Dog Nails Or Moolah…Which Would You Choose?
If I asked you to choose between $1,000 or perfectly manicured nails on your dog forever, my guess is 99% of you would choose the dog nails. Why is that? It seems like a crazy proposition, I know.
I will tell you why.
It is because cutting dog nails, especially BIG DOG nails, is perhaps the single biggest ongoing frustration in the big dog community. When the topic of cutting dog nails comes up, it seems like it wakes the sleeping giant. It is a struggle that we all face and face regularly with our dogs. We all want beautifully manicured nails for our dogs, but very few of us are able to achieve that. Achieve it without a significant amount of pain, anxiety and, in many cases, tears, that is.
I have heard countless stories about having to tag team and pin the dog down, use a crate so the dog doesn’t escape, trick the dog or cut nails as the dog sleeps, or, much to the dismay of groomers everywhere, wait and let someone else do it.
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Common Complaints About Dog Nails
“I’m afraid of hitting the quick and causing my dog pain!”
“My dog hates it!”
“My dog is too big for me to cut his nails by myself!”
“It just causes too much stress for me and my dog.”
Why Should Dog Nails Be Short?
Hearing dog nails on the ground is like fingernails on a chalkboard for me. Literally. And aesthetically, I think they ruin an otherwise gorgeous paw. Yes, I am every bit a nail snob when it comes to my dogs.
More importantly, long nails can cause painful feet. When a dog’s toenails contact hard ground, like a sidewalk or your kitchen floor, the hard surface pushes the nail back up into the nail bed. This either puts pressure on all the toe joints or forces the toe to twist to the side. This causes the toes to become sore and the dog to fuss when you touch his feet.
Secondly, long nails cause the dog to compensate his movement in an unbalanced way leading to over-used muscles and eventually over-used joints. Over time this can result in lameness especially in their hind limbs, making it difficult to jump in cars, climb stairs and even hard to get up from lying down.
So, What Is The Solution To This Dog Nail Dilemma?
While this is not going to be a quick fix, I can guarantee you, if you follow these easy tips, you and your dog’s experience with nail cutting WILL improve over time. I know because I have used them with my own 18 month 160 lb mastiff that was deathly afraid of getting her nails cut. I figured out how to transition her from a dog my husband and I had to pin down to one that would “bang” play dead then hand me her paws to get them cut.
NO FORCE was ever used or needed to get her to that point.
Just patience, kindness and time. That’s it.
When your dog outweighs you, you have to use your brain, not your brawn to cut their nails.
The Ultimate Guide To Cutting Dog Nails
Top 5 Big Dog Mom Tips
Please keep in mind, I am NOT, I repeat, NOT a professional dog trainer. If you read this, and maybe even try a few of the tips, and are still nervous or anxious about cutting your dog’s nails, DON’T DO IT. Your nervousness will be worse for your dog in the long run.
My hope is that by watching your dog make incremental improvements, you will be able to accomplish the impossible – cutting your own dog’s nails peacefully and happily.
Start Early & Cut Often
Ideally your breeder will have started manipulating and playing with their feet as early as when the puppies are first born and through 8-10 weeks. A breeder can and should also expose the puppies to a Dremel and/or dog nail clipper during this time as well. When you bring your new puppy home it is imperative that you start cutting your dog’s nails immediately and OFTEN. I am a firm believer in doing them once, and in some cases, twice a week.
My perspective is that cutting dog nails is as much an exercise in preventative health maintenance as it is in training and socialization. You wouldn’t keep your puppy from interacting with new people for a month or longer, would you? You know that their early and frequent exposure to new friendly people is critical to them growing up to be a well socialized, friendly adult. If you don’t, read A Bomb Proof Big Dog Starts With A Socialized Puppy. So why wait that long to cut your dog’s nails?
The earlier and more frequently you expose your puppy to this new friendly stranger named “Dremel,” the more your puppy will learn to love getting his nails cut.
Desensitize And/Or Counter-Condition Your Dog Slowly
Counter conditioning works to change your dog’s already established association with something he doesn’t like or scares him (cutting nails) from negative to positive by pairing it with something he loves (treats usually). Desensitization addresses changing the pairing over time at a safe distance, sub-threshold.
I will start with desensitization. For illustration purposes, here is the way this might look as you are trying to introduce the Dremel to your dog or puppy.
Keep in mind, every dog and every situation is different, so you may need to go slower with your dog. I am starting with the assumption that the dog or puppy is comfortable with his feet being handled. If this is not the case, you will want to step back and possibly use this method for simply handling his feet before you ever introduce the Dremel.
Desensitization for Cutting Dog Nails
- Have the Dremel out where you want to cut his nails so the dog can see it. I cut nails on the floor in our front room so this is where I would put it at our house. Carry on about your business. If he sniffs or is curious about it, I would treat him and/or praise him. Keep it light, relaxed, and, as Phil Robertson says “happy, happy, happy.”
- Turn on the Dremel and let him hear the sound it makes. Ideally you want the dog to not react at all when he hears the sound of the Dremel, not necessarily salivate when he hears it. That is the idea behind desensitization at its core. At this stage, I would calmly in a very soft, sweet voice say, “gooood boy” maybe give a couple treats one at time, pet him slowly where he likes to be petted. Just don’t make a big deal out of it. Continue this for a few minutes each day for as long as it take for him to show you there is no fear or reaction to the sound of the Dremel.
- When you are both ready, get treats out and go sit by the Dremel. Turn it on. Treat. Take a paw, and, softly (and calmly) holding one nail still, touch the Dremel to the tip of the nail. Soft, calm praise. Depending on how the dog does, I might just stop here for the day. All you are really trying to do is show the dog there is nothing to fear, and everything to be gained (treats, praise) by the Dremel touching his nails. With our first mastiff, the one I referenced earlier, I would do one nail every day until eventually all nails got cut.
- When your dog is ready, you can try to do more than one nail in a session. For our mastiff, I would reward (treat) after EVERY nail initially, eventually (over several weeks) moving to a more intermittent reward. For example, a treat per nail in the beginning working up to a treat per foot. I usually stay at this level of reward for my dogs.
- Stop each session with your dog wanting more, not less. In other words, you don’t want to push so hard or so fast that you end a session when he runs away. If this happens you are going way too fast for him.
I use treats liberally when I cut my dog’s nails. I am not using them to bribe my dogs into tolerating something they don’t want to do. My dogs volunteer to get their nails cut. They are genuinely happy and eager when I ask “Do you want to get your nails cut?” I use treats as a reward and to continue to reinforce the pleasure and benefits of getting their nails cut.
One piece of advice, I choose one treat and ONLY use that treat for nail cutting. In the video you can see the two bags of biscuit-type treats. These dog biscuits are ONLY given when they get their nails cut. Period. It makes the session that much more enjoyable for them because I make them a special, occasional treat, not an everyday one.
Yes, there are healthier treat options than those I use in the video. I have started to use K9 Salute – Treats of Honor as my treat of choice. My boys love these!! They are healthy, delicious and could not support a more worthy cause!
This one is very important! If you are nervous, your dog will be nervous. Your nervousness will reinforce his fear. It will defeat the entire purpose of this training. My advice is the way to calm YOUR own nerves is to go slow. Even slower than your dog needs you to if you are feeling anxious.
As you can see in the videos, I speak in a calm, sweet voice, and laugh lightheartedly on occasion. My voice and calm, but confident, touch both serve to comfort my dogs and reinforce how wonderful nail cutting can be.
As I have stated several times, go slow. I am sure you have heard the saying “Life is a marathon, not a sprint.” The more patient you are through this process with your dog, the more he will trust you. Work at his pace, not according to your desire to “just get it done.”
Watch your dog’s body language. Pay attention to what he is telling you. I will iterate what I stated before because it is a really important point: end your nail sessions with him wanting more. If you end on a positive note, he will be more receptive in the next session.
But What About The Quick?
The quick is the soft cuticle inside the nail that is rich in blood vessels and nerves. Unfortunately, as the nail grows, the quick grows. Fortunately, as you cut (or Dremel) a little bit at a time off the end of the nail, the quick slowly recedes. This allows you over time to get your dog’s nails a shorter, healthier length.
You will at some point accidentally cut into the quick. It is going to happen. I can assure you it is not the end of the world, for you or your dog. I have a little container of Kwik Stop on hand in case I cut the quick. You can also use cornstarch, baking soda or flour if you don’t have Quick Stop on hand. Just take a little pinch of powder and press it onto the nail. That usually stops the bleeding pretty quickly.
Summary of Big Dog Mom Tips
1. Begin With The End In Mind (this applies to cutting dog nails as much as it does business – Franklin Covey was a smart man!) Have a goal and take baby steps to achieve it. Remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
2. Start Early & Cut Nails Often
3. Desensitize & Counter-Condition Slowly
4. Reward Generously
5. Remain Calm & Confident
6. Be Patient
7. Do NOT Freak Out If You Hit The Quick – Just Be Prepared
Big Dog Mom Wants To Hear From You!
If you are someone who struggles with cutting your dog’s nails, try this force-free method. Send me feedback on what is working and what you are still struggling with. I would love to see pictures and videos of any progress you are making.
If, on the other hand, you have perfected your own force-free method of cutting your big dog’s nails, I would love to hear it! My recommendations are a product of my personal experience counter-conditioning my first mastiff to no longer fear getting her nails cut. I am sure there are countless other methods out there, so I would love to hear what you are doing that is working for you and your dog. You might also be interested in my review of the Diamagroove Dremel Bit if you are already proficient with using a Dremel.
Please leave me a comment below or email me at email@example.com.
Good luck and Get Cutting!!!