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Nailed It! 5 Tips for Stress-Free Dog Nail Trims

Image via MALKO VOLHA/Shutterstock

By Victoria Schade

Does trimming your dog’s nails feel like a wrestling match? Or do you opt to outsource the job to your vet or groomer in order to avoid the trauma? Believe it or not, dog nail trims don’t have to be a struggle. With a dog-friendly approach, you can turn this important dog grooming process into a day at the spa.

Lori Nanan, a certified dog trainer and the creator of “Nailed It: A Canine Course In Nail Care,” stresses that it’s never too late to change your dog’s reaction to nail trims, even if your dog has a history of sitting through uncomfortable pedicures.

That said, the more time your dog has had to develop a negative association to nail cutting, the longer it’ll take to change your dog’s perception of it. Helping her feel relaxed during dog nail trims requires patience, a methodical approach and an understanding of what your dog is trying to tell you as you work.

A Tip on Nail Tips

Many pet parents worry about trimming dog nails because they think they have to cut until the nails are, as Nanan puts it, “stubby little nubs.” A more realistic goal (and one that can help to prevent cutting the “quick,” or the nail’s blood supply) is to trim them until they’re just above the floor. Nanan says, “This is because dogs actually do use their nails for traction and we don’t want them slipping and sliding all over the place.”

Cutting dog’s nails with a precision tool will help keep your dog’s nails the proper length. An easy-to-use blade, like the Safari Professional nail trimmer, allows for the accuracy necessary to make a quick and clean cut.

Helping Your Dog Feel More Comfortable With Nail Trims

As you begin the process, pay attention to what your dog is saying to you, as responding to your dog’s body language will help him become more comfortable with the business of nail trims.

Some signs of discomfort are obvious, like repeatedly trying to move a paw away. Others are more subtle, like if your dog keeps yawning as you work. If at any point your dog is signaling that you’re moving too quickly, put the dog nail clippers away and finish up for the day. Trying to keep going despite your dog’s discomfort might derail any progress you’ve made.

The following suggestions provide an overview on how to cut dog nails and will enable you to work through the process with your dog as a team.

Start Young

Nanan suggests beginning body-handling exercises when your dog is still a puppy. Gently familiarizing your dog with all aspects of nail trims, from the equipment to the way you’ll be manipulating his feet, can help your puppy understand that it’s not scary or painful.

Nanan says that pairing basic exercises with delicious dog treats can also make the process less threatening. For example, show your dog a puppy-sized nail trimmer, like the Li’l Pals dog nail trimmer, and immediately follow up with a high-value treat so that your puppy starts to make a positive association to the tool. “Remember, this is important, as your dog will need this type of care for his lifetime, and making it stress- and fear-free is crucial,” she adds.

Stress Is Not Defiance

“Recognize that your dog is not giving you a hard time. He or she is having a hard time,” Nanan says. Reframing your dog’s reactions to nail care and actually seeing the process from his perspective will help shift how you approach trimming your dog’s nails.

A dose of empathy can help you understand that nail care can be scary for some dogs and that your dog isn’t being willful or stubborn when he reacts to the process. Nanan adds, “Acknowledging that often gives us the opportunity to see things through our dog’s eyes, slow down and try a new approach.”

You Are Your Dog’s Advocate

Rather than outsourcing your dog’s nail care to your vet or groomer, cutting your dog’s nails at home enables you to keep your dog in their comfort zone and make the process as stress-free as possible. Pet professionals have busy schedules and might resort to handling that helps get the job done more quickly, but doesn’t take your dog’s comfort into account.

Dr. Joanne Loeffler, DVM and Fear Free Certified Practitioner at the Telford Veterinary Hospital in Telford, Pennsylvania, cautions that dogs and cats both have extra nerve receptors in their paw pads that help protect them while walking.

These receptors make them more sensitive to their paws being handled than other parts of their body, which means that if they try to pull away during a nail trim and instead are held down, the dog will either become more fearful because he can’t get away from the uncomfortable handling, or the dog might go into fight or flight mode. Dr. Loeffler stresses, “Just because the animal is not fighting does not mean they are happy with the procedure.”

Dog nail trims done at home can progress at a leisurely pace as you make sure that your dog is fully comfortable with each step of the process. Plus, Nanan points out that trimming dog nails at home is a major cost saver over the lifetime of your dog.

Consider Your Tools

If your dog has had a negative experience with a particular trimming tool, switch to something else. Nanan suggests that it’s easier to build a new positive association to a tool instead of trying to undo a negative one.

For example, a dog who has had a bad experience with dog nail clippers might be more comfortable relearning the process with a different tool, like Dremel’s 7300-PT dog and cat nail grinder kit. Rather than cutting the nail off, which could lead to an accidental deep cut, a dog nail grinder acts like a nail file and slowly grinds the nail to the desired length.

Cut Carefully

One of the scariest parts of cutting dogs’ nails is the possibility of cutting the blood vessel inside the dog’s nail. Not only is it painful for the dog, but nicking the quick usually means a fair amount of bleeding.

Having a plan to stop bleeding if you accidentally clip the quick of the nail is important. You can use stypic powder and pressure, or if you are in a bind, baking flour works also. These nails can bleed excessively, so you should hold pressure for a full two minutes before relieving pressure and then applying the stypic powder.

Miracle Care Kwik Stop styptic powder also contains benzocaine to help block the pain and stop bleeding. Remedy Recovery is another popular styptic powder that works in seconds and does not contain alcohol.

Nanan cautions, “Don’t be tempted to just start trimming. Be conservative. If your dog has dark nails, shine a penlight on them so you can see the quick and not guess. Make your motto, ‘Slow is the new fast.’” If you commit to keeping your dog comfortable, cutting your dog’s nails can actually become a bonding experience for you and your dog.

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