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Dog Scared of Nail Clipping? 6 Tips from Expert Groomer

Does your dog visibly begin to shake when they see you marching over with the nail clippers?

Or maybe they struggle as if their life depended on it (making nail clipping pretty much impossible).

This reaction is far more common than you may think. But I’m sure the real reason you’re here is how to FIX this situation.

You’ve come to the right place. I’ve done thousands, maybe even tens of thousands of nail trims.

Before the pandemic I would occasionally volunteer for weekend charity drives at rescue centers where I would offer nail trims all day.

Parked just inside the front doors of a pet store or visitor center; at any given moment I would have a line-up of 10 to 15 dogs all patiently waiting for their nail trim. No pressure.

Katlin prepping a dog at a dog show

I learned to be very fast and efficient. With every kind of dog you can imagine.

I’m not saying this to brag. I just want to let you know that you’re in good hands.

Quick Summary

  • Use scissor style clippers and be careful not to pull out hairs around their nails.
  • Clip with confidence – dogs feed off our emotions. Be patient and gentle, but pick your spot and follow through.
  • Dog struggles too much? Still learning how to properly cut nails? Just do a little bit at a time. Do one paw or even just one single nail per day. Just trim a bit off the top. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Trimming a little bit is better than not trimming at all.
  • Build a positive routine. Get them used of having their paws touched, or visit the same groomer every time. Use lots of praise and treats.
  • Learn how to hold your dog. Watch the video to learn how to safely and comfortably hold your dog while nail trimming.
  • Keep practicing, you’ll get faster and more efficient.

1. Clipping Causing Pain or Discomfort?

Some dogs react poorly to nail trims simply because it’s causing pain.

  1. Use Scissor Type, NOT Guillotine Type

There are 2 main styles of nail clippers (not including Dremels).

Scissor type are exactly that – they resemble a small pair of scissors and cut the nail with 2 blades on each side. I highly recommend scissor type trimmers.

Scissor type

Guillotine type is a single blade that push into the nail and is far more uncomfortable for dogs. Try switching to scissor style trimmers and see if your dog responds better.

Guillotine type

2. Don’t Pull Their Hair Out!

Typically, dogs have extended hair growth around each nail. Some owners have a habit of clipping the nail while also gripping onto some loose hair and then pulling away (yanking hairs out with the clippers).

As you might expect, this may cause sharp pain (dog paws are very sensitive).

Use your fingers to push away any loose hairs before clipping.

3. Hold Your Dog Comfortably and Securely

How we hold our dogs paws and joints can absolutely affect their comfort. I’ve included a video below that demonstrates exactly how I do this in the salon.

2. Clip with Confidence

Dogs feed off your emotions. If you’re hesitant or anxious, they feel that. That’s about the time your dog starts looking for an escape route.

Be patient and take your time, but when it comes to the action of clipping – pick your spot and follow through.

If you’re lacking confidence remember this is a skill that takes practice. You’ll get better the more you do it, and your dog will feel less anxious as a result.

In my next tip I recommended just doing a little bit at a time (especially if you’re still learning or your dog gets stressed). Use that routine as a way to build up your confidence.

And as always, give your dog a treat and some praise when done.

3. Build a Routine

If confidence is one main component, routine is the other.

Our dogs learn quick. They memorize the sounds, feelings, and experiences with just a few rounds.

We can use this to our advantage.

Build a daily routine as a way to remove some of the anxiety associated with nail trimming.

For example: spend a few minutes each day just holding their paws in your hands. Use a lot of praise and treats.

Soon you’ll build new reference points in their brain which says “hey, this isn’t so bad”.

Here’s a few different routine tricks that will curb negative associations with nail trims.

  • Hold their paws every day. Feel each toe between your fingers. Get them used to humans touching and holding their paws.
  • Show them the nail clippers and place it near their paws (don’t actually cut their nails) and reward them with treats.
  • Position their body the same way you would cut their nails. Hold each paw for a few seconds and then reward with treats.
  • If a groomer or vet cuts their nails, make a routine of visiting the same person every 2 weeks so they become familiar with that person and location. (You can even make a routine of visiting the groomer, saying hi, and leaving).

Remember to repeat one or more of these items every chance you get for at least a few weeks. It only takes a few minutes. Use a lot of praise or treats to build a positive association.

4. Learn To Hold Your Dog Safely

Being a groomer I don’t always have the luxury of working with a dog for weeks / months. I just have to do their nails.

Of course, I’m still going to be kind and gentle. But some dogs are going to offer some resistance. That’s just part of my job.

Side Note: There are certainly cases where a dog struggles so much I simply cannot do their nails safely. If you don’t feel safe, or you’re concerned for the safety of your dog – Do NOT Attempt!

Part of my job is knowing how to safely hold a dog so when they suddenly jerk their paw back, or try to make a run for it, they don’t accidentally get hurt in the process.

In this clip taken from my Grooming Course I demonstrate how to safely and securely hold a pup for nail trims.

5. Just do a little bit at a time

When I ask everyday dog owners why nail trimming is such a struggle for them – it’s either they’re afraid of hitting the quick, or their dog gets too anxious and won’t sit still.

What is the Quick? It’s the blood supply within a nail. If you clip into the Quick it will bleed and be quite uncomfortable for your dog. 

Usually, the goal is to trim as close to the Quick as possible without cutting into it. By doing this often; the Quick slowly recedes overtime, allowing us to safely cut the nail shorter each session.

However, if the nail isn’t trimmed regularly the Quick will grow and extend further into the nail. Nails that grow too long leave your dog prone to injury. We want to maintain a regular nail cutting schedule to ensure the ideal length.

A – Quick / B – Nail

Here’s something that always surprises my clients; you don’t HAVE to cut their nails perfectly short on the first try.

Just take a little bit off the top every few days. You’ll start to build confidence and get a feel for how far down you can go.

Dog struggles too much? Just do one paw per day.

Heck, just do one nail per day!

This is part of building a routine and confidence (for you and the dog).

Take some of the pressure off yourself. Trim a little bit off the top and call it a day. Come back in a few days and do a little more.

There’s a million videos & guides out there on how to trim nails – so I won’t bore you with that. Just keep some styptic powder nearby and make trimming a regular practice.

6. Be Kind

When dogs leave my grooming salon owners are always shocked at how happy their dog is. I hear things like “she used to be so scared after her grooms!”

What’s my big secret?

Just talk in a soothing voice. Or sing gently (just don’t belt out those high notes).

All while being extra patient.

Being kind absolutely soothes anxiety. I have hundreds of cases of previously nervous dogs to prove it.

It may sound silly, but it works. Simply talk your dog through the process, praise them constantly, and reward them for a job well done.

I can promise you that it will make a difference.

On the opposite side of the spectrum – roughly handling your dog, getting frustrated, or scolding will absolutely make your job more difficult.

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