Those Dreaded Nail Trims

When I first adopted Sasha, she absolutely did NOT want me to trim her nails- she would bare her teeth every time I would even go towards her foot with the nail clippers. Although I like to think that she would never actually bite me, it’s something that a dog owner should never risk.

If this sounds familiar, the good news is that you are far from alone! The other piece of good news is that, with gradual, positive training, you can teach your dog to actually like (or at least tolerate) nail trims. These days, I can trim every single one of Sasha’s nails with no trouble at all. Usually, she continues her nap on the couch while I can take my time on her nails.

The key with this training is to go slow. If you take baby steps, rather than forcing your dog down for every nail trim, he or she will come to learn that it is nothing to be afraid of. Here are the steps I followed to get Sasha used to getting her nails trimmed. They are meant to be an exercise that you do every day for just a few minutes at a time:

  1. Take out the nail clippers, show them to your dog, and give your dog a treat. Some dogs are afraid of the nail clippers themselves and need to learn that the appearance of nail clippers means something good for them, rather than something scary. If your dog is especially afraid of them, give several treats. Do this until your dog is okay with the appearance of the nail clippers.
  2. I prefer to do the next step with the dog laying down. Take the nail clippers out and put it near your dog’s foot. Give a treat and repeat. Get as close to the paw as you can: with Sasha, this meant putting the clippers so they were practically touching her toe, but some dogs may not let you get that close. If you have a dog like this, keep doing this while gradually putting the clippers closer to the foot each time. Once your dog is perfectly fine with the clippers being by their foot, you are ready for the next step.
  3. Now, you will do the exact same thing but this time gently touch the nail clippers to your dog’s nail. Do this for each nail, and give a treat each time. Repeat until your dog shows no signs of being worried.
  4. A lot of dogs are more afraid of the sound that nail clippers make: this step will help to counter condition that fear. This time, put the nail clippers right in front of your dog’s nail without actually touching it, and squeeze the nail clippers as if you’re clipping an imaginary nail. Give a treat, and repeat for each nail. Practice until your dog does not seem scared or worried about this.
  5. Now, you are finally ready to actually clip a nail. The important part here is to trim off a tiny sliver so that you don’t accidentally hurt your dog and reverse all of the training that you already did. Do this to one nail, and give a jackpot of several treats in a row. If your dog does not seem concerned, practice with one or two more nails. If he or she is worried, take a break and do it again tomorrow. Repeat until your dog is completely okay with it.
  6. Now the hardest part is over! You are ready to start taking off a normal amount when you trim, rather than just a sliver of nail. Practice doing this with just one nail and giving a jackpot of treats. If your dog is okay with this, practice with a few more nails.

Once your dog lets you do this, you should be able to give your dog a normal, stress-free nail trim. I recommend still giving your dog plenty of treats during nail trims even after you have trained them, and taking off small amounts of nail at a time so that you don’t accidentally cut their quick (which can be very painful) and thus make them afraid of nail trims again. This training can be slow and tedious, but it is worth it- it will make your life easier and reduce stress for both you and your dog!

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