It’s time to cut your dog’s nails, but he runs when the nail clippers come out. No amount of pleading can get him to sit still, so you give up! You’re not alone; most dog owners are familiar with that scenario. But you can’t just let your dog’s nails grow, and trips to the groomer are expensive. So, what’s a dog lover to do? Before we jump into our tips for painless nail cutting, let’s take a look at why it’s important to keep your dog’s nails trimmed – and why he might be afraid of it.

Why It’s Important to Cut Your Dog’s Nails

Long nails trap your dog in a vicious cycle of pain and aversion. When the nails are so long that they touch the ground, they put pressure on the toe joint, causing pain and realignment of the leg and foot joints over time. If left untouched for too long, the nails can curve under and into the skin, making it difficult and painful to walk. Even if the nails aren’t that extreme, long nails can scratch your pet, your floors and even yourself. They might also split under the pressure placed on the nail bed, possibly requiring veterinary attention.

When your dog is in pain from overgrown nails, he won’t let you touch his paws, which makes addressing the problem even more stressful for both of you.

Why Are Some Dogs Afraid of Getting Their Nails Cut?

All it takes is one wrong move for your dog to develop an intense phobia of having his nails cut. Most owners know you shouldn’t trim too close to the quick, the sensitive tissue just under the nail. Cutting the quick is incredibly painful and can cause lots of bleeding. But there are other reasons a dog might avoid the clippers. Rescue dogs, for example, may have suffered neglect and developed anxiety and other problems that aren’t related to clipping, but affect their behavior nonetheless. When a dog’s nails are neglected, the quick grows longer. In extreme cases, the nail needs to be carefully filed or trimmed back until the quick is shorter, which can distress an already-anxious dog.

Dogs can also be wary of having their paws touched, especially if they’re in pain or associate the touch with pain. It’s important to get your dog used to having their feet touched when they’re puppies, but we’ll provide some tips for adult dogs in the next section. If you do have an adult dog, you can also try to desensitize them to having their feet touched (more on this below).

If you’re afraid to cut your dog’s nails, he’ll know right away and respond with fear of his own! A calm, confident tone is necessary to avoid any freak-outs (from the dog or yourself!).

Tips for cutting your dog's nails

Tips for Cutting Your Resistant Dog’s Nails

  • If your dog is scared of the clippers, but not having his paws touched, switching tools can help. Clippers designed for human nails aren’t safe for dog nails. The flat shape can cause splitting and breakage on sensitive claws. Sharp guillotine clippers are ideal; they’re designed to accommodate the cylindrical shape of claws. If your dog is still uncomfortable, try a file or rotary sander designed for dogs. These tools gently and painlessly file the nail down, and many of them come with guards to avoid hitting the quick.
  • Use a confined space like a pet pen to prevent your dog from running off while you work with him. Acclimate him to the pen first, and add his favorite comfy blanket and some treats. This will help him think of the pen as a safe place and dial back his anxiety.
  • Desensitize your dog to having his paws touched. This is easy to do with puppies – all you have to do is gently touch their paws every day. Older dogs are a bit more work. Work up to cutting his nails by touching his paws as much as he’ll let you while you’re spending time together. At first he’ll pull away, but over time he’ll become more comfortable. For dogs like these, it helps to clip the nails in stages. Start with one nail a day, and then work up to one paw a day, and so on.
  • When all else fails, distraction is your friend. Have a partner distract your dog with a treat or favorite toy. While his eyes are on the ball, you’ll have time to cut at least a few of his nails.
  • Remember to reward your dog for good behavior! Always give him a treat when he allows you to trim his nails without wiggling or running away.

Cutting your dog’s nails can be hard, but it doesn’t have to be. Armed with these tips, you’ll be able to give your dog the very best care – and he’ll have the nicest nails on the block.

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