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


Another one of our feline family members has learned that nail trim time can be a very Good Thing!  You can see us in action here: Fear-Free Feline “Pawdicure”


Husbandry with any species shouldn’t be stressful.
Some common habits of grooming cats can get in the way of success:
♦️we ask too much.
♦️we don’t know when the cat is beginning to feel stressed.
♦️we proceed to quickly.
♦️we don’t allow choice.
♦️we haven’t built up trust.
♦️we forget to reinforce.
♦️we aren’t using reinforcers the cat prefers.
♦️we create over arousal.


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?

 Recommended Related Reading 

Let The Games Begin!

invitation PPG

Today is the “opening day” of a brand new, fun competition and you are invited!

Event Details

Who:  You! Your friends! Your family! Your colleagues! Your coworkers! And of course, your animal companions (pets)!

What:  The International Day of Celebration for Force Free Training & Pet Care

When:  Friday, January 17, 2014 – Saturday, March 15, 2014

Where:  In your own home, in the backyard, at the beach, in the mountains, in the forest, in the wetlands, in your neighborhood, at the pool, or at the park! Anywhere you can think of! This is an International Virtual Educational Event, so they possibilities are endless!

Why:  The community of force-free pet professionals and animal guardians recognize, value, and celebrate the positive effects and power of force-free animal training and pet care! We want to share that knowledge with the world and teach others that Force-Free is the way to be!

HostThe Pet Professional Guild

All profits from this event go to the Pet Professional Guild Advocacy Fund for PPG’s advocacy goals in 2014:

The Pet Professional Guild, the Association for Force-Free Pet Professionals (The PPG or The Guild), is a nonprofit member organization headquartered in Bonifay FL, USA. The PPG represents over 1600 members around the world.  The mission of PPG World Services is “Global News & Views on Force-Free Pet Care” and will serve as an advocacy forum for force-free dog training and pet care issues. The key advocacy goal of the PPG is to facilitate an ongoing conversation with pet owners, pet care professionals and industry stakeholders aimed at moving the pet industry forward toward better informed practices, training methods, equipment use and pet care philosophies. The Guild’s message will strive to build widespread collaboration and acceptance of force-free methods and philosophies consistent with its guiding principles.

If you are wondering what all of this means, here it is very simply; Force-Free is defined as:

No shock, No pain, No choke, No fear, No physical force, No physical molding, No compulsion based methods are employed to train or care for a pet.

Animals can be trained without fear, force, or intimidation. That includes ALL pets, ALL animals, ALL species, ALL the time!  Training can and should be FUN for everyone!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Participation in this global event is simple.  All you have to do is participate in any 30 minute Force-Free Fun Activity with your pet!  Take a walk or a jog, swim or hike, bike or skate, train and teach, but the idea is to spend 30 minutes of Force-Free Fun with your animal companion!  This can be anything and anywhere that you decide. Where do they love to go? What do they enjoy doing? What’s your favorite place to be with them?  Do it when and where it’s convenient for you!

Note: If you don’t have time to complete your chosen event all at once, you can split it up over several days.

force free fun training pet tricks

Photo Fun!

Participants are encouraged to submit photos showing what they did for their fun, chosen event. The photos will be judged on these three criteria:

  • Originality
  • Creativity
  • How much force-free fun the human and pet are having together (this one is strongly encouraged!) Fun is the key!

What’s In It For You!

Each participant will receive:

  • A special competitor medal for your companion animal!
  • A certificate to show off that you rocked the contest!
  • Entry to the fun photograph competition!
  • PRIZES!

Get a sneak peak of the awesome prize list here! And remember to check back as more goodies are added to the list!

Register today to help celebrate and educate others about this important event. Through education and celebration, we can help others learn the value and importance of force-free training and animal companion care methods.  Education and inspiration starts with you!  Won’t you join the fun, Force-Free revolution with us?

Note: The registration deadline is March 3rd. So be sure to add your name to the fun, force-free list today!

paw print
  • We welcome and encourage you to check out the pet owner resource section of The Pet Professional Guild website! You will find tons of helpful resources! You can also listen to a few of the PPG’s free podcasts on iTunes here.
  • If you are still wondering why our Pet Professional Guild has proclaimed An International Day of Celebration for Force Free Training and Pet Care, check out this video and our news release here!  
PPG Web Header
Please spread the word to everyone you know!  Download the event poster here and feel free to share it with your networks and community!

If you are interested in sponsoring the event or becoming involved on any level then please contact Niki Tudge at IFCC@PetProfessionalGuild.com


If you missed the event, don’t worry! We will have another event in February of 2015!!!

… Stay tuned and never miss another event by joining us at The Pet Professional Guild!

Will you become Force-Free All the time?
Will you become Force-Free All the time?

The Problem with “NO”

Tuesday’s Training Tip: The Problem with “NO”

There is nothing inherently wrong with telling an animal “no,” except that it doesn’t give them enough information. Instead of saying “no!”, show them what you want them to do instead. Animals don’t generalize; their behaviors are very specific, so we should be specific. For example, when the cat jumps on the counter, the dog jumps on a person, or the bird chews on something inappropriate, rather than saying “NO!” to the unwanted behavior, ask for another behavior such as “off”, “sit”, or “give”.

“No” is not a behavior. We should be asking for another behavior instead of the one that we don’t want to see.

Be clear in what you want them to do, rather than what you *don’t* want them to do. You will see faster results and everyone will be less frustrated!

Training Tips from The Cat

Training Tips from The Cat

Ask and It Is Given: Why Force-Free Is the Way to Go!

Rabbit Agility Has Become a Very Popular Sport!
Rabbit Agility Has Become a Very Popular Sport!

Why would you force someone to do something when you can just ask them politely?

This is what many animal trainers have been trying to teach the public (and our fellow “old school” trainers and colleagues for years). Thankfully, now we are seeing it happen in almost every species!

Rabbits are one of the many species to benefit from force-free training. Rabbits can be trained to do amazing things!  They are incredibly intelligent, clever, and engaging companion animals.  They are often underestimated.  As their guardians, it’s necessary to provide them with proper medical care, a proper diet, and daily exercise.  Some even exercise their rabbits with rabbit agility!  You can watch these Agility Rabbits in action here!

It’s also important that we teach our rabbits how to safely interact with you and the other animals in the house, and how to be trusting and well behaved. Force-free training is the answer to all of these goals.  However, as frisky and as playful as rabbits are, most do not enjoy being picked up or restrained.  Where do you think the phrase “Rabbit Kick” came from?  In order to maintain a relationship based on mutual trust, it’s important to train your bunny buddy with positive reinforcement.

Check out this video from Barbara Heidenreich at Bunny Training.  It’s a wonderful presentation of a relaxed rabbit getting her nails trimmed, willingly!  No force is needed!  These simple, effective training techniques can help you to maintain your bond, increase trust, and make simple tasks like nail trims fast, effortless, painless, and easy!

Training Tip:  The video demonstrated that by pairing one of the rabbit’s favorite things (head petting) with touching her back toenails, the guardian was able to make nail trimming a pleasant experience for everyone!

This same technique is how I conditioned our 4 cats, turtle, and dog to allow me to trim their nails. They are never restrained.  They do it willingly.  I ask, and they give!  Positive reinforcement training is all about making the process easy and enjoyable for the animal.  This helps to maintain a wonderful, trusting relationship between you and your companion animals. And it makes your job easier as their guardian!

Why force an animal to do something when you can ask?  Why break the bond and lose their trust by using force?  If a rabbit can be taught to offer her nails for trimming, you can teach your cat, dog, parrot, or pig to do the same!

Do you have any medical or behavioral success stories or training techniques that you would like to share? Please post your positive success stories in the comments below!

“Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.” ― Albert Einstein