DIY Nail File/Scratch Board for Toenails

If you struggle with trimming your dog’s nails for any reason, it’s worth making a doggy nail file and teaching your dog to use it. Clipping or dremeling (grinding) your dog’s nails might be the fastest method, but it can be stressful for your dog, not to mention scary for you if you’re afraid of going too far and hurting your dog. Teaching your dog to scratch at an abrasive surface is easy, fun, and best of all, free of fear and restraint. Your dog is in control of how fast and hard they scratch, though you can selectively reinforce for more powerful scratches. All dogs have different nails, and this method may not work for everyone. If your dog has soft, light colored nails, it should work great. If they have dark, hard nails, it’ll still work, but it will take longer. Size-wise, if you have a small dog, in my experience, they learn to “dig” at the board very easily, making it a quick process (see the videos below with Pinot). Bigger dogs may only be able to scratch with one paw at a time, making it a little more time consuming. I use two different kinds of boards to target all sides of the nails. You probably won’t be able to get dew claws or hind paws with a nail board, unless your dog is extra-super-talented. I spent about a year, off and on, trying to teach Pinot to scratch the board with his hind feet, to no avail. That said, in my experience, hind toenails require fewer trims.

At the end of the day, using a scratch board is a no-brainer. If nothing else, you either have fewer nails to clip (win!) or you can extend the time between nail trims (win!).

This is my regular scratch board. It’s an old piece of wood panelling, with a 3M stair tread stuck on either side of it. You can find these self-adhesive stair treads at your local home improvement store or order them online. You can also find rolls of the same material that you can cut to size. I find that the stair treads last longer than the roll. For the first nail file I made, I used regular sandpaper, which absolutely works, but is prone to tearing and doesn’t last long. The stair tread material is VERY durable! I used duct tape on the ends of the board so it wouldn’t scratch the floor if I used it inside.


I’ve had this one for a few years, and it’s starting to lose its grit, so I mostly use it to teach dogs to scratch, and to smooth my dogs’ nails.

This is my newer curved nail file. It’s a Halloween-themed plastic bucket that I got from the grocery store. I cut it in half, covered all the cut edges with duct tape (what would we do without duct tape?), and lined the inside of the bucket with the stair tread material. I cut a few notches out of the stair tread, so it would lay flat inside the curve. The curve is helpful because it allows your dog to make contact with their outside nails as well as their middle toes. You could use a large cardboard tube, large diameter PVC, or any big, round container, cut to size. I’ve also used flexible cutting boards/mats before, which was handy because it could lay flat on the ground, or I could hold it up in a curved shape. Be creative! It doesn’t have to be pretty…your dog won’t mind.


See, it’s not pretty, but it’ll get the job done! Since the grit will wear down eventually, I tend not to invest too much time, energy, or money into making the nail file look good. It will have to be replaced with some regularity anyway!

Here is a collection of videos:

You can use shaping to teach your dog to scratch the file, by selectively reinforcing interaction with the file. If your dog is nervous or unfamiliar with shaping, I would use a flat board, and start by hiding a treat under the board. Choose a spot where you won’t mind your dog scratching *around* the board–a sidewalk is ideal. Lay the board flat on the ground, then tuck a treat or two under the board (let your dog see you do this!). Your dog will likely start to paw at the edges of the board. Mark and reward any interaction! As your dog understands the game, you can start to lift the board bit by bit, so it’s at a better angle for scratching. If you need more help, feel free to email me!


5 Practical Puppy Tips

Just get a puppy? If it’s your first puppy in a while, I highly recommend scheduling a lesson or two with a trainer. Even if you don’t see any glaring behavioral issues now, things often pop up when you least expect them!

1. Prevent, Prevent, Prevent

Set your puppy up for success! Provide lots of dog safe chewing options, and at the same time, put away anything that your puppy might want to chew, pee on, or otherwise destroy. This means rolling up precious rugs, removing books from the bottom rows of bookshelves, putting shoes away 100% of the time, securing trash cans behind closed doors, and keeping food off of counters (for the giant breeds). I generally recommend doing this for 6 months or so. This may seem like a lot of work…but it’s a LOT easier that having to re-train an adult dog who has spent 2 years practicing chewing on rugs, stealing shoes, and getting food off of counters.

Puppies learn habits by practicing, so make sure they’re practicing behaviors you like. These are things like chewing on a bone, working on a food puzzle, playing with a squeaky toy, lying on a bed, etc. Keep a few toys and bones/chews in each room your puppy has access to, so they always have an appropriate item to play with. Stash treats in safe places through your home so that you’re ready to reward good behavior when it happens.

Feed your puppy their meals out of Kongs or other food dispensing toys (see below). This teaches independence, builds confidence and creativity, and keeps your puppy busy! Dogs are built to forage and work for their food. Eating out of a bowl is pretty boring.

2. Build Independence

It’s pretty cute when your puppy follows you around obsessively…but it gets old FAST. As soon as possible, start teaching your puppy to be calm and comfortable with being separated from you. This is particularly important if you are generally home all day–your puppy will get used to having you constantly and then may experience distress when you have to go out. I like using an X-pen or play pen, perhaps with the puppy’s crate attached to it. The pen should have lots of fun things in it, and a squishy bed if they can be trusted with it.

I don’t believe in letting puppies “cry it out”…and research on human babies backs me up on that. Make being in the pen easy for your puppy by always providing a bone, Kong, or lickie mat in the pen, and keeping their time in the pen short and easy at first. You can start by putting puppy in the pen with an activity and just sitting next to the pen. Then build to doing something nearby, and later on, leaving the room. If your puppy panics, come back, and assess the situation–maybe they need to go potty? If you know they don’t, reassure the puppy, and let them know they’re fine.

3. Teach 3 Core Skills

You can teach any behaviors you want, but be mindful about it–the first 3 things you teach any animal are generally the strongest skills they’ll ever have. For example, you may not want to teach shake/high five right away, especially if you have a big dog, or if you have a teacup pup, hold off on teaching them to dance or stand on their hind legs.

The first three things I generally teach are:

1) Hand Targeting (This turns into heeling, a recall, loads of tricks, cooperative care training, and more)

2) Name Game/Puppy Recall (Coming when called is a safety skill you need to start building ASAP)

3) Sit and/or Down on a Mat/Bed (This turns into sitting for polite greeting, stay, and waiting at doors)

4. Exposure vs. Socialization

One of the biggest things people worry about with their puppy is socializing them. Don’t get me wrong, it’s important, but be careful how you go about it. Many times, puppy socialization is approached as a bit of a free-for-all. Get the puppy out to every party, festival, and dog park you can find…take them to the pet store, the farmers market, Home Depot, etc. As long as your dog is comfortable with that, you may not be doing any harm, but you may not be teaching them quite what you want, either. More often than not, during “socialization” like this, dogs learn that every person they see, every dog they see, is there solely to greet them. Is that really what you want your dog to think? I want my dogs to be able to go about their business no matter who or what is nearby, I don’t want them so hyper-social that they can’t think when a dog is across the street from us!

Rather than introducing your dog to loads of other dogs and people, think about exposing him/her to a variety of scenarios. Sometimes people walk by, and ignore you. Sometimes people approach, and talk to you, but not the puppy. Sometimes the puppy will get to say hi, but only if they want to. Your puppy should be comfortable with all options. So often, I see people hold their puppy so that someone can pet them, while the puppy squirms and tries to get away. What are you teaching your puppy in that moment? Maybe that they have no choice, and that people are sometimes really scary.

Take puppyhood as an opportunity to show your puppy that your vehicle is a fun place to be, not just a ride to the vet’s office. Go lots of places and just hang out, sniff things, and eat cookies. With a baby puppy who doesn’t have all their shots, you can still go out and see things, just carry your puppy. Avoid places that carry a high-risk of something “scary” happening…dog parks, sporting events, festivals. Puppies are sensitive, and can experience single-instance learning from one startling or scary moment. Build their confidence slowly and gently, don’t overload them with socializing.

Find safe, gentle adult dogs who are going to be appropriate with your puppy! Not all adult dogs like puppies, and some can be downright rough toward puppies. Rather than letting your dog say hi to random dogs you meet on walks, set up playdates with dogs and puppies you know. Find other puppies of varying breeds and sizes to get your puppy accustomed to different play styles. Use those playdates as an opportunity to work on training, too–being called out of play, eating near other dogs, and “sharing” their owner’s attention are all important lessons.

Not all puppy classes are the same! Ask for a recommendation from your vet or trainer for a good class. Ask if you can come observe a class before you sign up. Some puppy classes are pretty much just play groups, and some may include training that less than ideal. Never go along with anything that makes you or your puppy uncomfortable…be your puppy’s advocate!

Great thoughts on socialization from Denise Fenzi here and here.

5. Grooming & Veterinary Care

Start teaching your puppy to stand quietly for grooming early on! All dogs will need to have regular nail trims, brushing, and the occasional bath. Practicing these activities with your puppy in a calm, matter of fact way will set you up for success later on. Use food to reward your dog for holding still, but don’t get stuck using it as a distraction or lure–you want your dog to actually notice what you’re doing and get comfortable with it.

Same deal with veterinary procedures. Get your puppy used to being held/restrained, having their neck pinched, belly palpated, and eyes, ears, mouth examined. The trick to this is keeping your puppy calm and relaxed–this is not playtime! Get help from a Fear Free certified trainer if your puppy struggles with this. So often, our puppies first exposure to their vet is traumatizing! Do some work beforehand to build their tolerance to handling and uncomfortable procedures. Finally, click here to find a Fear Free Certified Veterinary Practice for your dog–they are well versed in keeping dogs comfortable and happy during their vet visits. 

There you have it! There’s a lot to think about when you’re raising a puppy…but at the end of the day, make sure you spend as much time enjoying that puppy as possible. Puppyhood is always gone before you know it.

Skill Building: Attention

pexels-photo-551628.jpegAttention is the foundation of most things you’ll do with your dog. If your dog is busy looking at everything except for you, he’ll have a pretty hard time walking in heel, holding a sit, or performing skills in a distracting environment. 

Making direct eye contact isn’t necessarily a natural, easy thing for dogs to do. Some dogs are very sensitive to it, so go slow and make sure you aren’t unintentionally intimidating your dog! Invite eye contact by keeping your eyes soft and your gaze natural…staring at your dog while leaning over him isn’t very inviting. If your dog actively avoids eye contact, or you can’t remember your dog ever offering it, you may need to start with your dog looking in your direction or just at your face, rather than making eye contact.

To build a strong foundation of attention, start with this exercise.

Skill Building: Attention

Location: Low-distraction, such as your kitchen or living room

Supplies: One dog (this is not the time to work multiple dogs), 10 tasty treats, and a clicker (or just be prepared with your handy marker word)

What to do:

  1. Sit or stand and say nothing.
  2. Do nothing.
  3. Find your zen place.
  4. Be quiet. Soften your body language and your gaze.
  5. Bear with me…I promise this will work!
  6. The second your dog glances at you, say “yes!” or click and treat. I don’t care if it’s a quick, barely there glance, just mark and treat. Do this 10 times, then take a break.

When you’re successful in your low distraction environment, move to a different room, and then eventually move your practice to new places with more distractions. Keep your dog successful, by increasing difficulty slowly. You can also start building in duration, so that your dog can maintain eye contact longer.


Voila, you have now started building a foundation of attention, and you’ve taught your dog that checking in with you pays really well.

People always ask why I don’t use a command like “watch me” or “look at me.”  I really don’t think it’s necessary, and it’s yet another word to remember. I want my dogs to know that it’s always safe to look at me, and that it’s worth it to them to check in because I pay really well. Of course, they know their names and in high distraction times, their name does mean “look at me,” but it’s important for me to avoid nagging my dogs. I’d rather wait for them to choose to look at me then beg them to. Imagine how you’d feel if someone was poking you over and over again, and saying “hey! hey! HEY!” constantly. You’d probably get pretty annoyed. You’d also probably look at the person, but you wouldn’t feel great about it. You’d be doing it to get them to stop bothering you. Don’t be annoying…instead, be a quiet, patient, generous person who pays well.


My Top Recall Tips

We all want a dog who comes back to us reliably and quickly. Here are my top tips.

  1. Pay your dog well! Dole out a bunch of good, tasty treats, do a food scatter on the ground, toss cookies away from you, etc. Do more than just hand your dog a treat. Make the food interesting!
  2. Send your dog away from you. This is a big one, and may seem counterintuitive. We often call our dogs away from fun things, and that will actually damage our recall over time. Most dogs would rather chase a squirrel or sniff a tree than eat a measly cookie. So reward your dog for coming to you, then send him away again. He will learn that coming to you will get him some cookies AND he’ll be able to return to his own fun, too. If you ever have to call him permanently away from something especially fun, make sure you follow that up with other fun things…don’t just stick him on a leash or in a crate–play a game, practice known skills, etc.
  3. Practice in lots of safe, fenced areas. Ask to borrow your friends’ or neighbors’ yards, or head to the dog park when no one is there. The more places you practice, the more reliable your recall will be.
  4. Use long lines. Long lines are for safety, they are not training tools. That said, they can provide peace of mind and great opportunities to practice recalls. Your job is to reward your dog for coming to you and to be sure you are practicing in places where he can be successful.
  5. Never correct your dog for not coming to you or pull him toward you with a leash. He may indeed come to you in that moment, but you won’t be building speed, drive, or desire to come to you. We want our dogs to barrel toward us, not creep up to us slowly in order to avoid punishment.
  6. Avoid calling your dog before doing something your dog perceives as unpleasant. This includes: you going to work, putting the dog in the crate, cleaning ears, doing toenails, giving a pill, etc. IF you need your dog, and you need to do one of those things, you can do one of two things. One–go get your dog, rather than call him. Two–build in a break between your dog coming and whatever you need to do. That could just be some time, say 10-15 minutes, or you can do another activity before the “icky” one.
  7. Finally, never stop rewarding your dog for coming to you. Because the recall is so important, I keep it on a one to one ratio of reinforcement. That means I always reward my dogs for coming, but the reward may not always be food. When we are walking off leash, I will reward with food periodically for checking in, but I will also sometimes just send them away again. Freedom is often just as rewarding as food, the important thing is to be clear–I acknowledge that they came back and verbally send them off again. Dogs love this game, and it helps them feel secure and confident about coming back.

Happy 10th Birthday to YBD

Well, ten years in, I’m still having fun playing with (and training) all of your dogs. If you’d asked me ten years ago if I would still be doing daily dog walking, I’d have said “no way!” Turns out, it’s still one of my favorite things, and I look forward to all of my “regulars” that I get to see every week. To celebrate this anniversary, we have a shiny new logo.2017Logo

Thanks for supporting this adventure…if I can do it, just think what y’all can do! Now, go play with your dogs ❤


7 Ways to Improve your Dog’s Walk

1. Let your Dog Sniff

We all know that our dogs have incredible noses. These noses are, shall we say, infinitely more powerful than our own. I’ve heard anywhere from 10,000 up to 1,000,000 times as strong… think about that for a moment. Why not let them use it to explore their environment? The walk is for your dog, is it not? If you get frustrated about stopping at every vertical surface, I hear you and I see you (all the time, dragging your dog away from mailboxes). Try taking a jog or walk by yourself at your own pace before you go out with your pup, and then treat your dog’s sniffapalooza as your cool down. Additionally, just think: if your dog is busy sniffing, he’s not barking, lunging, jumping on anyone, chasing cars, etc. Win, I’d like you to meet win. All that said, I use a well-trained, positively-reinforced “leave it” for things such as trash, poison ivy, and well-manicured flower beds. 

2. Go Off-Grid

Put your cell phone in airplane mode.  The walk is for your dog, no? Focus your attention in his direction.

3. Change the Scenery

A neighborhood walk is fine. Especially if that walk involves plenty of sniffing and time to read all the neighborhood dogs’ pee-mail. Buuuuuut, getting your dog out to new places is a darn good idea. As you may have heard me mention before, dogs learn contextually, so when you go somewhere new, they may seem to forget their skills. The more places your practice, the better your dog will learn to generalize their cues and behaviors. Not only that, but your dog gets new sights and smells, stuff to climb on, and things to jump over. Be creative! You don’t have to drive an hour outside of town to find a new walking spot. Try out a different neighborhood, a park you’ve never explored, or even meander around shopping centers or business parks (be mindful of signage, please). 

4. Keep your Distance

The walk is for your dog. Not someone else’s. If you encounter people or other dogs on your walk, keep your distance. Socialization is a big deal, and honestly, it goes sideways a lot of the time. This blog isn’t about that, so I won’t go too in depth on it. We should be exposing our dogs to dogs and people we know and trust, and I’m afraid random people and dogs just don’t meet that criteria. If you see any hints of reactivity or aggression, this is especially true. You have your dog out for your own reasons–don’t feel pressure to make your dog “say hi” to anyone. Obviously, if your dog loves new people, and is already responding appropriately and politely to them when out on walks, go for it. Just be mindful about it. A lot of dogs that LOVE to say hi to new people can quickly turn into dogs that bark and lunge at new people out of frustration during those instances when they don’t get to say hi. It’s all about balance. I want my dogs to know that just because there’s a person/dog/goat/chicken there, that doesn’t mean it’s there for you.

5. Loosen Up

When it’s safe, I walk my dogs on long lines that are 20-30 feet long. By safe I mean:

  • Not near a road (this is not generally a good idea for neighborhood walks)
  • Wide, open trails, with good line of sight
  • Open fields
  • Quiet times at places that don’t meet the above criteria (aka that usually busy park, but it’s snowing/raining/5am)

Walking multiple dogs on long lines is a bit of an exercise in patience (and detangling), so if you do have more than one dog, I recommend either walking them separately while you build up your line-handling skills. Alternatively, you can put just one dog on a long line while the other dog is on a 5-6ft leash. Then, you can switch who is on the long line during the walk, so that everyone gets a turn having more room to roam. Many people find their dogs don’t pull as much, and generally seem happier and more relaxed, on a long line. All dogs are different, and long line walks take a bit of adjustment for everyone, but it’s worth exploring if you haven’t.

Side note: I only ever use long lines with well fitting, non-restrictive, back-attach harnesses. One of my favorites is the BrilliantK9 (full disclosure, I am an affiliate, but it’s a darn good company! E-mail me for more info or help with sizing!). Pretty please, don’t use a long line with a regular collar, head collar, slip collar, or really any sort of “training collar.” When I say “long line” I mean just that, it’s a long leash or a rope, not a retractable Flexi-leash.

6. Use Food

I always take good, high value (tasty!) food on walks with my dogs. Now, I don’t always use it, but I’m always glad I have it. You can use food to reward behavior, of course, but it’s also a good emergency tool. Loose dog coming your way, throw a handful of cookies at him, and then feed your own dogs as you get some distance. Big Scary Thing happen? Fire engine, dumpster day, car alarm? Boom, drop a scatter of cookies for your pup to eat. Eating is a calming behavior, and pairing scary things with the act of eating is a gooooood thing.

Sometimes, if we’re in our neighborhood, and I know we’re doing an out & back route, I’ll drop cookies here and there *behind* us as we’re walking. The dogs get to find them on the way back. They don’t always find them (sniffing pee-mail and potential squirrel trails>food) but it’s the thought that counts.  

Another fun way to use food? Our neighborhood is pretty busy, and there are no cross walks, so while waiting to cross the street, I will scatter cookies in the grass for the dogs to find. Much more fun than just sitting!

7. Who is the Tour Guide?

The walk is for your dog. Lose the pack leader mentality. Really, it’s going to be okay, I promise! And if it’s not going okay, e-mail me, and let’s chat about it. Let your dog be your tour guide. Look at things from their perspective! Try to imagine where they would want to go, with no pesky human restrictions. One of my favorite things is coming up to a fork in the trail and letting my dogs decide which way we go. I often wonder why the heck they choose a given path, but unfortunately, my nose hasn’t caught up to theirs.

Wednesday Walkies!

IMG_8595Since a good part of my job is walking and exercising dogs, I’ve trained a LOT of dogs to walk politely on leash. Here are a few of my favorite walking tips:

  1. Walking multiple dogs? Use different colored leashes for each dog, that way, if things get tangled, you can quickly and easily tell who is who, and make sure you hang on to everyone. Personally, I don’t walk more than three dogs at a time, fewer if they are large and/or untrained. I can’t control the outside world and if an unexpected deer or horse (it’s happened!) shows up, I don’t want to fall on my face.


    Color coordinated leashes! These dogs are also all wearing Easy Walk harnesses.

  2. For dogs that aren’t trained to walking on a loose leash, yet, please use some sort of harness or, if necessary, a head halter. This is simple management. If your dog keeps practicing pulling, he will learn that it works! While you are working on your leash skills, using something to prevent most (if not all) pulling is hugely helpful. My favorites are EasyWalk harnesses (these connect in the front), Freedom harnesses, Gentle Leader headcollars, and Halti headcollars. These tools are not something I, personally, would be okay with using forever, but they are great ways of preventing pulling during initial training. And you can give it to someone else who needs it when you’re done with it, or donate it to a shelter. Once your dog is reliable on leash, I suggest switching to a simple, non-restrictive back-attach harness, such as the one Galley is wearing in the top photo. There are many great brands out there, but my favorites are the EzDog Quick Fit, Petsafe Surefit, and the Freedom harness (which has both a front & back attachment).


    The Easy Walk harness is a front attachment harness that works by turning your dog toward you if he/she meets the end of the leash.

  3. Use HIGH value rewards when you are first working with your dog on loose leash walking. For most dogs, particularly high energy, easily excitable, busy dogs kibble or dry cookies are not going to cut it. Even treats they would normally eat happily at home may get spit out! When your environment gets more interesting, we have be more interesting. Baked chicken, cut up turkey dogs, string cheese, even cheese in a can or cream cheese in a tube are all super high value treats. When your dog gets a little more experienced, you can start to phase in lower value goodies like commercial treats, cookies, and kibble.  stringcheese

If you are struggling with your dog on walks, it doesn’t have to be that way! Reach out for help, and we’ll get your dog on the road to recovery from pulling, even if he/she’s been practicing for years. There is always room for improvement, and your shoulders will appreciate it!