Nail Trimming and Grooming Advice for Dogs

By: Melissa Kauffman

When it comes to trimming a dog’s nails, it can certainly be tricky. There are many owners who take their dogs to the groomers for trimming, for fear of hurting their pooch or getting it wrong. 

Nail neglect can lead to pain and health risks for your four-legged friend, including a splayed foot, reduced traction, pain when walking, and worse, deformed feet and injuries. So, how can you practice safe dog nail cutting at home? This article will give you advice on how to keep your dog’s nails in check.

Why do you need to cut dog nails at home?

Most small dogs are lightweight and spend less time on outdoor activities, so you usually need to cut their nails every 1-2 weeks. It is understandably too much trouble to send dogs to the pet shop for nail cutting this often. The best solution, therefore, is to learn for yourself how to trim your pooch’s nails correctly.

Most dogs will be less resistant if you begin nail cutting when they’re puppies. But as they grow up, dogs show an increasingly strong aversion to nail cutting. Some dogs squeeze their toes hard, even bite nail scissors or attack the groomer or owner. This can be due to improper use of clippers by the owner/groomer. An unpleasant experience of having their nails cut, especially ones leading to pain (such as broken blood line) will only make a dog more and more afraid of nail trimming.

When dogs don’t like having their nails cut by a groomer or even going to a pet shop or vet for nail trimming, the owner mustn’t automatically criticize the groomer’s approach. With the help of groomers and vets, owners must find ways to help their dog to overcome the fear. If the dog is desensitized at home with positive nail trimming experiences, they will likely not resist when approached by a groomer wielding clippers and there should then be no aggressive behavior.

Why do dogs hate nail trimming?

Dogs are not actually as afraid of pain as you may think. Some dog breeders or groomers will tell you that clamping the dog will prevent them from struggling, making nail clipping easier, but the average owner won’t feel comfortable doing that. More importantly, the act of holding the dog under the armpit may intensify the dog's fear or anxiety, potentially leading to an even greater aversion.

Best way to trim dog nails

Start with desensitization training 

The best way to trim a dog’s nails is to deliberately cut them when trimming is not actually needed - show them, let the dog smell them, and then immediately give them a treat. You can let the dog touch his nose to the nail clippers, and then reward with food or treats. After several repetitions, when your dog's fear of the nail clippers has lessened, it is time to enter the next stage.

Toe touch desensitization training

The nervous system of a newborn puppy is not fully developed and is very insensitive to touch. As they get older, dogs become more sensitive to physical contact, and their feet are particularly sensitive. An effective approach can be to pretend to touch their toes while holding them. During this process, you must pay special attention to observe the dog's reactions and assess their stress levels. Desensitization training in the absence of stress is useless, but too much stress will not only fail to achieve the desensitization effect, but will increase the dog's sensitivity to this situation! If your dog doesn't like their toes to be touched, try to touch their bracket and remove your hand before they have time to refuse. If it ends while the dog is under too much pressure and begins to resist, it will strengthen their behavior of rejecting you by kicking.

Dog nail cutting

Once your dog is familiar with nail clippers, it is time to start trying to trim the nails. Dogs have blood lines in their nails and if they are cut, there will be bleeding. It’s important to learn how to prevent a dog’s nail from bleeding, but if it does happen, have Kwik Stop on hand. It will stop the bleeding right away.

If it is the first time trimming the dog’s nails, it is recommended that two people do it. One person can let the dog lie down on his side and give them some snacks or distract them. The main thing is to comfort the dog and keep it from moving. The other person can then do the cutting. After cutting several times, the dog’s owner can do the trimming alone.

What is the blood line?

According to We’re All About Pets, the bloodline is where blood vessels and nerves pass through the gaps in a dog's nails. If it is a white nail, look under the light and you will see a red line in the dog's nail - that is the blood line! The bloodline of a puppies’ nail is pink. The nail without the blood line is white and we only need to cut off the white part.

Steps to dog nail clipping

1. You must use special nail clippers for pets, with sharp blades and quick movements. Try not to be muddled, just cut off the nails as soon as the scissors go down, taking care to get the length just right - not too short or left too long.  

2. It helps to hold your dog's nail roots tightly with your left hand, and expose all the nails.

3. It’s best to leave about a 2-3 mm gap from the blood line. If the dog’s nails are still very long, wait for the blood vessels to shrink before cutting.

4. If your dog’s nails are black and you can't see the blood line, it’s best not to cut them across the board - instead, trim them too long from the front end. Check whether the nerve can be seen from the tomographic plane of the nail and stop if it does. You could also use a file to help flatten the edges and corners! 

Reward dog nail clipping

As the desensitization training progresses, the frequency of rewards can also change, but the speed of this change depends on the dog's progress. In the initial stage of training, you may only cut one toe at a time and then immediately reward. Slowly, you can cut two or three toes at a time, and then slowly increase the number of nails cut between rewards. Eventually, your dog should be able to happily tolerate having all of his nails cut before receiving the all important reward! 

Final thoughts

Cutting your dog's toenails will not only improve their appearance, but more importantly, ensure better foot health and reduce the likelihood of painful injuries. It just takes patience. If it really does become too hard, then seek the help of a dog groomer or vet to improve your dog’s association to the process.

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