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Many dogs kind of hate having their nails done. Many owners are guilty of tackling their dogs, pinning them down, and trimming their nails. This is scary, uncomfortable, and can result in all sorts of bad feelings about nail trims. Even if you try to be gentle and kind, cutting your dog’s nails too short can be really painful for them (and bloody).
Your best bet for improving your dog’s feelings about nail trims is to work on cooperative care with your dog. Cooperative care is already common in zoos, but is just starting to become more common in the dog world.
Rather than tackling your dog and forcing them into a pedicure, cooperative care helps your dog learn how to opt into nail trims. This isn’t just less stressful for your dog – it’s also much easier for you! A dog who feels comfortable is less likely to squirm away (or worse, bite).
At its most basic, nail trim cooperative care for dogs will involve gradually teaching your dog to tolerate you handling their paws, then handling their nails, then trimming one nail at a time. We use LOTS of treats in our household to accomplish this!
But helping your dog not hate nail trims isn’t just about the training: proper gear helps a lot!
Rather than simply relying on treats and a basic nailtrimmer, in my house we have a lot of extra gear to help make pedicure days go smoothly.
- Lick mats. One of the simplest things I’ve done to help nail trim days go smoothly is to get a lick mat. I simply smear some cream cheese, peanut butter, or wet dog food on this mat and then stick it to a wall. This keeps my dog happily licking while I can focus on their paws. If my dog stops eating, I know that I’ve made them nervous and it’s time for a break!
- Dremels. I recently got a LuckyTail Dremel and am LOVING it. Rather than crushing your dog’s nail in a clipper, a dremel lets you grind your dog’s nails down smoothly. Some dogs take a while to get used to the noise and sensation, but my crew loves that there’s virtually no chance of me cutting their quick with a dremel! I love that the LuckyTail Dremel is affordable, quiet, and cordless. It’s got two speeds and has been really easy for me to use as a dremel newbie!
- Treat and Train. Similar to the lick mats, a Treat and Train helps teach your dog to stand still and tolerate nail trims without you having to handle nail trimmers, paws, and treats all in your own two hands. Rather than feeding your dog constantly during their pedicure, a Treat and Train allows you to press a button to reward your dog after each nail is trimmed. I love that I can put the Treat and Train in front of my dog and reward him there while I mess with his rear paws. If I try to have treats in my hand while I trim rear toenails, I just end up with a dog trying to turn around and nibble at me! The Treat and Train solves that.
- Scratch Boards. I haven’t personally used a scratch board yet. But I’ve heard that they’re a great solution, especially for front paws. Simply teach your dog to dig at the abrasive surface, and your dog can grind down their own paws. Best of all, many dogs love this activity! Of course, you’ll still have to trim rear toenails. But it’s much easier to just trim 2 paws than 4!
Have you had much luck teaching your dog not to hate nail trims? We’d love to hear your successes or struggles in the comments below!
Kayla founded Journey Dog Training in 2013 to provide high-quality and affordable dog behavior advice. She is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant who’s worked with hundreds of private clients, thousands of shelter dogs, and dozens of working detection dogs. Kayla’s dog and cat behavior advice has been featured in NPR, the Chicago Tribune, and Pet MD. She’s an avid adventurer who is currently doing #vanlife on the Pan-American Highway with her two border collies and a cat. Aside from running Journey Dog Training, Kayla also runs the nonprofit K9 Conservationists, where she and the dogs work as conservation detection dog teams. You can get 1:1 advice with a Journey Dog Training team member here.