Dogcharmer: Nail clipping

Some dogs need a fair amount of persuasion.

Truffle can learn to overcome his fear of getting his nails clipped. — Courtesy Tom Shelby

Hello Tom!

Our question this time:

Our puppy has a fear of getting his nails clipped. We are trying to desensitize him by frequently touching each nail/toe while giving treats, and with the clipper out but not cutting. He is still quite anxious about this, and we are worried about him developing a lifelong fear of nail clipping. How can we help make this process easy for him and us?

Does clipping with brute force make this fear worse — meaning wrapping him up in a towel so we can get this completed? 


Dear Paul,

I became a serious fan of well-clipped short nails after my search dog Michelle tore her nail three-quarters off during a search for a missing hiker. The key is patience and perseverance, and great treats. Many dogs are quite sensitive about their feet, to a point where they don’t even like it when you touch or lift them. To start, I would suggest that the only time Truffle gets people food is in conjunction with getting his nails done. You’ll need patience, because you’re going to clip a bunch of times without really shortening his nails. Clip the very, very end of the nail so that he hears the sound and feels the sensation of the minor pressure on the nail and foot as he’s enjoying the taste of the chicken, or hot dog or whatever. 

As for wrapping him in a towel, it depends on the dog. Some dogs will just give up, quit with no resistance at all, and come to appreciate the towel with the treats, as long as you don’t cut into the quick, which hurts and bleeds. A sharp clipper is important so it cuts quickly, without a lot of pressure. 

The nail quick is readily visible on those dogs with light colored nails, and easier to avoid, which is probably not the case with Truffle. When he’s clearly comfortable with the process is when you cut to really shorten the nails, making sure to avoid the quick. Also, be aware that the quick grows along with the nail, so if you let the nails get real long, you’ll have a harder time getting them back to short. 

Another option is the grinder made especially for dog nails. It’s the same process, requiring patience and perseverance, getting him used to the sound and feel, and making sure it doesn’t get too hot. 

Years ago I was asked to teach two junkyard dogs to cooperate with the owner. These two dogs literally lived on cement. The small, heated shed that was their doghouse was on a cement pad; everywhere they could go was on cement. Their nails were nubs, shortest nails I ever saw, ground down by walking on the hard, ungiving surface. It’s another option, lots of walking on sidewalks. Final option, a groomer: Nails are part of the groom, and you don’t even have to look.

Dogcharmer Tom

Have a question for the Dogcharmer? Write him at Find him on Instagram @DogTrainerDiaries.