The Importance of Routine Nail Trims for Your Dog
by Robin MacFarlane
Not taking care of the nails can cause serious issues down the road.
Trimming your dog's nails is one of those tasks often dreaded or avoided altogether. It shouldn't be that way and with some patient and consistent practice, it doesn't have to be. Regardless of how you or your dog feel about nail trims, they are as important to your dog's health and well being as a nutritious diet and adequate exercise.
Not taking care of the nails can cause serious issues down the road. Unlike humans, dogs walk on their toes rather than a foot bed. Imagine if we walked on our toes and our toenails were so long they were constantly touching the ground. The level of discomfort would increase over time causing us to alter our gait to avoid the pain. That is what happens with dogs that don't receive proper nail maintenance. Over time, gait abnormalities develop and arthritis can set in.
In the short term it is uncomfortable for the dog, and there is a high risk of breaking the nails into the nail bed, which leads to bleeding, mess and more discomfort.
So what are the options? You can certainly take the dog to a groomer or veterinarian for routine nail trims (every two weeks would be ideal), or you can learn to do it yourself.
If you have a puppy, the process of teaching tolerance is fairly simple. Plus, it isn't going to take as long as it would with an adult dog that has never been acclimated to the procedure, or a dog that has had a few bad experiences in the past.
The key is to go slowly and not cause the dog to panic. Panic will create a wrestling match that you aren't likely to win and you certainly don't want to repeat each time you have to do the nails.
You can chose to teach your dog to be in a standing or lying down position. Some like to have their dog stand on a table, just as they would at the vet or groomers office. The choice is yours, but either option will take a little training before you move onto the next step.
Once you have taught a position you want the dog to maintain, you then move onto teaching tolerance of having their feet held while in that position. Not only must the dog learn to tolerate having the foot held with no pulling away or biting at your hand, they need to tolerate a bit of pressure placed on the individual toes because it requires a slight pinching action to project the nail forward to make it easier to see and clip.
The next goal is to get the dog used to the tools you will be using, whether a nail trimmer or a rotary grinding tool. Either require a period of training to condition the dog to hold still allowing the nails to be trimmed.
When you are working through these steps keep in mind that "Rome wasn't built in a day." This is a process that does not have to be completed in one session. If you are patient, firm, and use copious rewards for your dog's compliance, you can finish one or two nails a day or one foot a day, and get the job done without having to go through a wrestling match.
If you have an older dog who's had some negative experiences with nail trims, it will take longer to counter-condition, but working at it a little each day adds up to success over time.
If you have a puppy, this "little bit each day" approach adds up to a lifetime of easy and stress free nail maintenance pretty quickly.
Robin MacFarlane is a professional dog trainer and owner of Thatís My Dog in Dubuque, Iowa. Her best-selling dog training DVDs, JUST RIGHT and JUST RIGHT 2 have helped thousands of dog owners teach their dogs basic obedience and fix problem behaviors through a system of training that you can easily work into your daily routine.