Yes that’s right. You and your dog could ENJOY nail trimming time! How is that possible? Through proper conditioning using force free methods. Having a dog that co-operates in all their husbandry behaviors (from nail trims, bath time, ear cleaning or wound care) can save you time, money and lots of stress on you and your dog. Most dogs nails need to be trimmed every week or two. Having nails that are too long (if you can hear them click on the floor) is not healthy for your dog. If you have a puppy, this is a must do NOW. Once you have a dog that has already learned to fear nail trims, this process can take much longer.
So how does co-operative nail trimming happen? Your first mantra must be “No Force”. This means that if your dog says “NO!” you must stop. Yes, I said stop. I know this is the complete opposite of what you want to do, I’ve been there (and still struggle with this sometimes). But don’t worry, if you do it right this won’t happen often. In fact, your goal is for your dog to never feel concerned enough to want to stop. Instead, they should want you to continue. You will play a game of Red Light, Green Light. If your dog allows the handling/touch (Green Light), they will be rewarded with a yummy treat. If they ask you to stop (Red Light), you stop but no treat. Once your dog understands the game, most will choose for the game to start back right away. If not, you can take a short break and try again.
Remember, do the step and then treat.
If using a Dremel, do all the steps 1-6 above with the Dremel OFF in addition to the following:
This process can take several weeks or several months depending on wether your dog has any handling history, negative handling associations, the number of sessions you do a day/week, how well you respond to your dogs signals, and number of setbacks. I had Maisie happily running to me when she heard the sound of the Dremel, and then I accidentally hit the head eject button which made a terribly startling noise (to us both), so we went back quite a few steps that day.
When it comes to nail trims, the saying “Slow and steady wins the race” certainly applies. And along the way you and your dog will be forming a relationship built on trust and communication.
For dogs that already have a negative association with nail trims, it will help to start with a different tool. If your dogs nails have been trimmed using clippers, start with a nail file and a Dremel. Please note, if your dog is growling or has bitten when being handled, please contact a Certified Professional Dog Trainer or Certified Dog Behavior Consultant.
I personally prefer to sand my dogs nails, because you are less likely to cut the dogs quick. However, if you are using clippers, you should only be clipping off small amounts at a time, so you are shaving instead of cutting. Either way works well, but choose what makes you feel most comfortable.
**Note, this is not a How to Trim nails, only how to condition your dog to the process. However, having a dog that is calm while you work on their nails can help you become more comfortable and lessen the chance of you cutting their quick. Please educate yourself on the proper use of a Dremmel or clippers prior to trimming your dogs nails.