Trimming dogs’ nails isn’t the dog equivalent of a human’s trip to the salon.
The dog doesn’t understand what’s going on. He probably doesn’t like a stranger messing with his paws. And he definitely doesn’t want any part of those scary clippers. Much less that awful-sounding grinding machine.
Dogs don’t speak conversational English and don’t understand when you say:
- “Hold still and it won’t hurt.”
- “It will go faster if you don’t move.”
- “You’ll feel so much better with shorter nails.”
- “I’m not going to hurt you!”
- “Stop it!”
- “Don’t move!”
- “Knock it off! Nobody’s hurting you!”
But our dogs need short nails. There are very few of us who take our dogs on enough pavement-based walks to keep them “naturally” sanded down.
So how can we make it less traumatic for everyone?
Familiarity breeds acceptance, not contempt.
Lots of puppy advice says “Play with your puppy’s feet to get him accustomed to his paws being handled.” Great advice, except we’ve never met anyone who thought it worked. Dogs know the difference between sitting on the couch watching TV and messing with his paws and having the nail clipper handy.
Part of it could be that we tense up, knowing that our dogs can be resistant to having their nails done. Dogs can sense our tension. They may not know exactly what’s causing it, but if you think something awful’s about to happen, they think so, too!
Rather than planning to “do your dog’s nails,” have a plan for teaching your dog to accept having a “mani/pedi.”
If you use a clipper, have it next to you while you’re watching TV and play with it as your dog is next to you. Open and close it. Pretend to use it on yourself. Let your dog sniff it. And put it aside. Do it at intervals until your dog ignores it.
If you’re using an electric grinding tool (like a Dremel), do the same thing. Let your dog see it, sniff it, become accustomed to it. Turn it on for a second, then off. Play with it and let it be part of the scenery. You’re sending your dog the message that it’s not particularly important, and definitely not a cause for anxiety.
Let whatever tool you’re using touch your dog’s paw. Don’t attempt to cut or grind the nail at that point. Just let it get close enough. And put it down. Get your dog used to every stage of the process gradually: seeing it, hearing it, touching it, using it.
Keep to the gradual introduction as long as you can. Don’t try for all the nails – be happy if you get one done. Have treats ready to reward for any stage that’s a bit farther than you got before.
Trimming dog nails is always easier with two people; one to hold the dog while giving treats, and the other to do the trimming or grinding. But you can do it yourself if you’re patient.
Don’t get frustrated
If you feel yourself getting frustrated – let it go. There’s always another time.
We’ve all seen the videos of children getting their first haircuts. Some are rock stars and have a wonderful time. Others believe they’re being tortured by monsters from the depths of hell. Some dogs are cool, calm, and collected. Others will squirm until the task becomes impossible.
But if you take is slow and steady, your dog will learn to allow nail trims.
We use a grinder to do our dogs’ nails. We get together on Sunday mornings to do all 66 dog nails in the house (Torque has dew claws.) About once a month we do 86 nails (the Bearded Dragon has five toes on each foot).
Two of our dogs are rock stars. Simon’s (Boston Terrier) been unfazed by the process from the get-go. He’s one year old. Tango (10-year old Brussels Griffon) also couldn’t care less – he takes a nap. Torque (5-year-old French Bulldog) fusses a bit – he exercises his twitch muscles.
Booker (7-year old Boston Terrier) used to be tolerant. Until Fran got Simon and he regressed to the point where we had to retrain him completely. We went back to the beginning – one toe at a time. After a year, we’re back to being able to do all four paws in one session. With a “cookie” for every paw, instead of every nail.
Be patient with your dog
If you take the time to gradually introduce, or re-train your dog, you will get him to accept the inevitable. It may never be a “favorite” for either of you, but keeping your trimming dog nails is part of proper care. Your dog will be more comfortable and will walk with better posture. Your clothes won’t get snagged and your legs won’t be bruised. Worth mentioning – your floors won’t get scratched. It’s worth it.