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How to Train Your Dog to Relax for Nail Clipping | Dog Grooming Tutorial


Grooming Tips for a Great Looking Dog!

How to Train Your Dog to Relax for Nail Clipping

how to train your dog to relax for nail clipping

Should a dog that hates his nails being clipped or paws being touched have his nails clipped as the first procedure in the grooming behavior chain? Would this approach help to create a smooth flow of events? We think not. We recommend thinking about how to help the dog to relax right from the start, and then, step-by-step, working to increase his confidence and comfort level before we start clipping the nails.

Using the concepts of desensitization and counter-conditioning will go a long way toward helping a dog to not feel fearful about the nail clipping experience.

Once a dog is completely comfortable with his paws being handled, you can begin to combine two behaviors: relaxed paw-handling behavior with calm behavior in the presence of clippers or nail file. At this point, be sure to go slowly; taking an approach at a level that the dog feels comfortable with will ultimately pay helpful dividends.

Once the dog is relaxed with the combination of these behaviors, nail clipping would be a next logical step.

A sample plan could be a one-hour lesson in which you might include a brush-out. While you are talking to the guardian and brushing out the dog, you can start to coach the owner in the steps needed to shape this cooperative nail behavior. The family’s also working on this process at home can be a big help in terms of increasing the dog’s comfort levels with paw handling in the grooming shop.

There are some aspects of the total behavior related to nail clipping that need to be trained separately before being put together. As such, we first need to help the dog feel comfortable with paw handling, and then, next, we help the dog feel comfortable in the presence of the nail clippers. Once these pieces are developed individually (paw handling and clipper proximity comfort), they can be put together.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t eventually train for both aspects to occur together—in this case, the dog being calm in the presence of the clippers while allowing his paw to be held for longer and longer durations. It just means that you must first have a separate training session for each part.

First we start with paw handling.

Paw Handling

Begin with the dog in a relaxed position. This might be on the floor or up on the table.

  1. To start, gently touch the dog’s paw. Then, if the dog does not pull his paw away or offer any other indicators that he is stressed, offer a treat.
  2. Next, if step 1 has gone well, consider gently holding the dog’s paw, then treating for relaxed body language.
  3. Once more, if the dog is still relaxed you can now move to holding his paw for a little bit more time (two seconds), then treating for continued relaxed behavior.
  4. Continuing on, if the dog remains calm, you can hold the paw while applying a bit of pressure (squeeze gently), then treat for continued relaxed behavior.
  5. Be sure to “bounce” between longer-holding and easier gentle-touching versions so that the dog does not decide that he doesn’t like the “game,” as it is getting harder with each step. Instead, make it fun by interspersing some easier steps so that the dog can get a comfortable “win” in.
  6. Continue treating calm behavior for varied levels of touching, picking up, holding, squeezing, manipulating, and moving the paw around, always providing feedback (in the form of the click and treat) for calm behavior.

If at any time the dog becomes uncomfortable, you will want to back up to an easier step or stop the session and re-visit the process at another time.

Now that you’ve worked on paw handling, the second aspect, helping the dog feel comfortable in the presence of nail clippers, can be trained, after which the two behaviors can be put together.

Clipper Proximity

  1. Treat for any calm behavior around the nail clippers. Have the nail clippers present next to an empty food bowl (empty at this point); the dog will come to the bowl. Now that the dog is motivated to come to this area where the clippers are, we can help teach him to eat in the presence of the clippers.
  2. Next, owners can help out at home by starting to introduce the clippers at other times throughout the day, but always pairing the appearance of the clippers with a delicious treat.
  3. As the dog gets comfortable with having the clippers nearby in the environment, perhaps now try having the clippers in your hand with a bowl of treats that the dog really likes handy. Reinforce any calm behavior, such as approaching you to access the treat. Use this time to observe the dog carefully. If the dog shies away, this means that he’s not comfortable with the clippers. If this happens often, it might be a good idea to approach the same process with an emery board or nail file in order to begin in a less threatening manner. Repeat these steps until the dog is really comfortable with these objects, increasing proximity to the paw little by little.
  4. Ideally, these steps should be followed up at home. You 
can give families their own nail clippers for at-home
    practice with their dogs. The more that you are able to encourage guardians to get involved with their dogs, the more confident they will be around the dogs, and the more their dogs’ quality of life will improve, thereby providing more comfort and joy for the whole family.

Some dogs have strong emotional responses to just the sight of the clippers. This may be due to a previous experience. If you notice that a certain instrument causes the dog to become very fearful, you can do a number of things.

One alternative, is to perhaps temporarily use a regular nail file or emery board. There are also Dremel-style filing tools available. Even with an alternative tool it is important to desensitize and counter-condition to be sure to create a positive association for the dog!

If you see that the dog is frightened of nail clipping, this is a great time to offer your expertise in a private coaching session. You can use the time to teach the guardian(s) how to help shape the dog’s behavior and responses so that the dog will be able to voluntarily cooperate in nail clipping and/or filing.

It is more important to think about the long term here, especially if the nails are not that overgrown and nail trimming is not critical. If the dog is stressed, it would be better to avoid clipping for now and work on the dog’s comfort level to help de-escalate the stress. This translates to easier, safer clipping for both dog and groomer at future visits.

How to Train Your Dog to Relax for Nail Clipping was last modified: by

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How to Train Your Dog to Relax for Nail Clipping

how to train your dog to relax for nail clipping

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