Nail clipping the easy way with the Bucket Game

Do you struggle with your dog every time you want to clip her claws? Why not try it with her consent?

For Ruby, having her claws clipped is pure stress! The two-year-old German shepherd has already told her guardian Steve very impressively how she feels about it. Two scars on his forearm testify to attempts to convince Ruby of the need. In order to push through with the grooming measures, Ruby’s owners had previously caught her, when she was tired and exhausted after a long walk and restrained her.

Ruby and Steve are not alone with this problem. Many dog owners dread the thought to cut their dog’s claws, as they vehemently defend themselves against this necessary evil. In the wild, for a predator like the dog, an injury to his legs or feet can mean death by starvation. This is why many dogs instinctivly don’t want their legs and feet to be touched.

To make Ruby feel more comfortable about touching her feet, Ruby and Steve came from Edinburgh to Claire Staines from Lothlorien Dog Services. Claire invites Ruby to play the Bucket Game.

Give your dog a choice!

The Bucket Game aims for the cooperation of the dog. The British animal trainer Chirag Patel has developed this game to carry out grooming and medical measures with the consent of the dogs and give her the opportunity to say no without having to show aggressive behavior. The dog can decide for herself whether she is willing to cooperate and even endure some unpleasant moments, or whether she needs a break and take a breath before continuing. The dog has the option of finishing and leaving the game at any time.

And this is how it works!

Step 1: Focus on the bucket

Steve puts a small bucket with treats on a chair and whenever Ruby wants to get the treats, Steve picks up the bucket. It’s important that Steve does not use a “no” or “leave it” to keep Ruby from plundering the bucket, as Ruby should restrain herself, but not turn away from the bucket.

Soon, Ruby realizes that she can not reach the treats and holds back waiting. Now Steve starts to feed Ruby from the bucket at the very moment when Ruby is looking at the bucket.

If Ruby disengages from the bucket, Steve stops feeding her and picks up the bucket. The goal of the first step is that Ruby learns to keep focused on the bucket for about five to ten seconds.

Step 2: That’s the Deal!

Now Steve starts to move his hand towards Ruby and puts it on her shoulder. If Ruby stays focused on the bucket, she gets a treat from it. When she looks away from the bucket, Steve takes his hand off Ruby.

Steve never touches Ruby’s paws out of the blue, but starts with touching her shoulder and slowly moves his hand down to her paws. So his intention is clear to Ruby.

The deal between Steve and Ruby is: as long as Ruby looks at the bucket, she agrees that Steve touches her. If Ruby disengages from the basket, Steve immediately takes his hand away and waits until Ruby informs him with the renewed focus on the bucket that she is ready to go on.

Step 3: Introducing the tools

Now Steve can start to introduce the grooming tools. He shows Ruby the claw clippers and marks and rewards when Ruby touches the claw clippers with her nose. He repeats this five times and then puts the claw clippers on the chair next to the bucket and starts to play the Bucket Game. After some deserved treats for focus on the bucket, the claw clippers move to the ground, then closer and closer to Ruby’s paw. Finally, the clippers touch the claw, surround it and Steve cuts the claw.

Ruby determines the rules!

When Ruby gently turns her head away from the bucket so she can see what Steve is doing, but with her body still focused on the bucket, Steve pauses, but leaves his hand on Ruby. Does Ruby clearly turn away from the bucket, then that means for Steve: Hands off Ruby! Ruby can rely on that and it will therefore be easier for her to stay engaged in the grooming.

At one point, Ruby interrupts the game and leaves. She will definitely not be restrained or lured back. It’s clear that she needs a moment to process. Steve gives her a moment and then addresses her kindly and invites her to join the game again.

Finally, the end of the session is determined by Ruby herself. She refuses to focus on the bucket again, clearly showing Steve that she thinks that after three successfully cut claws it’s time to call it a day.

Not a quick fix!

The Bucket Game is not a quick fix for all problems. It requires commitment from the owner and regular, short training sessions. The game should be stopped as long as the dog still enjoys it and can concentrate well.

The Bucket Game it is a wonderful tool to make grooming and daily medical care more pleasant to the dog and also to survive a trip to the vet without trauma.

Many thanks to Ruby and Steve and many thanks to Arran Staines for the wonderful pictures! Check out Arran’s Facebook page! It is worth it!
See the cheat sheet below for your training: