How to Clip Your Scared Dog's Toenails

Posted by Joey DiFrancesco on

little white dog getting nails clipped with tongue hanging out

It’s time for that monthly drama that you both dread. Trimming your dog's nails!

The toenail clippers come out and your dog makes a beeline for the crate to hide and hope that maybe you will just lose your nerve. He is trembling and giving you the “Please no!” eyes. Your own anxiety starts to rise and you briefly consider putting off getting his nail's trimmed for another week.

This drama is playing out in households across the nation on a daily basis. Dogs and owners everywhere are dreading the having their nails trimmed. It doesn’t have to be this way!

Wondering how to clip your dog's nails when your dog is scared? This article will walk you through how to change this dynamic so that trimming your dog’s nails from home isn’t such a traumatic event.

Can’t I just skip it? 

Unfortunately, no, you can’t. If your dog’s nails get too long it can lead to serious problems. Time to put those nail clippers to work. 

Your dog’s posture is, in part, determined by their toenails. When the nails touch the floor, it sends signals to his brain that he is on an incline and he compensates his stance accordingly. Over time this creates undue stress on joints and in some cases, it can do permanent damage to dogs soundness.

In addition, long toenails on dogs twist the toes out of alignment, which can cause lameness as well as contribute to arthritis in the joints of the feet.

Why is my dog scared of having her nails clipped? 

Toes are sensitive areas and many dogs would simply prefer you don’t mess with their feet or nails, even on a good day. If there has been some trauma associated with nail clipping in the past, then the memory can cause a PTSD type of reaction to even the sight of the nail clippers.

In many cases for dogs, the initial trauma is having been “quicked.” This is when you trim too far and cut into the tender nail bed of your dog. This is extremely painful and often leads to a bloody mess.

Once a dog has a fear of having her toenails trimmed, or even simply fears the nail clippers, many well meaning owners make things worse for their dog without realizing it.

German shepherd dog looking up nervous

“You’re not going to get away with this nonsense!”

Many people want to know how to restrain a dog to clip it's nails. This method of dog nail trims involves trying to muscle through a scary experience. This technique often includes squeezing the paws too hard (ouch!) or forcefully restraining the dog while they are terrified. This will (not can, will) lead to a cascading fear that erodes the trust bond between owners and their dogs. 

This is a recipe for disaster, and it should be avoided at all costs. Instead, take the time to teach your pooch to be more comfortable, not more fearful, of the toenail clipping ritual. 

“Oh no! You poor, poor baby! I am so sorry!”

Your dog is extremely tuned in to your emotional state during nail trims. If you are getting too emotionally involved and expressing your own fears and anxieties, then it is only going to add to the trauma of any nails related event for your dog. 

“Forget it!”

Giving up is a common response, particularly for the owner of the melodramatic pooch. You can’t let your dog win this one. You know what is best for her and you have the responsibility to get the job done.

All of these responses to the drama of trimming make things worse by adding to the trauma of the nails experience, deepening the fear response. Here is the good news: No matter how bad things are, they can get better.  

small bulldog looking afraid to get his nails clipped

My dog won't let me cut his nails! What can I do?

Loving dog owners are often traumatized by repeatedly going through this nail trim drama with their dogs. If any of the above responses sound familiar to you, just recognize they aren’t working and may even be making things related to even touching the nails worse. Instead, try to have confidence that you can change this event to a positive one.

Take your emotion out of it, and try these techniques:

Desensitize and recondition.

These are two technical training terms related to nail trims that amount to changing the association of the nail clipping ritual to a positive one. You will do this by scaling it back to interactions that are tolerable for your dog, rewarding a calm response, and slowly progressing at your dog’s pace.

Rewards during this process should be a food your dog really loves that are cut into small pieces so you can reward often, the more frequent the better.

Examples include giving your dog small pea sized bits of cheese, cooked chicken, or soft dog treats. Or, use a chopstick to dole out a small lick of peanut butter as a reward. You can even use pieces of kibble from her regular rood rations, however, add something special to at least 1/3 of the volume to keep your dog motivated.

The process will vary depending on your dog. Praise and reward calm behavior at each level at least 10 times before trying to progress to the next level. If you get a fear response, back it up. Stay under the reaction threshold and progress slowly through the nails training.

Praise and reward calm behavior and ignore any fear response as you progress through these stages: 

  • Sit on the floor near the space where you trim without any clipper tools out. Ask for a sit.
  • Touch your dog’s paw for one second. Praise and reward several times before extending the time gradually to 5 seconds.
  • Hold your dog’s paw for a second, touch the nails, then gradually extend the time.
  • Progress through the last 3 steps again with your dog, this time with the clippers out and next to you.
  • Pick up the clippers in one hand, progress through the first three steps again.
  • Holding her paw, touch the clippers to your dog’s nails for one second. Gradually extend to a 5 second touch.
  • Get in position with your dog with the clippers around the nail for one second building to 5 seconds. Don’t actually cut yet.
  • Once you have achieved the clippers around the nail for 5 seconds, and have praised and rewarded at least 10 times, you are ready to add the actual clip to the nails. Just take a tiny bit off to be absolutely sure you won’t cut the quick. Make the reward extra big with plenty of praise for success.
  • Continue to practice, backing up to a simple touch of the clippers to the toe often.

    Keep your training sessions to 10-15 minutes and repeat several times a day if possible. Don’t put too many expectations on results. Your guide is your dog’s response. Sometimes progress is very slow at first, then a major breakthrough happens for your dog.

    Avoid punishing or using harsh tones during your nails training with your dog. It won’t be effective and will only serve to teach your dog that nail trimming is a risky time when she might be punished for simply expressing her very real fear.

    Your only job is to stay patient and look for every opportunity to reward your dog for calm behavior as you progress towards success trimming your dog's nails.  

    happy little white dog

    Sometimes you need a professional groomer.

    This doesn’t mean you give up on clipping dogs nails at home. However, if the nails fear response in your dog is so bad that you don’t have time to progress through the above techniques at your dog’s own pace, then you have the option of passing off the trauma to a professional temporarily to have his nails trimmed.

    This will break the negative association with nail clipping at home, allowing you to make more progress with your training program. Consider it the “reset” option.

    What can I give my dog to calm him down to cut his nails?

    Giving your dog a dose of calming full spectrum CBD hemp oil for dogs at least an hour before your training sessions begin can help you make much faster progress with your dog training program. Remember, the key to reconditioning is to stay under that reaction threshold, and CBD can be an excellent aid to that end.

    While it won’t solve your dog’s fear of having her nails clipped overnight, CBD oil combined with a nails training program such as that outlined in this article, can transform trimming your dog's nails into a ritual that you and your dog actually look forward to rather than dread.


    Lolahemp calming soft chews and 150mg hemp oil



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