Wanna Get to Second Base? Go Slow and Steady, Babe.

 I’m in no hurry: the sun and the moon aren’t, either. Nobody goes faster than the legs they have.  If where I want to go is far away, I’m not there in an instant. ― The Collected Poems of Alberto Caeiro

Black cats_cat training

Are you a patient person?  Do you take your time with things? Do you want more than you need?

I am not very patient some days.  I rush into things sometimes, and my natural tendency is to get greedy when it comes to animal training.  But I have learned to go slow and to be patient.  I have learned to be grateful and satisfied with small successes.  I would like to share one of them with you.


My mentor and friend, Secret, teaching the sea lions how to paint
My mentor and friend, Secret, teaching the sea lions how to paint

Way back in the day when I was at the Audubon Nature Institute, one of my mentors (and my housemate) was the head animal trainer.  When I was making progress with an animal at work or at home she used to calmly tell me, “Don’t be a greedy trainer, Amy. Stop when you’re ahead.”

I always grunted when I heard that advice, but I knew she was right.  In fact, she was always right when it came to animal training.  She was one of those brilliant trainers that always had a solution to a problem.  She could create and maintain the most complicated chains of behavior. She was famous for creating long lasting bonds with every animal (and person) she worked with.  She always trained and taught without fear or intimidation.  And she was the trainer who make the greatest advances with any animal she worked with.  I learned so much from her.

Now decades later her advice still rings true when I am working with a client or with our animals at home. – especially cats.


If you wanna get to second base, let them set the pace. 

If you have lived or worked with cats you know that they set the pace.  If you have not worked with cats before, know this: When you decide to set the pace and push too fast you will fail.  You will both end up becoming frustrated and stressed.  You might even get injured in the process, too.  And then finally, you loose the cat’s trust.

It pays to go slow.

I like to think of going slow with cats as moving from first base to second base, and then eventually onto a home run. I set up our training sessions this way. First base might be the cat letting you hold his paw. Second base might be the cat letting you lift his paw, then touch his paw with nail clippers. Third base would be touching, holding, and then applying gentle pressure with the nail clippers to the actual nail. Home run is a full nail clip.

I’ll explain why I like to move through the bases slowly.

For over a decade I watched numerous veterinarians push my cats well past the point of no return.  One cat in particular, Mr. Beaux, would become so stressed at the vet’s office, he had to be netted (yes, caught in a net).  Then heavily sedated. They had to do this to even look at him.  I watched Beaux break free of leather muzzles, attack people, climb a metal wall (yes, you read that right) and knock heavy computers off counters in the examination room.

We don’t take that route at home, or at the vet’s office anymore.  I know better now.  Working with any animal should not be a wrestling match.

Now we go slow.  We let the animal set the pace. We let the animal say when they are done. And we make progress together while building trust.

I’ll show you how we do this in the short video.  But before you watch, I need to explain something:  Beaux lost all trust in people. No one could touch his ears, mouth, or feet after all of the many manhandling encounters at various vet’s offices. You couldn’t touch him in any of these areas without him becoming very aggressive.

I had to rebuild his trust.  This is how I did it. 

After several short, positive sessions like that, Beaux will now let me trim all of his nails while staying relaxed.  It’s something I never thought was possible!  By going slowly and letting Beaux set the pace I was able to build his trust.  By rewarding him for calm behavior with something he finds valuable and rewarding, he learned to enjoy the process and no longer feel threatened. By ending the session when he was done he was more willing to participate the next time.

A cat has absolute emotional honesty: human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings, but a cat does not.― Ernest Hemingway


Tips to Remember when you are first learning how to safely trim your cat’s nails at home:

  • GO SLOW!  It’s very tempting to want to move forward quickly when things are going well, but you will make far more progress by going slow and steady.
  • Set aside the temptation to get “greedy” and want to do more. Be happy with one tiny step that you make together! This way you can both enjoy the process.
  • By letting your cat set the pace you are gaining his/her trust.
  • By going slow, you learn to be respectful of your cat’s body language and what their comfort level is that day. Maybe the next time you can get 2 nails clipped!
  • It takes time to build trust, especially if you cat has been FORCED to have his/her nails trimmed in the past and it was traumatic for them!
  • Why rush the process when you can go further in the long run by building trust and creating a stress free, positive experience for both you and your cat?

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