Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tuesday Training Tip: Nail Clipping

Most dogs do not like having their nails clipped. Some dogs may not even like having their paws touched, and having their nails clipped may be a traumatic experience. Many people take their dogs to the groomers because their dog really dislikes having it's nails trimmed; however, just because the groomer is clipping the dog's nails doesn't mean it is a less traumatic experience for the dog.

It is possible for dogs to calmly allow you, their handler, to clip their nails. Our puppy raisers and trainers work very hard with the dogs to teach them that nail clipping isn't a terrible thing. After a few weeks of training, the dogs learn that the nail clippers mean lots of tasty treats are coming their way, and they calmly allow us to clip each nail.

We say that the dogs "allow" us to clip their nails because our training method puts the dog in charge. We use clicker training with lots of tasty treats to teach the dogs that nail clipping is not a horrible thing, and at any point in the process, the dog is allowed to pull their paw away. We never force a dog to submit to nail clipping. Instead, we strike a bargain with our dogs - the dogs let us clip their nails in exchange for tasty treats.

Before we explain how to train your dog to let you clip his nails, we'd like to go over some of the tools you'll need.

  • Clicker - to mark a specific behavior
  • Power treats - treats such as pieces of chicken, steak or cheese (Just make sure the pieces are no bigger than your dog's kibble.)
  • Pen with a clip - we'll explain why you need this below
  • Tooth picks - again, we'll explain more below
  • Nail clippers - we use the "scissors" kind with blades on both sides

Here's how it works:

  1. Make sure you have your clicker and lots of power treats ready. Also, make sure the clippers are out of sight. Many dogs have a negative reaction to the clippers, and you want to begin by making it a positive experience.
  2. Begin by simply reaching for your dog's paw. Click and treat your dog for letting you get within 6 inches of his paw. (If your dog doesn't let you get that close, then click and treat for letting you get withing 8 inches, 12 inches, etc. You always want to stop at the point right before your dog wants to pull away.) Repeat 5-10 times and stay at this step until your dog is 80% successful.
  3. Once your dog is comfortable with you getting 6 inches from his paw, start moving closer. Click and treat for getting within 4 inches, then 2 inches, then 1 inch. Repeat 5-10 times.
  4. Click and treat your dog for letting you touch his paw.
  5. Click and treat your dog for letting you hold his paw in the same manner you would hold it to clip his nails.
  6. Hold your dog's paw and lightly grasp one nail. Click and treat if he doesn't pull away.
  7. Once your dog is comfortable with you grasping his nails, you're ready to use the pen. Your goal with the pen is to slide the dog's nail between the pen and the clip. However, you will need to break this behavior down. Start by just touching the pen to the dog's nails. Click and treat. Gradually work up to sliding the dog's nail between the pen and the clip. This simulates the feeling of the clippers without any of the negative associations that the clippers usually bring. For almost all dogs, the pen is going to be a neutral object.
  8. Once your dog thinks this is a good game, it's time to bring out the nail clippers. However, you are not going to immediately start clipping your dog's nails. Instead, you're going to back up and click and treat your dog for letting you touch his paws while the clippers are in sight. You may even have to back up to clicking and treating for letting you get close to his paws.
  9. When your dog is comfortable with you picking up his paws with the clippers in sight, begin picking up the nail clippers. You're just going to pick them up, not bring them close to the dog's paws. You may even have to break it down even further and click and treat your dog just for letting you hold their paw while you reach for the clippers.
  10. If your dog is comfortable with you holding his paw and picking up the clippers, begin clicking and treating for letting you touch the clippers to his nail. Do NOT clip his nail at this stage!
  11. Here's where the toothpick comes in. Hold the toothpick next to your dog's nail and this time, when you bring the clippers to his nail, clip the toothpick. This way, the dog gets used to the sound of the clippers without the pressure of having his nails actually clipped.
  12. Next, put the nail clippers around a nail and add some pressure. Do NOT clip his nail.
  13. Finally, put the nail clippers around a nail and clip just a tiny bit off.
Stay at each step for as long as you need to. You don't want to push your dog too quickly. Make sure your dog is at least 80% successful at each step. For example, if you do 10 trials of each step, your dog must earn a click and treat at least eight out of ten times before you can more on to the next step. Try to do two training sessions a day.

Remember to always click and treat your dog every time he doesn't pull his paw away. If he does pull away, let him. He just doesn't get a treat for pulling away. He will soon learn that he is in charge of nail-clipping, but if he wants a treat, he has to let you hold his paw.

If you accidentally clip too much and your dog's nails start bleeding, give him a party of treats. Giving him lots of treats reassure him that he has nothing to worry about.

Your dog's nails don't stop growing just because you're training him in nail clipping. Until he's comfortable with nail clipping, you can take him for walks on the sidewalk or asphalt, or let him run around on a tennis court. These surfaces act as a giant emery board and file your dog's nails. If you're doing two training sessions a day, it should take approximately two weeks until your dog is comfortable having his nails clipped - but don't worry if it takes a little longer. Work at your dog's speed.

Even after your dog is comfortable having his nails clipped, you need to continue treating him. Remember, you've struck a bargain with him. He probably still doesn't love to have his nails clipped, but he has decided that it's not scary and he'll let you do it as long as you have treats for him. So you need to keep your end of the bargain.

If you follow this method, you will soon have a dog who calmly lets you clip his nails.


  1. Hello, I would like to purchase these type of nail clippers. Can you please tell me where I might purchase them? My emal is shiela-johnson@iwon.com

  2. Welcome to our complete guide to choosing and using dog nail clippers Helping you to find the right tool for the job, and giving you an easy guide to the best way to use it. As a dog lover, when you spy a dog's paw, with its soft fur and spongy paw pads, your first thought is probably, “Awwww – doggy paws ...