A close up of a person cutting a dog's nails using a dog nail clipper.

How to Make Trimming Your Dog’s Toenails Easier

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The key steps for getting your dog to relax during at-home nail trims

We’ve all been there, attempting to trim your dog’s toes can be an impossible mission. From hiding to howling, rolling over, and playing dead, your dog may try an array of tactics to avoid nail trimmers.

If you are up for the task of trimming but your dog isn’t quite sure about it, we want to help. Check out our classroom video on Nail Trimming & Scratching Boards. We don’t want to reinvent the wheel, but we do want to share what we do best: Help teach your dog how to relax and remain calm by using the right tools during their self-care routine.

The secret to successful nail trimming

Before you pick up the nail trimmers, and after you watch a tutorial online, we want to provide you with the key steps to make trimming a nervous dog’s toes a little easier. Keep in mind, these tips are for dogs who are nervous or shy, but not for dogs who are showing signs of aggression like growling, barking, lunging, showing teeth and gums, snapping and biting, and a fixed stare.  It is important to respect your dog’s bodily autonomy in situations like this because this is how they communicate their needs or warnings. If they are showing any of these signs, it is best to refer to a nail-trimming professional, like a groomer or veterinarian, who is an expert in working with these kinds of challenges.

So, what is this big secret? Counterconditioning.

By gaining your dog’s trust through counterconditioning, you can teach your dog not to run when you show them the nail trimmers. This process takes some time, like with any new behavior. However, if you spend time desensitizing your dog from fearing the trimmers, you can work with them to maintain healthy nail length for the rest of their lives.

How does it work?

By giving your dog something they love and associate with good feelings, like delicious snacks, while introducing the nail trimmers they may be wary of, you create a positive association with the nail trimmers. For this training, we will be focusing on using 3 tools:

Step 1: Set up for success

Your dog does their best work in a calm environment, so make sure you are in a room where there isn’t a lot of noise and movement. You will be working on the floor or sitting in a chair. Make sure to have your main tools of choice–  a KONG Classic or KONG Licks, and your dog’s favorite high-value treats. Prepare the KONG Classic or Licks with an irresistible filling, like peanut butter or wet food.  If you don’t have a KONG Classic or KONG Licks, you can use high-value treats alone. Having a tool like the KONG Classic or Licks gives you an additional hand and allows your dog to be rewarded and distracted while you trim their nails.

Step 2: Counterconditioning with the trimmers

This is a lesson you’ll work on with your dog over the course of a few sessions before you trim their nails.

  • Start by sitting down and giving your dog a few treats while praising them.
  • Place the nail trimmers on the floor a foot or two away from you, so your dog can see them, but you are not drawing attention to them. Give your dog a treat.
    • If your dog touches the trimmers with their nose or comes close to them, give them a treat and praise them in an excited voice. Allow your dog to do this several times, as long as they are interested in the trimmers, and reward them with a treat each time. This is creating a positive association with the trimmers.
  • When your dog loses interest end the training session for the day and give them a frozen KONG. For the following session, repeat the first few steps, then continue to the next steps once you see your dog warming up to the nail trimmers.
  • Move the trimmers closer to your body if your dog is still engaging between the trimmers and the treats. Whenever your dog makes contact or sniffs the trimmers, treat them.
  • Once your dog has repeated that a few times, the next step is to hold the trimmers in your hand. When your dog touches or sniffs the trimmers with their nose, give your dog a treat. Repeat this several times.
  • Next, hold your dog’s paw gently in one hand, and with the trimmers in your other hand, touch them to your dog’s paw– along the top, sides, and bottom. Again, give your dog a treat each time they sniff or touch the trimmers.

Make sure to end each session by giving your dog a frozen KONG Classic or Licks pad filled with their favorite stuffing! Make sure to use the same tools during each of these training sessions that you will use during the trimming sessions.

Step 3: Trimming Time

Once you have held a few training sessions with the nail trimmers and treats, and you’ve seen progression in the time it takes for your dog to warm up to the trimmers, it’s time to move forward to trimming. This is a good time to review the nail-trimming video you watched. You will want to set up in the same room as you did your training sessions.

  • Begin by setting up your space: If you are using a KONG Classic or Licks pad, make sure they are filled, and give them to your dog on the floor in front of you, or stick the Licks Pad on a wall or other smooth surface.
  • Hold your dog’s paw in your hand, their arm resting along yours, and their elbow resting in your elbow. This creates a cradle in which your dog’s arm can rest securely without allowing them to pull their paw away from you. If your dog is fighting to get free, allow them to have some time and space to move around, then try again.
  • Begin to trim using the pointers you learned in the video you watched. If you are not using a KONG Classic or Licks pad, you will give your dog a high-value treat every few nails you trim. If your dog is unbothered by your use of the trimmers, give them a treat after each paw you complete, along with verbal praise.
  • Finish the nail trimming session with a “party”! Use an excited tone and high-value treats to end the session.

What other nail-trimming tips have you discovered with your dog or cat? What creative KONG recipes or KONG treats does your pet like when you are practicing new skills? We would love to know! Tag us @KONGcompany on Instagram with your favorite KONG toys, treats & tips you use for training, using the hashtags #KONGtraining #KONGtreats and our favorites, #KONGdog or #KONGcat !

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