Nail-clipping is usually a nightmare for dog owners. Most dogs hate it as its quite an uncomfortable experience for them. However, having long nails can cause problems as they are more suscetible to being broken/split and if they grow too long can become uncomfortable for the dog to walk on. There are a few different tools out there people use, I personally use a simple metal nail-clipper. Some people file the dogs nails with either a basic nail file or even an electric one. I use a nail-clipper because its basically quicker and so the dogs are uncomfortable for a shorter amount of time.
Ernie and Indi have always tolerated nail-clipping. They don’t like it, but they let me do it. Kez, however, has been a bit of a challenge. When I first got her, her handling issues meant I couldnt even touch her paws let alone cut her claws. Once we got over that, she did tolerate it… until I went too low a few times by accident (her claws are jet black so you cant see how far is too low at all). She then started rolling on her back everytime I went to cut her claws, which is a clear signal that she wants me to go away. I didn’t want to cut her claws when she was in that position so asked for a sit and only when she was sitting up did I cut her claws. However, she soon learnt that lying on her back meant her claws werent cut, so the behaviour got worse. I then tried cutting her claws while she was on her back, bad idea! This then escalated to her snapping at me, and in the end I could only cut her claws with a muzzle on. Not the relationship I wanted with her at all, so I then stopped all nail-clipping and decided to retrain it from scratch.
I used to hand feed Kez her dinner everyday to teach her tricks, obedience… anything that was useful. This meant it was the perfect time to retrain Kez’s claw cutting. Kez absolutely loves doing tricks, and one of her favourite tricks is lifting each paw up one at a time really quickly. So I began by asking for this trick and getting her to place her paw in my hand with the nail clipper in the other. I then rewarded. I did this a few times before touching her toes with the nail-clipper. If she moved her paw from my hand, she got no food. I’d then ask again, do same thing but slightly lighter and if she didn’t shy away, she got a handful of her dinner and tonnes of praise. If she moved her paw, I let her, but that meant no reward. I also didn’t force her paw, I asked for it each time and she had to give it to me willingly. A few times she was reluctant, so I just hid the clipper behind me and asked for her paw and rewarded that on its own before bringing the clipper back.
It was slow progress, she had to give me her paw willingly everytime and then let me touch her claw with the nail-clipper without jerking it back. If she did jerk back, I went back a step to a point she was comfortable. It was all about making it a trick. I didn’t do much of it in each session, I maybe did 2 or 3 of touching her nail successfully without her jerking it back and then I’d ask for her to just do tricks. I would practice her giving her paws to me without the clipper there continuously so it didnt become associated with it.
Once she was 100% with the clipper brushing her toes I then clipped one of her nails. Almost straight after, I suddenly gave her tonnes of praise and food. As expected, this did set her back slightly as this was such a huge fear for her. So, I just went back a step and went back to brushing her claw lightly until she could handle me clipping her claw again. It didn’t take long at all, and the more I clipped her claws, the more comfortable she got with it. Sometimes she’d go backwards and be reluctant to give me her paw, but then I’d just ask for it on its own and build it back up. It always went quicker each time we did this until it stopped bothering her at all.
I then clipped 2 claws before giving her a handful of her dinner and tonnes of praise. By this point, she was so much more confident with the whole thing that it didn’t bother her at all and we were able to go from 2 claws to all her claws within about 3 sessions. I was still rewarding her hugely after every experience to keep it positive and fun. I was also asking for her paws each time rather than picking them up as it gave her more control and choice in the situation, making her more confident. I obviously picked up her back feet to do them, but I only did her back feet once I’d done all her front feet in one go successfully and she trusted me completely with that clipper.
And suddenly my snappy dog who could only wear a muzzle when having her nails clipped was confident and happy with the whole experience . I am now extra careful not to go too low though as that would destroy all the hard work. But it just shows what positive reinforcement can achieve . My biggest tip though is to teach them when there young. As soon as you get them home, get them used to the nail-clipper and interacting with it. When there older and there claws are thicker, you can use the exact method I did with Kez using there mealtimes. I dont understand why more people dont handfeed there dogs, its just such a useful time as they are so reinforced by there food. Particuarly when training things like nail-clipping as treats just don’t have the same effect.
Anyway, just remember to make it fun and be patient . Because then it turns into a trick and a game, rather than a chore.