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Canine University 71 Clinton St. Malden, MA


How we train

Nail Trimming Made Easy

Most dogs are not great at having their feet handled and for many, actually trimming their nails can be out of the question. Handling a dog's feet from the moment you take them home with you will help teach them that having their feet handled is a good thing. Most dogs start their panic attack at the sight of the nail clippers so this is a good place to begin. Put the clippers in plain view with no intention of using them. Present them to the dog, click and treat any sniffing, looking or movement to investigate the clippers. Show the clippers right before you feed your dog- in fact store them by the food bin so you can't forget to show them to him every time you feed. Take the clippers with you when you put your dogs leash on and on your actual walk as well. Here you are simply developing a good association between the clippers and things your dog likes. This is classical conditioning since the dog does not have to perform a behavior, he simply sees the thing he doesn't like (the clippers) and begins to associate it with the thing he likes (food, a walk,etc.).

The next step is to get your dog to let you play with his feet while holding the clippers. Put the clippers on the floor next to the dog, reach for the dog's leg, if he let's you take it, click and treat. Repeat this over and over in very short 1-3 minute sessions until your dog is throwing his paw at you. Progress to playing with his toes, letting go if he pulls away and clicking and treating for allowing you to touch each toenail and pad. Do this in very short training sessions ending on a upbeat note and practicing frequently throughout the week. As the dog starts to like having you touch his feet, start touching his feet with the clippers (but don't cut any nails yet !) Again, the same rules apply, if he pulls away let him but he gets nothing, if he tolerates you touching him, click and treat.

Actually trimming a nail or two can be quite intimidating if you have never done it before or if your last attempt went badly (bleeding nail, screaming dog !). Some general knowledge of nail anatomy is a good idea. Get a good dog care book or have your vet or groomer show you the quick or vein in your dog's nail. (You can only see this if the vein is white). You'll want to trim the nail in small pieces until you reach just before the quick. If you go too far the nail will bleed, which panics most dog owners but shouldn't. Have a styptic pencil or nail powder nearby to stop the bleeding or in an emergency you can use a lipstick or a shaving of crayon. Wipe away any excess blood and apply the coagulant directly to the nail. Feed the dog lots of treats if you cut a nail too short and try not to act too apologetic, just be matter of fact and upbeat so your dog's progress won't be compromised. If you don't make a big deal out of it, neither will your dog.

Black nails are a lot harder to trim simply because you can't see the vein. If you look at the nail from the side you will see where the nail narrows to a point. This is where you want to trim, this small point on the end of the nail just before the nail gets fat. When in doubt go for less, just tip the nails a little at a time. When you see the center of the nail is a dark round circle, stop, the quick is not far behind. Don't try to trim all the nails at once, instead go for one or two on one foot treat the dog heavily and play a game. Your dog will learn to look forward to nail trims rather than make a bee-line for his favorite hiding spot. Lastly, and probably most importantly, if you are going to trim your dog's nails, invest in a good pair of clippers. A good pair will cut clean and not crush the nail or cut more than you intend. The best pair I have found is made by Millers Forge and goes for about $25.00 in pet supply catalogs. It is shaped like a pair of pliers and has orange handles. Beware, there are cheaper versions that are not as good but look exactly the same, make sure they are made by Miller's Forge.

Each dog has his own issues with nail trimming, some worse than others. If you don't have the stomach to do the actual trimming have the vet or groomer do it but work with your dog through the training program described. Not even professionals like to struggle with a dog in full blown panic just to trim toe nails. Do your vet, groomer and most importantly your dog a favor and teach your dog to accept having his feet handled by a clipper yielding lunatic bent on trimming the toe nails on his dainty little feet ! Your dog will look forward to future visits and the staff won't be drawing straws to see who gets to deal with your dog on this particular visit !

Happy Training !!