Training your dog for nail trims

close up of cutting dog nail with specialty tool on blue background

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Trimming a dog’s nails are part of the routine care every pet parent provides.  However, not every dog enjoys having his or her nails trimmed and for some the experience can be extremely frightening and stressful.  Dogs who hate having their nails trimmed do so because they are either not used to paw handling or had one bad experience with nail trims such as the quick being cut.  While it is always recommended to begin training for nail trims as a puppy, the good news is, it is never too late to change a dog’s negative behavior toward nail trims.

Whenever you train your dog it should always be a positive experience for him or her and only use positive reinforcement, never punishment.  Dogs love high reward treats like peanut butter, Cheese Whiz, or frozen chicken broth so be prepared with a few rewards to ensure a positive experience when training.  If your dog has been known to nip or bite during nail trims in the past, it is perfectly ok to protect yourself and use a muzzle. In order to reduce the stress of the muzzle, make sure to associate it with treats, and always use a basket muzzle where your dog can continually receive treats during the nail trim training.  

When training your dog begin by getting them used to paw handling.  With your high reward treats handy, begin by touching the shoulder and hind quarters of each leg, slowly working your way to touching the paw.   As your dog begins to associate rewards with touching and starts to relax, work your way up to pinching the nails to mimic the touch of the nail clippers.  Once your dog is relaxed with frequent paw handling, you can begin to introduce the nail clippers to him or her. Start by just showing your dog the clippers and rewarding with treats.  Once the sight of the clipper no longer elicits a negative response, condition him or her to the sound of the clipper cutting nails. You can cut small carrots to mimic the noise. When you see your dog no longer shows any negative reactions to paw handling and the clippers, begin to touch the nails with the clipper while rewarding your dog, but do not cut.  Only cut the nails when your dog is relaxed and if you can only only do one or a few it is ok. Your dog may need to have his or her nails cut over a few sessions but with continual positive reinforcement, your dog should eventually allow you to cut his or her nails at one time. For help with training always consult with your veterinarian or dog trainer.

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