One of our more popular questions tends to revolve around grooming your pets and how to use dog nail clippers. People love to post entertaining photos on the internet of the wild devices they’ve concocted to keep their dog still while they trim their nails… From Pugs in modified handbags to German Shepherds in full-body slings hung from the ceiling.
This isn’t supposed to be that difficult to use nail clippers on your dog. Trimming your dog’s nails shouldn’t be tantamount to wrestling an alligator or landing on the moon. When done right, nail trims should be simple and painless for everyone involved. All that you need is a bit of desensitization.
If your dog is severely afraid of having their nails trimmed, you will absolutely need extra assistance from our Ask The Trainer Program.
What is Desensitization?
That’s probably the question you’re wondering right now. Pet owners desensitize their dogs to all types of things, and lots of them do it completely wrong! True desensitization is carefully exposing your dog to new objects, people, or situations/locations while also ensuring that your dog is having a positive experience.
Unfortunately, the biggest mistake dog owners often make is throwing their dog head-first in the deep end and expecting them to just… swim. They bring their pup out to a busy park, and the dog hides behinds their legs the entire time shaking.
People laugh it off and say “Oh he’s so shy, how cute!” while the dog cowers away from their attempts at petting. Exposure is NOT desensitization.
In order to properly desensitize a dog to any scenario, you must begin gradually and ensure your dog is comfortable and enjoying the experience every step of the way. Forcing your dog into uncomfortable situations will just create an array of unwanted fearful associations, such as fear of the car, strangers, public places, other dogs, and more.
The most effective way to ensure your dog has an enjoyable experience is by using counterconditioning. Counterconditioning is the process of making something potentially uncomfortable or scary less so through association with something good.
Perhaps the best example is a good pediatric dentist or doctor’s office. When the child is good during their cleaning or their checkup they get to pick a special toy from the toy chest and a cool sticker to bring home and show their friends. Now, they associate the doctor or the dentist with a fun reward at the end, and the process is less scary as a whole.
We do the same thing with our dogs. You make a potentially scary situation the least scary you possibly can, and then pair it with something your dog likes. The pairing with most dogs is food, as it is the easiest and one of the most powerful forms of reinforcement.
The Basics of Desensitization for Nail Trims
So how exactly are you supposed to baby step your way through the process of trimming your dog’s nails? Carefully of course. The first important consideration is urgency. Or rather, lack thereof. As long as you are even minimally proactive, your dog’s nail trim is most likely not a pressing need.
Unless you don’t bother with your dog’s training up until their nails begin cracking or twisting into their paw pads, you should have a bit of time to work through the training process.
The next consideration is pace. Every dog progresses at different speeds. Some dogs breeze through things quickly and can easily become comfortable. Other dogs need lots of time and careful training to make strides towards their grooming. Move at your dog’s pace.
You’ll want to start with your basics and move up from there. Don’t jump strait to nail clipping. Begin be desensitizing your dog to having their paws handled, having the nail clippers out and around them without trimming, doing a nail or two and calling it a day, take individual steps towards your final goal.
Preventing Painful Mistakes
The fastest way to make your dog hate having their nails trimmed is to cut the quick. It hurts. Your dog will instantly associate grooming and nail trimmings with pain and discomfort and fear. The most common reason people cut their dog’s nails too short is because they don’t know how to use dog nail clippers and they rush through the process because their dog hates it.
It quickly becomes a vicious cycle of rushing, stress, and panic. It doesn’t need to be this way. You don’t need to trim your dog’s nails as close as possible each time you trim so that you can go longer between trims. You don’t need to rush to get all their nails done. With proper training (and a little help if you need it) you can make the process simple, and avoid all the pain and distress.
Another important thing to remember is the nail clipping process isn’t the best way to groom your dog’s nails. Using a good nail grinder regularly is easy when you train your dog. Unlike the jarring impact of a nail trimmer, the grinder files down the nail rather than chopping off pieces.
It takes longer to grind the nail down to the point where you would injure your dog, which gives you plenty of time to check, and re-check, where you are and make sure you don’t hurt your pet.
If you know how to use dog nail clippers and you are comfortable with them, you can also trim your dog’s nails back a bit first, and then file them down the rest of the way using a nail grinder. This helps the process move a bit faster, without as much of a potential to injure your dog.
Don’t forget that the best way to make this entire process less of a hassle, is to take your time, practice, and properly train your dog! You and your dog will both be better off for the time you spend now making things easier in the long run!