The Nail Wars

Poor dogs. Some of us think getting a manicure is akin to heaven, but for dogs, getting their nails done is more often like going to hell. I was thinking about this last night while I was working with Willie on nails that grow extra long and extra fast because of his restricted exercise. I just switched him over to a “grinder” (Oster Grinder or Dremel, mine is an Oster) and asked myself this question: “What took me so long?” I used the Oster on both Pippy Tay and Lassie for years and with great success, but was a tad lazy about conditioning Willie to it until now. Although I’ve only cut into the quick of one of his nails one time, (and then not badly — but still, I hate it when that happens) and have used buckets of treats while trimming his nails, Willie clearly hated having his nails trimmed and seemed to more and more as the years went on.

Over the years I’ve clipped a gazillion nails, and worked with hundreds of clients whose dogs objected to having their nails trimmed. I thought it’d be interesting to share some thoughts and to hear about your experiences. Nail trimming may seem like a trivial subject, but given Lassie’s face when I used to use clippers on her (“I’M DYING!”) and the clients who were bitten by their dogs when they tried, it’s actually pretty important.

Here’s why I think some dogs get worse with a clipper: the “click” of clippers actually makes things worse for some dogs. I first wondered about this when several clients told me that their dogs hated having their nails trimmed until they went deaf, and then didn’t care. Wow. Really? But I noticed the same thing with Pippy Tay; starting around the age of 15 years, about when her hearing started to go. When she was younger, Pippy was never aggressive about nail trims, she just acted as though having her nails done was a nightmare beyond belief. Oh yes, it was easily managed and we got through it fine, but Pippy clearly found it extremely aversive, even with the best conditioning and tons of treats. Once I switched to the grinder she completely relaxed, and would lie on her side as if being massaged when  I’d say, “Let’s go to the spa!” She’d lie down and practically raise a paw. It was all I could do to not ask her to select her color and pay up before I finished the manicure.

Lassie never liked having her nails done, but appeared to be much less stressed with the grinder than the clippers. Luke and Tulip didn’t seem to mind much, so I clipped their nails because it’s faster and easier, but the device was a godsend for both Pippy and Lassie. Willie didn’t mind his nails being done at first, but after I cut into the quick once he seemed to hate it. He’d tense up as if expected doom, and flinch each time the clippers made their ‘clipping’ sound. That, and my client’s dogs, got me to thinking: Could the click of a clippers condition dogs to expect something aversive as easily as something good as in Clicker Training? Why not?  After all a ‘click’ is extremely effective at getting a dog’s attention. A clicking sound has an instant onset, abrupt escalation from no power to full power, and a full range of frequencies  (the better to light up more acoustic receptor neurons), and few sounds are better at getting at becoming meaningful to a mammal.

As I mentioned, I’ve switched Willie to a grinder and I like the way it’s going. Is he still thrilled with getting his nails done? No. I suspect part of this is because he already has some arthritis in his paws (my vet says: “What Border Collie doesn’t, the way they short stop through life?”) and it hurts to have his paws handled. So I’m very, very gentle with his paws and nails.  But he’ll lie on his side quietly, let me hold his paw and do one paw at a time now before he gets a treat, and he doesn’t get up as if panicked.

Here are a few things I’ve learned about using the Oster. Be forewarned, I’m not a groomer, so groomers please, please jump in here!

1. Obviously, start slowly. First I sat down with a bowl of treats on one side, Willie lying in front of me and the grinder in the other. Holding it behind my back, I’d turn it on, give Willie a treat, turn it off. Repeat about 10 times. That was Session One. Session Two was moving the device toward Willie, as he got the treat, eventually holding a paw and moving the grinder to within an inch of a nail. In Session Three I ground 2 nails down just at tiny bit, giving him a treat between ‘grinds'(would have given them during but needed 3 hands). Then we did some more ‘Turn grinder on, Give Treat” with no contact. In session Four I trimmed an entire paw, although again only doing about half of what needed to be done. In Session Five I tried to do two paws, with lots of treat between, but that was too much. He scrambled to get up once I started on paw # 2, looking all panicky. I gently restrained him so that I could end the session rather than he, but touched the Oster to one nail, gave him 5 treats and then let him up. The next session I did paw, took a break and did one more nail… and that’s where we are now.

2. Be sure that the grinder spins in the direction of the nail growth, not against it. You can figure this out easily just by touching it to the nail. If it spins in the other direction it pushes the nail back into the bed and it clearly is uncomfortable for the dog. It almost bounces off the nail. If I hold my device in my right hand and move it away from the dog’s paw it seems to be best.

3. Watch out for hair, yours or your dog’s, getting caught in the rotating head. If that happens, it instantly winds up around the base of the area with the grinder on it. Not good. Although my Oster is an electric one (you can get battery operated ones too), when this happened when I first started using it shut itself off (or did I just turn it off instantly? Eeeps, not sure now!) and it never hurt anyone, but it did surprise Lassie and I a few times. Basically you need to be ever alert about keeping hair away from the rotating head. Once you get used to it it’s easy to do, but you do need to pay attention!

4. Just as in clipping, don’t take too much off at a time. One advantage of a grinder is that it is much harder to cut into the quick… you can see exactly how close you are getting, even on dogs with black nails.

5. Keep supplies handy. I’ve kept the grinder out for the last week. My plan, and the one I used with Lassie and Pippy, is to keep it out for a week, work a little bit at a time on each paw each day, then put it away for a few weeks. I’m much more likely to keep after their nails if I can see the Oster right in front of me. Of course, that means that my living room now looks like a gym/grooming shop, what with Willie’s exercise ball, his wooden poles and holders for stepping over, a ‘step-up’ exercise step, a grinder on the rocker… but Jim doesn’t complain and it makes life easier for me right now.

6. Never forget the always handy “Take your dog to the groomer or vet to get his/her nails clipped” option. For me that’s just more time and expense, so I don’t use that option, but it’s a great one if you are having trouble AND if you know a groomer who you totally trust.

Groomers? I’d love to hear your comments about nail trimming. I know some dog lovers on Facebook mentioned that your dogs love having their nails done. That’s fantastic, good for you. If your dog doesn’t, don’t feel guilty. Remember that Pippy learned to love her manicures, Lassie endured them. Each dog is different and will react differently to the exact same methods. There are also at least two brands out there for medium size dogs: Oster grinders and Dremel. (I thought dremel was actually the name of the tool, but it turns out it is a brand name. See, I told you I’m not a groomer.) Any comments from groomers about which brand they like best?

MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Still gorgeous weather, and the Goldenrod and Joe Pye weed are flashing plumes of yellow and pink  all around. We’re busy busy at the farm, finishing up a garage clean up and getting ready for Scotland. I had a root canal go bad on me last week, so much of late last week was spent in first a pain-induced and later a Vicodin-induced haze (the latter preferable to the former), so I missed several days of work. (That’s why this blog is tardy. My apologies. A Vicodin powered blog would have been interesting, but perhaps not professionally wise of me. I suspect it would have made the subject of nail trimming especially interesting. I am happy to say that my brain appears to be up and running and I no longer look like a chipmunk with a wad of nuts in her cheek.)

Willie is doing well, I’m just floored at how good he’s been since February.. FEBRUARY! when he was first injured. I just can’t believe what a good boy he’s been, we are so lucky. And in less than a month he can be off leash! Oooooooo, I can barely wait. He’ll be in twice a week for treadmill work until we get back, and then, the Hobbles go on and the leash goes off. EEEEE Hah!

Here’s an unidentified insect (any entomologists out there?) on the Joe Pye weed. This one and several bees were there early this morning, all immobile, presumably from the temperature being too cold for them to be able to move. Were they there all night? Did they miss the boat back to the nest so’s to speak, forgetting to fly away before the temperature went down? (All are up and busy now by the way, I just checked.) I know much of the US is either boiling hot or reeling from wind and water… hope you and yours are safe and comfortable.





  1. Karen says

    My oldest dog bites at nail trims. I handled her feet from the day she came home at eight weeks old. As she grew older, she hated having her feet touched and I have never been able to desensitize her. Dremel did not work for her either and I introduced it so slowly with lots of treats. Out of 4 dogs, I can use the dremel on 2 dogs and they are such good little angels! The 4th dog is a new adoptee who does not like her feet touched so I am very slowing introducing the dremel. One word of warning on the dremel, they get hot! Keep in mind that the dremel creates friction and friction makes heat! For those new to using a dremel, do not keep grinding away or you can really create some heat. I keep the dremel on the coffee table and once or twice a week when my Chi’s are in my lap, I can quickly touch each nail and we are done. Very fast and less stressful.

  2. says

    Hate to say it, but it’s not just the “snick” of the clippers. My deaf Aussie girl (deaf from birth) hated having her nails done, and it definitely got worse as she got older. Could have been arthritis related, as she was a ball chasing fool. For her last 2-3 years, trimming nails was a 2 person job – one to clip, and one to hold her collar and stuff treats in her mouth as quickly as she could eat them. She STILL hated it, and would make ugly faces at us until we were done (she was always opinionated, and got more so in her old age).

    My deaf boy was ambivalent – he’d let me do it, because he’d let me do anything (and I did feed lots of treats early). Current hearing boy is the same – doesn’t like it much, but tolerates because he’s a good boy (and got lots of treats for it as a baby). I’ve been meaning to try a grinder on his nails and see if that goes better, and really need to do it.

  3. Beth says

    I use a Dremel on both of mine. Maddie came pre-trained (the joys of a retired show dog; she’ll also stand in the shower— looking miserable, mind you—f or as long as you need her to for bathtime). I just flip her on her back between my legs and can do all four paws at once, if needed, though generally I do two at time to spare her patience.

    But Jack. Ugh, what a nightmare! He is horrible about being physically restrained in any way, so I need to have him sit by himself and give the paw voluntarily. He used to completely flip out— rearing up, hollering, wide and terrified eyes— but finally over this past winter I got him to tolerate that. We’d been relying on the pavement but a snowy winter brought long nails.

    It took me six months of working several times a week before I could do the front paws. It only took about a week to do the back paws. Any idea what is up with that? All I can figure is for the back paws, he can sit a bit sideways and keep his feet more or less on the ground, so he feels more secure.

    I used tons of treats and my marker word. The key was changing my mindset from “This dog should let me do his nails” to “I don’t care if I do a nail today or not; we’ll just sit down with the Dremel for five minutes and train my dog.”

    I used your approach, but just took much longer. I said “Yes!” and treated for having the Dremel on but not near him, for letting me touch a paw, then hold a paw, then touch a nail. Then we spent a very very long time on treating for letting me touch the off Dremel to a nail, ever so briefly. I worked up to only giving him a Yes if he didn’t jerk away, then if he didn’t flinch a lot, then if he didn’t flinch at all. Then we started the whole process over with the Dremel on. It took weeks and weeks til I could touch a front paw without him pulling away, and then finally we got to the point where we sanded just one down the tiniest bit. Every time he did well, he got a jackpot reward. If he did badly, we backed up and did a back nail and ended on a happy note.

    Now, finally, I can’t say he’s great but I can do one front paw and one back in the same session, with a couple crumbs of treats between each nail.

    Never once in all of it did he try to bite me. He did mouth my hand once, which made him look horrified at even the thought.

    Having him done at vet or groomers is out of the question; he’d need to be sedated.

  4. Beth says

    I wanted to add that one thing I found very important to the process was sometimes I would just bring out all the stuff and go back to something he already did well (say, hear the Dremel run and then have me touch a toe nail) and end at that without trying to move forward. It seemed to up his confidence and give him a stress-break.

    It was a bit humbling when we got to the point that as soon as Jack would jerk away, he’d whine a little and look like he was concentrating really hard and immediately pick up his paw again without my asking. It was clear he was trying SO hard to do what I asked and it just made me so proud of him, even though progress was slow.

    And the vet, by the way, says he’s claustrophobic and that’s why he freaks out and confining situations; this is not a lack of early conditioning.

  5. Tania says

    Just switching from the guillotine style of clipper to the wire-cutter style made a world of difference for my one border collie who hated nail trimming! She was impossible to hold down, and no amount of desensitization seemed to help. As soon as I switched the problem went away. (She is deaf, so it wasn’t the “clip” sound that was bothering her.) She now LOVES nail clipping (because it comes with peanut butter), and lays down in my lap and flips herself onto her back for it. My cattle dog is not a fan, but he is easy to hold down. I should probably work on making the experience more pleasant for him, but sometimes it’s easier and faster to just get it done and over with. He never seems to hold it against me.

  6. Jeff says

    LOL, Great topic, which I will suggest another one as well to go along with this. Ear cleaning.

    For me nail clipping has never been a problem. Both my dogs get touched and rubbed pretty much everywhere from the time I get them until they part from me. General inspection, looking for ticks or lumps it is part of a nightly grooming where they get their teeth brushed and things. I always grab and touch their paws, so they are very used to me doing that. They grab and hold mine as well. Just something we do. Then I clip them, I find it faster. I just lay down on the floor with them and love them up some then grab the clippers and it is done before you know it. One thing though I might mention none of my dogs have ever been exposed to clickers. I really don’t like them myself the clicking noise and things bugs me. However, my dogs really do not mind people touching them or their paws.

    My sister and niece were over one day and my niece was painting her toenails. So one of my boys offered up his paw right next to hers and so despite my protests, he had nice ruby red toenails for a while. Not so pretty on a 90 lb black English lab, they really stood out. Yes she did all 4 paws without any hint of rejection.

    Ear cleaning is the thing they hate. I start with the youngest because he is the most work. This involves catching him as he recognizes the bottle when I get it out. Then holding him until he realize he can’t escape and gives up, and then cleaning. Meanwhile the older one goes off to like another room but peeks in to check on the progress because he knows he is next. Once the younger one is done I call the older one and he peeks around the corner as if to say, who me? After some encouragement he reluctantly comes in and lets me do it, he doesn’t fight but the look on his face and body language you would think I was torturing him. I try to massage his ears and neck and things and talk soothingly but nope. You would think I was plucking their eyebrows or something.

  7. Cassie says

    Not a groomer, but I am a vet, so I do trim a lot of toenails. For many of the dogs it seems that the problem lies in just picking up the foot. If I can manage to trim the nails while the dog stands then it doesn’t bother them – Basically I just work the edge of the nail clipper behind the toenail while the dog bears weight on the foot that I am trimming. For a lot of dogs this is all it takes.

    Dogs seem to fall into different categories of hating nail trims:

    1) The ones who just don’t want to be restrained in any way (I think half of these are pugs)- but if I can distract them by placing them on an uneven surface, like a grate, and put someone in charge of tapping on their head or scratching their side to distract them then we are ok

    2) The ones who are ok about back feet but not ok with holding a front leg

    3) The ones who hate the pressure of a nail clipper on the toenail. (They dont seem painful, just uncomfortable at the squeezing

    4) The little guys who are just scared- mostly chihuahuas and min pin types. These guys seem much mroe comfortable with MORE restraint- A towel or something where they feel pressure around them seems to relax them so a muzzle is not needed. Some dogs feel better if they can stand while we hold them, some feel better being held.

    I make notes in their records as to which tricks work for which dogs, since it can be so different for some of them, and because the right trick can make a huge difference in how much they hate it.

    I still see some dogs that just hate it too much for it to be worth putting them through. These guys are given instructions for desensitizing them to clippers at home, or conditioning them to try the grinders or even just a regular nail file for the really sensitive ones. Once in a while we will sedate for a nail trim if their nails are breaking or growing towards the pads and we have to do it. I would much rather sedate them then terrify them.

    I also make sure new puppy owners get instructions for teaching their puppies how to like (or at least tolerate) nail trims.

  8. says

    I am pretty lucky. Both my boys (Cardigan Corgis) tolerate nail trimming quite well. However, they each have a strong preference to the method I use. My older boy came to me at 14 weeks already trained on the dremel by his breeder. I can do all four feet and then throw a big noisy treat party and he is fine with it. He is totally uncooperative if I try to use the clippers. My younger boy is petrified of the motor noise from the dremel, but will lie calmly on his side while I use the clippers. He mouthed my hands the first few time but quickly learned that wasn’t OK. Most of the time they get enough exercise to keep their nails short naturally, but it’s no big deal to do it myself.

    One point about using a dremel that I think is important: As it grinds the nail, it builds up heat which can definitely be felt/hurt the dog. I was told to do tapping action and not a steady grind in order to keep the heat build up to a minimum. So I just tap down the line of toes a few times until enough nail is gone on each one. I had never heard about being aware of the direction of the spin so I will have to notice that next time and be sure to do it right.

  9. Jackie says

    I use both clippers and a grinder (Dremel) on my dogs’ nails, and did the same when I was grooming for a living. I find it easier (and safer) to use a grinder on dark colored nails where you can’t see the quick as well as on dogs who that have long quicks, like my Pit Bull, Joker.

    For him, I clip as far as I can comfortably and then use the grinder to to smooth them. Still, even after I’ve just done his nails, they’re still pretty long. Any ideas what can be done about this, if anything?

    I started doing their nails when they were young puppies, giving them a treat if they sat and allowed me to do it (forgoing the clicker — too hard to manage a paw, clippers AND a clicker). Now they mostly sit still and tolerate it but I still have my treat pouch with me to ensure they don’t struggle.

  10. says

    Weimaraners’ nails are easy because they’re clear & you can see exactly where to trim them, so I use clippers. We bought one pup, though, from a good breeder (CH & CHX everywhere on our dog’s pedigree, field & ring, & William Wegman’s famous dog Fay was a first cousin) who didn’t like the colored cord collar method of telling puppies apart, so he cut a different toenail short on each pup. Really short. Bloody short. From the beginning that poor dog would begin screaming the instant she saw the clippers. We bought an Oster grinder, & after a very brief period of conditioning she was fine with it for life. Is that common?

  11. Ruth T says

    As an ex-dog groomer, I’d like to add, be careful of ear coat. I have, sadly, accidentally gotten ear coat caught in the dremel when doing the nails of poodles and cockers. :( Often, they just really, really want to sniff where the action is. A snood is useful here. Also, what kind of trimmer do you use? In my experience, dogs tend to hate the “guillotine” style, while tolerating a sharp, scissors type well. My scissors type cuts cleanly and makes very little noise. By the way, glad to hear you are out of the “haze”. :)

  12. Ruth T says

    Oh, I’d like to add that trimming nails immediately after a bath (or I suppose any soggy pawed excursion) helps. The trimmer is more likely to slice softly and cleanly through the nail, and not cause a brittle nail bit to pop or crack off, especially if the dog has brittle, extra hard nails.

  13. Rusty says

    Nail trimming is something I’ve done a fair amount of experimenting with. I hate the black nails. On my Sheltie I use a cordless grinder, conditioning him to it in a similar way as described. One thing I’ve found worthy of note, and it IS a safety note for your pet; do not grind and grind on the same nail. Grind & lift or alternate between two or three nails. Grinding and holding against the nail will create heat which obviously becomes uncomfortable for the dog. I’ve not been able to condition my Doberman to the grinder yet, he’s been home for only four months. That is on my to-do list. Another thought that comes to mind is more of a “which came first…” kind of question: Do dogs (& cats) fight nail trimming because they don’t like their feet being handled, or because they don’t like the procedure? I make a point to hold my dogs’ feet from time to time to get them used to humans handling them.

    Disclaimer: I am not a groomer or certified trainer. Much of my knowledge has been through self-education via multiple venues including but certainly not limited to this blog and those who comment on the topics. Great blog Trisha! (and contributors too!)

  14. says

    I am of the school who doesn’t plan nail trims because they scare me. I will look at a dog thinking OMG, I need to trim your nails! instead of having a regular schedule. I use a clipper (the orange handled one; I don’t think it is a guillotine one) but a boarding kennel nearby uses a grinder. I will talk to the kennel owner about how best to trim nails with the grinder. Yep, always fear the quick. Beagles are notorious wimps. An now-adopted Beagle, Jake, while here, would bawl before I even touched him. Of course, all his Beagle buddies would then gather round, glaring at the Mom who dared to cause Jake pain, even imagined. Funny, though, as once we got going, he was rather tolerant of the whole procedure.

  15. Meg says

    My 6 year old bichon has always hated his nails being cut. I strongly believe the sound is a huge factor for him. Not to long ago, I noticed that he was acting like a clingy, neurotic

  16. Alison says

    For the first 7-8 years of his life, Bear and I struggled with nail clippings. He has thick black nails so it wasn’t easy on either of us (me trying not to clip too much off while he tried his hardest to hold still but was just too anxious about the whole ordeal). Finally a couple years ago, I got a Dremel. The first time I used it, I was kicking myself for not getting one sooner. BEAR FELL ASLEEP while I was doing his nails the very first time with the Dremel. I couldn’t believe it.

    Meg isn’t fond of any sort of grooming period. When I first brought her home a little over a year ago as a young adult, we had to start with nightly, ‘play with Meg’s feet sessions’ as she wasn’t comfortable with people touching her feet. Once that became a fun game for her, it was time to get closer to actually doing her nails. The first session was just getting her used to the Dremel. In sessions 2 and 3, she was horrified that not only did she have to be in close proximity to the thing, but it was going to touch her! Many sessions later, we made it through all four paws. It took about 8 months for her to really be ok with the whole thing, but now we can do all her nails in about 15-20 minutes (with a couple breaks in there). I’m happy to say she now tolerates all grooming (brushing, bathing, even blow drying). She still can’t wait for it to be over with, but she tries her hardest to hold still for me.

  17. Startulip says

    More than the nail clipping, both my dogs are most sensitive to the sound of the scissors as I snip the hair between their toes and the hair on the bottoms of their pads. When my older dog went deaf, she stopped responding to the scissors, but the older she got, the more sensitive she became to the actual nail clipping. She began flinching at the nail cutting. The sound of the last snip as the scissors comes together is the sound that makes my dog most nervous.

    I’ve conditioned my dogs from the day they came home to their nails being clipped, and they lie quietly, for the most part. I no longer need treats, but I have to say I spent a lot of time, and I mean a lot of very short moments several times a day for about 6 months, doing all those things to them as puppies that I wanted to be able to do when they became 80 pound adults, and now they just hang with it all, even getting things stuck up their bums!

    If people knew how easy it is to condition a puppy to accept pills (your finger deep down their throat), being carried up and down stairs, picked up and put on a high surface, finger probing in the mouth to find out a bone splinter caught in the gums or throat, etc…, my guess is more people would do it. The benefits for all are enormous!

  18. says

    I’ve mostly raised collies and standard poodles. I’ve also groomed dogs and seen how other people cut nails. Most dogs don’t like their feet handled and some are extremely ticklish. And some dogs, get to the frantic stage very fast. I hadn’t thought about it, but it does seem that many dogs seem to remember nail clipping sessions as bad times.

    My daughter has a lab that was almost completely out of control when I started living with them. She just got someone to hold him down to cut his nails. I took over the nail cutting and first took him for a long walk, then did one nail a day with treats. I found I could let him stand, and barely handle his feet and he felt much better about the process. I haven’t tried the grinder myself but it does seem to be easier on dogs.

    And some of the problem comes from anxious handlers. If someone is worrying about cutting the quick, they transmit the fear to the dog, I think. I usually just sat on the floor with the collies, turned them upside down between my lets and cut. Then were all pretty calm in this position. The poodles were used to lying or sitting on a grooming table for nail cutting. But I think each dog and handler pair needs to find a position that makes both feel relaxed about the process.

  19. says

    I’m sure the noise for some dogs is an issue, but I think for most it’s a lot more about the pressure. I have one dog who has very sensitive feet and will flip out if you even cut close to his quicks and another that you can darn near quick him and he doesn’t care. (I have seen the same in different dogs when I worked at a kennel) There is less pressure involved with a grinder, so it can help with those dogs as well.

    As for the option of taking a dog to the groomers, I have mixed feelings about it. I don’t usually recommend it to people unless they can watch while it’s done. I have worked at kennels that did grooming and watched a party of 3 people holding a dog down while another clipped the nails (quicking a number of them). This does NOT help the dog. At the time I was “new” to dogs and, while I didn’t like it, I didn’t say anything – today would be different. It’s important to remember that SOME groomers are just about getting it done and getting the dog out of there – NOT about properly conditioning the dog. I find owners are much better off choosing to taking it slow and clipping nail-by-nail than subjecting their dog to a groomer/kennel like that.

  20. Julia says

    I’ve been using a grinder for years and I haven’t looked back. The clippers are faster, but they *pinch* when they clip and they don’t leave nice edges. Not to mention even I hate the snipping crunchy sound they made. With a grinder, I can give a precise manicure with the edges all rounded so we don’t get claw scrapes from our pups playing with us (we have Boxers, so the paws are always involved)

    We started out using a grinder w/my younger boy and he actually used to fall asleep during nail trims… then he got a stubborn yeast infection on his feet and he hasn’t been nearly as cooperative since. My girl has always been a little touchy about her toes, but fights less with the grinder than she did with clippers. She’s enough a food hound that she still volunteers to go first when I set up the grinder and ask who wants their nails trimmed.

    I try to clip weekly because they spend most of their time on carpet and grass, so the nails don’t wear down a lot on their own. If I’m trying to fight nail growth, I go to twice weekly but the sessions are shorter since you aren’t taking as much off after the first one.

    Funny that you mention needing to keep the grinder in site – we’ve had ours hanging out on the side table by our couch since we moved into the house! I found that if I put it away, it was very easy to forget and go weeks without trimming.

  21. Harmony & Zoey's Mom says

    GREAT topic, because I’ve been more and more nervous about it – seeing how the girls pull away and Harmony has black nails, so i’m really nervous. I’m sure that doesn’t help them at all….will try all of the training tips and hint – thank you Patricia and all!!

  22. Kerry says

    I am so impressed by people who can clip dog nails. After having two big dogs with black nails, I feel like we all suffered a trauma whenever the clippers were brought out. Sure, I’m exaggerating a little bit here, but not as much as I would like to be.

    One dog got to the point where she couldn’t be clipped without sedation. Tried both my vet and several groomers and she was just too panicked and wiggly. I did try to desensitize her to it over time and we could do it somewhat at home but it was a struggle for everyone one. Most frustrating, she would yipe regardless of whether she was quicker or even towards the end, regardless of whether I actually clipped. Finally one day after spending lots of time to get her calm enough to put the clipper on her nail, I wasn’t able to clip. I just sat there and couldn’t will my fingers to clip because I feared the mighty quick and her yipe too much. This was about 10 years ago now.

    So, I love the dremel. It takes longer to grind and probably longer to adjust a dog to it but I use it exclusively now but I just can’t bear to use the clippers. Actually, I have already lined up a friend to help clip the nails for my next dog, because I’ll be puppy raising for a service organization and they want the dog to be comfortable with both. I figure the best way to get a dog comfortable with clippers is to have me nowhere near when it’s getting done. Aside from puppy raising, I will never use a clipper again.

    Hmm. I sound more traumatized than my dog but trust me, if she was writing this point, there would have been lots of exclamation points and OMGs. She was pretty extreme in her reaction. She would never bite a person over it, but she would absolutely hurt herself to get free.

  23. shawna says

    So – I wonder if a Thundershirt would have any effect on lessening nail trauma? Just to assist with general relaxation? I’ve had very good luck with the thundershirt but I use it as a post-seizure tool to assist with recovery.

  24. Ravana says

    It isn’t just dogs, has anyone here ever tried to trim a toddler’s fingernails? It often takes 2 adults to do that job.

    My previous dog was the nicest, most gentle dog on earth and he had to be under sedation to have his nails clipped. After he totally trashed the vet’s surgery the vet put a note on his records to remind people that his nails were only to be clipped if he was sedated. (If you want a laugh you can read “his” account of the incident here: )

    I decided that I wasn’t going to have that situation with my current dog so I did a lot of training from day one (Using a lot of your advice from Calling All Pets btw. He was an out of control, unsocialized, pound puppy that I got from a rescue when he was 5 months old). He still dislikes having his nails trimmed and I think it is the sensation of something “biting” his nail, that upsets him. He will tolerate about 3 nails getting clipped at a time. Therefore, at least twice a week I do a foot check and I clip the 3 longest nails. I have to agree that nails that have been softened in water, either by a bath or swimming, seem to be the least traumatic to clip.

  25. Carolyn says

    I own a self-service dog wash and clip a LOT of nails. I do think the noise does bother some dogs, especially those who have been quicked. Another factor is just how sensitive a dog’s paws are, I tell clients that it is much like someone tickling your feet (my understanding is that dogs have tons of nerve endings in their feet). However, I find some dogs who can’t handle the noise and vibration of the dremel. Nervous humans are another big factor, not only can the dog sense the fear, but nervous trimmers take much longer to get things done.

    At our place, nail trimming takes place with the dog standing on the grooming table with the owner holding the dog in a big hug and the trimmer on the other side facing backwards just in case the dog decides to take a chunk out of us. Not having to place and keep the dog on the floor puts the anxious dog in a better head space to start with and having the owner hold them against their chest helps to keep them calm. Of course having someone who is confident, matter of fact and fast doing the trimming is also helpful.

    One suggestion for using the dremel with a dog with long hair on the foot is to put a knee-high nylon stocking on the foot and punch the nails through. That way the hair is held tight to the paw and it can’t get caught.

  26. JJ says

    I use a sanding tool/Dremel that looks like the one pictured here:

    It is a cordless Dremel, but one made to work on small things, like jewelry. It is easy to hold and angle different ways.

    I ran into the “I don’t have three hands” problem early on. My solution was to microwave 1-2 tablespoons of cheese until is rock hard and stuck in a cup. When it has cooled, I tell Duke in a happy voice, “Time for tickles!”

    If you have never seen a Great Dane literally jump in the air for joy, you are missing something. Duke first jumps up wildly. Then he leaps/runs to the spot where the Goodwill comforter is spread out. Doing nails on an old comforter: if I get too close to the floor with the Dremel, the comforter gets chewed up and not my carpet.

    Duke will happily spend a half hour licking (and drooling) the cheese cup. He mostly ignores me as I sand his nails, however, I will note:

    1) he does every once in a while jerk whatever paw I’m holding. Since Duke came to me with butchered nails which never seem to have healed correctly, I think I may accidentally get to close to the nervy part sometimes.

    2) It IS easier to do the back nails rather than the front. My theory is that the front is too near Duke’s head and the noise and particles flying make Duke uncomfortable, but the back legs are far enough from his head, it is no big deal. I always start with the front nails and then if the cheese wasn’t stuck to the cup enough and Duke finishes early, then he is usually content enough to lie there while I do the back paws sans-distraction. However, if I start with the easier back legs and then have to do the front afterwards, Duke may not tolerate it and will keep trying to get up.

    3) As others have said, watch out for heat build up.

    4) I recommend wearing glasses/safety glasses. I have had bits of dog nail fly up in my face. Usually nail particles are also flying around right where I breath and I wonder just about every week if it wouldn’t be smarter to wear a mask. So far, I’m not that smart.

    5) Trisha’s recommendation of keeping the tool in plain sight is a good one. I do the same thing. The Dremel say’s charged up right in my living room, ready to go and looking me in the eye all the time. It makes the chore easier to remember and do. I think I enjoy nail trimming far less than Duke does.

  27. says

    I have owned greyhounds throughout the years and each one has had different responses to having their nails clipped. It’s not generally high on their list of likes that’s for sure. I noticed with my first greyhound, Timber, that he figured out if he squeaked or cried I’d stop momentarily. Once I discovered this was not directly connected to if I accidentally cut his quick or not, I stopped worrying about it and he stopped trying to trick me into stopping. I found this out by unintentionally making him bleed and he didn’t even notice or seem to react. Timber was not fond of the Dremel when I used it on his nails but he didn’t seem to try to be as dramatic with me so I started doing his nails with it regularly.

    My second and fourth greyhounds would squeal and cry as though I’d really caused them some damage the moment I would hold their paw in my hand. I had to use the, “I don’t tolerate monkey business” attitude with them, just saying in a calm, strong manner, something to the effect of, “Oh, now that’s not necessary” and continue about my business of nail trimming. Between the sound and vibrating of the Dremel, neither one were having it and it was a much more stressful time so I didn’t bother with them. It seemed the best approach was just get it done as calmly and quickly as possible.

    My third greyhound didn’t enjoy nail trimming but he wasn’t dramatic about it. He would lay on his dog bed nicely and let me trim his nails. I ended up switching to the Dremel with him since he didn’t seem to mind and I liked the clean finish you get with a Dremel.

    I had one of my mom’s terriers, Abby, stay with me for a year and she started out trying to fight me and squeal and bite. I told her a firm “NO” and had her sit for me. I don’t know what it was with her but she seemed to understand that I wasn’t going to put up with that and she better behave, and she did. She wasn’t a problem after that. She also was very bothered by the Dremel and it just didn’t seem worth it to me to make it more stressful than it needed to be.

    My beagle has been an interesting one. When I first adopted her she behaved very well form me during nail trimming time. But some where along the way, she decided to push the boudaries with me and do the squealing thing, even though I had either not even touched her yet, or had just begun by holding her paw. The first time she did this I thought my neighbors would be calling out animal control on me. I swear she sounded like I was torturing her and she was screaming for dear life. After that incident I found that doing calming deep abdominal breathing, calmed me and seemed to transfer over to her. Between doing my calm deep abdominal breathing and again, letting her know in a firm but calm voice that it was ok and she was fine, she has stopped trying to be so dramatic with me and cooperates reluctantly. The Drumel was also to upsetting and stressful for her and again, I felt like it wasn’t worth the hassle and stress to bother with it.

    From these experiences I have come to the conclusion that dogs are individuals and how they handle and react to various situations such as nail trimming, are on an individual basis and that what works for one dog may or may not work for another, it just depends on the dog.

    When I first started owning dogs my family veterinarian showed me how to clip their nails. I’ve been doing it ever since. I just don’t see the point in having someone else do something I can do. I also used to work at a veterinarians office and on multiple occasions we would have to treat animals for cuts received while at the groomers. Those experiences make me reluctant to use groomer services. I feel that they are my dogs and I am physically capable of bathing, ear cleaning and nail trimming and don’t care to put my trust in a stranger for the sake of convenience or disinterest in caring for my dogs myself.

  28. Debbie says

    Oh what fun! The first time I turned on my Dremel trimmer, Sophie (GSD) lit out of the room like it was on fire. She stayed out until the offensive thing was put away.

    It took a few weeks:
    I treated her when I took out the box.
    I treated her when I took the Dremel out of the box.
    I treated her when she looked at the Dremel.
    I treated her when I touched her with the Dremel on her back (Dremel off)
    I turned on the Dremel for a second (not touching her) and treated her.
    I turned it on and touched the non-business end to her back so she could feel the vibrations.
    And finally after several sessions of liver treats and “Oh What a Smart Girl You Are!” and we were in business.

    Lucy, the cocker, has such long foot hair that I put a nylon footie over her foot, pushing the nails through so they’re easier to do. She could care less as long as there’s food.

    Daisy (puppy, German wirehair crazy dog) was tiny. I just started doing her nails the day we picked her up. She didn’t like it, but I figured the hell with it, she’s young and adaptable, I didn’t want to go through the Sophie routine again. She’s fine now too, although she acts like she’s doing me a great favor. She’ll actually sniff the treats to see if they’re worthy of her cooperation.

    So now the Dremel comes out and they all hover around to see who’s getting the treats.

    One thing I do with Sophie is stand her up on the back porch with her feet partly off the top step. Then I don’t have to pick up her feet, I can just dremel from underneath.

    I agree about the heat, I only trim for a few seconds and go on to the next tootsie.

    Willie’s recovery has been long, no doubt a lesson in patience. I am hoping hoping hoping he is completely well and is 100% again.

  29. Amy says

    When we adopted our younger dog, he had NEVER had his nails trimmed. I found the best trick for him is to give him a Bully Stick or a Raw Hide to work on to distract him. Now when I get the clippers out he runs to the “Nail Rug” for his pedicure and chew!

    If you have a dog that is a resource guarder like my other dog, the plan of attack listed above is NOT a good idea. For this dog we found she needs us to only do one nail, then a massage, treat and vocal reassurance and repeat. I have to admit, it’s a process… But much easier than taking her to the groomer or vet.

  30. says

    I have an almost 2 year old wheaten terrier, Fergus, who is great with nail trimming. From the age of 9 weeks, he has been on our grooming table daily. He’s kept in the breed standard, so he’s brushed/combed almost every day to keep him matt-free, which means that I handle his feet a lot. When he was a puppy, I would shovel treats into his mouth while cutting his nails and would handle his feet many times throughout the day. Clicker training helped tremendously (also with teeth-brushing), too. My groomer cannot believe how well he acts when she cuts his nails, since wheatens are notoriously evil when it comes to nail trims. haha

    Oh, and I definitely think a dog’s personality comes into play. My brother has a GSD who will let them do anything to him. I think if I hadn’t handled Ferg so much when he was young, it’d be a nightmare to trim his nails since he’s definitely feisty.

  31. Alexandra says

    I use a scissors-style clipper with my dogs.

    The younger dog will lie quietly on his side while I trim and is not happy, but tolerates it (I started work on this when he came home at 8 weeks). I wanted to switch to a Dremel-type tool, but he always tries to sniff and lick at the clippers/grinder while I am trimming and I was too worried I’d get his nose or tongue with the grinder tool. I also kept getting the tips his paw hairs with the grinder – he’s shorthaired, so it was too short to pull back easily – and there’d be this smell of burning hair. Need a third hand.

    The older dog acts like I’ve just beaten her despite 7 years of work at desensitization. I can do all four paws at once now, she no longer shakes like a leaf while I’m doing it, and she’s never tried to bite me… I just try to finish trimming as quickly as possible. I’ve found she’s a lot more comfortable if I let her stay standing and pick up each foot individually like she’s a little horse.

  32. Jennifer Hamilton says

    As an owner of a pet resort and grooming salon, we are clipping and/or grinding over 100 nails every day. In my experience, 90% of dogs tolerate nail clipping well with minimal resistance. I agree that the sharp scissor type clipper is easier on the dogs than the guillotine type. We offer nail dremmelling, but I don’t recommend it unless the owner requires it due to their own thin or sensitive skin. The reason I don’t recommend it is because it takes so much longer than clipping. A good groomer can clip all of a dogs nails in less than a minute…in some cases 15-20 seconds. Dremmelling, on the other hand, can take 5-10 minutes or even longer to achieve the same result. This extended duration of time and the propensity for the dremmel to get hot, makes this more challenging in most cases for the dog and we see more resistence and struggling.

    Also, I have found that dogs put up far less resistence when a groomer trims their nails as compared to their owner. My own dog will stand patiently and quietly when the groomer cuts her nails but is constantly pulling her foot away and struggling with me when I do it. I suspect she thinks she has a better chance of me giving in than she does with the groomer. I have the same issue when I brush her out versus the groomer.

  33. says

    Lots to say!!! Why is it that some dogs don’t seem to need a weekly/whatever trim? My first dog only had to have her dew claws clipped occasionally. HOWEVER, the Ashby princess has a dremel trip every day (*almost) because all the energy from the food goes into her nails. Not Kidding. I use a dremel, she hated the click of the clipper, because I give her treat after all the management (ears, teeth, coat) that happens most days , the nails are priority. and she puts up with it all.
    Advice: start as soon as possible. One nail at a time, with a treat after. This works especially in the evening when the dog might be tired.
    I had a person in dog class with a puppy /to be hunting dog and his comment to me was , “Why should I trim nails, he wears them down now” My comment back was ” What when he is retired at age 10+ and had never had his nails trimmed…….. response was…..Yes, right> Go for it.

  34. Chris Carney says

    Hi–My golden Smooch tolerated the clippers at first, then grew progressively worse until nail trimming time was the most contentious time between us–we both hated it! Last year I decided to try to condition her to the Dremel. I started by getting the roughest emery board I could find and getting her accustomed to that with treats and very short sessions of a nail or two. It didn’t take much off but it did get her used to the feeling of having her nails sandpapered. Meanwhile I had the Dremel lying next to her and every once in awhile I’d pick it up, show it to her, let her sniff it. Then I rubbed it on her nail w/o turning it on. After I did that a few times, I turned it on w/o touching her so she got used to the hum. Finally about 3 weeks later I turned it on and put it on her nail–no reaction! What a thrill, I can’t tell you! So little by little we’ve built up to 2 nails per time, which we’re both happy with–she just lays quietly,yay! Also there’s a wonderful tutorial on the web–google for everything you’ve ever wanted to know about dremeling!

  35. trisha says

    I knew you’d all come through with some fantastic ideas and a lot of knowledge. A few things to add: Yes, yes, do be careful of the heat build up with grinders. I always pause anyway to give treats, so I don’t have to worry about it too much. And oh yes, Jennifer you are absolutely right, grinders are slower than clippers. If I was doing a 100 nails a day I’d use clippers too, I’m sure. But I’m not so sure that dogs are ‘better’ for groomers mainly because they’ve learned they can get away with struggling around their owners. I’m sure that’s part of it, but I also suspect there are at least 2 other causes. One is that many dogs become passive when handled by unfamiliar people because either they are too nervous to do much else or they are in a kind of mild shock when all of a sudden handled by a stranger. In addition, many owners do indeed feel nervous about clipping nails and surely that can be transferred to the dog. Someone who does it multiple times a day has a much more straight forward approach that can calm some dogs and put others into a passive state. And clipping at a new place has none of the baggage of home..

    Carolyn: the knee high sock is brilliant! What a great idea for dogs with lots of feathers! And beside, how cute could they look? Okay, that sounds sort of kinky, never mind….

  36. Susan says

    This is so timely for me! I’ve been working to desensitize my Gimmel to nail trimming, and it’s going soooo slowly. I’ve done counter conditioning with lots of treats, and I’ve tried the Premack route by waiting for her to really keenly want to go out the patio door in pursuit of a squirrel, and clipping one nail before I’ll open the door. She still hates it. I hate it too. I can’t think of anything else I do to her that pushes her so far out of her comfort zone, and I wonder if it is doing any damage to her trust in me. Like some of the other dogs mentioned, she was fine with nail trimming until I quicked her once. What is buying us time to work on this necessary evil is that she is willing to use a board covered in Scotch 3M tape made for creating traction on stairs, ladders, etc. as a nail file. That keeps her front nails in good shape, but I haven’t yet figured out how to get her to use it for her back feet. She lets me handle her feet and manipulate her toes all I want, and she’ll come get a treat as soon as she sees the clipper, and will paw at the clipper if I’m too slow but she does not want it used on her nails at all. I just pray for patience.

    I can handle her feet and manipulate her toes all I want, but

  37. em says

    Oooh, great topic! My current dogs have been pretty easy to deal with, but this is a major problem for many people that I know.

    Otis came to us with no apparent aversion to foot handling and because he flops onto his back and waves his feet in the air so often, we frequently touch and hold or squeeze his feet in an affectionate way, which he seems to enjoy and I think does help when it comes to nail trimming. We started with a dremel-type grinder, designed for pets, that someone had given us as a gift, but found that it was seriously underpowered for his giant nails. Grinding them a teensy bit at a time to avoid heating the tool took FOREVER and he began to become agitated and resist more and more, probably bothered by the noise and vibration. Otis never resisted too badly, though, pulling a paw away once in a while was about the extent of it, but trying to keep the sessions short enough not to stress him meant doing it constantly. A better grinder would probably make a huge difference.

    Still, we used the grinder we had until he split a toenail during play. Then we went out and bought some seriously heavy duty scissor-type clippers to take off the hangy bit that was annoying him (this wasn’t a bad split, just enough to be irritating to him). While I had him there trimming the split, I did the rest of his nails. It was so quick and easy and stress-free that I haven’t gone back. Otis tolerates it beautifully, though I do need to be careful that the blades of the clippers squeeze his nail front to back, rather than side to side (if that makes sense), or he will flinch and act as though it is uncomfortable. His nails grow crazy fast and I don’t like them to be long enough to wear on the pavement (danes have thick, compact feet, highly arched to carry all their weight, their nails shouldn’t touch the ground when standing, though Otis does click a little bit when he walks. My shepherd mix has flatter, longer feet and she does wear her nails down on the pavement).

    Sandy the shepherd mix came to us with a mild aversion to having her nails clipped/ground. She’d jerk her feet away and whale eye at us, stiffening and panting with distress but not trying to lash out. We started by establishing the habit of touching her feet in affection, as she’d lie next to us on the couch. First a quick touch, followed by lots of quiet praise and petting (which she LOVES), eventually touching more and more until she came to accept foot touching without any distress, then to volunteer her feet for touching. This took almost a week. She didn’t seem to have any ticklishness or senstivity, just bad associations with foot handling. From there we went to a quick clipper trim, a few nails at a time, again followed by lavish praise and attention. Now we can do them all without stress. We tried the grinder once, but the noise seemed to stress her (we didn’t actually grind a nail), so we stuck with the clippers that we were already making progress with.

    For both dogs, I like them to be lying down, on their backs or sides, so that I can see the underside of the nail (half of Otis’ nails are black, all of Sandy’s are) and get a good sense of where the meaty bit is. I take off only a little bit at a time and only trim the nails that are long (this seems like a no brainer, but half the people I know always trim all the nails and end up nicking the quicks on the shorter ones). If they don’t need to be trimmed, I wait until the next time rather than trying to take off hairsbreadths worth of toenail. So far *knock wood* I’ve never quicked either of them.

    I don’t restrain them, other than gently holding their paws still just as I clip, releasing immediately. I generally wait until they are relaxed and lying down on the bed or couch, show them the clipper and say something cheerful, clip them quick and business-like, and then give lots of praise and cuddles, almost never food. Otis generally doesn’t even get up when I’m finished (it’s always been pretty low-stress for him), just soaks up his belly rubs and then goes back to napping. Sandy is still a bit more excitable/anxious around pedicure time, she’ll roll to her feet when I say ‘all done!’, but she quickly relaxes and basks in happy petting-play-everyone’s paying attention to me time.

  38. Laura says

    Misha does best with anything scary if she has something to lick at instead of handing her treat bits. I can Dremel her nails alone by wedging a jar of baby food in between the couch cushions (Towel or blanket between food and couch!) but it works best with two humans. Hubby sits on the couch with her, scritches her neck and feeds her liverwurst from a squeeze tube, or holds a jar of baby food for her and I sit on the floor so her feet are at eye level for me. We use a meat only baby food, like chicken and gravy because it’s thicker and refrigerate for more body so it doesn’t fling so much. I take a jar of baby food to the vet’s office when scary stuff is going to happen there too, the vet calls it the “magic jar”. Helped us get through some really miserable vet visits when she had very painful skin problems around her weewee.

  39. Pike says

    Great ideas! Love the nylon socks as well!

    My three cover the whole spectrum:

    Ronja just stands, gives her paws and is perfectly happy with one treat after each paw (scissor type clippers) and we are done in less than a minute.

    Sparky has never liked it but tolerates it while lying down. He is so much more sensitive to having his paws handled now (he is 16 and quite arthritic) than in his younger years.

    Lil Pom Pixie is screaming bloody murder and will bite if I as much as touch her paws. As she wears them down reasonable well during walks, I have been a bit lazy and so far focused on getting her used to brushing, getting a harness put on, getting a leash put on, etc. She is fine with all of those potential hair pulling activities now – and there is really no more excuse to not get that Dremmel out! It will take a long time…

    I have seen several groomers and many vet techs cut nails in a very forceful and painful way (cutting several quicks in the rush to get it done) and think that there is one large reason for so many dogs to hate this process. I am sure that there are also many gentle professional nail cutters out there – I just haven’t encountered them myself yet and will not let anyone besides myself cut Pixie’s nails.

  40. Kerry says

    I did a dremel nail grind tonight after reading these posts and encouraged by posters whose dogs loved to get their nails trimmed, I brought out the peanut butter. I initially paired the dremel with food but gave that up for petting and praise which seemed to have more of an impact during the initial conditioning. However tonight I got an honest to goodness waggy tail during the trimming. Very promising.

    Jackie, You mentioned that the quicks were long on your dog? I have the same problem right now for my new(ish) rescue dog. His nails were kind of long when I got him and I didn’t introduce the dremel for at least a month so the nails grew out and I’ve been trying to bring them back for the past few months. I have heard that if you grind them down gradually, the quick will recede over time. I am trying but it’s going slow, likely because of my aforementioned fear of quicking the dog so I haven’t been very aggressive. What I am doing now is I grind 3x-5x a week going for the hard outer shell (tops and sides of the nail) and then let him wear the more sensitive part down on a walk. He doesn’t seem to notice any pain or discomfort on the walk but if I dremel this more sensitive inner part, he does seem to mind. I’m still in progress of trying to get them shorter. They are right now a fraction above the ground but they do click when he walks and I’d like to get them to stealth mode.

    Another possibility is to cut them back way short during a teeth cleaning or if they’re sedated for another reason. I’d prefer not to do that approach again but I did this once with my other dog after we unfortunately took an extended break from nail trimming several years ago. She was not desensitized and they were so long that this really did feel like the best option at the time, but I still feel guilty because I am sure this was painful for her.

    Anyone have success drastically shortening the length of nails with minimal pain and discomfort?

  41. Lisa H says

    Initially I used a nail snipper on my 1st BC and it took a small kong w/pb in the earlier years to distract him, but was not a huge deal overall. I hit his quick once & he simply jerked his paw back but didn’t react otherwise. He is fine whether I use the snipper or grinder. My younger female BC (w/perfect white nails)hates nail trimming & becomes liquid-like in her efforts to escape so I have recently switched to the grinder, which I also prefer for the smoother edges. I too went thru the desensitizing process of treats after each step. What I found funny, and sad and touching, was when my female struggled my older male, who is such a gentleman, would crawl right into my lap to have his nails done … was he reacting to my frustration, her’s, or just a peace keeper in general? One week I “trimmed” him 3x since he kept interceding for her.

  42. Chris Carney says

    Sorry, I meant we have built up to 2 FEET per session, not 2 nails, lol. I’m slow, but not quite that slow. Also wanted to add that the hardest part was figuring how to put the dang Dremel together and make it work–fnally had to ask my landlord who did it in about 5 minutes. ; ]

  43. Pike says


    Forgot the most important thing! Nail cutting is only being done after a bath or walk in the rain when the dogs’ nails are all soft and soo much easier to clip.

    Naturally this is only true for the dogs and not the cat! But he loves nail cutting anyhow – just as long as I do it when he is all sleepy and purry.

  44. Melanie says

    I have a german shepherd, got him as an 8 week old and have handled his feet -AND clipped nails- since his first week with me ( very tiny little cuts, of course). He has thick, black nails. At almost 6 years old now, he still isn’t crazy about it, but I have a few things that help. I have found that sharp clippers, speed and consistency are the keys for us.
    1) I try and clip every 7-10 days using sharp scissor type clippers. This means I don’t have to take a lot off, so the cut is a lot less pressure on his nails. This also keeps the quicks much shorter, since his nails have never been long enough to click against floors (well, maybe one or two have occassionally. Best laid plans and all that). I have found that a lot of folks don’t realize that the quick will recede slowly as the nail is cut shorter and shorter, tho it does take a long time.
    2) I clip them while he is standing in the back of my station wagon, so we are both comfortable and I can move quickly. He would never be relaxed enough to lay down! I am so envious of the owners of those dogs that will. In this situation, I can hold his paws so I can see the quicks- just like I bend a horse’s fetlock to clean out the hoof. In good light, I can see the quick-even in a black nail.
    Indigo does get a treat per foot, tho in a pinch he will do them without it! AND the rear feet are his least favourite.

  45. kay says

    Am i the only one who has dogs that chew their nails? Love it! I never have to trim nails on those dogs. The only ‘rule’ I have – they can’t chew them at night when I am trying to sleep!

  46. says

    Didn’t read through all the comments, but in case it has not been mentioned use old tights, push the nail through and they hold all the fur safely out of the way of the dremel. Makes it a lot safer :)

  47. Sarah says

    My chow mix Sunny defintely responds to to the sound of the clippers, but she has a positive association with it. After years of getting a treat for every single nail clipped, she’s learned that clip = treat as surely as click = treat. She turns her head away as I reach for he paw and position the clippers (I swear she looks just like I do when I’m getting blood drawn and refuse to look at the needle), but the moment she hears the clip, she whips her head towards me looking for her treat. She lies perfectly still while I do this, and the only trouble I have is getting her to move away when I’m done with her and need to clip another dog’s nails.

    My young dog Ro hates being restrained, but will lie still for nail clipping if I give her a treat for every clip. She and Sunny jostle for position at nail trimming time, and look like they wish they had extra nails they could trade in for treats.

    Both Sunny and Ro would likely bite if I tried to restrain them for nail clipping, which is why I had to be so consistent about counter conditioning from day one. They’re at a point where I don’t need to give them a treat for every clip, but I still do. They deserve it, and I’m ensuring their future cooperation.

    Oddly enough, it’s my “easy” dog Bella who gives me the most problems. When she was younger I never tried to desensitize her to nail clipping, just made her deal with it. She would lie still and look miserable, and for years I thought that was good enough. She hasn’t gotten any worse with time, but I just don’t have the heart to do that to her anymore. I’ve started counter conditioning, but she has not responded as well as the other two dogs, and I think it’s because she has such a long history of yucky nail trims. I’ve finally gotten her to where she will stay near me and accept treats while the other dogs are getting their nails done. Baby steps.

  48. Joh says

    My ridgeback girl has very hard, black nails and they grow very fast. I clip them quite often so that I just have to do the tips. I use a very sharp scissor-style clipper and I’m finished in under 2 minutes.

    She doesn’t like handling her feet that much, but tolerates it. I let her stand and take her paws up like you would a horse’s hoof for cleaning. She likes that better then taking her paws up to the front.

    Because my dog has such strong, hard nails I have to clip them regularly albeit she runs a lot at the beaches and on hard surfaces.

    They dog I had before (Irish Setter) ran a lot on tarred roads and her nails weren’t that hard. I think in the 15 years I had her I clipped her nails twice.

    Buy a good clipper! Some are not sharp and strong enough and then it is nasty for the dog! She sharp ones really cut the nail and there is no load clicking sound.

  49. Katie says

    It’s so interesting to hear about other people’s experiences with nail trimming. Jasper, my 12lb rescue dog, is not a fan of the pedicure. The first couple of times I trimmed her nails, she didn’t like it, but there was no major trauma. Then she became suspicious that any time I approached, I was doing it with the ulterior motive of trimming her nails, and would run under the coffee table for cover. Me and my abusive nail trimming! She would never bite, but if I have the nail clippers in hand, she pulls her paw when I try to hold it and wriggles her entire body out of my grasp.

    These days, I sit with her on the bathroom counter with a bunch of treats on the other side of the sink. With one arm, I hold her around the torso and between her front legs– kind of like a doggy headlock. I’ve tried a more low key strategy involving less wrestling, but she would just run away.

    The grinder method looks great, but Jasper is terrified of motor noises and fast moving parts, so I’m guessing she wouldn’t love that either.

  50. Fjm says

    My two tolerate nail clipping, but only just, despite lots of conditioning and playing the Tap Tap game with the nail clippers when they were pups (one tap, one treat, two taps, a treat, repeat ad nauseam!). Poppy does not have dew claws, but has very dark nails – I use a scissor type cat nail clipper, and just take off the triangular tip. That way there is no risk of cutting into the quick. Sophy was OK until she tore a nail at about a year old – it was obviously painful to have it handled, but needed trimming to make it better … she did let me, but I had to go back to basics with lots of conditioning work afterwards.

    Both of them are better about hind feet than front – I think most dogs have an innate dislike of having their front paws restrained – there seems to be a reflex pull-back reaction. Poppy is a poodle, so has had to get used to handling and grooming, but front feet are still her most ticklish spot. And nails do seem to be sensitive – even a light tap from the nail clippers will get a slight wince reaction.

    Like others, I am very wary of letting anyone else do it. I have heard horror stories of groomers in a hurry simply pinning the dog down and quicking nearly every nail, and when my sister took her greyhound to the vet to have his nails trimmed, she called a halt and took him home after the second bleeding nail. At least I know with mine that they are not remembering past pain when they object to having it done!

  51. says

    Perfect timing with this post! I just trimmed Sophie’s nails this weekend. I still use clippers with her, and I’ve gotten her to the point that she tolerates it. I was just about to shoot out something on Facebook asking about people’s preference for nail trimming equipment, and was ecstatic to see this post!

    Regarding the “three hands” dilemma, I used a method this weekend that worked pretty well with Sophie. She is a very slow and dainty eater, so I opened a small sample bag of high quality dry kibble and let her nibble on that while I trimmed her nails. Worked pretty well, until I got to the last couple of nails and she had gotten through the bag by that point. I love the baby food option!

    Sophie is a Shepherd mix with nails that aren’t very thick, so clippers make quick work of nail trimming. And I’m thankful for her three or four white nails that make it so easy to see the quick! The other nails are black, and her nails grow like weeds. Boomer is a black lab, of course all black nails, and thick, thick, thick. If there are clippers on the market that are strong enough to cut them, I haven’t found them yet. Fortunately, Boomer’s nails grow very slowly.

    Sophie isn’t crazy about clippers or grinders, but will tolerate either one. Clippers are just so much quicker with her. Boomer does not like the sound of a grinder at all, and seems to be more tolerant of clippers. I’m wondering if there are clippers out there strong enough to cut his big thick lab toenails? Or do I work on getting both of them used to a grinder? Decisions, decisions….

    So glad to hear Willie is still being a good boy, and that you haven’t been caught up in the natural disaster and weather drama. I’m in Virginia, and incredibly lucky to have gotten through an earthquake and a hurricane unscathed — fortunately both events’ barks were much worse than their bites. I hope everyone else out there also made it through safe and sound!

  52. Nina says

    In regard to not getting their fur caught when using a Dremel for trimming nails… I was told be a groomer to use pantyhose or a nylon sock and poke the nail through (keeping all paw fur protected). I find it helps enormously.

  53. Beth says

    I wanted to comment about the conventional wisdom that handling a puppy from the time it’s young is the key. While it is important, the fact is that Jack came to me easy to handle and had sudden onset of panic-attack like reactions when forcibly confined when he was maybe 14 weeks old or so.

    I think early handling can help make things easier for a typical pup, but for dogs with extreme phobias to having their body parts handled, it doesn’t do anything at all as far as my own experience. And since he does not typically sit on laps or cuddle, the old advice to handle his feet while he’s snuggling was not worthwhile at all.

    He DOES have a high toy drive, so one thing I have done is sometimes handle him while playing fetch. Pick up a paw, throw the ball. Palpate belly lightly, throw the ball. Etc.

    Interestingly enough, he doesn’t much care to be petted by us most of the time (he loves to be near us and play, though). However, he adores going up to strangers to be patted. I call him The Mayor because he loves to meet-and-greet enough that he puts up with being patted even though it’s not something he naturally enjoys.

  54. trisha says

    My naturalist expert friend (thank you Harriet!) tells me the insect in the photo is a Day Flying Moth, a common species in the area. Lovely little thing, yes?

    And Beth, I agree completely that early conditioning has varying effects on behavior. Genetics plays a huge role…

  55. Houndhill says

    I agree genetics play a role with this, I have a friend who breeds greyhounds who has a particular line that just about goes psychotic about nail trimming, her others are fine, doesn’t matter who has raised them or how.

    I confess to being to lazy to use the dremmel, and fortunate in that my wolfhounds are mostly fine with my ancient non-guillotine clippers. Sometimes when the puppies are about five months old, they seem to go through a difficult stage with it, but it quickly passes and I forget about it till the next five month olds!

    I do it when I feed them, they are lined up eating and it is convenient for me, and keeps them occupied. I stand like a farrier, with their leg between mine, so there is minimal actual handling by the paw, they seem to prefer it this way. I can do eight hounds in no time flat.

    Sometimes with the five month olds, it seems to help to cheerily sing something like “Ta Ra Ra Boom De Yay “.

    I’m afraid I often use feeding time to accustom them to things they might not otherwise like, such as getting the hair on their ears stripped out. Once they realize the new thing is not some kind of Dog Torture, I can do it at other times, with treats during or just after.

  56. Kelly Schlesinger says

    My Leonberger has very hairy feet and I trim his feet with scissors before I dremel the nails. I am much less likely to snag any hair that way. I also hold the nail while I dremel so I can feel if it starts to get hot. I’ll then go to the next toe and come back to the one that needs more work.

    My BC is good about getting his nails done, but the look on his face! Oh, the drama!

  57. Beth says

    Anecdotally, I’ve heard that many Corgis object strongly to being handled. I’ve heard it speculated that it’s a side-effect of herding cattle; Corgis who were not hyper-sensitive to things moving toward them were more inclined to be kicked. Corgis were close-working heelers and needed a strong duck reflex to succeed. So in much the same way many Border Collies are overly sound-sensitive as a side-effect of working huge fields at a distance from their handlers, many Corgis are overly touch-sensitive.

    Having said that, very few breeders have any trouble with their dogs. Knowing what I know now, I will handle my next puppy much differently. “Catch and release” is the best way I’ve heard it described: Reward pup by letting him go rather than trying longer and longer restraings. Pick pup up, put him down before he has a chance to struggle. Grab a paw, put it down. And so on.

  58. Matilda J says

    My dog has always been great about having his nails done. I made a point to handle him everywhere so there’d never be an issue with the vet or groomer. The problem with the clipper was mine, not his. He’s a big dog with very strong, black nails. Every time I’d pick up the clipper, my hands would start to sweat, which stressed us both.

    I started using a Dremel, which we both love. From the beginning, he was fine with the noise. He’d get bits of string cheese in between paws, with a jackpot when we were done.

    I have very small hands, so when I switched to the Dremel Stylus it made things even easier. He just plops down on the floor, and I sit next to his side. Hold his paw in the left hand, and the Dremel in my right.

    I can’t believe how dumb I am sometimes though. Occasionally when I’m moving around, the grinder starts bouncing off the nail. Drove me crazy, and I couldn’t figure out why. DUH. Thanks, Trisha for tip #2. I should have figured it out myself!

  59. Laura says

    The thing I can’t get past to make my self use a Dremel is that I HATE the feeling of getting a manicure or pedicure. The part I hate is when someone files my nails. I don’t know why but I just can’t stand the feeling when someone files my nails with an emory board and I imagine I would really hate something faster like the Dremel. I can’t bear to subject my dogs to it. The really strange thing is that I can stand to file my own nails. The dogs don’t like having their nails done with clippers but will tolerate it. I switched from the guillotine style to the scissor type and I think that is much better.

    The cats are another story. I can manage to do 3 of 5 cats with varying degrees of cooperation. I gave up on 2 of them years ago because it was too bloody – mine not theirs. It is a shame because cat nails are so easy to cut compared to dog nails. I like human toenail clippers for them.

    Thanks for the tip on the trimming after water activities. I did not know that.

  60. Joanna says

    My dog definitely doesn’t like the “click” noise of the clippers, and I wrapped rubber bands around the handles to reduce the noise. Now he grudgingly tolerates the trims if I have him on leash, but would run away if he could. Fortunately with high-value treats he’s (very slowly) getting less stressed by it.

  61. Paula says

    My great dane also comes running (to me, not away) when I get the nail clippers out. I hadn’t thought of the microwaved cheese treat, which I’m sure he would love. But with all my dogs, I’ve worked hard to identify a really, really, really high value treat and made that the nail clipping only treat. I never use it for anything else. I fell into this when I had tried and failed many times to desensitize a shepard/lab cross whomI had to muzzle before trimming his nails if I wanted my hands intact. He was 7 before I found his perfect treat, which turned out to be dried salmon. I bought it for regular training treats, but he was so wild for it before I even opened the bag that I tried nail clipping instead. No muzzle and I was able to clip two nails the first session. He was excited and happy when the salmon came out a few days later and we did a whole paw. With all my dogs since then, I’ve spent time intentionally trying to find that special, special treat.

  62. Susan Mann says

    One of the things I have suggested, but not really ever followed through with (my dogs don’t mind nail clipping, well, much, anyway!) is to condition the sound of the clipper just as you do the clicker. Obviously, this is going to work better if done before you start clipping! I do some feeding, and also making sure to release the dog’s foot from being held when the paw is at least somewhat relaxed, not when the dog is frantic- though of course I don’t want any dog frantic, mine or someone else’s, to begin with!

    Arie got her hobbles last night- she is in them both pre and eventually post op.

  63. Amy in Indiana says

    It used to be a nightmare to try to trim my Cattle Dog mix’s nails. He would snarl and bite. I have a 3-inch scar on my arm from trying to trim his nails when he was 4 months old. Soon after that I began to train him using treats to tolerate the clipper, but through the years I’ve discovered that fetch works better. He LOVES fetch, perhaps more than food. So now I’ll get the scissors-style clippers out and show it to him, then sit down. He’ll bring me a toy and present a paw. After each nail I’ll throw the toy for him. I usually only do a paw or two at a time, because I don’t want to push it. What I really like about trading fetch for nail clips is that he can take his time coming back to me with the toy, and he only seems to bring it back when he’s ready for another nail clip.

    I haven’t tried a dremel with him because I doubt he’d tolerate the noise and vibration. Also, with him I feel like the shorter amount of time his paws are handled the happier he’ll be.

    Way back in the day, when I was a vet tech, clients were always amazed at how “good” their dogs were for me when I clipped their nails. I always figured it was a combination of the scary stainless steel table, my confident attitude, and the short time it took me to clip their nails.

  64. says

    I have had several dogs of the same breed over the years (Dalmatians) and I find they have each reacted differently to nail trimming. Some hate it, some simply tolerate it and others have seemed to enjoy it. Go figure. The method that has worked best for me is to introduce them as early as possible to the grinder. I use a Dremmel electric with the extension arm. That way the sound is not so close to them. I do nails with the dog on a grooming table. In the beginning I tape a plastic lid to the arm of the grooming table and smear it with peanut butter. The dog is usually so busy licking that they barely pay attention to what I am doing with their feet. I eventually fade the lid and peanut butter away. When my current dogs see the Dremmel come out of the drawer they start playing King of the Mountain on the grooming table to see who gets to go first. Gotta love it.

  65. Nan-c says

    Alexandra, I think you were right! Here is another site with more closeups of a common Wisconsin day flying moth One shot shows the wings nearly closed.

    I feel guilty when I think about cutting my dogs’ nails. sigh. Would rather think about moths. Must endeavor to stick to a weekly schedule and soak the pup’s feet first. And perhaps treats for dogs and their people, too. This is a great post and great comments, thanks.

  66. Marianna says

    This is a full circle post for me. You taught me to condition my dog many years ago to accepting nail trimming from your tv show on Animal Planet. Always wanted to say thanks and I am sure Cody thanked you too.

  67. Jennifer Hamilton says

    I agree that that many dogs shut down, are highly stressed and can even be shocky when in a professional grooming environment. The smells, sounds and sights alone can be overwhelming, not to mention all of the physical manipulation, touching and pulling. It’s the part of my business I hate the most. Most dogs don’t like the process and most owners have unrealistic expectations. I wish dogs never had to be groomed…but then again, I wish I never had to go to the ObGyn either! As for groomers being strangers, that is sometimes true and sometimes not. We have dogs that come every week and my own dog knows the groomer extremely well. I do agree that groomers have a level of confidence and body language that is very different from an owner, when trying to perform the same grooming task. It’s the same thing I see when an unruly dog comes through the door dragging an owner behind. That dog completely changes it’s behavior when the trainer takes the other end of the leash…the simple movement of the leash to a confident person with the proper body language and command of space will cause a dog to modify it’s behavior within seconds.

  68. Melinda Grosch says

    I was a groomer in the past and still clip and/or grind nails for a bunch of peoples’ dogs as a hobby – I know, I know but properly shortened nails are an obsession of mine. You have all hit on lots of things I have discovered. First DO NOT be afraid of hitting the quick -fear and stress transmit straight to the dog. If you don’t believe you can do it your dog certainly isn’t going to want you messing around with its feet. Second if using clippers get a 1/4 inch thick dowel and use it to practice taking paper thin slices off until you can get off a piece thin enough to see through and while you’re at it give the dog a treat for each clip. Next KNOW your Breed. I have Labs and like most sporting breeds they are very impervious to pain and lack body sensitivity. They are HIGHLY motivated by food. They all gather happily for clipping or Dremeling or minor poking and prodding of any type pretty much without a lot of desensitization work on my part. I also live with Belgian Tervuren and help with Border Collies – they are VERY touch sensitive (although insensitive to pain when working) and noise sensitive thus requiring a lot of desensitization work when young. All dogs should get a good foundation of how to be restrained when young – separate from any procedure. We call it toddler proofing – hug and treat – grab skin and treat, etc. until they love it or at least view it as a very minor annoyance on the way to something good. Often food is not a strong motivator for herding dogs and sight hounds. Fetch, chasing a “whip-it toy” or otherwise getting to move is more rewarding and helps them to release tension through movement. Last become proficient so that you can work on a nail no matter how it is presented. I let the dog have its foot in whatever position is comfortable for it. Then work from there.

    I now have to wear magnifiers so I got protective goggles that magnify (goggles are a must for grinding). Never pull a dogs leg up and out towards you trying to see better. If you are lifting above the elbow you are putting a lot of strain on the shoulder and the dog will fight with you about it. For short legged breeds laying on their backs is ideal because then you can push in slightly and they will push back rather then trying to pull away – train that separately from the trimming. If you have terriers or toys they are “known” to hate having their nails done and the toys can be impossible to restrain without “breaking” them. But even they can learn to tolerate nail trims. My friend settled on nail trimming time being bully stick time for her bull terrier and they have done well since that discovery. Remember your reward must actually be rewarding to the dog not just what you think should be rewarding.

    Remember that not keeping a dogs nails a proper length can result in lots of problems as the foot gets misshapen. If the dog has dew claws they can grow around and back into the little pad that the dew claw grows out of. Even if you ultimately opt for having someone else do your dog’s nails putting in time training them to tolerate the handling required is well worth it.

  69. says

    I use a dremel on both of my dogs but both seem to prefer the clippers. I think the vibrations are incredibly aversive, though Emma (Pit Bull) puts up with it much better than Charlie (Poodle). Emma has incredibly long nails that she just doesn’t seem to be able to grind down on her own and her quicks are really long too, so the dremel really helps to bring her nails back safely.

  70. Debbie says

    I have a friend who glued sandpaper to a board and c/t her dog to file his own nails. It worked very well.

  71. Ashleigh says

    Wow. Amazing tips – I’m just glad my dog’s nails seem to be ground down enough just walking on pavement every day! But if anybody has any tips on bathing, I’d love those… she’s absolutely terrified!
    I have tried to desensitize her to the shower (meals in the bathroom, meals in the bathroom with the shower hose on the shower floor, meals in the bathroom with the water running just a little bit, meals in the shower with the shower hose hanging up, meals in the shower with the hose on the ground… but we got stuck at meals in the shower with the water running, even the tiniest bit!)… but I eventually gave up when she rolled in something disgusting and I had to wash her (what do you do when that happens in the middle of a desensitization process??).
    The bath tub seems to be too slippery, even with a towel on the floor she freaks out… and she can get out, which she can’t when I close the glass shower door (the few times I’ve HAD to clean her, I just got in with her and did it as quickly as possible with a pile of hotdog on the ground). She’s never been aggressive about it, but it’s clear that she’s MISERABLE.
    Btw, she doesn’t like swimming (she backs away if other dogs are splashing around) and will do anything to avoid walking through a puddle!
    So. Any bath-time tips would be most welcome (hope this isn’t too off-track!!)!!

  72. D says

    What great stories!

    My older BC hates having her nails trimmed, but dutifully puts up with it, although I have quicked her black claws a number of times over the years. My younger BC has never been quicked, but I swear he senses how much the older girl hates trims and therefore, thinks that nail trims are torture. It’s really pretty funny how dramatic he becomes – he’ll hand me the paw but his ears will be glued to his head and he’ll look away as though he can’t bear to watch, and I keep telling him what a great actor he is. Then he accepts the cheese reward as though he’s doing me a favor.

    Shawna – thanks for the tip on using a Thundershirt for post-seizure recovery. I recently bought a Thundershirt and am finding it is helping to reduce thunder-phobia, but hadn’t thought to try it for the post-seizure anxiety. Since his seizures aren’t as well managed as I’d like of late, this could be helpful. Trisha – thanks again for this blog! This little tidbit may help reduce the stress of these hellish events.

  73. K. says

    Our dogs file their own nails. There are some YouTube videos out there in this but it’s easy to train clicker-savvy dogs in a few minutes (at least front paws – back took me a bit longer). Covered a sturdy wood board with adhesive stair tread strips (consistency of rough sandpaper) and propped it up so it couldn’t slip and click/treated the dogs for scratching the board. Files nails great – but some dogs will file until they hit the quick themselves so use with caution…great pup manicures for the price of several bits of flank steak :) oh and some scrap wood. And I don’t do a thing other than “pay up”!

  74. Amelia says

    My 3 year old Beagle/Corgi mix is somewhat finicky with her feet (the won’t-step-in-puddles type), so when we first got her she would NOT stay still enough for us to safely trim her nails. Matters improved a little naturally as she got to know us, but what really worked in the long run was teaching her a super solid sit-stay. She’s very food motivated, so for tough tasks like nail trimming, putting on flea medicine, or baths I place a treat about a foot away where she can see it and ask her to sit-stay. I think in her brain it’s worth almost anything to get that treat, plus it gives her something else to focus on.

  75. Fjm says

    A sandpaper board is a brillianrt idea – I must try that.

    I don’t have any good tips on bathing, but I have found Bicarbonate of soda makes a very effective deponging dry shampoo – Poppy loves rolling in smelly stuff, and somehow it often only seems to become noticeable when we are on our way to bed … and bathing/drying a poodle takes ages!

  76. Joh says

    Did some of the owner’s with clipping-sound sensitive dogs try to listen to music while clipping. Obviously, the dog (and you) will here the clicking-sound the clippers make anyway, but it seems to me, that dogs are not that alert and waiting for this sound, when you listen to music. The clipping sound seems to become part of the music.

    “Fjm Says:
    I don

  77. Kathy says

    Mu dogs have all been trained to scratch a sandpaper-covered board. It’s a fun, easy, highly rewarded game for them. Complete instructions are at: For the back toenails, I set up the Manners Minder to spit out treats while I dremel. They don’t notice anything going on outside the MM bowl.

  78. Wendy says

    I was gonna offer the sock to avoid hair getting caught in dremel or clippers. Also lets you see the nails better. My youngest whippet is a yelper, which makes me anxious and a bit annoyed when it turnes out there’s no blood. Funnily that doesn’t make things go smoother……..
    I tried taking the clippers, scissors-type, with me in the car and clip in the street or in the field, that worked well enough if I didn’t forget to use them so often.
    For the people that say their dogs quicks are very long: I always think it’s more the hair that is very short, more optical.

  79. says

    Y’all have some pretty lucky dogs! Sometimes I feel like no one in Quebec even knows what positive reinforcement is, never mind desensitization and counter-conditioning. Just to give you an idea, the team leaders in charge of “rehabilitation” at the local SPCA where I volunteer will push a dog over threshold, for example near a working treadmill, to the point where the poor thing becomes reactive towards THEM. Then they express disappointment with the dog. We are seriously in the dark ages over here. I’ve only really been to one groomer for that very reason, and it was to get some nail caps glued on. (And I only went that one time, to see how it’s done.) When we showed up, a muzzled, hysterical, screaming, growling mess of a dog was having its nails trimmed. It was restrained by one person while the other clipped. The dog belonged to one of the employees. Bowie’s nail caps went on without too much of a fuss as I shovelled treats into her face, but she did make eye contact with the groomer and the woman took it as a confrontation. The thing is, she makes eye contact all the time. I encourage it. Of course I would have liked to say something (I would have liked to say a lot of things!!) but where do you even start?

    As for the regular nail clipping at home, my girl is an angel. She obviously doesn’t like it, but she won’t even get up and move away from me. I have spotted this quality of hers at other times, for example when strange homeless people overzealously pet her (you know, without permission) and she puts up with it although she could walk away, or even look to me to get her out of the situation. This is not a shy dog who won’t express her displeasure, either. She is just such a sweetheart.

  80. cathy says

    I like to hold the nail I’m Dremmeling with my left hand to minimize the vibration, but in doing that I’ve slipped a few times and Dremmeled my left index fingernail! I’ve got into the habit of putting a bit of duct tape on that fingernail to protect it while grinding.

    I have one particularly foot sensitive dog who will hide if I even look at his feet too long. One groomer who trimmed his nails worked wonders in calming him by having her helper rub the top of his muzzle from his eyes to nose with one finger. It’s sort of like hypnotizing a chicken. I was worried about the helper’s safety in a finger so close to a mouth of an upset dog, but he said he does this a lot and has never been bitten.

  81. Susan Anderson says

    I have an 96 lb Japanese Akita, my first ever dog! When I got her at 8 weeks the vet warned me about the nail clipping issue and sent me home with instructions to file her nails often. This became a daily ritual along with holding her in my lap on her back and putting my fingers gently in her mouth and ears and playing with her feet. She was a feisty pup but she accepted this graciously and to this day she has never objected to nail clipping or being handled at all. That being said she does have an all around lovely and gentle temperament and my success may well be due to that!

  82. L says

    After years of clipping one nail at a time and conditioning work, I think I have a method that works for my manicure-averse dog: Clip, treat, put away tool, mini party-like celebration of success, wait a bit, repeat.

  83. says

    I resorted to clicker training my BT with the nail clippers. He’s learnt alot of tricks via clicker so we just transferred it onto something more “practical’. So similar to your method just with a clicker. Click and a treat for looking at the clipper, then progressed to click and a treat for touching it with his nose. And so on. And then mucho treats after each claw. The claw trimming exercise pretty much covers the dinner meal.

  84. Mary Rose says

    I notice in reviewing the blog that you have used Shen Calmer for nervous dogs. An article in last week’s New York Times addresses several problems associated with Chinese herbs, some of them life-threatening–including toxic ingredients, herbs improperly processed, substitutions inferior product, etc. I just ordered Shen Calmer from an Amazon source, and am now wondering how I can evaluate the safety of this product. Any ideas? I’ve also ordered DAP. After two years of the most intensive, careful Patricia McConnell-type training, my little coton de tulear still goes off like an insane wombat at the approach of another dog. Three wonderful trainers have given up on her. I appreciate your sharing, Patricia, your struggles to cope with and finally re-home your Hope. As a patient early childhood educator, I know that not all children respond to the best methods, and sometimes we just have to sit with that, lovingly. Dogs are not so different. But I am going to try these “natural” remedies, if I can be assured of their safety.

  85. trisha says

    Quick answer to Mary about Shen Calmer and Chinese medicine. I share concerns about safety of all supplements, not just Chinese herbs; I think we all need to be aware that many products are sold that are not regulated or approved. I get my Shen Calmer from DVMs who are Board Certified in Chinese Medicine and trust them as much as I do my regular DVM regarding the safety of the products they prescribe. Of course, that doesn’t mean that anything is 100% safe (I’ve had terrible reactions to “approved and tested” western medicine many a time), but it increases the odds.

    And re dogs who are afraid of taking baths: Oh, I know, it’s just not always possible to condition a dog to be comfortable with everything. Tulip hated baths, and no amount of treats was going to fix it. Neither could I use a slow, conditioning process. As a pup she rolled in a noxious mess of fox poop, and no way was I going to let it sit for a week while I worked her into the tub. So I did what animal handlers have been doing for centuries: I picked her up and held her in the tub as she flailed, but the second she stopped for a brief pause I loosened my grip. She’d go back to trying to get out and I’d tighten my grip (arms around her), then loosen the moment she relaxed. (An example of negative punishment.) After a few sessions (there are a lot of foxes here!) she would stand in the tub while I used both hands to wash her (but she never liked it! but then, neither did I!).

  86. Rusty says

    Someone mentioned nail chewing: Yes my Sheltie does that. Mostly his dew claws, but sometimes the others. A less than subtle hint that it is time to trim them. Someone else mentioned trimming them every 7-10 days. That has always been a goal of mine that I constantly fall short on. A rule I try to stick by (inconsistently) is that when I trim my own nails it is time to at least inspect the dog’s nails if not trim them also. Then of course there is the click-click as they walk across the floor which is also a less than subtle hint that it is time.

  87. Ashleigh says

    Yay! A wet bathing tip AND a dry bathing tip!! THANK YOU!!
    (Ginger says “woof” while looking warily at the shower / box of soda!!)

  88. em says

    This likely won’t help in the case of long hair or really nasty “perfume” both of which may require really intense bathing, but another trick for the seriously bath phobic is to minimize the stress by doing a bucket bath. Either in the tub or outdoors, I stand the dog with a slip lead looped loosely around their necks to prevent escape attempts and use a big cup to dip warm water out of a prefilled bucket and gently pour it directly onto the dog (no air between the lip of the cup and the dog). Otis and Sandy, both of whom were initially quite bath averse, have become grudgingly accepting enough to tolerate a handheld sprayer in exchange for the rewards to come (towel time! snacks!), but for one of my previous dogs, the bucket bath was as far as we ever got. I can’t say for sure why it makes such a difference, but I imagine that eliminating the sound of spraying and the sensation of being ‘struck’ with water, along with avoiding the trial of having to stand in water probably reduces the horror factor.

    *The temperature of the water seems to matter, too. Otis became much less resistant when I started using warmer water to bathe him. I discovered this by accident, but once I thought about it, it made sense-his body temp is slightly higher than a human’s, so the water that feels body temp to me no doubt feels a bit cool to him. The various dogs I’ve had have liked their water anywhere from cool (lab mix) to Otis’ preferred almost-warmer-than-I-would-shower-in.

  89. Cindy says

    When we took the STAR Puppy class at our local obedience club, every week we put the pups on a table and the trainer used a dremel on their paws- one paw per week. He never lifted the paw, just touched it to the edge of the nail while they stood and nibbled on treats we held. By the time we finished the course all of the puppies tolerated it and some seemed to actually enjoy it. My gsd pup found it so interesting he was off of the ground that he didn’t seem to notice the dremel at all.

  90. Susan Mann says

    Isn’t the example of the bath negative reinforcement, not negative punishment? We take away the aversive holding when dog stands calmly so that the behavior of standing calmly increases?

  91. trisha says

    Good point Susan. Wrote that comment too fast, was running to get home to Willie…..Sigh, hate it when that happens!

  92. JJ says

    I’m the queen of off-topic, but here we are talking about doing nails and one person mentions teaching the dogs to file their own nails. I am reading a book called the Immortal Prince by Jennifer Fallow which covers this same topic. (I’m in the first third and can’t say whether I would recommend the book or not, but I can say I’m really enjoying what I’ve read so far.)

    In the book, there are these creatures who are half human-half animal (who by the way are slaves to the humans who treat them as nothing but animals to be used.) There are several types of the half human-half animal people, but the two most prominent are the felines and the canines.

    One of the canines in the story is in jail and has a problem. If his nails are not done, they will curl around and destroy his fingers. He had no problem when he lived outside the jail because his normal activities kept the nails filed down. In jail, it’s a problem and the human jailers don’t care. So, he spends a couple hours every other day filing his nails on the brick walls of the prison cell. It is a tedious process, but it gives him time to think and has the added benefit of really annoying the hated immortal in the cell opposite him.

    So funny that I read that passage right after reading the comments on this post!

  93. JJ says

    Ooops. The author’s name is Jennifer Fallon. (Type above.)

    I also have to mention that the personalities of the felines and canines is a lot of fun in this book. This author clearly knows both dogs and cats and all the variety of personalities that they can have as well as the similarities.

  94. BCWiley says

    Something I found, use and love! My BC likes the grinder much better than clipping.
    This solves a lot of the safety issues, such as hair trapping, and flying debris.
    I have both the corded grinder, and the guard for a dremel. Both work well for us.

  95. says

    I’ve raised standard poodles. I trim nails when the dogs are tired, at the end of a long run or a long day. Sometimes they sleep right through it. I also like to do it when he nails have been soaked, after a bath or a wet walk. I do nails at a different time from other grooming, so it’s a short session with a treat at the end. The dogs are quite tolerant of the process.

  96. Felicia Jacobson says

    I have never trimmed my cocker’s nails as she’s always gone to the groomer, but my Pom mix needs hers done in between grooms. She hates it! My husband holds her down and treats her while I clip. I will need to try the dremel. I have one, so I think I would just need the piece that does nail. It might help. The groomer doesn’t seem to have any trouble. Thank you for all your advice on how to do this.

  97. says

    Yes, it’s like going to war with Oliver every time we trim his nails. It’s so hard to not get bitten by him, that we have to use mild sedatives (prescribed by a vet) to keep him calm during the process.

  98. Jessica says

    My dog HATES having his feet handled. Everything has failed utterly. He is only slightly less terrified of the dremel than the clippers. I think it would be about 10 sessions of turning the dremel on from across the room before he would take treats rather than running under the bed- he’s that terrified. I made him a scratching board and freeshaped him to scratch it, but he still just absolutely hates it. He’ll scratch to get the treat, but runs back afterwards and whines steadily the entire time. It’s extremely slow progress and I don’t have time to do it every day. Today I tried putting a tiny rubber band on one nail to keep pressure on the quick, but he got it off immediately (and freaked out the whole time). His nails are very long, and I’m very frustrated. It seems like the eventual solution is going to involve paying the vet to give him general anesthesia, cut them short and cauterize the bleeding. Grrrrrr..

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