Nail trimming can be quite stressful for you, your pet, and the person cutting the nails. I know from personal experience that this is something that should be quick and easy but can be a battle. Every 2 months I was fighting with my dog to let me cut her nails. They grow exceptionally fast and she is prone to getting her declaws caught. I decided one day that I was going to work with her to retrain this negative energy and make the experience better for the both of us. This took time, all together about 6 months and I continue to work with her still. However every time I go trim her nails I am so thankful I changed this experience.
How do I prevent my dog from developing a fear of nail trimming?
It’s best to begin dog training early in life. In addition to “sit” and “stay,” pups can learn to relax when their nails are trimmed. When petting your new pup, rub their feet and put pressure on their toes. Let them investigate the nail clippers. Next, clip the very tip off a nail while providing positive reinforcement with praise and treats.
My dog is already scared of having her nails trimmed. Is it too late?
Desensitizing older dogs to nail trimming takes time and patience. The process cannot be rushed. Monitor your dog’s response as you follow these steps and repeat as needed if your dog has difficulty along the way.
How can I help my dog so we can have successful, non-stressful nail trims?
- Get your dog accustomed to seeing nail clippers. Remember that this mechanical tool may be new to your dog or may be associated with past trauma. Act happy when you grab the clippers and give your dog a treat. Repeat this step several times a day for a couple of weeks. Your dog should quickly learn to associate the sight of the clippers with praise and treats. When she gets excited to see the clippers, move to step 2.
- Train your dog to allow paw handling. When your dog is relaxed, lightly touch their shoulder and work your way down to their paw. Use a soothing voice to keep their calm as you gently rub their paws. Then focus on the toes, giving each one a soft squeeze. Next apply gentle pressure to the nail itself. If your dog becomes scared or pulls back their paw, stop for a bit and continue only when she/he settles down. Treats may supplement verbal rewards but are not a substitute for them. Withhold both when the dog retracts their paw, but don’t scold their. Repeat this process several times a day.
- Open and close the clippers as you talk to your dog and offer a treat. Gradually decrease the space between dog and clippers without touching the dog with the device. When she/he is eager to hear the sound of the clippers and accepts the praise/treat, you are ready for the next step.
- Combine paw handling with the clippers. The goal here is to prepare your dog to tolerate the touch of the clippers. Handle their paw with one hand and open/close the clippers with the other hand then place them on the floor. Repeat the process gradually moving the clippers closer to your dog each time. If your dog stays relaxed in close proximity to the clippers, gently touch the clippers to one toe while talking in a soothing voice. Add a treat if you need to. If your dog stays relaxed, touch each toe with the clippers. If she/he becomes anxious or retracts their foot, take a break. Wait a while and try again with a gentler touch.
- Once your dog stays calm while you hold their paw, make the clipper noise, and touch the clippers to their foot, you are ready to tackle the actual nail trim. Hold their paw and gently grasp a single toe. Trim the very tip of the nail. Don’t trim too much off at first so you avoid exposing the quick. Cutting a dogs nails too short can be painful even if it doesnt result in bleeding. Reward your dog with praise and a treat after trimming each nail. Don’t insist on completing all 4 feet in a single session. Many dogs do better if trimming is divided into smaller increments. Aim to trim one or two nails followed by a break.
- Sharpen the clipper blades regularly. Dull blades can mean painful trimming.
With patience and persistence, most dogs learn to accept and even look forward to nail trimming; however, if your dog shows signs of extreme fear or anxiety such as trembling, excessive drooling, panting, growling or snapping, it’s best to consult MVH or your veterinarian. Pushing the issue could amplify your dog’s fears and make the situation worse.
Also, avoid scolding your pet if they pulls their paw back or exhibits fear. Punishment may suppress their resistance to nail trimming, but may serve to increase the dog’s fear which won’t solve the problem in the long run. The goal is to desensitize the dog to nail trimming. If you have any problems or questions with nail trimming and your dog and would like to discuss this further please call Meadowlands Veterinary Hospital at 201-646-2008. Also check out our video posted on our facebook page at @Meadowlandsvet1.
This client information sheet is based on material written by: Lynn Buzhardt, DVM