WARNING: DO NOT TOUCH MY PAWS
As soon as I reach for the dog-nail clippers, Gypsy slyly slinks from sight. Her negative reaction is due to my not trimming her nails consistently.
Years ago, when Gypsy was only a couple of months old, I tried to make it a weekly practice to cuddle her while I snipped her sharp puppy nails. Inevitably I cut a nail too short; she yipped and pulled her paw away. No doubt I overreacted myself trying to staunch the bleeding, and that nail-cutting session was over.
Guess what happened the very next time I tried to clip her nails?
You got it--the memory of that bleeding nail burned in her brain. The fight was on. As Gypsy grew, Andy helped hold her still while I did the dastardly deed. And then the screaming began. I worried that neighbors might call Animal Control on me for torturing my dog!
During one visit to the Vet, I asked Dr. Hamilton to cut her nails. Two of his staff and I secured Gypsy while he did the job. (He cut at least one nail too short also.) Gypsy screeched bloody murder! I hoped we didn't scare anyone in the waiting room.
I asked, What can I do to deal with this?
Dr. Hamilton replied, "Play with her feet as often as you can so she gets desensitized, and gradually re-introduce the clipper."
Okay. So. I played with Gypsy's feet. (*See Note.)
Eventually I was able to cut her front paw nails without a fight (and no screaming), but she trembled and moaned anxiously. I cut her rear paw nails another time. I tried clipping immediately before heading out for a run, as a way to "reward" Gypsy, and to get her mind off of it if I cut a quick. Helping Gypsy tolerate nail trimming was, and continues to be, a lot of effort. Is it any wonder that I am not consistent?
MY FUTURE LEADER DOG PUPPIES
As a volunteer puppy-raiser for Leader Dogs for the Blind, I am expected to touch my puppies all over, getting them used to a "Handler's Exam." (See my post from June 1, 2010 for more information.) And I do; however, nail cutting seems to be my bane.
With every puppy I raise, I vow to maintain a consistent nail-cutting routine, but, after the first time nicking a quick, this routine always becomes more difficult. Puppies remember, and struggle in avoidance.
I used a small human-nail clipper on FLD Gus when we first brought him home. He didn't mind that at all. It's impossible to see the quick through those dark black Lab nails, so I just cut the very tip. When Gus got older, I used the dog nail-clipper. One miss-clip later and FLD Gus was done with nail cutting!
Luckily, FLD Gus's nails stay short from walking on pavement and romping around, so I haven't had to trim them often. Still, I've begun the process of desensitizing him. Here's how:
HINTS TO DESENSITIZE
- Prevention is best. Touch your puppy's paws frequently with lots of praise! Use a nail-clipper soon, and on a regular basis.
- If you cut the quick, have cornstarch or a bar of soap handy to staunch the bleeding. Stay calm and don't end your session with that bad clip! Distract your puppy with a treat in your hand, or a special toy, and keep cutting. You might need assistance.
- Continue to touch and massage your puppy's paws whenever you can, not just when you trim the nails.
- If, like FLD Gus, your puppy tries to squirm his or her paw away, hold the paw calmly and be ready with a treat when he or she relaxes. Praise!
- Gradually re-introduce the nail-clipper, perhaps cut only one nail in a session, increasing the number as your puppy accepts the routine.
FLD Gus is starting to let me touch his front paws; he has less of an issue with his rear paws. (I must have snipped his front quick!) I wonder how much trouble Leader Dogs for the Blind has with clipping the nails of all the dogs brought back for training.
(*Note: I even tried the PediPaws-gizmo from the pet store. I followed the directions to desensitize Gypsy and my then-current-puppy, FLD Mike to it, but the sandpaper head and battery-powered motor were not strong enough to take off much of the thick nails of my big dogs. I suspect a groomer's Dremel-tool works much better.)