Today’s guest blog is brought to us by Mandy Eakins of Manners Matter Dog Training in the Greater Lexington Kentucky area. I feel very fortunate that Mandy agreed to help me out with this topic, because I know that nail trimming causes excessive stress to a lot of dogs, and handlers too! Mandy has done an excellent job of breaking the training down into manageable pieces.
Nail Trim Nightmare?
“I don’t know why he hates nail trims—I’ve handled his feet since he was a puppy.”
“It took three people to hold him down last time when I took him to the vet for a trim.”
“Oh, we can’t get near his feet! He will bite!”
“We just muzzle him and hold him down when it’s time for a nail trim.”
“We just gave up and drug him for nail trims now.”
These are all comments I have heard from clients when it comes to that one task that’s probably the most dreaded part of being a dog owner—the dreaded nail trim.
In the past I have struggled with nail trims with some of my dogs, in particular my little dog Scooter (rest in peace). Both of us needed a tall drink of liquid courage to prepare and get through his nail trims. Over the years, as I have evolved as a trainer and worked with many more dogs, I have come to realize how important it is to train stress-free body handling to dogs, especially when it comes to nail trims.
Recently I had the pleasure of working with a wonderful German Shepherd dog named Ranger. I had done several lessons with Ranger and it was on his fourth lesson that I made a suggestion that it might be time to trim his nails. The owner looked at me with blinky eyes and said, “I have never trimmed his nails.”
“Why?” I asked, thinking to myself how in the world this dog has gone 10 months with no nail trimming.
“Trimming nails scares me,” the owner said. “I just take him to the vet and let them do it. It took three people to hold him down last time.”
That’s when I knew it was time to add in some extra lessons with Ranger and his owner.
With a plan in mind on how to help both parties, I gave Ranger’s owner homework—he needed to purchase a set of nail trimmers, as well as work with Ranger on paw target behavior. Paw target behavior is learning to touch an object with his paws on command, done through clicker training.
Below you’ll see video documentation of Ranger and how we have worked with him on accepting a force-free nail trim. It is important to understand that each dog will work at a different pace and progress is dictated by the dog and their comfort level.
Success is best achieved with patience!
After watching the videos below, I’d love to hear your story on how you are making nail trims less stressful for you and your dog. If you have questions about this progression or would like suggestions on variations, please email me: email@example.com.
Getting the dog comfortable with being in position for a nail trim is first. Before trimmers are ever presented you should pick a nice quiet spot for nail trimming and work on reinforcing the position you will be using for nail trims. For most dogs a down is easiest and most comfortable. Small dogs can be done on elevated surfaces such as grooming tables but position must also be taught on the table. Once the dog can be in the designated area and settle into position calmly and quietly it’s time to move to the next step of having the dog target the nail trimmers with their feet. By encouraging the dog to touch the trimmers they become less scary and the dog makes the choice to interact in a safe and predictable manner. Targeting the trimmers may take some time, especially if there is a past history of stressful nail trims. The following video link shows the above described steps.
Once the dog is familiar with targeting the trimmers and having the trimmers around their feet you can then work towards positioning the trimmers around the toe nail as seen in the next video.
Lastly we progress to actually trimming the nails. Don’t feel the need to trim all the nails in one session. It’s actually more beneficial to only do one or two nail per session. Remember, we want to set the dog up for success and our goal is low stress. Once the dog gets more comfortable with the process you will be able to trim more nails per session.
Mandy Eakins KPA CTP, FP-MT
Manners Matter Dog Training
Greater Lexington Kentucky area
Thanks again, Mandy! This article will help A LOT of people!