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Positive Dog Parenting

by Rolan Tripp, DVM and Susan Tripp, MS/P

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Nail trim first aide

Gentling Exercises

Food As A Teaching Tool

Pet Professional Tip

Show clients how to trim just the tips of puppy nails using sharp clippers or a nail file. Suggest handling feet first with treats and then progressing to trimming
one nail tip per day.

Offer clients sedation, if needed, to protect adult
dogs from any physical or psychological pain associated with nail trims.

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Introduction to Nair Trims

Trimming nails is usually not at the top of Fido's list of favorite things to do. It's usually not on the owner's top ten of favorite activities, either!  But, nail trims are  a necessary part of maintaining a dog's health and appearance. By following some specific steps, nail trimming can be turned into a positive experience. It may never be considered as part of a "hit parade"  but at least the experience can be one that is not dreaded by dog and human.

Some dogs will let you do anything with one hand if the other is offering a food treat.  Always introduce new exercises when the dog is hungry to make the treats more distracting and desirable.


Begin with the end in mind...

Before the nail trimmer ever makes its first appearance, the first step is to desensitize the dog to all handling of his or her feet and nails.


Start by giving your dog a very gentle foot massage while the dog is sleepy or simply relaxed. Some dogs will let you do anything with one hand if the other is offering a food treat.


Once the dog is totally relaxed with you wriggling his or her nails and tapping the toes, bring out a nail file. Do just a little filing on a few toes, linking it to happy talk and food treats.


Always introduce new exercises when the dog is hungry to make the treats more distracting and desirable.


File or use clippers to remove the sharp tip only


The ideal first introduction to a nail clipper is to trim off only the most extreme sharpest "hooked tip" of the nail. This is approximately 1/8th of an inch for a brand new puppy, or just the tip in older dogs. After this, use a nail file or emery board to file the nails. Start with only 1 or 2 nails at first, each one accompanied by a food treat, praise, and lots of attention. If the dog panics or has a hard time, then release the foot. Later on, make an effort to handle the dog's feet and the nails during feeding time (i.e., associate touching the feet with a positive experience).


Dogs normally have five toes on each of the front paws and four on the back. Some animals are polydactyl (having more than the normal number of digits). The toes that are located on the inside of the front paws (similar to where a thumb is located on humans) are called dewclaws. Some dogs have dewclaws on the back paws, but this is not the norm.

As the dog becomes accustomed to having his or her feet handled and the trimming the tip of the toenails, you can start trimming off more of the nail. Make sure that all of the nails are attended to, including the dewclaws. Without regular trimming, nails can grow into the paw pad and get caught on objects. Be careful not to cut into the quick of the nail (the pink, living tissue inside the nail closet to the paw). If you are in doubt about were this is located, consult with your veterinarian.

Many dogs have endured negative experiences with nail trims and associate nail trims with pain and fear. The goal in using sedation is to give the dog the same compassion as you want when you go to the dentist, "Please numb me first!"


If needed, find a veterinary practice that offers sedation with nail trims to spare your dog from physical and psychological pain.


During a spay, neuter, dentistry or other anesthetic procedure is a good time to add a nail trim.

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