Conformation also plays a huge part in the placement of the foot. We are all guilty of not handling our dog’s feet for fun stuff, seeming only to grab them rudely for feet cleaning and nail clipping. These procedures can be incredibly stressful for our pooches and as guardians, it is fitting that we make the experience as pleasant as possible. Whether your existing dog has issues with nail trimming or you have a new rescue dog or puppy, start at the same point to ensure sympathetic handling and train for success. It takes only one bad experience for your dog to learn nail clipping is a big no, no.
Firstly know the anatomy of the nail, the quick (The blood vessel that runs down into the nail), will be in a different place for each dog depending on how long the nails are. In white nails, it is easy to see but if the nails are black then extreme care must be taken when trimming. Also, decide on equipment you will use. If your dog has had a really bad experience with a certain type, then consider changing to something else, like a file or a dremel tool. Sometimes the pressure of the nail clippers on the nail or if you accidentally twist the nail when making the cut, can be uncomfortable, let alone the trauma of you previously cutting into the quick so the nail bleeds. Once you have decided on the best equipment, have it out in plain view for your dog to see and regularly pick it up, but don’t attempt to move it towards your dog yet.
Training dogs to be relaxed about foot handling will take as long as it takes and you need to go at your dog’s pace, not yours. Never train when you are in a rush or irritable or when your dog is upset or excited, wait until you are all unruffled and in the right frame of mind.
A good starting point is to touch your dog’s legs and feet with a soft arts and crafts brush. Let him sniff it and have it gently brush around his chin and chest. If he gets too excited or is scared then stop using it and try something else, like a sheepskin mitten, balled up sock or even just the back of your hand. Starting at the top of his legs gentle stroke down, over the foot and off the toes, returning to the top of the leg again. Use the side of the brush rather than the tip of the bristles as this can be a little tiggerly. Repeat a few times and then stop. Keep the sessions really short, two to three minutes at a time to begin with and try to work around all four legs.
Don’t restrain him, allow him to move away if he needs to but try to anticipate any anxiety and stop before he feels he needs to shift away from you.
You may notice a change in his breath rate, a worried look in the eye, a yawn, or eye avert, a lick to his nose. If you are unsure, stop often anyway and give him the option. You can also pair this stage with some yummy treats and mark any calm behaviours. Once you can easily stroke down all the legs, (remember this may take you several sessions), you could introduce Tellington TTouch Training body work to help him cope even more with the leg and foot handling, as these should feel relaxing and change his perception of you working in this area. The Raccoon TTouch is a great one but you may have to start with a Llama TTouch, (Look up how to do these TTouches on YouTube or contact your local practitioner through www.ttouch.com in the USA. Or google your country and TTouch if outside the US).
Before introducing any equipment you should be able to handle our dog’s feet, which includes between the toes, moving the toes around and flicking the nail gently. The first time you pick up, the now familiar to your dog, equipment, don’t attempt to clip a nail. Simply do a few of the TTouch body work moves with the side of it and again, if necessary and appropriate for your dog, pair this with treats. Continue to do this for as many short sessions as is necessary for your dog to fully relax.
The first time you attempt to trim the nails, do not be drawn to do too much. If you get one nail clipped or filed with your dog remaining calm, this is progress. End the session if you see any whispers from your dog that he is worried. Go have a game, a cuddle, go for a walk; whatever he loves the most, then later try again. Also only trim the tiniest amount off the end of the nail so it is safer, and feels pleasanter for him and you have no risk of cutting into the quick. I trim my dog’s nails each month, a little at a time. Another tip is never to hold onto your dog’s foot tightly, if he goes to move the foot away, don’t let go but simply allow your arm to go with the movement, this way it won’t end up as a battle and he should quickly relax and give you the foot again.
The key to stress-free nail clipping is curbing our human nature to rush headlong into the task and just get it done.
A previous rescue dog of mine was terrified of having her feet handled when she came to live with me. I took it slowly and after months of work, I was able to cut one nail a week, then one a day until after ten months I could get all four feet clipped in three minutes. It may seem an excessive amount of time but I was training her to have her nails trimmed for life, not just that one occasion. It was so worth the effect spent when I saw her happy relaxed face when the clippers appeared in my hand.