Teach Your Dog to LOVE Nail Trims !

Teaching Your Dog To “Like” Having His Nails Trimmed

Nail trims are an essential part of life for any dog but for dogs who can’t tolerate being handled they are pure torture. Having your dog’s nails trimmed on regular basis shouldn’t require anesthesia or 4 people to hold the dog down while a fifth person takes his life in his hands to do the trimming.  Even if your dog is cooperative it is a good idea to develop a training plan that you can do on a regular basis to prepare him not just to tolerate nail trimming but to actually look forward to it.

The nail clippers should be the first thing you desensitize your dog to. Many dogs run at the site of them which is an easy problem to fix.  Start holding the nail clippers when you do other things for your dog besides trim his nails.  Make them part of your food preparation ritual, pick them up, pour the food in the bowl, put the clippers down next to the food bowl. Have the clippers in your hand when you get your dog’s leash, pick up your keys, give him a cookie. Changing the association between the nail clippers and nail trimming is easy, just carry them with you whenever you do something for your dog that he associates with good things.  Soon your dog will come running when he sees you with the nail clippers.

Handling feet, legs and nails makes some dogs very nervous. Sometimes it’s because they feel trapped, other times it’s because they are anticipating something bad happening. Maybe someone trimmed a nail too short or scared him when they held on too tight during the last session.  In order to change his association  it is necessary to associate being handled with feeling good. Most people find that using a high value food reward is the best way to get your dog to begin to look forward to being handled rather than dreading it.

Here are some variables to work on to prepare your dog for a nail trim :

–       accept being picked up off the floor

–       stand, sit or lie down on a grooming or exam table

–       restraint which involves the technician holding the dog in a bit of a head lock

–       sight of the nail clippers

–       picking up the paw

–       touching the nail

–       squeezing the paw

–       extending the paw out from the body

–       actually clipping a piece of nail

–       holding further up the arm to get the dew claw

–       different environments: home, groomer, vet, inside, outside, distractions

Since much of the nail trimming process involves handling the feet of the dog a significant amount of time should be spent on teaching the dog to enjoy having his feet touched. You need tiny pieces of really yummy treats for this exercise. You will not need your clicker. It is important to note that the treats are hidden during the touch portion of the exercise and appear only after the dog has tolerated the level of touching you are working on.  This tool we are using is called classical conditioning, teaching the dog to predict that allowing touching produces goodies !

  1. Reach for paw but don’t actually make contact, if the dog does not move his paw away, give a treat.
  2. Reach for paw and touch lightly with one finger, treat
  3. Reach for paw and touch with whole hand, treat
  4. Reach for paw and lift it gently, treat
  5. Lift paw gently and hold for 1 second, treat.
  6. Build the time to 10 seconds or more, treat.
  7. Lift paw and touch toes with opposite hand, treat.
  8. As you hold paw gently squeeze, treat.
  9. As you hold paw gently separate the toes, treat
  10. Show the dog the clippers, treat.
  11. Touch clipper to dogs paw, treat.
  12. Pick up paw and touch clipper to nail, treat
  13. Pick up paw and touch clipper to nail, treat.
  14. Pick up paw and clip one toenail, treat.
  15. Pick up paw and clip next toenail, treat.

Remember that each dog is an individual and that you may need to move slower and break the steps down into more pieces in order to be successful. The goal is always to move at the dogs pace in such a way that he is begging for you to touch him, not resisting you and trying to move away. It is very important to make sure you do the touch part of the exercise first before the food appears and that you don’t practice too much all at once.  A good time limit for this exercise is one minute at a time.  You can work the exercise multiple times per day but you should not work for longer than a minute at a time.  I hope this helps you get your dog on the right track toward accepting and enjoying being handled for a nail trim. Remember that each repetition you do is investment for the life of the dog!!

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