Trimming Dog Nails
Trimming a dog's nails can be dangerous for both dog and human if the dog is afraid. Dogs who fear nail trims can thrash around wildly, increasing the risk of cutting the quick if they are not effectively restrained. Cutting into the quick (the sensitive tissue within the nail) will only exacerbate the dog's fear. Additionally, dogs that are very afraid or in pain are likely to bite, presenting a safety risk to the humans involved.
Nail trim aversion can result just as easily from improper socialization to husbandry/handling as from "quicking" a dog. Whenever possible, it is best to socialize puppies to all types of handling extensively from 3 to 12 weeks. It is always easier to prevent nail trim aversion (or any fearful behavior) by creating lots of positive experiences during this critical socialization period than to rehabilitate a dog with a well-established history of nail trim aversion.
Regardless of whether you have a young puppy with no nail trimming experience or an adult dog with an existing fear, the answer to the question of "how to trim your dog's nails" is to train your dog to love having her paws and nails handled.
Puppies, being socialization sponges at this age, will likely proceed through the training very quickly. Dogs with established reactivity to the procedure may require more time. Be patient with your dog, and use really yummy treats (cheese, liver, hot dogs, meatballs, or liverwurst, whatever she LOVES).
Here is a great video from Laura VanArendonk Baugh, which shows how she trained a dog named Tucker. Tucker's owner, in the interview at the beginning of the video, discusses the training techniques she'd tried in the past. These methods were not only unsuccessful, but caused the behavior to intensify. Tucker had a long history of strong bites during his nail trims - his owner tells of her full body leather armor just for nail trimming, armor he would occasionally bite through.
In the video, Laura is clicking with her feet, as it can be a challenge to manipulate treats, a clicker, paws, a pen, and eventually nail clippers. Clicking with your feet requires an iClick (a clicker with a raised button) and a bit of practice - practice without your dog before you begin work on this exercise!
How To Trim A Dog's Nails
Once you have taught your dog to love having her paws and nails handled, it is time to get clipping! If you have never clipped a dog's nails before, it may be helpful to ask your veterinarian or groomer to demonstrate the correct way to do it. Black nails are a bit trickier than white/clear nails to clip, as you cannot see the quick.
It's best to make sure your nail clippers are sharp. Dull, old nail clipping blades should be replaced before nail trimming as they are more prone to crush the nail than give a nice, clean clip.
Here is a great article from the College of Veterinary Medicine at Washington State University on nail clipping. It describes the two most common types of clippers (guillotine style and scissors style), along with tips on how to hold and use each of these tools. Using lots of photos, the entire process of a nail trim is described. If you have done the training laid out in Laura's videos, you will likely not need to restrain the dog as is mentioned in the WSU article.
Non-Clipper Techniques For Nail Trimming
Dogs that live in urban environments and are walked frequently on pavement may require nail trims very rarely, as the pavement acts as a nail file during walking. However, these dogs will likely require trimming of the dewclaws, as these nails are higher up on the foot and do not make contact with the asphalt. The article from WSU gives great advice on using the scissors style clipper to trim lengthy dewclaws.
Also popular are Dremel-type tools for nail clipping. Dremels should be introduced slowly (as should the clippers), and Laura's video above will work well for getting a dog to like having her paws handled regardless of the tool you use. Here is a great article on how to get your dog used to the nail clipper and eventually, use the Dremel to trim nails.
Finally, clicker-savvy dogs can be shaped to use a "scratchy board." You'll need a sturdy board, some sandpaper, and a staple gun to create your scratchy board. Staple the sandpaper so that it surrounds the boards, and shape for paw contact and eventually, scratching against the board. (Here is a video demonstrating a dog trimming his own nails with a scratchy board.) Whichever method you choose, with a little time and effort your canine can be well on her way to calm, safe nail trims. Good luck and happy trimming!
Related Advice from Other Dog Owners
Dog Teeth Cleaning: Vet vs. Home Treatment
The problem with tooth cleaning for a dog, even a tolerant one, is that without anesthesia the dog would have have his mouth open for a very long time. Think about when you get your teeth cleaned at the dentist's office. It's tough for us to keep our mouths open patiently for 15 or 20 minutes! (At least it is for me.)
You're wise not to want to put him under automatically, and if you have a good vet, then you should be able to talk to them about your hesitation and ask if the risk is really, truly, worth the benefit.
Sometimes, we can clean our dog's teeth very well at home using a toothbrush and special dog toothpaste or even a damp, rough rag wrapped around an index finger and there isn't a need for a professional tooth cleaning.
Other times, the dog's teeth are so tartar-covered that it's in his best interest to have the risk of anesthesia in order to offset the damage that poor dental condition can bring.
~Michelle B., owner of Wire Fox Terrier mix
Cleaning a Dog's Teeth at Home
First, never use human toothpaste as it's dangerous for dogs. You have a couple of options when it comes to cleaning at home. First, you can buy a toothbrush and dog toothpaste at most pet supply stores. Toothbrushes usually have heads at each end for different sized dogs. Begin by allowing the dog to inspect the brush and taste the paste to get him used to it. Work up to the actual cleaning. Use lots of treats and praise.
You brush the teeth in a similar way to human teeth, starting at the gum line then a gentle downward circular sweep. It's not as important to do the insides of the teeth, the outsides are good enough, so don't feel you have to pry your dog's mouth open; it's not necessary and he won't allow you to do it as easily in the future.
Another popular method is to wrap a finger around a damp terry washcloth and clean the teeth that way. Anesthesia should be avoided unless the dog really truly needs a deep cleaning.
~Michelle B., owner of Welsh Terrier mix
Cleaning a Dog's Anal Glands
When my dog was in need of anal gland expressing once a month my vet recommended to add fiber to her diet (she was 20-25 lbs). I added two of the regular OTC fiber capsule a day for 1 month, then 1 a day for about 3 months and then down to 1 every other day for 3 months and haven't had to use them anymore since.
I also give raw bones twice weekly now, and this seemed to help a lot. I only have to do her glands about twice a year. The more they are expressed the more there is a need to do it. Adding fiber helps to firm up the stools which helps to express naturally, as do raw bones for a meal.
~Melissa M., owner of American Pit Bull Terrier
How to Help a Shedding Dog
You can buy shampoo that will help slow down shedding ... but right after a bath your dog will shed a lot so brush him really good.
~Kaitlyn W., owner of Golden Retriever
Helping a Dog with Dry Skin
My dog used to have really dry skin and clog up the bathtub every time he got a bath because of the shedding. I switched him to a food with 3.5% Linoleic acid - a fancy word for omega 6 - that is proven to guarantee improved skin & coat. It takes about 8 weeks to get all of the old food out and the new food into your dog's system, so the Vet recommended adding a tablespoon of Sunflower or Safflower Oil to his meals while I was switching his food and/or during really bad shedding seasons.
~Amber M., owner of Chow Chow mix
Controlling a Dog's Thick Coat
Ask local groomers about a de-shedding treatment. Petsmart's Furminator treatment works great. It uses a de-shed shampoo, Furminator brand solution/conditioner that loosens up the undercoat and a good blow out with a velocity dryer (no heat, just air) and more brushing time. I use it on my Golden mix, who is shedding pretty bad right now about every 4-6 weeks. works great. And it looks especially good if you get them to trim (neaten) your dog up all over (belly trim, rear, feathers etc.)
also...im sure ill get flamed for it for even mentioning it, but as well as it works, im still considering cutting Mugen down again this year. i only did last year because he was in awful shape, but as much as he sheds and is hot, i feel he was more comfortable last year. Many many people in the summer cut their goldens down. Not something we advise, but people seem to love it...cut them down a couple times in the summer, return next year, do it all over again, and i have yet to see one that didnt grow back right. (and I dont mean bald them... Used to be that a # 7 (about 3mm) was the normal summer cut, lately though we have a new thing that leaves it about 9 mm and looks GREAT. again, not trying to persuade you to do it, just that it is an option and that if you did it it wouldnt be the end of the world.
~Amanda D., owner of American Pit Bull Terrier mix
Tips on Grooming Your Dog
I am a groomer and I only use OSTER TURBO 2 speed clippers. You will need multiple blades specific to your dog's fur. Purchase a grooming book or buy a video. You must be very careful in the hind leg area. You must pull the skin back lightly so no to catch it. Rule number one before you do anything is comb through all hair with some water or conditioner and get ALL knots and mats out FIRST, then bath him downward, Head first, Hold his ears down close to his body to prevent any water from getting into his eyes, I put mineral oil in there eyes first before bathing. You can purchase a dog dryer too. A human dryer will dry out the fur. Consider hand clipping the hair in sensitive areas with a good hair scissor. Tie the hair up away form the face or you can cut bangs and angle the sides.
~Terry Q., owner of Maltese
A Groomer's Rant: Comb Your Dog's Hair Regularly!
Why do people insist on having their severely matted dog de-matted? What possible reason besides selfishness could there be? It's totally uncomfortable for the dog to be de-matted and it's bad for its skin. The dog doesn't care what it looks like, why not do what's best for your dog and shave her? The hair grows back! I had a client with a severely matted dog who refused to have him shaved and I told him "Sorry, I don't torture dogs."
~Ashley S., owner of English Springer Spaniel
When Your Dog Fears Nail Trims
If you've tried everything but can't get your dog to stay still for a trim, try exercising on tennis courts or cement to grind down her nails. You may also consider desensitization training with a professional trainer where you introduce the nail clippers in a very positive manner with positive rewards to help break your dog's nervousness. Also, sometimes dogs better with a professional groomer or tech so you may seek assistance that way.
~Kelly R., owner of German Shepherd
Train Your Dog to Like Having Her Ears Touched
It’s very important from day one to play with your dog's ears and feet. This makes necessary jobs much easier. Your dog probably doesn't associate ear cleaning to a comforting experience, especially if it means being forcefully held while you poke around in her ear. Try making it positive and rewarding.
Does your dog allow you to rub her ears when you’re cuddling? When she is laying down, gently play with her ears, flopping them over and stroking the underside of her ear. Talk to her, praise her and possibly give her a treat. If she likes body rubs, give her one with the other hand; body rubs and ear stroking means love. Get her used to the idea of having the inside of her ear being touched. I don't know what you use but when you want to clean her ears, hide the stuff from her; dogs are smart, and she knows what it is and will instantly get tense if she sees it. They also say dogs can smell it, so you might consider switching to something that is not familiar.
For cleaning the nooks and crannies you could buy one of those terry cloth gloves designed for washing yourself in the shower. Put one glove on and put the cleaning solution on the finger you’ll be using to clean the ears. Then you can sit and give her a body rub with the ungloved hand and clean her ears with the other, and then you just wash it. Another thing, if your dog ever needs ear drops for infections, or solutions in the ear canal, warm the drops up a bit before you use them. Cold solution in the ear is no fun.
~Kathy L., owner of a Great Pyrenees
I love my Furminator and deshedding shampoo
I have the Furminator and it came with a free bottle of waterless deshedding shampoo and conditioner. My American Staffordshire Terrier is a big shedder and it works, I love it. We have had it for a couple of months and it really makes a difference. We are now using it once a month. My dog loves it when I use it on him. He will just sit there until I am finished.
~Janet B., owner of American Staffordshire Terrier