From the Mailbag: Trimming a Dog’s Nails

I woke up to this message from an old college friend this morning:

Do you have tips for dogs that are super anxious/nippy when getting their nails clipped? 

This is actually a question I get quite often. Nail trimming can be very uncomfortable for a dog, whether it be with actual clippers or with a grinder. Unfortunately, a lot of dogs aren’t socialized to a nail trimming at a young enough age, or they have a bad experience and are now afraid of getting their nails trimmed. If you think about it, a cut quick is a great way to encourage a dog to avoid getting their nails cut again.

So, how do we get our dogs happy and content getting their nails trimmed? Well, first understand that I’ve done over a 1,000 trims and have yet to meet a dog that likes to get it’s nails trimmed. What I’m talking about is working towards an acceptance of nail trimming, and ways to make it as comfortable as possible. I’m going to break this down into two areas: desensitizing and outsourcing/outlets.


This works much easier the younger you start to desensitize your dog, but even old dogs can learn new tricks! The trick here: BRIBERY! Dogs react pretty well to high value treats like hot dogs or string cheese (with Pickle we’ve had to use brisket!), so when desensitizing to anything, come prepared!

  1. Build a trusting baseline by getting the dog acquainted with the clippers/grinder. Have the dog sniff and investigate the clippers, and reward them with treats. Easy. With a grinder, you want to get them used to the noise, so turn it on and reward calm behavior with treats!
  2. Touch the clippers to the dogs nails without clipping. You’ll need to make sure the dog it comfortable having its’ paws touching and handled. Lift the paw, bend the leg, touch the nails with the clippers, etc. All calm reactions should be rewarded. Remember, GO SLOW. If your dog becomes nervous or uncomfortable, back off. It doesn’t help to make them more stressed.
  3. If you’ve made it this far, move on to clipping the nails. Start by only cutting off the very tips, and work slowly. It’s better to leave a little extra nail than to cut their quick. With every clip or every pass of the grinder, Fido gets a hot dog!

I can’t stress enough the importance of reading your dogs body language. This needs to be a positive experience to be effective, and causing stress and discomfort is probably what led you to have issues in the first place.


This is where I admit that I don’t cut my own dogs nails. I don’t like cutting dog nails, despite having a lot of experience doing so. But my own aversions to cutting their nails hasn’t eliminated the need for our dogs to need trims.

My solution is to fold. First, always have a good groomer on call. A good groomer will have the knowledge and, sometimes more importantly, the equipment to safely cut even the most stubborn dog’s nails. I am forever indebted to a former coworker who taught me so much about dogs (and will inevitably tease me for not doing my own dogs’ nails despite all of her tutelage).

The second solution for us was to actually teach our dogs to “dig” on command as a way to file down their nails. Well, teaching them “dig” also taught them “NO dig”, which was important after we planted our garden. But it’s also a great way to keep their nails short! I had a former client, a massive chocolate lab/pit/grizzly mix whose owner would go to the tennis court around the corner and play fetch for 20 minutes a day. The running on the rough surface would file the nails down and they’d never need trimming.

(NOTE: We still have to keep track of their dew claws, which don’t get filed down by digging or exercise. Don’t forget those!)

Nail trims are an essential part to a dogs well being. Nails that are allowed to grow too long can make it very uncomfortable for a dog to walk, and nails that go long enough run the risk of bending back and growing into the paw pad. Long nails can split and crack more easily. These things can become quite painful for you dog, and no one wants that! Keeping up a regular routine of nail trims will keep your dog running happy!