Some dogs never need their nails clipped as they stay trimmed through the dog’s daily activity on a variety of surfaces. Others need them doing as often as every couple of weeks. Keeping the nails trimmed is important. If the nails are too long, the nail is painfully pushed back into the nail bed or the nails are twisted sideways which affects the toes and is painful. If the nails are left too long, the dog will change posture to compensate for the nails resulting in overused muscles and joints and soreness.
Luckily there are lots of ways to help dogs who are worried about their nails being trimmed (and if an owner is reluctant to do it, most vets have techs on hand who will trim the nails). One of our local vets has “Toenail Tuesdays” where nail trims are offered at a discount and the staff there are certified “fear-free” so the experience is set up to be a nice one for the dog.
If an owner is going to trim their own dog’s nails, they should have the right tools for the job.
Nail clippers come in two types. There are scissor clippers which cut like scissors and are often recommended for larger dogs who have thicker nails and there is the guillotine type which works like a guillotine when you insert the nail into the clipper. Be sure to choose the right size of clipper for your dog and pick clippers that have a guide which prevents too much nail from being taken off.
Grinder tools are also available - these are gentle on the dog, but dogs may need to be conditioned (more about that later) to the sound and vibration of the instrument. There are several companies that make nail grinders.
Other ways to trim the nails are to put sandpaper on a board and teach the dog to sand their own nails by teaching the dog to move their paws in a forward to back motion along the paper. I have also seen people use tubes (often PVC) which they have cut in half lengthwise and glued sandpaper inside. The dog then is taught to run their paws forward to back inside the tube. This method helps trim several nails at one time and the size of the tube depends on the width of the dog’s paw.
Whatever method you use, be sure you know where the nail needs to be trimmed to.
If you trim too close, the quick (where the nerves are) can be cut and will bleed (there are blood vessels there) and it is painful! Dogs who have had this happen are often and justifiably reluctant to have their nails trimmed again. Have on hand some great treats and a small container of tightly packed cornstarch just in case a nail bleeds(this will stop the bleeding).
To condition the dog to actual nail trimming, I like to teach a dog about the clicker first. I do it by clicking and then quickly giving the dog a treat, so the dog learns that the click of the clicker means a treat is coming.
Once the dog understands the clicker, start by gently handing the leg (don’t squeeze- that hurts…) and click and treat as you touch the leg and foot. The dog will decide how quickly you progress. Keep sessions short 2 or 3 minutes is fine.
Then I show the dog the clippers, grinder or sandpaper on the board or in the PVC and I click and treat any interest in the tool. When the dog is totally comfortable with the tool, move on to the next step which is to click and treat the dog pawing the item. This may begin as the dog just putting a paw to touch the tool. When the dog is consistently touching the tool and getting the click and treat, you are ready for the next step.
For clippers, hold the clippers and click and treat the dog pawing them while the clippers are in your hand. Once the dog does this reliably and without any fear, click and treat while the clippers are around one nail. Once the dog is relaxed about this, clip only one nail and click and treat that. I spend time doing just one nail a day with a click and treat. As the dog gets more comfortable, do two nails a day and so on.
For the grinder, turn it on and click and treat interest using the paw in the now-running grinder. Once the dog is totally comfortable with the now running clippers, trim one nail for a very short period and click and treat that.
For the sandpaper, click and treat any pawing motion along the sandpaper. Then click and treat only the pawing motion along the sandpaper from front to back. Do this for each leg.
Pretty soon your dog will enjoy having his nails done and associate it with good things like high-value treats!