While a healthy dog lifestyle requires well-groomed feet and nails, clipping a dog’s nails is an activity that many people, and dogs, and often both, don’t particularly enjoy. The dogs might be skittish or difficult to manage during the clipping process, and many owners are afraid of hurting their dogs, often by cutting the nails too short.
If your canine pal looks like this when the clippers come out, read on.
While many people, and their dogs, might prefer having the nail clipping done by a vet or groomer, we opted for learning how to clip Juno’s nails ourselves and have had a fair bit of success.
So here’s our guide to surviving the clipping experience and making it a positive experience for both of you.
Step-By-Step Mani-Pedi Training Process
1. Handling the paws
We started to get Juno accustomed to having her paws handled right away as a puppy. We used a graduated approach – putting our hand on her paw, giving her a kibble or treat, repeating several times, until we could hold her paw without her pulling it away. We associated us holding her paw with a pleasant experience/reward, until she became comfortable with having her paws held. We did the same thing with her when she would come in from outside, and needed to have her muddy paws wiped off. The result: a puppy that would let us hold and manipulate her paws and toes almost at whim. We also taught her to ‘shake a paw’ during this period through the same reward process.
2. Knowing how much to cut
Before actually clipping our dog’s nails, we wanted to be comfortable with how much of the nail we were going to clip off. Before clipping Juno’s nails, we spoke with our vet who showed us the approximate length to trim. We recommend you do the same or look it up online. We opt for cutting less length and perhaps clipping more frequently, rather than clipping too much and nicking the nail’s quick, which can result in pain and bleeding for your dog, and a hearty aversion to having their nails cut in the future!
3. Introducing the nail clippers
There are two main types of nail clippers: a scissor type and guillotine type. We prefer the scissor type, as we found there was more visibility in seeing how much nail we were clipping, they take less time to position correctly, and we found the blades to work better. With the scissor type, make sure the ends of the blades are well away from your dog’s foot pads or your fingers so you don’t cut anything you’re not intending to cut.
We introduced the clippers in combination with some other common puppy training elements, namely the ‘here’, ‘sit’, and ‘shake’ commands, to get Juno into the mindset that there was some training and reward going on. Plus, these elements helped her to become invested in coming to us, sitting down, and offering a paw (in other words, getting all set for having her nails cut). Next, we showed her the clippers and let her have a good sniff, then gave her a treat (making sure we created a positive association with the clippers). We repeated this action several times, until we were getting a positive response from Juno when we pulled the clippers out. No actual nail clipping yet though.
4. The first clip…(and then all the rest)
Once we had a puppy that was comfortable with having her paws handled, and excited (or at least not scared) when the clippers appeared, as well as our own confidence in knowing that we knew how much nail to clip, we were ready to get started. Once again, we brought out the bag of (tiny) treats. In short, we would clip a nail and immediately offer Juno a treat. Once we got her settled after the surprise of the clip, we got her seated again, clipped the next nail, and once again provided a small treat. Yes, it took forever, and yes she had 18 tiny treats.
But the result has been a dog who enjoys having her nails clipped, and who looks forward to her post-clip treat (now that she’s a grown up, she only gets one treat at the end of the session).
5. Relief and silence
When it’s over, Juno goes from clicking her way around the house and licking at long toenails or sore paw pads to a dog relieved, complete with lots of tail wagging, through-the-legs tunnels, and near-silent stealth around the house. We make sure to put her collar back on so we can hear her sneaking up on us!
Beware The Heart-Breaking Too-Short Nail Clip
Unfortunately, at one point we made a clip that cut Juno’s nail too short. She yelped, pulled away, and started to scamper about…leaving bloody paw prints everywhere she went. We were heart-broken at having inflicted pain on our puppy, however unintentional and inadvertent. ‘Unintentional’ and ‘inadvertent’ are difficult concepts to explain to a puppy with a sore, bleeding toenail who doesn’t want to come back over to you or the steely clippers in your hand.
After getting her to come back over to us (with lots of love, snuggles, pets, and treats), we were able to get the bleeding to stop using some flour (to help with clotting) and paper towels. But we had to rebuild Juno’s trust in us. We had to start over. To this day Juno is still slightly more impatient and jittery when it comes to that one toe we cut too short.
(top image via)
Alright, that’s it! Obviously the ‘shorter cuts, more often’ mantra works best for us. And, remember, we’re not pros. But what works for you? Let’s hear it! Do you cut your dog’s nails or take them somewhere to have it done? What tips or tricks do you have to make nail trims a more pleasant experience for you or your dog?