Many dogs would rather go to the vet than get their nails trimmed. This mortal fear of pedicure is probably the result of an earlier incident when the dog’s nail had accidently been cut to the quick. The memory of that sharp, sudden pain is now associated forever with the act of nail trimming – and it doesn’t help one bit when the dog-owner is as nervous about the procedure as the animal is.
But nail clipping is necessary for indoor dogs who walk mostly on tiles, wood floors and carpets and don’t get enough opportunity to wear the nails out naturally, outdoors. Overgrown nails can curl inwards, cutting into the paw pads and make walking difficult. They can easily get caught in fabric, and cause a serious wound when the animal tries to yank its paw out. And because the dog brain is programmed to expect nails to touch the ground only when they are climbing uphill, they can overstress certain muscle groups when walking that in turn can lead to hind leg and joint problems.
The reason nail trimming is such a harrowing experience for both dogs and dog-owners is because unlike humans, the pink nail bed is located inside the horny outer shell of the nail. It isn’t always clear where the horn can safely be cut without touching the nail bed, especially when holding a struggling animal down, and that is when accidents happen and the nail bleeds.
If your pet has already developed a fear of nail trimming, there are still a few things you can do to make the experience a little easier for everybody next time he/she needs a pedi. Here are some helpful tips for the future:
• Change the look of the clipper. If your dog already recognizes the instrument that you normally use, get a different one that looks very different. This will give you a chance to start afresh with the new nail-cutting regimen because the animal will not realize what it does right off the bat.
• Make the dog `like’ the new clipper first. Which means, show him/her the clipper and give treats right after the animal has sniffed the instrument. Do this several times, so your pet learns to associate the nail clipper with treats and therefore welcomes its appearance.
• The sound clippers make when they cut a nail is locked in your dog’s memory as a terrible thing. To get him/her to not react with so much fear at the sound, click it often when you’re showing it to the dog and let the animal get conditioned to think the sound is also associated with a treat reward.
• If your pet is naturally resistant to `sharing’ its paws, get him/her to not mind the paws being touched by you. A light, comforting massage of the paw pads, followed immediately by a treat will ease anxieties and make `paw play’ much less scary when it is time to trim.
• Make the nails become more accessible. Use non-threatening objects, like a pen or a spoon to `casually’ touch the dog’s nails. Do this practice often, so when you finally let the new clipper come in contact with the nail, the dog will not panic quite so much.
• During the actual trimming, cut at a 45-degree angle, and don’t try to get all of it at once. Take a little bit off at a time and offer a treat between each snip. Don’t get too close to the pink nail bed the very first time. You must get used to the nail clipper too, so practice within safe limits.
• Remember that Chondrodystrophic dog breeds with short legs, like Corgis, Bulldogs, Shih Tsus and Bassett Hounds are not always comfortable when their legs are stretched too much during the process of nail trimming. Ease your hold as much as possible if you have one.
Good luck, to both of you!