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All Creatures Veterinary Clinic

Nail Trim Anxiety

How to Help Them w/ the Process

Teaching your dog to be calm and comfortable with the nail trimming process is necessary for your pet’s well-being. Your dog needs to hold still as their feet and nails are manipulated. The procedure can be painful if the nails are trimmed too short or if your dog struggles during physical restraint. It can also be painful/uncomfortable if your dog is suffering from any kind of pain in general such as arthritis or injury. Take note if your dog previously accepted nail trims in the past but won’t any longer. Untrimmed toenails can break or tear, causing pain or infection. Trimmed nails help to contribute to healthy body movement.

Lay a Positive Foundation in Puppyhood

Food treats distract puppies and help keep them still without restraint. Lickable treats such as squeezable cheese, canned food, or peanut butter spread on a spatula or table are helpful. Trim one or two nails daily so your puppy enjoys short training sessions. If they become stressed, stop and try again later with higher-value treats. Routine trimming is not an emergency and forcing your dog’s compliance may cause long-term resistance to foot and toe handling.

Change the Emotion to Change the Behavior

Classical conditioning can be used to change your dog’s emotional state from neutral or negative to positive by rewarding each step with a tasty treat. Take it slow! Each of the following should be done daily – few times per week, but not multiple times in a single day. And use something tasty (think small pieces of chicken) but only use that treat for this event, so it becomes & stays something “special".

  • Touch your dog’s shoulder. Treat.

  • Touch your dog’s elbow. Treat.

  • Touch your dog’s paw. Treat.

  • Put pressure on the nail. Treat.

  • Place your nail trimmers nearby. Treat.

  • Sound of the snip nearby. Treat.

  • Place nail trimmers near the toenail. Treat.

  • Trim the nail. Treat.

  • Trim 1 toenail per day/week etc until your dog becomes comfortable – Do not trim all the toenails at one time if your dog is struggling.

  • Repeat training techniques regularly to re-inforce the good behaviors when being touched.

Your puppy will learn to expect a yummy treat at the sight of the trimmers

The process should proceed at your dog’s pace and they should remain relaxed. It may take several sessions to change their emotional response. Each nail trim step should occur right before the treat is delivered and the treat is given regardless of your dog’s reaction.

They do not need to offer a paw or other behavior, to earn the treat. Rushing the training may cause your dog to become fearful, and then they may associate those treats with a negative experience. They will then avoid the treats and nail trims.

Observe your dog’s body language for subtle indications of stress or fear. When working with a partner during the conditioning process, one person can carry out each step while the other delivers the treat. Clear communication and proper timing are important. If your dog is given the treat too soon, they will not connect the handling to the treat. Your dog should be aware of each step, then rewarded before continuing.

Operant conditioning gives your dog an opportunity to offer their cooperation. They can be taught to sit, lift a front paw, place the paw in your hand, and hold it still. No restraint is necessary as the dog elects to participate. But let’s stick to Classical Conditioning until your dog is reliably comfortable w/ nail trimming.

Positive reinforcement training methods should always be used. If punishment methods such as pushing, grabbing, pinching, yelling, collar corrections, or shock are used, then fear and anxiety will be associated with nail trimming.

Medications to Help

Medications generally do not work by themselves. Medications are meant to be used as a tool in addition to training. If your dog has an anxiety or fear of having their nails trimmed, sometimes that fear is so great that no matter what training you’re doing, nothing is being learned by your dog. This is due to the heightened level of fear (think “scared out of their mind”). In these cases, training alone may not help. Adding in a medication such as Trazadone or Gabapentin (or both) will calm the brain enough that the training you’re doing is being learned.

On the flip side, using just the medication by itself isn’t exactly the answer either. You may be calming the fear but your dog may still react because they don’t know any different. Reacting has become a natural thing for them. That’s where Classical Conditioning comes in.

Your veterinarian will be able to assist you in finding the right medication that fits your dogs needs.

The Take Away

  • Be patient

  • Watch every movement your dog makes while training – Adjust/treat accordingly

  • Use tasty treats – We like chicken breast!

  • Cut 1 nail per day/week until dog becomes comfortable

  • Don’t give up

  • Use medications as necessary