11 January 2015

Guess who got her last nails trimmed today?

Belle, a bit tense about the camera, is on the left

That would be brave Miss Belle. I am so proud of this girl! A few months ago, nail trimming for semi-feral BlueBelle was a big deal, with ongoing discussions and planning between her vet behaviorist team, my (sainted) vet, and me. It was to be combined with another exam and involve sedation at the car and on and on. It was a good plan, but I secretly wanted to see what I could do by applying my skill set alone. So I dropped the subject with the vets and started to work.

It was slow going and I did not have the option to whip out the standard (and faster) clicker counter-conditioning from my tool box. But I did have time, patience, and food. God bless that little Belle, she does love food! Without boring you with all the tiny steps, I'll just say that there were a LOT -- hundreds -- of teensy, tiny steps toward helping her feel secure enough to adjust her emotional responses from fearful to tolerant to even positively accepting in some cases.

I confess that I don't have dozens of pages of meticulously charted, preplanned behavior modification records to show. I wish I were that kind of trainer, but I'm not. I didn't show my work in Trigonometry, either. While preplanning is necessary when working with a fearful (any) dog and a variety of proven methods must be ready for use, when it comes to the actual dance with the dog, flow and intuition take over. When I count seconds and analyze every muscle contraction, I lose her. When I feel into her as a beautiful being in need of safety, she will dance with me.

Obviously, we've been working on touch. First, I had to be able to get close enough to her. Most of the time she got treats for choosing to come to me or letting me sit next to her briefly. Other times the reward was me moving away from her. The goal is to push only a fraction each time, or sometimes not at all and leave her wanting more. The first day that she felt fingers rubbing her ear and leaned into them was a good day indeed. I quit while touch was still desired so she allowed me to briefly touch her at other times, too.

Working up to holding Belle was too much of a leap. I would do that a great deal more gradually next time. She is not at all comfortable with the hold. She tolerates it, but she's still scared. It jeopardizes our relationship and I don't want that. So we have many, many more tiny steps to go for more touch and a comfortable hold (if that is ever possible).

The nail trimming was not actually that scary. Belle was focused on treats each time and we'd negotiated the aforementioned hold that needs more work. Getting a nail trimmed also meant getting to freely leap around the living room, receiving handfuls of treats while the whole doggy family enjoyed a food party. This was promptly followed by a ground venison dinner for Miss Belle. She decided that the food part was a pretty sweet deal and worth anticipating.