Master Nail Trimming: Part 2 of 2

| Jasey Day

In Part 1, we learned about the different tools for the job and how to avoid cutting the "quick" of a dog's nail. Now let's talk about desensitizing!


Having your dog accept nail trimming is a key life and hygiene skill. In the previous blog, “Master Nail Trimming: Part 1 of 2,” you learned the anatomy of the nail so that you could avoid cutting the quick and you learned about the different trimming tools. Now you’re ready to learn about training and desensitizing your dog to accepting “paw-dicures.” You’ll start slowly and then gradually add difficulty – baby-steps!

How to Trim Your Dog's Nails

Grab some kibble or dog treats and your trimming tool. Follow the progression below:

  • Start by getting your dog comfortable with having each paw picked up and held without resistance. Without resistance means your dog does not cower, back away, or try to jerk his paw out of your hand. Start slowly  - perhaps touch his shoulder (or hip), say “yes” or “good dog” when your dog is calm, and then give your dog a treat. (Do not hold the treat in the hand that is touching the dog.) Build up to being able to touch his leg all the way down to his paw; perhaps touch his elbow next and treat; touch a few inches lower and treat; touch his paw and treat; pick up his paw and treat. If at any time the dog resists, you’ve made it too hard. Make the next repetition easier by going back to the last step in the progression in which your dog was successful and still. After your dog is successful in being still and earns a treat, take a very small step forward in difficulty. If your dog tries to jerk his paw away, gently hold the paw and wait for a second of stillness before releasing the paw; this will teach your dog that only calm, still paws are released. You only give your dog a treat after tranquil behavior – do not treat your dog for a herky-jerky repetition.

  • When you can easily pick up all four paws individually, it’s time to move on. Pick up a paw with one hand and show the dog the tool in other hand; the tool should be several inches away from the paw. If the dog is calm, say “yes” and then put down the paw and reward the dog with a treat. Do this with each paw and gradually get the tool closer and closer to each paw.

  • Eventually build up to having your dog accept “fake trimming” by trimming the air in front of the nail. Then start touching the nail with the tool, but don’t actually take any nail horn off yet until your dog is comfortable and at ease with the tool touching his nails. Reward your dog with a treat after each repetition. Next, trim just a tiny bit of the nail horn on one nail - your dog should remain calm and still because of the baby-steps you’ve taken during the training – and then treat your dog.

  • Acclimate your dog to trimming each nail on every paw using the above method. Remember, only unmoving paws earn treats.

Tips for Successful Nail Trimming

  • If you are using a rotary tool, you may choose to do the training first with the tool off and then with the tool “on.”

  • My dogs are not in a “stay” command for nail trimming. I prefer them to be in a sit, down, or stand position for front nail trimming and they may choose the position. For rear paws, I encourage (via a lure or by waiting for my dog to offer the correct behavior) my dogs to be in down position with weight on one hip so I can see both rear paws on the same side of the dog. Some people also trim rear paws via a stand, but that requires your dog to balance more and your dog may not be as relaxed.

  • Keep training sessions short (e.g. two minutes or less) and end on a positive note before your dog shows sign of fatigue and restlessness. You can do multiple training sessions in a day.

  • Remain calm. If you are tense and stressed, your dog will be worried, too!

  • Use it or lose it! After your training is done, trim nails 2-4 times monthly so that you never have to take off a lot of the nail horn and to ensure that your dog remains comfortable with nail trimming.

  • Continue to reward your dog with food for nail trims. My dogs earn their dinner and are cheerfully flinging their paws at me to have them trimmed. With patience and consistency, your dog will be eager to earn food in exchange for nail trimming, too!

Happy trimming! After you’ve mastered nails, check out this blog to conquer canine bath time.

Jasey Day

Jasey Day holds the Certified Canine Fitness Trainer (CCFT) credential through the University of Tennessee. She is a member of the Bobbie Lyons K9FITteam - a team of compassionate canine fitness instructors who actively teach others and continually expand their own knowledge. Since 2004, Jasey has taught a variety of workshops and classes on the following: Puppy, Canine Good Citizen/Family Pet, Advanced Family Pet, Canine Fitness, Canine Swimming, Rally, and Agility. In addition, Jasey has earned over 60 titles in Dock Diving, Agility, Rally, CGC and Trick Dog. Jasey has worked full time for the American Kennel Club since 2007 and teaches at Care First Animal Hospital in Raleigh, NC. Jasey’s Labrador Retrievers spend their free time hiking, training, and snuggling with Jasey.


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