I am a stickler for short doggie nails. Apparently I am such of one that an acquaintance once told me right before she left her house to come visit she realized her dog’s nails were very long and she decided she would rather be late to my house than show up with the dog’s nails as is. So she rushed back into the house and trimmed nails before coming.
About half of why really has nothing to do with the dog’s well being but related to the fact that I am beyond incredibly noise sensitive. And dogs click click clicking on the floor as they walk drives my sensory system absolutely up a wall.
And the rest of why is really truly about the dog’s well being. I’ve lost count the number of dogs who after I trim their nails look at me with relief and walk normally without pain once more. Imagine walking with your own toe nails so long they touched the floor, or worse so long they caused your toes to splay out? Ouch!
So needless to say nail trimming is something that is a very routine activity around here. There was one point in Zora’s life where her nails were growing so fast that I trimmed hers at least twice a week. With the dremmel rotary sander. Which gets them very short. Now hers only seem to need it once a week. Thankfully, since I invariably end up dremmeling my own hands usually multiple times when doing the dog’s nails and twice a week meant my hands were getting pretty beat up.
Tom’s nails are incredibly hard and strong. I don’t think I’d be able to trim them with hand clippers. He gets the dremmel too. Unlike Zora, his grow at a rather slow rate and so his nails only need trimming every 3 weeks or so.
Because I feel and believe dogs need to be comfortable and as low stress as possible for husbandry tasks like nail trimming, brushing and the like I spend a lot of time ensuring the dogs are comfortable with the routine. Zora I have stand on a padded bench when I do her nails simply because she’s short and having her up is easier and safer on us both. Tom stands on the floor and I pick up his feet one by one like a horse. Afterwards they get good treats and we go outside to play.
The dogs and I practice and train the nail routine to the point where they are comfortable quietly standing while I pick up each foot and trim. No force, no restraints, no being held down, or leashed, or muzzled. The end desired quietly standing behavior is taught over time through both classical and operant learning. When they are learning, there are lots of short sessions where many times no nails are even touched let alone trimmed. Over time as they get more comfortable with standing patiently, we progress to feet handling and the dremmel sound. Then 1 toe, then 2, eventually 1 foot, then 2, until in the end the stand quietly for all 4 feet is learned and reinforced. And trimming my dog’s nails becomes a quick, painless, low stress routine activity.
With pretty cute feet as the result.
As I said, I believe striving to teach dogs to be that comfortable is a need. With some dogs who have had trauma associate with nail trimming, the goal make take years or never fully be met, but I believe the owner/handler/trainer needs to strive to work towards that goal. Helping a dog feel as relaxed, safe and in control as possible for routine procedures such as nail trims, brushing, vet visits, ear cleaning and such is something I feel very strongly about. Forcibly making a dog tolerate such simply because we are in a hurry or impatient is wrong. Yes teaching the dog the skills to well tolerate husbandry procedures takes time, patience and practice, but is something I feel we all, as dog owners, need to make time for. Even starting with teaching a dog to step up onto a low platform and stand quietly on a mat, so that the next time at the vet getting on the scale for a weight isn’t stressful, makes a difference for the dog. Or teaching a dog to rest their chin on your hand on cue so you can flip back their ear to take a peak. Or if the dog has had enough adverse experiences to be a bite risk, taking the time to desensitize the dog to wearing a muzzle, so that being muzzled isn’t an additional trauma.
Many of the experiences we ask our dogs to be ok with can be very hard to be ok with. Helping dogs learn the safe skills to cope and tolerate with such experiences not only makes their lives better, but improves the safety and speed at which such necessary experiences can be accomplished. Which makes caring for our dogs even easier and more pleasant, for them and for us.