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Q: We got a puppy a few months ago, and the breeder has offered us some very helpful advice, from socializing to feeding, training and more. One thing we'd never heard of, though: Rather than cutting her dogs' nails, she uses a hand-held Dremel grinding tool. This just seems weird to us, but she says it's easier on the dogs. What do you think? -- T.E., via e-mail
A: Keeping your dog's nails properly trimmed is more important than most people realize. Long nails tip the dog's foot back and can contribute to lameness, and overgrown nails, especially dewclaws (those nails up on the leg) can become so long that they curve around and dig into the flesh.
And yet, there are few things people and dogs like less than clipping nails. If you misjudge and hit the quick, it's a bloody, painful mess, even with styptic powder to stanch the bleeding. Hit the quick a couple of times, and suddenly you have a dog who'd rather run, scream or bite than have those nails clipped.
Grinding your dog's nails can indeed be easier. It's so popular that the makers of canine grooming supplies have come out with their own grinders in recent years.
If you buy a grinder made especially for dogs, it'll come with the right grinding head. Otherwise, choose a medium-grit sandpaper or stone tip for your Dremel or other general-purpose hand-held grinder. Both cordless and corded models seem to work just as well for this task, but the cordless may be easier for beginners to handle.
In the early stages of training, just let your dog see the grinder, and praise and treat. In a later session, turn the grinder on and praise and treat. Praise and treat for your dog progressively, allowing the grinder to get closer to a paw and to briefly touch a nail tip. The first time you grind -- which may be several sessions after the first introduction -- be happy with working a little with just one nail, and don't forget to praise and treat.
Be sure to either clip the hair of longhaired dogs or to hold it back so it won't get wound in the shaft of the grinder. (One tip is to slip an old nylon stocking with a hole for the nail over the paw to hold the hair from the grinding tip.) Support the dog's toe, but don't squeeze too hard. Hold the grinder against the nail for no more than a couple of seconds at a time to prevent heat buildup, and don't push the grinder against the nail -- just hold it there and let the grinder do the work.
Grind across the bottom and then carefully in from the tip of the nail. Just a little bit at a time is plenty. If you do this weekly, you'll be able to maintain short nails on your dog with ease. (If you do an Internet search for "grinding dog nails," you'll find a couple of well-done step-by-step guides with pictures.)
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