Cutting Nails

Reducing the stress for you and your dog
By Karen B. London PhD, October 2010, Updated June 2021

There are few parts of dog guardianship that are less agreeable than cutting nails. In fact, the only task that I dislike more is picking up poop, and depending on the dog, clean-up duty may even be preferable to nail trimming.

 
I worked for almost a year as a dog groomer, so I know a few tricks about getting nails trimmed no matter what. Whether it’s keeping a dog occupied with treats or a favorite chew toy, the promise of a walk immediately afterwards, calming holds to use with struggling dogs, or trimming one nail a day for three weeks and then starting over, it is possible to cut any dog’s nails. I even occasionally advise using a muzzle. It’s better to get it done quickly in order to minimize the stress for the dog or the chance of a bite to the human, and if a muzzle makes that happen, it may be the best option.
 
Of course, many people have dogs who patiently present each paw and sit like a statue while each nail is cut. For the rest of us, it’s worth trying out a variety of techniques to learn what works best for your dog.
 

 

Photo courtesy the author

Karen B. London, Ph.D. is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral issues, including aggression. Karen writes the animal column for the Arizona Daily Sun and is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University. She is the author of six books about canine training and behavior, including her most recent, Treat Everyone Like a Dog: How a Dog Trainer’s World View Can Improve Your Life