How to Teach Your Dog to Use a Scratchboard
You’ve built a size-appropriate nail scratchboard, and now it’s time to teach your dog how to drag her front nails across it. You’ll need a clicker, lots of yummy treats (about the size of a pea), scratchboard and a room with a door.
Room With a Door
During the beginning stages, choose a small room with a door for dog training sessions. Before starting a dog training session, click and treat your dog for walking into the room and close the door behind you. By closing the door, you’re keeping your dog with you while minimizing distractions (e.g. movement around the house). Usually, I use our bathroom so my dogs associate it with fun instead of bath time. 🙂
This is not the torture room. This closed room means choice and fun, as your dog can decide to not participate. Remember, choice is a powerful reinforcer–sometimes even more so than food!
Placement of Scratchboard
After a few trials and errors, I discovered maximum nail filing when placing the scratchboard at a 45-degree angle to the ground. At this angle, your dog files the bottom portion first and then the middle and top of nail, forming a nice rounded and smooth nail. When keeping the scratchboard flat on the ground, I noticed a blunter bottom portion instead of a rounded nail tip, which seemed to grow out faster.
First Training Sessions
Goal: Positively introduce your dog to scratchboard.
Gather needed supplies, bring your dog into your chosen room, close the door and have a seat on the floor. Place treats on the seat of a chair before beginning each session. Basically, treats are kept up high so you can easily reach while keeping your dog from self snacking. Next to your treats, place the scratchboard. Placing the board on the floor means “let’s scratch at the board” to your dog. Plus you don’t want to miss any nail drags.
- Place bottom of board on floor and leave top against your leg. The front should be facing your dog.
- When your dog looks at, walks toward or touches her front paw on the board, click and toss her a treat.
- Usually, looking at and walking toward the board happens during your first training session. Your dog is learning that the board means something so she’s going to investigate, which you will heavily reward.
- Practice 5-10 times and end training session.
Paw on Board
Goal: Teach dog to touch paw to board.
- Settle in chosen room, and set up treats and scratchboard.
- Place board on ground with top portion leaning against your legs. Get ready. When the board is in place, this gives your dog the green light to start offering paw movements.
- Click and treat paw touches (either paw or both) even if for a nanosecond.
- After 5-10 treats, end training session.
If Dog Walks Away During Training Session
This can happen. Think of it as a temperature check of your training session. If your dog walks away, there are a few things going on:
- Your dog is confused. She’s not sure what you’re asking her. Take a step back and click/treat for looking, walking toward and touching the scratchboard. Your dog should think: “When I touch this board with my paw, I hear a click and get a treat.”
- Your treats are boring. Hey, your dog chooses what she works for just like us. So find treats your dog loves and use in next training session.
- Too many distractions: Turn down the TV, close blinds or play soft music to drown out loud sounds.
- Up your rate of reinforcement: Ideally, you should be clicking and treating every 5-10 seconds. I know your dog is offering behaviors in that short time. If you’re not noticing these behaviors, you’ll be shocked at what you missed. 🙂