Still a Hero

Cali, a golden retriever, smiles happily and wears a colorful bandanna after her grooming.

Cali’s annual exam takes place in late June every year, but she’s only recently completed this year’s visit. Cali is a “hero,” one of 3,000 golden retrievers in the Morris Animal Foundation’s Golden Retriever Lifetime Study.

Cali’s Montana doc is not part of the study, but, fortuitously, we were in California in late June. Her beloved Sonoma vet did the exam. Everything seemed to be fine. Cali’s nails were long, for a change. She also needed to have a large section of her dewclaw removed, which provided an additional large sample. Cali obligingly provided more than enough hair and other biological specimens.

Then the study people lost her samples. Not all of them, but the packet that included the nail clippings, those precious and rare clippings.

They told me that I had to send more samples within four weeks.

I told them that there were no toenails to be clipped.

They granted me two additional weeks.

We drove back to Montana. I got the sample collection kit in the mail. It said I needed to have my vet do the collection. Seriously? I pick up poop several times a day. I can’t be trusted to collect that, trim some fur … and clip nonexistent nails?

They agreed to let me do the collection.

The stern letter threatened to kick Cali out of the study if we missed the deadline. This was serious. Cali’s life’s work was hanging, literally, by a toenail.

I checked her nails daily, deadline looming ever closer.

With about a week to go, I walked Cali around the corner to meet the groomer in our new neighborhood. She got lots of cookies and attention. The groomer thought she could get some clippings. We made an appointment.

Cali wasn’t too sure about this, but the cookies helped.

The nice groomer agreed to save the nail clippings. I left Cali in her capable (I hoped) hands.

A couple of hours later, I retrieved Cali, freshly washed, trimmed, and bandannaed — and that all-important baggie of nail clippings.

I collected the remaining samples and dropped it all off at FedEx.

A couple of days later, I got confirmation. We’d made it. Cali is still a hero.

Don’t Let This Happen!

Cali carries a newspaper
It’s easier to teach a puppy to retrieve than to teach her to let you trim her nails.

A headline a few weeks ago caught my eye: “PetSmart, groomer are sued in death of dog.” Obviously, this should never happen. Reading the article just made me sad, and angry.

The dog, Henry, a year-old dachshund, went to the groomer to get his nails trimmed. He emerged, bloody, with two broken ribs and a punctured lung, struggling to breathe. He died soon after.

The owners’ lawsuit seeks more than damages for their suffering and Henry’s. They want change. They want the state (it happened in California) to license groomers. Grooming is not regulated. And this was not an isolated incident.

I want change, too, but I’m not convinced that state regulation is the only or best answer. States are not doing a great job of preventing or punishing a lot of other cruel and horrific treatment of animals, including pets.

So, how can you prevent this from happening to your dog?

Most pet parents struggle with nail trims. It’s a tough sell with most dogs. I did everything by the book with both Jana and Cali: lots of gradual exposure, a ton of treats, and they never once got nicked. It worked with Jana, but not Cali. She still hates having her nails done. She’ll let me do it, but she’s not happy about it. It’s a lot harder to teach a dog to accept nail trimming than to teach her to sit on cue or even to pick up a newspaper, both of which Cali does beautifully.

But here’s the thing. Even though Cali does not like it, she doesn’t struggle. I get down on the floor with her, hold her paw firmly, and she lets me do it — then collects a very yummy treat after each paw.

I know that many dog moms are going to have someone else do the nails, but that’s even more reason to work on it. If the dog is not terrified, she won’t struggle, and the groomer won’t do … whatever that horrible groomer did to poor Henry.

Puppy classes should all include some basic grooming and conditioning to a nail trimmer or dremel-type file. Adult classes, too. Nail trimming is scary, especially the noisy dremel. Most dogs dislike having their paws handled. But the classes usually don’t even mention it. That’s too bad. But pet parents can do this on their own. Slow, gradual, exposure. Lots of encouragement and treats. The Whole Dog Journal has articles explaining step-by-step what to do. Or ask a trainer for help. You can do it at any age, but the earlier you start, the better.

And, if you do take your dog to a groomer, ask lots of questions. Try to find a place where everything is out in the open and you can see what they are doing to restrain dogs. Ask them how they restrain dogs. Do it for Henry. No dog should have to go through what he experienced.



Cool Cut Beats a Close Shave for Hot Dogs


Jana is looking spiffy and cool with her new summer haircut. I was careful to have just a trim done, though, mostly of her thick “feathers,” the long hair that golden retrievers have around their back legs. As you can see from her photo, she still looks like a golden. While it might be tempting to shave your dog to help her beat the heat this summer, don’t!

Dogs’ fur provides protection from the sun and, though it seems counter-intuitive, from the heat. The fur acts as insulation and is a part of each dog’s natural cooling system. It is also a barrier against sun exposure, protecting dogs’ skin from those harmful rays. Dogs can get skin cancer, just as we do — and if you live in a sunny climate or have a sun-worshipping dog like Jana, you might want to get some pet-safe sunscreen for her nose, belly, and other exposed areas.

Trimming long hair is OK, and frequent brushing is a great way to remove excess and loose hair. And there are other ways to cool your dog — a kiddie pool, a romp under the sprinklers, or a cooling mat, for example. Our dogs love ice — I call Cali the “tax collector” for her diligence in appearing out of nowhere to collect her cut every time I so much as look at the freezer door. If plain ice doesn’t do the trick for your dog, try some cool treats, like these or these, for stuffing Kong toys. Find more tips on keeping dogs cool here: The Uncommon Dog.

So, back to Jana’s new ‘do. (Before I shamelessly promote a local business, I’d like to mention that the Thinking Dog Blog never gets paid to endorse products or businesses!) While Jana was getting her stylish trim, Albee was enjoying a bath. We were at the Salty Dog, a cute (recently remodeled) do-it-yourself pet wash and grooming salon. I did not trim Jana myself, though. Owner Stephan will bathe or groom your dog if you make an appointment. His prices are reasonable, he uses wonderful, organic pet cosmetics, and the standard poodle who manages the place is a sweetheart. What’s not to like?