The material on this page is from:
Start Your Own Self-Serve Dog Wash, and How To Trim Your Dog's...Nails! And Why You're Probably Dumber Than Your Dog, both by David A. Grass. It may be used only with permission.
A majority of people experience anything from apprehension to near terror at the thought of trimming their dog’s nails! Because of this, the nails of many, if not most dogs, are not properly maintained. I do not believe I am exaggerating in stating that overgrown nails are probably one of the two most prevalent symptoms of neglect of dogs by their caretakers. The other, of course, is obesity. Even though easily avoidable, both can significantly affect quality of life.
Start Your Own Self-Serve Dog Wash
Nails can easily grow so long as to cause discomfort to a dog when he or she walks or tries to run. As each step is taken and contact made with the ground or floor, abnormal pressures are applied from the nails to the toes, causing the toes to be bent and twisted. The result is a less active and vibrant animal that may have a visibly altered walking motion due to discomfort—or even outright pain—with each step.
Such neglect can become a health issue. I have actually seen dogs whose caretakers informed me were having trouble walking due to “arthritis” or “old age,” miraculously cured after I trimmed their excessively long nails! These animals had simply lost mobility because of the pain and mechanical difficulty of walking.
Seriously overgrown nails can curve back toward the animal’s toes to the point of requiring great care, and possibly even veterinary assistance, to delicately remove without hurting or injuring toes. They can also split or break, which in some cases requires veterinary treatment.
It is not unusual for those who otherwise provide good pet care, to let their pets suffer like this rather than overcome their fear and learn to trim nails, or have it done regularly by a professional. Because these people are squeamish about the process, their pets suffer. Others are simply oblivious to the reality of how important nail trimming is, and how neglected nails can affect their pets.
The major causes of nail-trimming phobia are fear of bleeding, that the dog will be hurt, and that the dog will not cooperate. Even the most experienced nail trimmer occasionally draws a little blood. But this hurts the dog very little if at all. Some dogs put up a fuss—not because of pain but because they just do not like it, or because the person trying to do the trimming frightens them with their own uneasiness (more on this to follow).
Nail-trimming phobia can often be conquered by learning proper technique, and then getting some practice doing it. Of course, some people may never become comfortable with it, or cannot even bring themselves to try. That is fine, as long as they have a veterinarian, groomer, or someone else do it.
Although dogs and cats tend to not like their paws handled very much, and some may resist, proper nail trimming is not painful. Getting them used to having their paws and toes handled during play and petting may help reduce resistance to having their nails trimmed later. Starting the routine when they are young also helps. Many people give up too easily when their stubborn pet does not want to cooperate—which only reinforces the lack of cooperation.
The most important thing is to confidently approach the task in a no-nonsense yet positive manner. Do not plead or coax. Instead, convey a “this is a normal, necessary thing to do, and not a big deal at all” attitude. It is not an optional activity that one tries to convince the dog to accept—it is mandatory. This makes all the difference in the world.
I personally do not believe in trying to use treats to bribe or distract dogs into cooperating with nail trimming, washes, or anything else for that matter. It is unnecessary, rarely works, and sends the wrong message.
The worst things you can do are to convey your own apprehension, to coddle the animal, or to physically restrain it too much. Any of the above will tend to make the dog more unsettled and resistant, as your behavior will be perceived as an indication that what is happening must be a big deal worth worrying about.
Dogs are very perceptive to human body language and voice—much more than most of us realize, and far more than we generally are to their body language. It is difficult to hide emotions such as intimidation, fear, and anxiety from them. Sensing these kinds of emotions in a person with an instrument such as a nail trimmer in their hand, will add significantly to the animal’s discomfort level and resistance. Imagine how you would feel if you perceived such emotions in your doctor, dentist, or barber. Then go a step further and imagine how you would react if one of those people were to approach you with instruments of their respective trades, visibly trembling! For more on this concept, see article on Perceptions.
Rather than providing comfort and reassurance, a person babying their pet by hugging it and speaking in what they think is a reassuring way, may in fact be scaring the heck out of the dog. After all, if the caretaker is showing so much concern and going out of their way trying to provide comfort, something serious and unpleasant must be about to happen! That is how the dog will likely see it.
I wish I had a dollar for every time a customer has told me how easy trimming their dog’s nails seemed to be for me, when their attempts had always failed. This is not because I am particularly gifted at relating to animals or because I possess extraordinary skills, but because of how I approach the animal and the task.
Remember, the nail-trimming process becomes easier and more comfortable with experience.
© Copyright, David A. Grass,
Start Your Own Self-Serve Dog Wash, 2001.
How To Trim Your Dog's...Nails! And Why You're Probably Dumber Than Your Dog, 2003. All rights reserved.
For detailed, step-by-step instructions and images for nail trimming, as well as more information on approach and perceptions, see one or both of the books below:
How To Trim Your Dog's...Nails!
And Why You're Probably Dumber Than Your Dog