How to get your dog used to having their nails trimmed

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Most dogs hate nail trimming, it’s one of the most common struggles owners have with their dogs is getting them to hold still when it’s time to cut their nails. Many dogs wriggle, whine or even snap when they are getting their nails trimmed. Why is nail trimming so difficult for our dogs? Is it necessary? How can we get them to tolerate it?

dog nail trimming

Nail Trimming – Is It Necessary?

Is nail trimming even needed? Yes – even though dogs hate nail trimming, it very necessary. In the past, our dogs’ ancestors served as working dogs who would be out with their owners all day long. They might retrieve or hunt tirelessly, or guard their property or herd their sheep.

Many hours of moving across uneven terrain wore down their nails sufficiently. Whether you have a German Shepherd, Poodle, or Husky – all of our pet dogs were once true workaholics!

Nowadays, very few dogs have this kind of work schedule. Nearly all pet dogs get an hour or two of exercise – but not more. With this time frame, it is very unlikely that the nails get worn down sufficiently. Which makes nail clipping an important part of the dog grooming routine.

Long nails – poor health

If your dog’s nails grow too long, they will start to curve and change his stance. Your dog will shift his weight to the back of his paw pad. You can think of this as wearing “reverse high heels” (with the toes elevated instead of the heel).

Just like wearing high heels extensively, walking on long nails is damaging for the dog’s musculoskeletal structures. It can lead to ongoing muscle strains and pains and cause a lot of discomfort for him. Ultimately, very long nails can even curve enough to dig into the dog’s paw and cause sores.

Long story short: Yes, your dog needs to have his nails trimmed!

Why do dogs hate nail trims?

Most dogs hate to have their nails trimmed. Some of them have been injured before. Inside the nail is the so-called “quick” – a bundle of nerves and blood vessels. If this accidentally gets cut during nail trims, your dog will bleed a lot and be in pain. For many dogs, it takes only one or two incidents of having their quick cut and they will fear nail trims from then on.

Dogs also tend to not like to have their feet touched in general. Already having their paws held is uncomfortable for many dogs. If you not only hold the paw but also try to cut the nails, your dog is likely to struggle.

We are confident that by following a few simple steps you will be able to make nail trimming a fear-free exercise.

Making nail trims fear-free

You shouldn’t rush the process of getting your dog used to nail trims. If you scare him, he will only take longer to accept it.

You should always start with a dog that is already tired. Ideally, you would do nail trim practice after a romp at the park or a long game of fetch in your yard.

Do not try and trim your dog’s nails if he has just had a long nap. The more “available energy” he has, the more likely it is that he will escalate.

Take some of your dog’s favorite treats. The more generous you are with treats, the faster your dog will learn to see nail trimming as a pleasant activity.

Fear free dog nail trimming:

  1. Start by simply touching your dog’s foot and giving him treats. Do not show him the nail clippers yet. Just hold and handle his paws and feed him treats. For some dogs, this is all you can do in the first sessions. Only if your dog is completely comfortable, move onto step 2.
  2. Now take out the nail clippers and put them next to the dog’s paw as you handle his paw and feed him treats. Do not attempt to clip his nails yet. Just let the clippers be “part of the picture”.
  3. If your dog was fine with the last step, you can now touch the clippers to his nails. Do not clip yet! Just touching the nails with them. And of course, continue to feed your dog many treats!
  4. Now is the time to clip the nails. It is important to not get stressed out at this point and attempt to take off as much as you can in one cut. If you do that, your dog is likely to bleed, get scared and you have to start over.
  5. Instead, chip away only a small sliver of the nail and immediately feed your dog some treats. If you do not clip a lot at once, your dog is also much less likely to feel pressure from the cut itself. You can end the session now.
  6. Do not strive to clip all nails in one session. If you followed the above steps, you have only cut one nail so far. This is completely fine. It is much better to cut one nail every day and have your dog tolerate it well rather than try to cut them all on one day and stress your dog out.

dogs hate nail trimming

Black nails vs white nails

Just like different coat colours, dogs can have different coloured nails. They are either white (without any pigment) or brown/grey/black. The darker the nail is, the harder it will be. If you have two dogs – one dark and one light one – you will notice that you have to cut the dark one’s nails a lot more frequently.

When cutting dark nails you of course also need to take extra care to not accidentally cut your dog’s quick. Again – this is why you want to make several small cuts rather than one big chop. As you approach a dark dog’s quick, you can see the inside of the nail become grey or white. This is a sign that you are getting very close and should stop cutting further.

What should you do if you cut your dog’s quick?

If you do cut to the nail too short, as already mentioned, you will cut the quick of your dog’s nail. Your dog will probably react by pulling away from you and you will see that the quick will bleed quite profusely. You should remain calm, you don’t want to stress your dog any further.

We recommend you use styptic powder to stop the bleeding. in addition to stopping the bleeding, the styptic powder acts as an anti-inflammatory and helps to sterilise the wound.

The Bottom Line 

Dogs hate nail trimming, but with planning and training they do not have to be! Cut your dog’s nails regularly to avoid muscle imbalances and strains.

You can make the nail trimming experience a lot more pleasant for your dog by using plenty of treats and progressing very slowly. Most dogs have to start with simply having their paws touched and help before continuing to actual nail clipping.

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