Trimming your dog's nails


Neat and tidy nails are best for your dog's health and well-being, but trimming them can be traumatic for both dog and owner. TTouch practitioner Sarah Fisher's tips will help you deal with a dog who is apprehensive about having his feet touched, and enable you to trim his nails successfully.

Why does my dog hate having his nails trimmed?

There can be many reasons why your dog dislikes having his feet handled and nails clipped. It may be due to a bad experience in the past, if someone has caused pain by cutting into the quick of the nail or using blunt clippers. Some dogs are simply very sensitive and ticklish, or didn't have their feet handled much as a puppy.

Sometimes issues are due to underlying physical problems: it might be uncomfortable for your dog to hold his foot up if he's arthritic, or if he has a back problem, so before doing anything else, ask your vet to check him over.

Then you can start working on developing your dog's trust and confidence about having his feet handled and nails trimmed - and this is where TTouch can be really helpful.

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Tips for trimming your dog's nails

  • Be really patient.
  • Keep each session short.
  • Choose a time when your dog is settled and relaxed - not immediately after exercise when adrenalin levels are high.
  • Be calm and keep your movements soft.
  • Use treats and praise to reward good behaviour.
  • Use a muzzle if you think your dog might bite - but don't use it to enable you to force the work on him.

Equipment you'll need 

"Keep things simple - the noise and vibration of rotary grinders can be scary for some pets. Take care as they can create a lot of friction and heat. They can be more time consuming than using clippers, so aren't always ideal until your dog is really calm while having his feet handled. There are several types of clipper: personally I find the pliers type easier to hold and to see exactly where you're cutting so you can be more accurate. The most important thing is that they're the right size for the claw, and sharp enough to snip quickly and cleanly through.

If you're worried about accidentally cutting the quick, Quick Finder clippers have built-in sensors which light up to tell you whether it's safe or not. However, I've found they can give a false reading if your dog is fidgety."

TTouch exercises

"Lower legs and feet that feel cold to the touch can indicate nervousness. It's also linked to tension in the shoulders and hindquarters. This can make it difficult for the dog to balance when standing on three feet.

Use TTouches which will help improve balance, flexibility, and coordination. Try Shoulder and Hip rocking, Leg circles, Tail work, Ttouches around the chest and hips, and Python Lifts along the back. These TTouches are featured in Your Dog each month. "Walk your dog over a line of poles, with the opposite end of each alternate pole raised. Encourage him to walk slowly, so he really has to concentrate and focus on his balance: this can help release tension in the shoulders as well as increase balance and coordination.

Set out lots of different surfaces such as pieces of plastic and doormats. Ask him to step on to each one and pause before setting off again."

Dogs who are tense about their feet being touched or handled may also:

  • Worry about walking over different textures.
  • Dislike walking through water or wet grass.
  • Be nervous about being picked up.
  • Be more likely to be noise sensitive.
  • Nibble their feet.
  • Show concern/anxiety when on raised or moving surfaces.

TTouch exercises can help with these issues as well as nervousness about nail trimming.

Clipping your dog's nails

"Overlong nails are more likely to break or split, and can also affect the dog's stance. If your dog gets a lot of exercise on hard surfaces he may wear his nails back himself, but if not they'll need clipping regularly. They should just come into contact with the floor when he's standing. Dewclaws, if present, will definitely need clipping as they don't make contact with the ground and can grow round in a complete circle and into the pad.

Avoid cutting into the quick - the blood vessel growing down the centre of each nail. It's easy to see in light-coloured nails, but harder in dark-coloured nails. Be cautious and keep checking - if you see pale, pinkish tissue near the top of the cut edge you're getting very close to the quick. Long nails will have long quicks so you'll need to gradually shorten them over a period of time until they're the right length: frequent clipping will encourage the quick to recede."

How to make your dog feel at ease

"Don't home in on the feet straightaway: start off doing some TTouches all over the body. Pay attention to your dog as you work, and if he shows concern, move back to an area he's more comfortable about you touching. Gradually you should find he allows you to do a little more each time.

Use a long soft artists' paintbrush to stroke down the legs and paws - this sort of contact is very soft and less invasive than using your hands. Try doing this - and picking up his feet when he's ready - in lots of different places around the home and when out on walks too.

Once he's relaxed about this try using the back of your hand to make quick flicking movements down the limbs. You can also try doing this using a sheepskin mitt. When he's at ease with you doing this, begin introducing Raccoon TTouches around the toes, down either side of his nails, and finally on the pads.

If he's a little dubious about it, try lifting a front paw and using it to make circles on the opposite leg instead. Some dogs are happier about their own foot making contact rather than your hand."