I can trim my dog’s nails in three minutes. Can you?
How these four tips transformed my dogs anxious, out of control nail trimming experiences into a three minute, stress-free, encounter and you can too.
My blood? Boiling. Completely at my wits end as my dog is flailing out from under my grip. I can’t even grab his paw let alone position my nail clippers in that perfect way so I don’t clip his quick. My dog breaks free. “CODY!” I yell to my husband. “COME HOLD HIM DOWN! I CAN’T DO THIS ALONE!” My husband begrudgingly enters the room and holds my dog, Louie, down. I get the clippers in the almost perfect position….
*Dog Flails* “OH GOD. I got his quick. He’s bleeding. There’s blood everywhere! When I say everywhere, I was not kidding. I was astonished at the amount of blood that could be splattered around the house in such a short period of time until my dog’s bleeding nail was pouring blood out with every step...I cannot explain the kind of shame and frustration I felt while scrambling around my kitchen looking for cornstarch or anything else that could stop the river of blood from flowing out of my dogs butchered nail. I had cut his quick so deeply that it took about an hour for the bleeding to stop, and I felt so terribly bad for him. I should have just taken him to the vet!
Does this sound familiar? Maybe that scene doesn’t hit home for you.
How about this one?
*Sitting in waiting room at the vet after the tech takes my pup back for his nail trim.*
“QUICK! Grab the muzzle!! OK. OK. OK. Hold him! Hold him down!!”
“Grab Tracy! We need extra hands in here!”
“OH GOD! He just released his glands” *Gagging Noises*
“GET TRACY! GET HER! We need to get this done.”
“OH MY GOD. It stinks so *GAG* bad.”
I was sitting in the waiting room at my pups vet trying to do theright thing so I didn’t have a repeat home disaster on my hands. I was sitting patiently in the waiting room at my vet, even though I had insisted on assisting the tech with his nail trimming process. “We have it covered, don’t worry.” She said assuringly. I sighed and let them take him into the trimming room. What followed was so embarrassing and stressful. My dog not only required a muzzle so he would not bite the technicians, he released his anal glands during the trim because he was THAT scared and anxious. All the while, I was sitting in the waiting room feeling completely helpless in the pursuit my dog’s nail health.
Can you believe that these are only two stories from my arsenal of horrific nail trimming experiences with my Weimaraner / Pit mix named Louie? Nail trims used to be one of the most daunting tasks to complete in my house, at the groomers, or at the vet. Not only was the experience a drag for me, it really stressed my dog out and severed what little trust he was building in me. I always felt terrible because no matter what I did each experience ended with my dog and myself being totally and completely traumatized and exasperated.
It took some time, but I can confidently say that our nail trimming is done and over in a matter of minutes now, in my own home, and Louie barely bats an eye at the chore.
How did I get here? Could you ever get here? Maybe you don’t believe it could ever happen, but I know exactly where you are at and the answer is YES! You can take care of your dogs nail health without all the stress, anxiety, frustration, chaos, and guilt that can accompany the nail grooming experience.
First things first. Why in the world was my dog bleeding all over my house? Well, it is very simple. The anatomy of a dog’s nail consists of two major parts. The quick, which is the blood supply and soft nerve tissue that will bleed if you cut it. The other part is the hard, hollow, pointed shell part of the nail (which is the part you want to trim) that houses the quick. Dog’s have no sensation attached to this outer part of their nails, but if you trim too short you might cut into the soft tissue which sends a pain signal to your pups brain. That is why creating a calm, routine nail trimming experience with your pup, and choosing the right style trimmer will help prevent you from cutting too deep into your dog’s nail causing unnecessary stress and negative attachment to their nail grooming time.
Image Source: Dogs Naturally Magazine
Here are the top tips and tricks to help you slay the nail trimming experience, build trust with your pup and redefine what nail grooming means to your dog.
Stay calm. I know, it sounds simple...but I remember just how stressed out I would get when attempting to trim my dog's nails, and it always made the situation worse. Dogs are extremely sensitive to our emotions and feed highly off of our energy. The more stressed out and intense your energy is, the more wound up and anxious your pup will get. Stressed out and negative emotional experiences negatively shape and affect your dogs future nail trimming experiences. If you find yourself becoming frustrated, upset, or angry, just take a break, walk away, and take a few deep breaths. I have had countless moments of just walking away from my pup and exercising deep breathing techniques before I get ever got too stressed out. Revisit the task when you and your pup have had a moment to calm down. This is the very first and most important step when training your dog to tolerate the nail trimming experience.
The Clippers - If your pup is like mine was, even the sight of the nail clippers is a trigger that spikes anxious and worked up energy. Try investing in a different (looking) set of nail trimmers, and keep them out in the open for your pup to see during peaceful moments in your home. After I would take my pup for a long walk and he was tuckered out I would set the trimmers out in the middle of the room. Finding the calm and relaxed moments your dogs has through the day and showing them the trimmers begins to build new calmer neurological connections. Having your pup connect their calm, peaceful, state of mind to the new nail clippers will have an extremely positive impact. Rewarding your dog with extra cuddles or a treat during these moments help enforce that positive headspace. Slowly work a light touch of the paw(s) into these moments to continue to build a calm, happy connection to seeing the clippers, and having their paws handled. (If you’d like to learn about the different kinds of nail clippers and what style would work best for your pup, click here.)
Paw Touching - Most dogs are really uncomfortable with their paws being handled for any reason. My dog, Louie, was always very skittish when I would just pet the fur on his paws so I knew it was imperative to the nail trimming experience to normalize the handling of his puppy feet! The techniques are simple, but not easy. There are a few different things you can do to make paw touching supernormal for your dog. We always would wipe dog paws with a towel when it was muddy out, and it was semi-challenging...so I decided to make it a part of the daily routine by “wiping his paws” each and every time he came into the house. I also began touching his paws (not the little hairs between the pads!) while we were laying together or he was relaxing on his bed. I made it a goal to desensitize all paw touching, grabbing, and petting and within days to weeks he wouldn’t even budge at the interaction!
Wear them out. Ever take your pup on a doggie date with some of your friends dogs and watch them run and play their little heart out? Then when you arrive at home your pup is so exhausted they willingly put themselves to bed and sleep so peacefully the rest of the day? That state of mind is the goal for this step. Getting your pup in a tired, calm state of mind is imperative to the calm nail trimming experience. I found that after a very long walk, hanging out for a doggie date, a trip to the dog park, and a bath my pup would be so tuckered out that he did not care to put up as much of a fuss over the nail cutting process. Take your dog to the dog park, for a long walk with a swim (if possible), and end it with bath time (if possible) to help soften the nails. Wearing your dog out will severely deplete that anxious, work up energy before it even has the chance to manifest. This low energy, calm and peaceful state of mind will help keep your dog’s emotions at bay during their nail trimming experience offering a calmer, happier, you during your pups grooming!
Soft Nails Cut Better! After I would wear my pup out with physical activity I would bathe him in a tub that had some warm water in the bottom so his nails would get clean, nice and soft. Anytime that I would try and trim his nails without this step it was harder to see his quick and his nails were more prone to chipping or peeling. My dog Louie has all clear nails so when they were dirty it made judging where I wanted to make the cut on his nail incredibly difficult. If you dog has dark nails bathing still helps clear the dirt out so you can look and see what part of the nail has flesh in it and what part is just empty nail. To do this, maneuver your pups paw in a way that you can look under the nail. The end of the nail will be a hollow cove (safe to cut), but the quick will be evident where the nail is not hollow and the nail is filled with flesh.
Treats / Positive Reinforcement. My pup is a big meat head who LOVES his treats. If I had to guess I would say your dog loves their treats too! When I would take small breaks to cool off I would always reward the work that has been done intermittently. It is important to wait a few minutes for your pup to calm down a little before you give them a treat. If you give treats too fast in a situation like this you could send the message that you are rewarding your dogs anxious worked up, energy. Treat giving also helps retrain your pups brain to associate something positive and that brings joy with the overall nail grooming experience!
Leading by Example. This next tip really only applies in a multiple dog household in which one of the pups doesn’t mind getting their nails trimmed. I used to always trim my female dog’s nails right in front of Louie. My other dog (Zoey) never even batted an eye at her nail trimming and it was such a great thing. I remember taking her to the groomer and just swooning over her calm, cool, and collected attitude. Her casual attitude towards the nail trimming experience gave me confidence to trim her nails at home and it went over without a hitch. I thought that trimming a dog’s nails was easy peasy...until we adopted Louie. So I decided that I would trim Zoey’s nails in from of Louie to have her lead by example with her chill vibes, and, of course, would have him watch her get a treat afterwards as well. Having Louie watch how carefree nail maintenance could be reinforced the new positive associations I was working so hard at creating.
All these tips are great, right? But how often should you trim your dog’s nails?
Really, this depends on your pup. I have two very different dogs when it comes to nail grooming. My female dog, Zoey, grows her nails very fast, but the quicks do not grow as fast as the hard hollow part of the nail so I do not feel as pressured to trim her nails as I do my male dog, Louie. Since Louie’s quicks grow almost as fast as his nails, frequent, small trimming is the best kind of maintenance. I definitely know that it is time to do nail trimming for my pups when I begin to hear the clicking sound on my hardwood floors. Usually this happens about every three to four weeks. My female dog, Zoey’s, nails are always longer than my male dog, Louie’s. I can trim her nails pretty far back without cutting her quick since her nails grow fast, but the quick does not. With Louie, his nails grow very slow, and the quick takes up a large portion of his nail so I cannot trim as much nail off. If your dog has long nails and the quick is almost just as long...trim a very small amount of nail each week. As the nail is trimmed back, the quick will retract as well, opening the door to short, well groomed, nails. The frequency of nail trimming really depends on your dog’s individual nail traits. Pay attention to how fast, or slow your dog’s nails grow, and check out how fast your dog’s quick grows as well. These two factors will determine whether you need to do frequent, small trims, or infrequent larger trims with your pup.
What Style Clipper Would Provide Your Pup With The Best Possible Experience?
When selecting the right style clippers for you dog there are multiple factors to take into consideration, but the very first, and possibly the most important consideration for selecting the perfect clippers for your pup is how large or small your dog is. If you buy a large pair of clippers for grooming a small dog there is a huge possibility that you could end of up cutting off more nail than intended by accident, on the contrary, if you buy trimmers that are too small for your breed you might not be able to cut through the nail. There should be guidelines on the packaging of any style clippers with sizing tips and recommendations.
So, what are the three different style clipper options for your pup?
These are the most common pair of nail clippers for your four-legged companion. They work just like a pair of scissors so you can clearly see where your cut will be made. I’ve used these kinds with my pups, but unfortunately the scissor style pair that I bought didn’t have a guard on them so I found my confidence in how much nail to trim away very low without the guard. My recommendation with this style is to buy a pair that has a guard to ensure that you do not clip away too much nail and cut your pups quick. The great thing about buying the scissor style clippers with a guard is the peace of mind and confidence that you exude while working on your dog’s nails. Like I mentioned above, with your pup being very sensitive to your emotions, you do not want to feel overly anxious, worried, unconfident, or angry while trimming your dog’s nails.
For me, this is the style that I felt most confident using (even though these are not the most user friendly). I can’t really explain why this style ended up being my ‘go to’ for my male dog Louie since most experts recommend these style clippers for experienced groomers or experienced ‘Do it yourselfers.’ This is because guillotine trimmers are structured just like the old school guillotines that would chop people’s heads off. You squeeze the handles together and the blade comes up from the bottom and slices the tip of the nail off. The reason why most experts don’t recommend this style for beginners is because there is no guard options, which greatly increases the risk of cutting too much nail off and hitting your dogs soft tissue causing unnecessary blood loss.
This last and final option of nail trimming is electric and unique in nature. Nail grinders have a cylinder nail file bit that rotates at high speeds to slowly grind your pups nail away. This option is great for pups who absolutely cannot stand getting their nails trimmed with traditional style clippers, and don’t mind paw touching. I really enjoy that nail grinders leave a smooth nail and greatly reduce the chance of nicking your dog’s quick. I bought this style in high hopes for my dog Louie, but unfortunately the noise that was generated by the motor that spins the file around seriously freaked him out. I should have known since his eyes get all dilated anytime a new noise is introduced into his world. Besides that, my female dog, Zoey, really digs this style. Nail trimming takes longer while using a grinder, but her nails are so much smoother than Louie’s nails after her nail grooming.
Image Source: TheWirecutter
Okay, let’s wrap this up.
No matter what style nail trimmer you decide to use, make sure that you feel calm and confident while handling your pups precious paws. Each dog has their own preferences and personalities that shine through during nail trimming, and trust your gut as to what style will work best for your furry friend.
It took a matter of about two months before all the hard work really started paying off, but the results last a lifetime. I no longer bat an eye at doing nail maintenance for my pups. Knowing that Louie now trusts me with a task that he felt so absolutely negative towards means so much to me as his pup-parent. I know that if you are patient, and commit to working with your pup to cultivate a different perspective on their nail grooming experience that you will be a pro at keeping your pups nails healthy and trimmed.
I hope these tips find you well, and inspire you to begin to re-train your pups brain so you both love his future nail trimming experiences!