Friday, February 5, 2010

Nail Trimming ... a BIG accomplishment

I admit, I like short nails on my dogs. I like the look of short nails. I like to trim the hair around the foot. I like the way the grinder smooths the nail back to a little stub. I think short nails look pretty.

Keeping my dogs’ nails short also prevents the nails from ever touching the ground. Nails left untrimmed can splay the foot, can grow into the pad, and cause unnecessary pain if left so long that they impede the dog’s movement.

So it only was a matter of time that I trimmed Melissa’s nails after she came to live with us. I wanted her to become accustomed to my handling her feet, not only for nail trimming but also for routine grooming which includes looking between the pads for pine sap, cuts or abrasions after hiking on rough terrain, or those horrid ticks.

Her first nail trimming was done in the evening, when she was ready for bed, she was tired. She was busy licking some meat baby food, while I clipped clipped clipped. It was completed in less than two minutes, and I wondered if Melissa even knew what had happened. I had taken advantage of her being tired and totally engrossed in the baby food. But I knew she was not going to be that relaxed every time. Next time she just might be more interested in that nail clipper, or why I was holding her toes. So I began a protocol to get her accustomed to being touched not only on her feet but also all over her body. There was going to be times when she was not tired that I would need to examine her feet or trim her nails.

Every day I touched her gently all over her body with just a few fingers, while with my other hand I let her nibbled some moist treats. I touched her ears, her feet, her tail, around her muzzle. She began to look forward to our quiet time while I basically gave her a gentle massage.

The next step was to get her accustomed to the nail grinder. I use a cordless Dremel a 7.2 V to be exact. I could continue to clip, but the grinder allows me to get the nails shorter, and as I mentioned…I like the smooth look the grinder gives. Had I wanted to continue to clip I would have gone thru the same steps as I did with the grinder. I ran the Dremel for several days while it sat on the counter. Melissa became accustomed to the noise in fact she got lots of treats when the Dremel was running. She looked forward to the Dremel being turned on; she began to associate the noise with getting treats.

I then held the Dremel in the off positon and let her sniff it. She was use to me holding and running my fingers between her pads and holding her nails, so adding the Dremel in the other hand was an easy step. The Dremel was still in the off position. Melissa was calm and relaxed at all these steps. If at any time she would fuss I would just stop go back a few steps. I was setting Melissa up for a life-time of not just merely tolerating her nails being trimmed, but to enjoy it.

Lying next to me and not moving was a challenge for Melissa, she got wiggly. I took a few evenings of allowing Melissa to lick some baby food while I had her lay next to me. I gradually and very gently moved my fingers down her legs and within a few practice sessions she was lying still while I touched her feet and nails.

Next was to turn the Dremel on while it was in one hand and I was touching Melissa with my other. She didn’t have to be in any particular position like a down or a sit or a stand. I just wanted Melissa to get used to the Dremel in the on position while it was close to her. She had watched me grind other dogs’ nails, but having the Dremel in the on position when it was next to her would be different. No problem. She licked that wonderful baby food from a plate, my one hand touched her legs and feet while I held the running Dremel in the other hand.

I then had Melissa lie down while I had the Dremel running, she had a Kong filled with baby food and I pretended to grind her nails. I held each foot and brought the Dremel close to a few nails. No need to actually grind yet…..I was taking this slow I wanted Melissa to really like having her nails ground. I was building a very solid foundation of pleasant associations.

With the help of a friend we took the plunge and ground a few nails. My friend Lessa let Melissa lay the front part of her body on her lap while she held the baby food jar for Melissa to lick. I then proceeded to touch the Dremel to a nail. Melissa was wiggly the first few nails……it must feel a bit funny when the nail vibrated a bit. I was extremely careful to hold the pad and the nail in such a way that my fingers absorbed the vibration. We changed to a higher value treat for Melissa…peanut butter. Melissa was less wiggly and was busy licking while I finished trimming. My husband helped me the next two times. I ground, he held a small plate of peanut butter. We got two feet done and let her take a break before she got wiggly. We then finished up the other two feet. The 2nd time Paul helped me Melissa was totally relaxed and never looked at her feet just sighed and continued to lick peanut butter. We got all 18 toe nails trimmed in less than 3 minutes.

Today I trimmed Melissa’s nails solo. She lay on the couch. She licked peanut butter, I ground. Her nails are short and smooth. I have a 5 month old puppy who is relaxed while I grind her nails. Was it worth the time and the many steps it took to get to this point? It sure was, and it only took 3 months. I never had to force Melissa to be still while I trimmed her nails. I never had to hurt her. I am continuing to building a relationship of trust and understanding with Melissa. In the past, my dogs now long gone would wait in line as I ground nails. They associated the Dremel with lying on my lap and special treats. As I was busy grinding another dog’s nails today, I looked up to find puppy Melissa sitting close to us. I believe she was patiently waiting to have another turn. I think that says it all.


  1. Fabulous explanation. Love this.

    Our dogs also don't mind. They always get treats for their trouble.

  2. Thanks for writing. Glad to hear that your dogs don't mind having their nails done either. Life is so much better when we use a positive approach.