A Trainer Explains: How to Take the Stress Out of Trimming Your Dog’s Nails

Many dogs have problems with nail trimming, and the experience can be stressful for you and your pet. With time and patience, you can teach your dog to be less afraid of nail trimming. He will never love it, but he can learn to tolerate it, and you can improve your bond with your dog at the same time.

Why are many dogs afraid of having their nails trimmed?


  • They have had dewclaws removed

If your dog’s wolf claws have been removed, this can cause problems with nail trimming. Imagine being led to the back of a veterinary office with someone you don’t know or who has made you uncomfortable, and suddenly your thumbs are cut off by something sharp. Not surprisingly, after this trauma, dogs are nervous and anxious when their feet are touched.

  • Inadequate handling in the past

If dogs have not been properly treated as puppies and have not been taught to feel safe when their feet and other body parts are touched, they may feel uncomfortable and frightened when you touch their feet. If you try to cut your nails at home with a pair of nail clippers and hold it while pulling your foot away, chances are you will cut the sensitive area. If you accidentally cut into the area, it may cause your dog more anxiety in the future. Holding your dog while he purrs will also cause more trauma and affect his trust in you.

  • No prior experience with nail trimming

If you have a rescue dog that lives on the street, or if your previous family did not trim nails, nail trimming can be a challenge.

  • Physical sensitivity

Dogs, like humans, have different levels of physical sensitivity. If dogs are more sensitive to their environment, energy and emotions, they may also be sensitive to physical pain. In such cases, the mere touch of a dog’s nails can cause stress if he remembers the last time his nails were trimmed.

Nail trimming at a vet’s office


Usually asking a vet or groomer to trim your dog’s nails is not the best solution, even if it seems easier. Your dog probably already finds the vet’s office a stressful place: it smells weird, hears other animals in distress, and nothing fun ever happens.

The same goes for the groomer, especially if it’s someone they don’t know yet. Even if they love people but are afraid of having their nails trimmed or touched, any dog can bite even an experienced groomer.

So if your dog is already afraid of getting his nails trimmed or going to the vet, this can only increase his fear. In addition, vets have a set schedule and probably can’t take the time to cut nails as slowly as your dog needs to recover between nails.

Some dogs do well with nail trimming at the vet or groomer. As with everything, it’s important to consider your dog’s past history, known fears, personality and ability to handle a potentially stressful situation.

Approach nail trimming as a bonding experience

Treat this “challenge” for your dog as an opportunity to build more confidence and a deeper bond with him. Overcoming his fears and insecurities may take several months, and it is important that you support your dog during this process with patience, compassion and understanding. You should realize that your dog’s nails will probably be longer than you would like for a while. Therefore, take him for a walk on the sidewalk to let the nails wear down naturally until you can trim them.

How to trim nails and build trust

What you’ll need:

  • A spatula
  • Nut butter (or something else that your dog loves that you can smear on the spatula)
  • A nail trimmer
  • A Dremel

Step 1 – Getting your dog used to you holding the nail trimmer

  • Sit on the floor instead of kneeling (avoid standing over them).
  • Place a nail clipper next to you on the floor.
  • Spread some peanut butter on a spatula.
  • Call the dog to you.
  • When your dog approaches you, hold the spatula out for him to lick.
  • Wait 20 seconds, then slowly approach the nail clipper while the dog continues to lick the spatula.
  • If the dog pulls away, put your hand back in your lap, call the dog back to you and try using the nail trimmer again.
  • If the dog keeps licking the peanut butter, hold the nail clipper but at a distance and keep it close to the ground.
  • After holding the nail clipper for about 30 seconds, put it back on the ground.
  • Praise the dog for its courage while touching the nail clipper.

Follow these steps several times until your dog is comfortable approaching you without bending down or extending his paws to reach you. Once your dog is ready to be near you with the clippers on your lap, you can start touching his feet.

Step 2 – Touching your dog’s feet with the clippers nearby

  • Please ask your dog to give you his paw and touch the one he is most comfortable with, while holding the trimmer in your other hand on your lap.
  • Gently touch one of the nails with one finger.

Step 3 – Start touching the nails

  • As in step 2: Get your dog used to you touching one nail, then move on to touching multiple nails.
  • Progressively continue this step until your dog gets used to you touching each nail of each paw with your finger.

Step 4 – Touch the clippers to one nail

  • After tapping your fingernails as usual, slowly place the nail scissors on one paw nail where it feels best.
  • Completing the session with more peanut butter as a reward for your bravery.
  • Touch only one nail of the same paw with the nail scissors every day.

Step 5 – Touch the clippers to all nails

  • As soon as they get used to you touching the clippers on one leg, move on to the next leg and repeat the process.
  • Continue until you can touch each nail of each paw with the clippers.

Step 6 – Start trying to trim one nail

  • Cut only the tip and try to cut one nail, on the paw where they feel most comfortable.
  • Make sure you exude confidence and are calm and relaxed.
  • Cut one nail every day until you notice that your dog feels more comfortable.

Step 7- Trim more than one nail

  • Start by clipping a few nails in one session.
  • Progressively increase the number of nails clipped as the dog becomes more comfortable.


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