Ask A Vet: How to Trim Your Dog's Nails


Welcome to our weekly 'Ask a Vet from the SF SPCA' feature on Dr. Jeannine Berger, DVM, DACVB is a board certified veterinary behaviorist who counsels guardians whose pets’ issues are beyond the scope of training. Think of her as a pet shrink…at your service. Ask your own questions in the comments!

You bring out the nail clippers and your dog runs and hides. We have all seen it before. Then you call your dog, and he won't come. Now, you are pulling out some treats, but even this temptation is not enough to lure your dog out from his hiding spot.

The good news is your dog can learn to change his tune on his pedicures.  
Lesson 1: Turn the nail clipper into the proverbial can opener. What does the can opener mean? The opening of a can and the soft goodness of canned food inside.

We will help you work out the sequence of events:
1. Place the nail clippers in a special drawer, or if your dog comes running when you open the refrigerator, place the clippers there.

2. Take the clippers in your hands, THEN give a special and yummy treat, one that your dog usually won’t get but goes crazy for. Make that treat small and repeat many sequences of clippers then treat. This sequence is important. If you lure your dog with a treat and then clip his nails, you are not making the same good association as you are making with the can opener.

3. Never call your dog when you are about to do an uncomfortable thing, you will ruin your chances of getting him to come.

4. Once your dog comes running, have your dog sit or lay down when you have the clippers in your hand. Then give the treat.

5. Then you will gradually progress to the point where you can touch (not clip!) the paw with the nail clippers and your will dog stay seated or down and wait for his treat.

6. It is important that you always end on a good note. Don’t push the process faster than your dog is comfortable with. And use a high-value reward such as a hotdog or, if your dog is a play fanatic, use his favorite ball as the reward.

7. Once your dog is in position and stays put when you have the clippers in hand, you are ready to clip ONE nail and you reward your dog. Then you do the second nail and reward him accordingly. Repeat until you've clipped them all. Be patient.

8. It's important your dog trusts that it won’t hurt! Get familiar with a good nail trimming technique and use a sharp clipper. NEVER clip too short. You don’t want to make your dog bleed for sure – but even cutting it too short or squeezing the nail can hurt dogs because they have a bone in their last digit that is very sensitive. It is not comparable to clipping your own nails.

9. NEVER punish your dog or force him to clip his nails. More tips can be found here.

If your dog is aggressive, you'll need help from a professional and sign up for behavior appointments with our behavior technician to help your dog overcome his fear and turn nail trimming into an enjoyable process. Contact us for more information. We also offer walk in nail trim clinic every other Saturday for cats. 

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