• DateApril 8, 2020

Husbandry at home – Nail care

All the bad weather since November and up until about 6 weeks ago meant the ground has been so soft it’s not helped keep my boys’ nails in trim. I started work with a nail board in January so I thought I’d share my how to for making a nail board and teaching your dog to use it.  I have to say a big thank you to Linda Ryan of Inspiring Pet Teaching and Laura Monaco Torelli of Animal Behavior Training Concepts for the nail board tips.

You will need:

Flexible plastic chopping board (Available from eBay)

4m roll of anti-slip grip tape (Available from eBay)

You then just cut lengths of the tape and attach the strips to the chopping board via the adhesive already on the back of the grip tape.  The picture below shows the finished product.

How to teach your dog to use the nail board.

  • I started by putting the mat flat on the ground and marking and reinforcing for any interaction with it, especially paws on (fast forward to 54 seconds in the video linked below to see how I start with Odie);
  • Once you’re getting paws on just start to withhold your click/marker and see if you get more experimentation.  What you’re looking for is more nail contact rather than a flat paw.  You may see an increase in frustration at the lack of click which will hopefully lead to scraping rather than flat paws.  If not then keep reinforcing the behaviour you are getting and move to the next steps;
  • Lift the board at the top corners and continue to mark and reinforce contact between paw and mat (see first part of the 170120 video);
  • Start to hold the board up to create an angle, resting the mat against your leg, so your dogs nails are the part of their paw that are getting scraped and not their pads – if you’ve been getting a flat paw until now then hopefully you’ll see full nail contact now;    
  • Withhold your click/marker and see if you can get multiple scrapes or the use of both paws – this step isn’t really important but it will stretch out your reinforcer supply lol!  You’ll see in the video below that I managed to get multiple, quite full-on scrapes (particularly from Sweep) and both dogs chose to try both paws – Winner!

I’m pretty lucky that I have very “paw happy” dogs and both of the boys LOVE to scrape instead of actually putting a flat paw on anything – great for this, problematic for teaching a “step up”! 


  • I discovered that Odie needs to chase the treat to keep engaged otherwise he just lies down whereas with Sweep you can feed to his mouth and he will work forever so just be aware of what keeps your dog engaged;
  • If you’re not getting a scrape then hopefully moving to an angled mat faster should encourage the nail contact rather than flat paw contact.

Rear Paw:

For rear feet I have an order in with my partner to build an awesome rear paw stand-and-scrape platform but as he’s an essential worker he’s unfortunately not had time just yet to build it for me.

The video is the best way to see the set up I have for this currently, it’s not perfect in that the board and platform it is leaning on can move and nothing is properly stable.  I basically used a low table with a platform leaning against it and the board leaning against that.  We have a few malfunctions but Sweep still comes back for more so that’s testament to his resilience and the trust he has in me.

  • I lure Sweep to put two paws on the table and then using the lure I get him to stretch so that his back paw comes off the ground and scrapes the board (hopefully my equipment set up is spot on to allow this!),  I mark and reinforce that;
  • Now I’m looking for a scrape when his foot comes off the ground;

Session 2 (above) shows that he’s starting to understand the behaviour that I’m looking for:

  • I can look at starting to add in a cue (“Scrape”) and fade the lure;
  • We have a cue for “step” which is two paws on an object so I also add that in to get the first part of the behaviour. I do mark and reinforce the “step”. 

Just a note from the video, you don’t have to mark with click and verbal marker, I just got very very giddy at our progress!

  • Session 3 – I’ve faded the lure so I’m just using the cue for “scrape” to get the behaviour. Another note, I need a longer nail board for rear feet! 

The rear paw stuff is obviously not perfect but hopefully with a more stable set up I can start trying to shape for multiple scratches and a bit more force.  I’ll keep you updated!  There are a lot of really great videos out there on YouTube so give them a search if you want to see a more polished, finished behaviour.

As ever, if you have any questions or comments please comment on this post on FB, Instagram or below.

I’m still collating video for my promised blog (teaching your dog to love their mat more than being under your feet in the kitchen!) so apologies for that, I’ll post as soon as I have it all 😊

Thanks for reading and have fun with your husbandry training always making sure your dog is having fun too!

Carol Milner

About Carol Milner

I currently live in Weymouth, Dorset (originally from Beverley in East Yorkshire). I am a certified dog trainer, graduating from the Karen Pryor Academy Dog Trainer Professional course in October 2016. I have owned dogs since 2001 when I got my first rescue dog Jack, a mutt extraordinaire. When I lost him I spent two years fostering dogs for a local charity and as a result I gained Odie and Sweep. Odie is the reason I became interested in training and behaviour. He demonstrates "aggressive" behaviours towards other dogs. I chose clicker training because I saw how much confidence it gives both my boys and I train mostly as a hobby with my own dogs and cats and spend my spare time with them and continuing my training and behaviour education with webinars and seminars. My passion as a trainer is in force free husbandry. If we can teach dangerous exotic animals to accept blood draws voluntarily then we have no excuse in not teaching it to our animals. I work full time as a marine biologist (to fund my dog habit!), a job I have done for 20 years. It has taught me to avoid the use of jargon while not dumbing down content, a skill I hope will help me produce a helpful blog!


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