Take the Stress Out of Trimming Your Dog’s Nails
Q. How can I teach my dog to let me trim her nails? She hates having it done, and it’s so stressful for both of us that we often forgo it entirely.
A. Your dog isn’t alone in her distaste for nail trims. Many dogs cower or flee the room at the mere sight of clippers. The trim process can be even more of a struggle if the dog flails, growls or attempts to bite. Many pet parents opt out of trims altogether or defer trims to the groomer or veterinarian. But a fear of nail trims seldom goes away on its own and can actually increase in intensity as time goes on, making it difficult even for a professional to trim a frightened dog’s nails without the help of an extra person, the use of a muzzle or, in severe cases, sedation. It’s best to start teaching your dog to relax during nail trims when she’s a puppy, but if you’re dealing with an adult dog who already fears the process, it’s not too late to arrange a training intervention. There are different elements to trims that pets may dislike: being restrained, having a paw touched, the clipper sound and the feeling of a nail being clipped. In addition, a bad past experience — such as getting the quick clipped — can make future nail trims more difficult for you and your dog.
It is important to start with a clean slate. Dogs often have a negative association with clippers that have been used in the past, so switching to a new pair of clippers that is distinctly different from the old pair gives you and your dog a fresh start. You can opt for a pair of clippers with a different look or choose a completely different type, such as a Dremel-like clipper with a motorized file. When you first introduce your dog to the new clippers, have a gigantic puppy party the moment she sees them. Take the clippers out from behind your back or somewhere hidden, and as soon as your dog sees them, immediately begin rewarding with ample treats. Then put the clippers away and stop the flow of treats. Repeat as many times as it takes for your dog to understand that the presence of the clippers means that good things are going to happen.
Take It Slow
In a separate session, train your dog to allow you to touch her paws. Begin slowly and keep your dog relaxed; initially, this may mean only a light touch on your dog’s shoulder. Slowly progress while rewarding relaxation at each step. Either treat your dog yourself with something special like licks of peanut butter from a spoon, or have someone else feed her treats. Work down the leg toward the paw as long as your pooch remains relaxed. Once you are able to touch her paw area while she stays relaxed, progress toward holding her paw in your hand. Next, work toward touching her paw pads under her toes with your other hand and eventually touching her nails with your fingers. If she is still relaxed, add in a little pressure as you touch the nails, which will simulate pressure during trims.
Once your pooch is readily allowing her nails to be touched, use one hand to hold her paw and another hand to use objects, such as the eraser end of a pencil, to touch your canine’s nails. When she is comfortable with various objects touching her nails, use the new clippers to gently tap the ends of her nails without doing any clipping. If your dog remains comfortable and relaxed, place the clippers over the nail without clipping. Reward your dog after each nail as long as she stays relaxed. The next step is to get your dog used to the clipper sound. Stand away from your dog and squeeze the clippers in your hand until they make a sound. If you are using a mechanical tool, turn it on and treat while it is running; stop the flow of treats when you turn it off. The goal is to pair the sound of the clippers with a reward so that it is associated with something good happening. Next it’s time to combine holding your pup’s paw and the sound of the clippers. Hold your dog’s paw as you were previously doing, but this time hold the tool next to the nail and make the sound it will make when you actually do trim. For instance, hold the paw and tighten the clipper as if you were actually trimming the nail, but only clip next to the paw without actually touching it. If using a mechanical tool, hold the paw and turn the tool on next to the paw; be careful not to get your dog’s hair caught in the tool (hold it far enough away or use a mechanical tool with a cover). If at any step your dog becomes uncomfortable, go back a couple of steps and slowly progress toward using the clippers.
Now You’re Ready to Clip Her Nails
Once your dog is able to stay relaxed while you hold her paw and make the clipper noise near her, it’s time to do the trim. Hold her paw as you were previously doing and clip one of the dog’s nails, being sure to get only the very end of it as to avoid clipping the quick. Reward amply for your dog staying relaxed as you trim one nail, then take a break and come back later to do another nail. Once your dog is relaxed enough to let you trim one or two nails, you can gradually start trimming more nails in each session. If your dog is still resistant to having her nails trimmed, talk with your vet or your groomer about strategies for restraining her. And be sure to share your training process with anyone who trims your pooch’s nails to ensure your pet continues to have a positive experience with nail trims.