Nail trims are feared by many dogs and owners. Not only do a lot of pups fight against being restrained, but if the owners accidentally cut off too much, their nails will bleed and hurt. Over time, dogs become more and more apprehensive and many owners completely give up cutting their nails.
However, it does not have to be that way! With the right approach, you can have your dog accept nail trims.
Why do you need to trim a dog’s nails?
Nails help dogs turn tightly (especially when running fast), navigate uneven ground and prevent slipping. While the nails and claws of wild animals get worn down by their daily activities, the nails of domesticated animals need to be trimmed regularly. Our pet dogs do not get anywhere close to enough exercise that their nails would get worn down enough naturally.
(This by the way does not only apply to dogs – horses also have to see a farrier, and other pets such as cats or even rabbits need to have their nails clipped, too.)
If a dog’s nails grow too long, they start to curve between the floor and the paw. This rocks the dog’s weight to the back of the paw and alters his stance. You can think of it as wearing reverse high heels! Over time, this changed stance leads to muscle imbalances, discomfort, and a higher likelihood of injuries.
Having short and well-maintained nails is crucial for your dog’s wellbeing!
#1. Trim your dog’s nails when he is tired
You should always wait until your dog is worn out and tired before attempting to cut his nails. Don’t set out to cut the nails of a dog who has just taken a long nap, or who was in his crate while you went to work. The more energy your dog has, the more likely he is to fight the nail trim and you!
Instead, choose a time when your pup has had plenty of exercises and is ready to nap. After a long walk, a romp at the park, or an agility training session is a good time to trim nails. The more relaxed your dog already is, the easier the manicure will be.
#2. Set realistic goals
Do not set out to trim all of your dog’s nails at once. You might have even noticed that your pup holds still for the first few nails and only then becomes agitated and fights you.
Rather than trying to get them all done it once, break down the task. It is smart to only strive to trim one or two nails per session, with sessions a few times a week. That way, you can reach your goal, your pup does not get too worked up, and you get more frequent practice.
#3. Distract in any way you can
When trimming nails, everything is allowed. You can bribe and distract your dog in any way you can think of. Does he have a favorite treat? Is there a human food he really likes? Maybe pizza crust, whipped cream, or hotdogs? Great – have a helper feed him while you trim his nails.
Some owners falsely believe that they should not distract their dog with food – but that’s not true! You should do whatever it takes for your dog to be reasonably calm and happy during your manicure.
#4. Try dremeling your dog’s nails
Most owners start out with the traditional nail clippers. They cut the nail similar to human nail clippers. This works well for thin nails (commonly seen in smaller breeds) and light nails. For dark and thick nails, a nail grinder can work much better.
If you want to try out a grinder, make sure to watch a video first or have a professional groomer show you how to use it. Using them is a bit less intuitive than using clippers.
Grinders should be run at low-medium speeds (around 8,000 rpm). They have the advantage of being much safer for dogs with dark nails, as you are not as likely to hit the quick (the bundle of nerves and blood vessels which runs through the nail).
#5. Have someone else try trimming your dog’s nails
Dogs are very situational learners and they associate certain situations with certain behaviors. They typically react much more intensely to their owner trying to clip their nails than to someone else.
It might well be that your dog does a lot better when you have a groomer, vet tech or even a friend trim his nails. Because he does not have a long history of fighting that person during nail trims, chances are he will accept it easier and be much better for them.
#6. Try a lick mat
We mentioned using special treats further up – a variation of this idea is to use a so-called “lick mat”. These are silicone mats that have all kinds of little indents and are used to spread food that the dog will lick off.
Licking is a very calming activity for dogs. If your dog gets a lick mat with some peanut butter or spray cheese, chances are he will be so focused on licking that he barely notices the nail trim.
You can use this technique also for any other anxiety-related issue your dog displays.
#7. Don’t give up
Many dog owners eventually give up on nail trims because their dogs are so difficult. Do not do that! The less frequently you trim his nails, the worse your dog will become. If you only clip your dog’s nails every 4-8 weeks, he will get to know it as a rare and horrible experience.
On the other hand, clipping nails every week will show your dog that it is just a part of everyday life. Do not give up on doing nails – it is crucial for your dog’s wellbeing. If you keep at it, he will soon become more tolerant and accept his manicures.