Chihuahua performs two paws up with a lemonade stand.

In one of our recent articles, we talked about how to teach your chihuahua to use a scratch board. In this article, we’re covering an important prerequisite you’ll need in order to teach your pet how to trim his back nails—standing on a stool or other platform with front feet on and back feet off.

Your dog will need to be able to stand on a platform like this so he can use his back nails to scratch the scratch board. This article is aimed at teaching you how to put this behavior on command.

Although the scratch board is the reason why we’re posting this skill next, it actually has a lot of applications in real life. It’s great for taking cute photos of your pet, a needed skill for sports like doggy Parkour, and it can help teach your pet hind end awareness.

Tools required:

Loaded clicker (or voice command)

Stool or other low platform

Treats

How to teach your dog Two on, Two Off

In a distraction free environment, lure your dog onto the stool with a treat. As soon as he has both feet on the target stretching to get the treat, click and reward. Most chihuahuas are used to putting paws up on knees, chairs, and other items to get a better view, so this activity comes naturally to them.

If your dog does not want to put his feet on the stool, try a lower platform. Sometimes hidden back, hips, or joint pain can cause a dog to be reluctant to put their feet on a target. If the dog refuses even a low stool, take your dog to a vet for evaluation to make sure it is not pain related.

If your dog won’t put his front feet on even a low stool and it is not pain related, you can start by having your dog stand with two feet on a carpet and two feet on tile, or other transition, and gradually raise up the platform from there. This will help your dog clue in that it is his feet you want to do something with. You can then move from there to standing on a thin book, and then try again with the stool.

If your dog jumps up with all four feet, don’t click. Let them hop down and try again. Click only for two paws on.

Putting it on command

When you’re willing to bet $5 your dog will put their feet up on the stool when you ask, it’s time to put it on command. Now when you lure them there, use your command word. We use “up.”

Continue to lure your dog into the two paws up position and say the word for a session or two, and then begin to fade the lure. Out of 10 rounds of asking for “Up” lure once, then don’t lure. If he jumps up at the word up, you know he now associates the word up with standing on the platform.

The next session reduce luring by another instance, and then another, until you don’t lure. You can still click when he performs the command and give them a treat after he’s done it, but don’t guide his nose up there with the treat.

Extending the command

Your dog may voluntarily stay in the two paws up position a few seconds, but now you want him to stay up there longer. Once your dog is solid on getting up there on command, wait a second before clicking. If he gets off before that second is over, no reward.

This takes a bit of playing around. If your dog gets off more than half the time before your pause is over, it is too long. The goal is to let him know that the click is still coming, he just needs to wait a little bit longer.

It helps to vary how long the pause is. In a round of 10 sessions, try clicking once right way, once after a second, right away, two seconds, one second, etc. the variation will help keep them listening so they know to pay attention until they get that click.

Teaching a “break” command

Gradually build up on how long your dog can delay, making sure he is successful 90% of the time. Once your dog is reliable at holding Two Paws Up for a few seconds, you can teach your pet not to leave the pose until you give them a verbal release.

Give your dog the Up command and wait the few seconds. As you are clicking to reward it, say “Break!” and toss a treat away from the stool. Your pet will get off the stool to go get the treat.

Pair the word “break” with getting off the stool for several sessions. Now it’s time to test the waters. Put the dog up on the stool, wait a few seconds, and say break without throwing a treat. Did he get off? Click and reward.

If he did not, continue pairing the word with getting off the stool.

Get pickier

Now your dog should have a reliable understanding of getting on the stool and getting off the stool. If your dog can stay on the stool for 10 seconds, it’s long enough to teach him other behaviors while on the stool, or once learning is complete, get a few scratches in with his back feet. It doesn’t have to be a very long time.

Keep building up the time by delaying the release a little bit longer—but now don’t reward if your dog gets off the stool before he hears break. If your dog ever dips below a 75% reliability, back off on requirements. Make the time shorter, etc. so that he is almost always the winner.

Once your dog can hold this pose reliably until they are released (within a reasonable time) you can go on to teaching them how to trim their own back nails.

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