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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Tuesday's Training TIP: NAILS!!!


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?


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:

  • 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.)

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