Trimming dog nails without trauma

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.

nicely trimmed dog nails

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.

Next steps

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.

How to take great dog pictures

We take many, many pictures of dogs. Our own dogs, our customers’ dogs, our students’ dogs. It took a while to develop a technique to take great dog pictures, but anyone can do it. We’re sharing our best tips so your holiday pictures – of your entire family – come out great!

These tips work for people as well as dogs. The advantage is that people will actually understand, and hopefully listen, when you say “3, 2, 1, Smile!” Unless you have a passel of little kids running around who aren’t going to listen any better than dogs. Then take these tips to heart!

Tip #1

Keep hitting that shutter button! For those of us old enough to remember taking pictures on film – times have changed! It doesn’t cost anything to take lots more pictures than you have any use for. The only bad part is spending the time to go through them and delete the ones you really don’t want. There’s no excuse, with digital photography, for not taking a ton of pictures. The best ones often turn out to be the chaotic candids as you’re either preparing to shoot, or think you’re done!

Tip #2

Set up your picture before you get your dog. If your dog doesn’t have a rock-solid “Stay!” command, he’s going to get bored and wander off before you’re ready to shoot. And while the picture of your dog yawning is adorable to you, it may not be the adorable portrait you want to frame or post on social media. Check the lighting and figure out exactly where you want your dog to pose. Use a stand-in for your dog while you’re setting up – even a bowl or a cushion can work as a substitute for your dog until you’re ready.

Tip #3

Pay attention to everything around the main subject of the picture. Are there lamps that will look like they’re coming out of your dog’s head? Or is that couch in the background the same color as your dog so you won’t even see him/her? You can use a blanket or throw in a contrasting color to make sure your dog looks great. If you have a dark-colored dog like Hope’s Torque, you know how difficult it is to get good portraits of your dog’s cute little face. Make it easier by posing your dog on a light-colored material and flooding the area with light. Indirect light is best for avoiding shadows. The best days to take pictures outside are cloudy. We may all love bright sunshine, but the shadows can ruin your pictures.

Tip #4

Get down! Take pictures at your dog’s face level. Think about all your favorite pictures of your dog. We always ask to see pictures of our customers’ dogs and, invariably, their favorites, the ones they have as their home pictures on their phones, are of their dogs full face, straight on. Or with that darling head tilt that dogs do. So get down there! And look at the area again from that perspective. Check again for random objects. 

example of dog sitting for a great picture

A note for people with male dogs: Taking pictures from your dog’s level, especially if he’s sitting, puts his “boy bits” not-quite-front, but definitely center of the action. No one wants to see that. The simple fix is to move the camera at a slight angle – use your dog’s front legs to hide his “junk.” Much better!

Tip #5

Have a helper. When you’re all set up and ready to go, it’s much easier if you have someone else around to help get your dog’s attention where you want it (squeaky toy!) and reward them with treats while you’re still shooting. You’ll probably get some pictures of your helper’s butt, or hand, but those are easily discarded. If no one else is available, you can do it yourself. Put on your dog’s collar and leash and hide the leash behind the dog (so it’s not in the picture). You can weigh it down with something heavy, or put the handle around a chair or table leg. It’ll take a little longer, and you’ll have to stop and reward your dog more often, but it will work.

Tip #6

Be patient. They’re dogs. Some pose for the camera. Others run the other way. Keep your sessions with the dog short and be willing to give it up if it’s not working. You can try again another time. Your dog will be just as cute then!

Rescuing dogs takes a special breed

Rescuing dogs isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s not easy. It’s expensive in both time and money. And it’ll break your heart.

We have the deepest respect and admiration for the people whose passion is pet rescue. We know some who devote themselves to the cause wholeheartedly – oftentimes leaving little reserve for themselves or their loved ones. They have a dedication to the cause that is unwavering.

Rescuing dogs can break your heart

It’s not for everyone. And that has to be okay, too.

The slogan “adopt, don’t shop” has gained a lot of traction in the last couple decades. Most people nowadays, when they think about adding a dog to the family, at least consider acquiring one from a shelter or rescue, whether they follow through or not. 

rescued dog being hugged

A good friend of ours was considering adding a dog to her family after one of her dogs died too young last year. She has been a supporter and volunteer with a breed rescue for years – doing home visits for potential adopters and transport as needed. But she’d never fostered a dog, nor adopted one from rescue.

As it happened, there was a situation close to her that required several foster homes quickly. Pat agreed to take in one of the surrendered dogs. Both Pat and the rescue’s manager understood that if the dog was a good fit for Pat’s family, she would be a “foster failure” and adopt the dog.

Pat was full of hope and anticipation when the day arrived to welcome rescue dog “Mandy” into her home. There was a piece missing since her “Nell” died. Everyone hoped that Mandy would fit in and jump-start joy again.

Not her cup of tea

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Hard as she tried, Pat never really connected with Mandy. While she got along with the other dogs, she was never quite part of them. 

Pat is, by nature, a gentle, patient, and loving person. And yet, Mandy managed to push all of her buttons. Without any fault on either part, the fit just wasn’t right. You truly can’t fit a square peg into a round hole.

This past week Pat moved Mandy to another foster home. She’ll continue volunteering with the rescue, but knows she’ll never foster again. It’s just not for her.

Help however’s right for you

There are lots of reasons people aren’t able to foster pets: work schedule, other animals in the home, allergies, timing, living situation, etc. It’s not for us, either, for a variety of reasons. We tried it once and it was weird for us, having a dog in the house that wasn’t really ours. It wasn’t just the lack of connection, although that was one factor. It was also not being able to make decisions about the dog without consulting with someone else. Even though the rescue we fostered with made good decisions every time – it felt wrong not having control of a dog living in our house. 

That dog’s story has a very happy ending. A potential adopter came to meet Spike one day and they instantly connected. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that he was her dog. Love at first sight – for both of them.

We hope that Mandy has an equally wonderful family waiting for her. And that Pat will find a dog of her own someday soon. Both of them are getting comfortable in their new situations. Both are entitled to their own happily ever after. 

Is your dog noise sensitive?

We put our dogs through a humdinger of a “trial by fire” last week! Fortunately, none of them proved noise sensitive, but we got a big surprise when we went to our weekly obedience classes.

The place our obedience club meets is a doggy-daycare and groomer by day. We rent their playroom spaces on Tuesday evenings for our dog club classes. Because of a series of unfortunate events unrelated to dogs, the flooring had to be replaced. We missed a couple of weeks, then had only half the space available. 

Last Tuesday we had no idea that the installers would still be working through the evening. We didn’t know that extensive use of drills, jackhammers, electric saws, hammers, etc. would accompany our training. Just a thin wall separates the two areas. The workers weren’t visible – but we heard them loud and clear!

Good boys!

It was the loudest obedience class ever. Hope is teaching the Novice competition level. If you’ve met her, she’s not the quietest person on the planet, but she’s not that loud, either. By the end of the hour, a headache and sore throat went home with her. Her students would probably say she yells at them every week – but this time it was surely true.

Tango is retired and stays home to watch hockey on TV (Go, Blackhawks!), but the rest of the dogs come to class. We were a little surprised and extremely delighted when all three dogs were unfazed by the racket going on around them. 

Not a universal truth

All of the dogs in the classes noticed the noise. And the vast majority heard it and then accepted it as part of the background. We’re in the middle of a six-week session, so there weren’t any new dogs in class. They’re all accustomed to the place, the routine, and the other dogs. That helps a lot when there’s a new distraction around. And it was extremely distracting!

dog looking afraid of noise

There were a couple of dogs that had a hard time. In talking to their owners, we discovered they’re also the ones afraid of thunderstorms, fireworks, and other loud noises. We know of lots of dogs who are noise sensitive. A friend’s Havanese puppy is terrified when trucks pass their car on the highway. 

Helping your noise sensitive dog

There aren’t really any quick fixes for dogs who are noise sensitive. When are dogs are puppies we try to keep the noise level as high as possible in their surroundings – teaching them that sound can’t hurt them. But even an older dog can get used to loud sounds. 

Most people’s first instinct is to soothe their dogs when they’re startled or afraid. Instead, try treating the incident matter-of-factly, even encouraging the dog to check out what startled them. In the case of thunder, try finding a video or sound recording and just playing it in the background. Start softly and increase the volume as the dog learns to ignore it. 

Taking cues from you

If you treat noise as a normal part of life, chances are your dog will learn to accept it. Dogs really do take their cues on how to behave from their owners. If you’re hyper-alert, anxious, or stressed, your dog will read that anxiety right down the leash. 

Of course, it doesn’t help if you’re a person who startles easily, like Fran. She’s been known to jump out of her seat at movie surprises. And her dogs jump right along with her. Speaking as her sister, it’s pretty funny. Fran doesn’t agree.