Interview with Lori Nanan

Lori Nanan on training dogs to love nail trims and why slowing down is good for us.

Interview with Lori Nanan, pictured, about helping dogs love nail trims

By Zazie Todd, PhD

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Recently I wrote about desensitization and counter-conditioning in dog training, an important technique to help fearful dogs. Lori Nanan’s course Nailed It! shows people how to use this technique to teach dogs to love having their nails trimmed. I caught up with Lori to find out more.

Zazie: Why did you decide to write the course?

Lori: It started a few years ago. I had a dog, Rocco, who for his entire life nail care was pretty traumatic. I was never able to make it right and it really kind of ate away at me for most of his life. And when we brought Hazel home, I was sort of determined that that would never be the case for any other dog of mine. So I guess in 2014, 2015 I wrote a blog where I laid out steps that I followed in a training to plan to get Hazel comfortable with my handling of her legs and paws and restraining for toes, getting her to love a nail file – I actually used a nail file at that time – and then being comfortable and relaxed with me filing her nails. And the blog was very successful. I got lots of feedback from lots of people that they were actually able to use it, which was fantastic.

And then at the beginning of 2017 I suddenly got this bug in my ear that I had to take on the next level of challenge which was in my mind using a Dremel. And so I bought a Dremel and it literally sat in the box for about 2 months because I was so afraid to try to use it on her. Then I buckled down and got myself comfortable with it and had success with it. And my initial thought was ‘Okay well I’ll write another blog’. But then the more I thought about it the more I thought there was a bigger opportunity to get this particular information and related information out to people. So I decided to create the course.

"Slowing down is as good for us as it is for the dogs."

As I was creating the course, I had different people testing different implements, taking their own dogs through a plan, just to make sure that it actually did translate as well from nail files to Dremel and then clippers as well. And just like with the blog, these people were able to successfully maintain their dog’s nails and gain an understanding of things like desensitization and counter-conditioning and classical conditioning, and why I felt it was important for a lot of dogs and help people to use those methods rather than operant conditioning and say give me a paw, I clip your nail, you get a treat. That’s the quick and dirty of the whole thing, which has been way more successful than I ever would have imagined. I knew that people had this problem, I just had no idea that there were so many of us.

Zazie: I’ve seen the course materials and it’s fantastic so I’m not surprised so many people are finding it helpful. Why do you think nail trims are difficult for so many dogs?

Lori: There’s a couple of reasons. One of them is an intrinsic evolutionary biology thing about restraint. A lot of dogs don’t like being restrained and that has to do with wild ancestors being prey animals, being injured in the course of being predators, and if you lose a leg, guess what you’re not going to be able to chase prey any more. And that means you’re going to die, you’re not going to be able to reproduce and continue your lineage. So there’s that, that’s just sort of in there in the dog.

Many dogs have bad experiences. We’ve for decades and decades performed procedures on dogs without their consent and sometimes they’re painful, sometimes they’re simply uncomfortable, sometimes the dog isn’t comfortable with the stranger or the person doing it and the procedure might be okay but then they make an association between the two and things can go downhill. One bad experience can cause a lifetime of negative reactions to things.

My Rocco, the very first time I clipped his nails as a puppy I cut the quick, which is the blood supply through the nail, and it was traumatic for both of us. He was definitely afraid of letting anybody come near his paws after that and I was definitely afraid to do it because it was awful. And so it becomes charged for people if they have had that bad experience doing it themselves on their dogs, or had a bad experience seeing a veterinarian do it for their dog. And that one bad experience can really ruin it for a dog for life, unless we get to work in a way that is systematic, gradual, granular, and step-by-step to help them feel comfortable again.

Zazie: You said that you thought it was more appropriate to use classical conditioning rather than a DRI in this case. Can I ask you why you think that?

Lori: I think I’ve seen it probably hundreds of times at this point, where people say ‘My dog used to be comfortable with giving me a paw, me clipping, and then giving a treat’. But I think that for some of the reasons I explained a couple of minutes ago, that becomes too expensive for the dog. The payoff of a treat for a clip is often just not enough, because they’re probably truly not comfortable, they’re just doing it because dogs do those sort of things. They’re pretty good sports in a lot of cases, they go along with things maybe because there’s a payoff but maybe just because they’re good sports and docile and they put up with a lot from us. But I’ve seen it time and time again where people will say my dog used to be comfortable with that, give paw, get clipped, get treat, or my dog used to be comfortable using a scratch board and then getting a treat, and eventually the payoff just is not enough for the dog.

Zazie: So it’s too hard really. One of the things that you focus on in the course materials is that people need to have a 1:1 ratio. I was wondering if you would mind explaining for blog readers why that’s so important.

Lori: It’s really, really, important when we’re doing things like classical conditioning or counter-conditioning or desensitization that we keep the criteria clear for the dog. So we do the thing and this is what happens. We really want the dog to be comfortable with the whole process. It’s a way of ensuring that the dog is comfortable with the whole process that we’re not pushing past where we are currently just because we feel like it. It’s sort of a contract that we’re making with the dog. And any time we break that contract or don’t keep that clear, we weaken the association that we want to make. Which is, touching your arm is not scary, touching your foot is not scary, because we’ve done it in a way that keeps you comfortable every step along the way.

Zazie: Another thing that I really like is you say, you can never go too slow or be too generous. Do you think that’s a message that people find easy or difficult to get?

Lori: In our human world, we are very used to instant results. We’re very used to getting information at the touch of a button, we can make purchases at the touch of a button, we have pizza delivered to our house in 30 minutes or less. We’re used to things happening fast, fast, fast. And so when we ask people to slow down and do things at the dog’s speed, yes it’s absolutely hard.

"We’ve for decades and decades performed procedures on dogs without their consent"

For a lot of us, it’s not a way that we’ve always interacted with our dogs. We just kind of take for granted that they’re going to go along with things. And slowing down is as good for us as it is for the dogs. It helps us be more mindful of what we’re doing and it helps us learn how to pay attention to what’s happening for our dogs. For some reason, I see it all the time and I’ll be honest even with my own pups, we like giving dogs treats, we’re pretty generous with that. But when it comes to working with dogs, people tend to get a little stingy. Being generous for me means okay we’re going to upgrade, we’re not going to use kibble we’re not going to use commercial grade treats from the grocery store. We’re going to use something super delicious that the dog really likes and we’re not going to be stingy about it because this thing matters and that’s what helps the dog make the association between the process and enjoying it.

So I want people to slow down to bio-speed a little bit and be more observant of what’s happening with their dog, and be generous throughout the process because we really need for these associations to be strong. And we also want the dog to like processes like this. In cases that go beyond nail care, like veterinary care, we need the dog to like the process in order for it to go smoothly and successfully.

Zazie: I also wanted to ask you about different ways of clipping nails because you have plans for the nail file, Dremel and clippers. Do you have a personal preference now for one of those?

Lori: I have to admit that based on my experiences with my Rocco years ago, I’ve not been able to get over my clipper fear. So that’s definitely the lowest on my list. I am in awe of people who are comfortable with clippers and I give them major props for that. For me the margin of error with clippers is much bigger. I think the opportunity to accidentally clip a dog is bigger with clippers. The Dremel goes quicker than the nail file, but for me I like the nail file. I use a Dremel currently. Every once in a while I switch back to a nail file. I feel like I do the best job with a nail file and I think it’s the easiest for people to get comfortable with, even for big dogs. I used the nail file on Hazel for 2 years before I switched. You can do a dog’s nails sustainably with a nail file so the Dremel is definitely quicker but it doesn’t have to be just a starter tool. I was able to do it for 2 years. I just bought bulk files from Amazon and worked on Hazel’s nails about 2 times a week. Which is about what I do now, I try to fit in to the schedule. Either a nail file or a Dremel are the easiest for people, and I do recognize that I have a little bit of a bias there.

Zazie: People can find Nailed It! on but I heard that you’ve got some other courses in the works, so what else can people look forward to finding there?

Lori: We currently have a course out with Malena DeMartini called Separation Anxiety: Mission Possible. Malena has written a book on separation anxiety, she’s the expert and she travels the world speaking about it. We also have another course called Pestering Pooches with my friend Kristi Benson which is all about teaching dogs not to jump on guests when they come in the house, not to pester and bug people while they’re eating, and it’s super fun. Kristi’s got a fantastic sense of humour and a fantastic way that she presents information. I’m actually taking Hazel through all of the plans because for her entire life with us so far we’ve kind of allowed her to jump on people because she was afraid of people when we first brought her home and now she loves them. And so we want that to be the way that things are but she could probably be a bit more polite about it. So we’re going through the training plans and it’s actually been a lot of fun. And then we’ve got some other things in the works but they’re a bit further down the line right now.

Zazie: Tell me about your pets.

Lori: Hazel is a 7 year old. She’s considered a pit bull mix, she’s really just a bunch of terriers and bulls that put together have a little bit of a blocky head. Her blocky head is not as blocky as many other pit bull type dogs. We adopted her from Philadelphia Animal Care and Control and she is just wonderful. I call her famous. She’s the face of a lot of things that I do, a great dog for training and just a lot of fun. She really loves people so she’s a joy.

And then we have a cat named MooMoo who my husband adopted the day before we met, about 11 years ago now. And MooMoo is a very sweet and personable cat who happens to not like other cats. So we’re a one cat, one dog family at this point. And I’ve actually trained MooMoo to sit for a verbal cue which feels like a massive accomplishment for me because cats are different from dogs. She works for dried minnows, she likes those.

Zazie: Nice! Thank you so much for your time.

About Lori Nanan:
Lori Nanan is the owner of, a company which creates online courses for dog owners and professionals, as well as marketing and support services for reward-based dog trainers. She also works for The Academy for Dog Trainers as a project manager and is the founder of the nonprofit Your Pit Bull and You. Lori lives in New Hope, PA. with her husband, Paul, their cat MooMoo and a dog, Hazel, who is the love of their lives and serves as inspiration for everything they do.

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