cuss named Charlie.

I have two dogs: Suzy, a border collie/Lab mix I adopted from the Arenac County animal shelter, and Charlie, a shepherd mix (I think) of uncertain origin from a shelter in Elkton, in the Thumb. They are widely renowned to be spoiled rotten.

Suzy is a typical Lab with a touch of border collie brains thrown in. She’s eager and willing to please, and isn’t hard to teach. If I want her to do something, she might be confused at first, but she’ll play along with an attitude of “OK Boss, whatever you say — I think you’re nuts, but you’re in charge.”

Charlie is half shepherd, half mule. When I first got him and I wanted to teach him something, he had two responses: 1) he stood there and stared at me, and 2) he ignored me completely. I could practically read his thoughts. “You want me to do what? Sorry, that’s not in my contract.”

Without shame, I can say that bridge of unwillingness was eventually crossed with the help of unabashed bribery. He now lives in the hope that somewhere on my person I have hidden a cube of cheese, and he is happy to do whatever it takes to get it. (In addition to the cheese, I hope part of the reason he’s more tractable is that I’ve had him a few years, and he’s settled in and learned to trust me.)

The old, stubborn Charlie still surfaces, however, when I try to break some of his bad habits, like wandering out of the yard (our yard isn’t fenced in); or when I try to do something to him he objects to, like cutting his nails. He thinks it’s a grand adventure to go a-roving into yards unknown (the grass is greener, as they say), and he absolutely abhors the nail clippers and the Dremel, even though I always try to be careful not to cut or grind too much.

While I’m making progress with the forays out of the yard, basically by watching him like a hawk and making sure he doesn’t put a foot wrong, the nail cutting is a struggle. The whole time, I’m struggling to be as calm as I can because all the dog books I’ve read, and all the TV dog experts agree: your state of mind influences your dog’s. But despite my best efforts, he is singularly unwilling to be put through such a trial, and does his best to escape when he gets an opportunity.

As much as both of us dislike the experience, it’s not something I can just decide not to do. And although I know I could take him to a grooming shop and pay to have it done, it’s come to be something of a personal challenge.

When I told my future sister-in-law about the difficulty I was having, however, I got some interesting advice. “Put him on the washing machine,” Meghan told me. She recently earned her certification as a vet tech, and has worked for years at a dog grooming establishment. She explained that being on a table is an attitude adjuster for dogs — it takes them out of their comfort zone, putting you more in charge of the situation. And the slick surface makes them less willing to try to jump down.

So, I tried it. Sunday, after using the Dremel tool to grind Suzy’s nails down, I gathered up two armfuls of stubborn, unhappy black dog and deposited him on top of the washer. And I noticed a difference.

You could practically see his eyes go wide with a doggy “Woah.” He was still very, very nervous, and tried jumping down once when I was busy with one of his feet. But he didn’t try to bite the Dremel, and aside from that one escape attempt he stood fairly still, probably because there wasn’t much space for him to maneuver. I’d say the biggest complication was that he still kept trying to get his head between me and his foot, so I couldn’t see what I was doing — and that could be solved easily in the future if I leashed him.

Attitude goes a long way with dogs, and I’ve got hope that as we both become more comfortable with the process of washing-machine nail cutting, both Charlie and I will get calmer, and the job will get done more quickly, without all the stress and worry.

Just goes to show, when you’re having problems, it never hurts to ask an expert.



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