Nail trimming is often one of the scariest parts of the dog grooming process for the dog, but it’s also a part that is critical for the health of any pet, whether they have long hair or short hair. If you have a dog that is scared of having his nails trimmed, there are several steps that you can take to help make the process easier and safer for both of you.
- Get the dog used to having all 4 paws and nails touched and manipulated. If you can’t touch the paws, or, more importantly, the nails, you can’t trim them very easily. Start small, just “holding hands”, and move on to being able to touch between the toes and nails, top and bottom. Note: be sure to be gentle when you’re moving the toes around so that you don’t reinforce his idea that having his paws handled is a bad or painful experience!
- Reward the behavior that you want - and be careful that you are not rewarding the behavior you don’t want. This seems obvious, but sometimes it’s tempting to resort to distraction and bribery when we’re trying to get something done quickly. If you are using treats or petting your dog as you’re handling his feet, make sure that you’re not reinforcing him when he is attempting to jerk his paw away, struggling, or offering to growl or bite. If, however, your dog willingly lets you pick up his paw or rub between his toes, by all means, let him know that that was what you were looking for with a reward.
- Don’t be afraid to experiment. For some dogs, the “snap!” sound of the nail clippers is the most terrifying part of the process. For these dogs, doing the entire nail trim with a nail grinder makes things quick and painless. Other dogs may tolerate the cutting of the nails but don’t want the vibration of the grinder anywhere near their paws. Decide on what your true goal is - getting the nails shortened quickly and safely, teaching the dog to tolerate strange things, or both - and proceed accordingly.
- Take it slow when you start to trim. Once you have established trust, trim just a small amount off the tips of the nails to begin. While quicking a nail does occasionally happen and is not an emergency, you want to be sure to be as gentle as possible while the dog is still unsure about having his paws handled and nails trimmed. You can always take more length off next time!
- Seek professional help. Professional groomers are trained to handle all sizes and personalities of pet for nail trims. Find a groomer that you are comfortable with, and let him or her know that your pet is scared of nail trims. Many groomers can schedule time to help work with your pet to get them through their fears. If the dog is very scared of nail trims, you may want to also find a dog trainer to help you build confidence and train your dog.
Even though trimming nails is an important part of dog grooming, stress and worry will only make a scary process worse. Try to remember that, for the dog, giving a person complete control of their paw to possibly injure it doesn’t seem like a safe idea at all. As the human, it’s important that you take the time to establish trust with the dog; a little time up front spent on developing that bond will save you lots of time later struggling with the nail trim!