Does your dog hate nail trims?
Coco is a 6 month old Catahoula/Pit bull mix who came for a standard board and train. One of the complaints that her owners had was that she would growl and nip if you tried to trim her nails. We did lots of work with Coco to desensitize her to her nails being trimmed, and she is now very relaxed and calm for nail trims.
Why Dogs Develop a Hatred of Nail Trims
Coco's response to nail trims was not uncommon. Many dogs have an aversion to them, ranging anywhere from pulling their feet away to behaving aggressively. As young puppies, many dogs only get their feet handled for nail trims or other procedures that are less than fun. When the puppy gets squirmy or wants to pull their feet away, many people get frustrated and will correct the puppy or forcibly hold the foot until the puppy stops trying to pull away. This leads to the puppy developing concern with having their feet handled, and by extension, having their nails trimmed.
Some other dogs develop an issue with nail trims because they have been "quicked" during a prior nail trim. Dogs have a cluster of blood vessels running through a portion of their nail, and this "quick" is very sensitive and will bleed and cause pain if it is nicked. Every now and then you may trim to close and accidentally nick this area, which for some dogs is not a big deal. Other dogs can be more dramatic about it, and may develop a phobia of having their nails trimmed. This can be especially true if the nail trim is happening somewhere that the dog already is stressed, such as at a groomer or veterinarian's office.
Other dogs start to cause problems for nail trims simply because they do not want to be held still and do not want the procedure done. Dogs are pretty clever when it comes to avoiding things they don't want, and some dogs learn that pulling their feet away or playing keep away when you get the trimmers out will postpone their pedicure. Other dogs may try to mouth you during a nail trim, which can be as an avoidance behavior or as a more playful behavior. Either way, they can very quickly discover that mouthing or vocalizing will get you to let go of their foot and stop messing with their feet. This behavior can escalate from there.
Teaching Your Dog To Love Nail Trims
Fortunately, it is very easy to avoid this type of behavior. Creating a positive association with nail trims and handling of feet can begin the very first day that you bring home your puppy or dog. Take your dog's normal rations or some of his favorite treats, and set out a comfortable dog bed. Sit on the floor with him and lead him onto the bed. Pick up each of his feet, gradually increasing the time that you hold them. Reward your dog with some food whenever he is calm and allows you to examine his foot. Once your dog will let you hold his feet for 10 seconds at a time and will allow you to touch all of his pads and nails, you are ready to add in the nail clippers or Dremel.
Bring out the clippers or Dremel and have them on the bed next to the dog while you are working on your handling. If you are using the Dremel, practice the same thing once or twice with the Dremel on so that the dog can hear the sound. If your dog shows curiosity to the clippers, allow them to investigate and sniff them. Once your dog is comfortable with the clippers being around, start by trimming or filing one nail at a time. Do it gradually so that you do not accidentally nick the quick. Reward as frequently as needed to keep your dog comfortable and happy. If your dog starts to wiggle or squirm when you pick up their foot, just hold it calmly, wait for them to stop, and then verbally praise them when they relax. Hold the foot for a few more seconds, and then reward. Then you can reattempt to trim the nail.
If you are interested in doing this work with your dog to make nail trims a more pleasant experience, check out the two videos below that detail the process, and show some individual cases of dogs that have been conditioned in this manner.
Sam is the owner and head trainer at Kentucky Dog Training LLC. She set up this blog to share success stories, training tips, the progression of dogs in our training programs, and other thoughts on dogs and training.