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How to Train Your Dog to Be Calm During Nail Clippings

How to Train Your Dog to Be Calm During Nail Clippings

Dogs can get very anxious and upset during nail clippings for a variety of reasons. The sensation of having their nails clipped can feel unusual and scary to them. The pressure on their nails may cause discomfort. The sound of the clippers can also startle them. Some dogs may have had a bad experience getting their nails clipped in the past, so they associate it with fear. Others are just naturally more sensitive and high-strung. Whatever the cause, it's important to have empathy for your dog's anxiety and make nail clipping as calm and positive an experience as possible.

Start Young

The earlier you can start trimming your puppy's nails, the better. Young puppies tend to be more receptive to handling and new experiences. Get them used to having their paws touched and nails clipped from a young age. Give them praise and treats during and after nail clippings so they learn to associate it with positivity. If you start while they're still a puppy, they'll be accustomed to the routine as they grow up. It's much harder to get an older dog comfortable with nail trims if they've never experienced them before.

Take It Slow

Don't try to trim all of your dog's nails at once when you're first training them to accept the process. Just do one or two nails per session at first. Keep the sessions brief, just a minute or two, and end on a positive note. You want to create good memories around nail clipping. Don't try to push your dog past their tolerance. If they start to get anxious or resistant, stop the session and try again later. Build up slowly over multiple sessions until your dog is ready for full nail trims.

Get Them Relaxed Beforehand

Your dog needs to be in a calm state of mind before attempting nail clipping. Take them for a good walk beforehand so they've gotten their ya-yas out. Spend some relaxing time together petting or brushing them. You may also want to ask your vet about anti-anxiety medication to give prior to nail trims. Something as simple as Rescue Remedy or a ThunderShirt may help take the edge off. Get your dog nice and mellow before breaking out the clippers.

Have Tasty Treats Ready

Have your dog's absolutely favorite treats on hand to reward them during and after the nail trim. Little pieces of chicken, cheese, hot dog or whatever they go crazy for. Offer them treats continuously as you trim each nail. This will teach them to associate nail clippings with tastiness instead of fear. After the session is over, give them a bunch more treats and animated praise. Be very effusive – you want nail trims to be a big party with amazing rewards.

Enlist Someone To Help

If your dog really struggles, have someone assist you. Have them give your dog treats and encouragement while you focus on clipping the nails quickly and calmly. The second person can also gently hold and reassure your dog if needed (but don't restrain them too tightly). Some dogs do better with a familiar person holding them in their lap during nail trims. Choose someone your dog trusts and feels safe with.

Use Positive Reinforcement

You want to actively reinforce calm, relaxed behavior from your dog during nail clipping sessions. When they're tolerating it well, lavish on the praise and treats. Tell them "Good dog!" in a happy, upbeat voice. Avoid scolding or correcting them if they get wiggly or scared. This will just make them more nervous in the future. Stay positive and give them tons of rewards for cooperating. Your dog will learn over time that chill nail trims = tons of yummy treats.

Introduce the Clippers Gradually

Don't just whip out the nail clippers and start cutting away. At first, let your dog sniff, lick and paw at the clippers while they're closed. Give them treats as they investigate the clippers so they see the clippers = good things happening. Clip a nail here and there as they're comfortable. Open and close the clippers while giving treats, so your dog gets used to the sound. Build up to actual nail trims over multiple sessions so the clippers seem less foreign and scary.

Try Different Types of Clippers

There are different styles of nail clippers, including guillotine clippers and scissor clippers. Try out a few kinds to see which your dog reacts to best. Some pups do better with a gentle grinding tool instead of regular clippers. You can find grinders designed specifically for pets. Introduce grinders the same way described above – let them hear/feel the grinder first before using it directly on their nails. Find the right equipment for your dog.

Ask Your Vet For Help

Don't hesitate to seek professional assistance if your dog struggles with nail trims. Your vet's office deals with this issue all the time and can give you tips. They may be able to trim your dog's nails more quickly and easily. Some vet offices offer dedicated nail trim appointments. They may allow you to come in frequently for nail trims to get your dog more comfortable with the process there. Ask your vet for their recommendations tailored to your pup.

Take Breaks As Needed

Don't try to power through if your dog gets overly anxious, agitated or resistant during a nail trimming session. Just stop and take a break. End the session and try again later when you both are feeling more relaxed. Pushing your dog past their limits will only make things worse. Let your dog calm down before attempting another session. Go at their pace and keep nail clippings brief and positive. With patience over many sessions, your dog will gain confidence.

Practice Paw Handling

Outside of regular nail clipping sessions, frequently handle your dog's paws. Gently touch their toes, pads and nails, while giving treats and praise. This will desensitize them to having their paws manipulated. When nail trim time comes around, they'll be used to having their feet touched. Paw handling shouldn't just happen around nail trims. Do it during cuddle time, while watching TV together, during their morning scratches – integrate it into your normal routine.

Try A Dremel Tool

If traditional nail clippers just aren't working for your dog, consider a Dremel grinding tool. The light grinding motion is less jarring than clippers, so it feels more gentle. Work up to introducing the Dremel the same way described for clippers above. Let them hear it first while getting treats, then touch their nails with it before actually grinding. Take it slow. The vibration can feel unusual at first but most dogs end up tolerating the Dremel quite well.

Ask Your Groomer For Advice

Professional dog groomers have tons of experience working with dogs that get anxious and fussy during nail trims. They have to handle all sorts of challenging pups on a regular basis. Talk to any groomers you know and ask their advice for calming and training dogs for nail clippings. They may have useful tips on positioning, equipment and calming techniques. They may even offer specialized training services specifically for nail trimming anxiety.

Try Anti-Anxiety Medication

For dogs with severe anxiety around nail trims, anti-anxiety medication may be helpful. Your vet can prescribe something appropriate for the situation. Common options are prescription sedatives or OTC supplements like melatonin. Give the medication enough time before a trimming session to kick in. This can take the edge off your dog's anxiety so the process is less frightening. But you still need to take steps to positively train your dog and make nail clippings a happier experience. Meds alone won't fix the problem.

Use High-Value Treats

Whip out the really good stuff when nail clipping. Breakfast sausage, freeze-dried liver, dried fish skins, etc. Things your dog considers absolutely delicious and irresistible. You want nail trimming associated with the best treats ever. Be very generous with the treats – almost nonstop as you clip each nail. The better the treats, the more positive the experience will be for your dog. Over time they'll see nail clippings as a wonderful jackpot event.

Practice With Fake Nails First

Buy some realistic rubber prop nails and clip those first before your dog's real nails. Let them sniff and lick the fake nails while clipping them. This gets them used to the visual of "nails" being trimmed without the feel of real nail clipping. You can find sets of rubber dog nails online or at some pet stores. Work up to clipping just one real nail during a session, then eventually more real nails mixed with fake ones. The fake nails help ease them into it.

Try Clipping Just One Nail At A Time

Anxious dogs often do better if you just clip one or two nails per session at first. Quickly clip just one nail, treat and praise, then end the session. Work your way up to more nails each session. Clipping one nail is less overwhelming than trying to do all of them at once. As your dog gets comfortable with a nail or two at a time, gradually increase over multiple sessions. Let your dog work up to full manicures at their own pace.

Use Kind, Gentle Handling

Stay calm and gentle as you handle your dog's feet and clip their nails. No scolding, yelling or forcing them to comply. Be patient and move at their pace. Speak in a kind, soothing voice and give encouragement. Make it as pleasant and low-stress as possible. Gentle handling keeps your dog feeling safe. If you get angry or frustrated, your dog will pick up on that energy, which can make them more anxious.

Give Them Something To Do

Provide your dog with a long-lasting chew treat or food puzzle toy to occupy them during nail clippings. Peanut butter in a Kong or a bully stick are good options. This gives them something enjoyable to focus on instead of just the nippers clipping their nails. It can help distract them from the sensation of nail trimming. Just be sure it's something that will keep them nibbling and licking for a while.

Stay Relaxed Yourself

Dogs pick up on their owner's emotions, so if you get stressed about nail clipping, they'll become more anxious too. Stay calm yourself as you trim those nails. If your dog tenses up, take a deep breath and let your body relax. Speak in a soothing, relaxed tone of voice. Don't rush or get frustrated. If you stay chill, it will help keep your dog chill too. Your own calm demeanor sets the tone.

Try It After Exercise

Some dogs do better getting their nails clipped after they've had exercise and are pleasantly pooped out. Take them for a good brisk walk or have a long play session first. Getting their energy out ahead of time can put them in a more mellow, cooperative mood for nail trimming. Plus, they'll associate getting their nails done with the fun of exercise. You'll have a happier, calmer dog on your hands when those clippers come out.

Use Clicker Training

Clicker training is a great way to positively reinforce calm nail clipping behavior. As soon as your dog tolerates the clippers or allows a nail trim, click the clicker then quickly give them a treat. Keep repeating this click + treat every few seconds as you trim. The click marks the exact moment your dog does the desired behavior, while the treat rewards it. This strengthens the positive association in your dog's mind.

Practice While They're Relaxed

Take advantage of times when your dog is already mellow and relaxed, like during a lazy afternoon nap. Sit with them and calmly handle their paws or clip a nail or two. They may barely notice since they're already chill. This prevents them from getting too worked up. It can help reinforce that nail trims are no big deal. Find times to practice when your dog is already laid-back.

Ask Them For A "Paw" First

Teach your dog to offer you their paw on cue using positive reinforcement training. Then, before clipping nails, ask them for a paw first. When they willingly give you their paw, you can clip a nail or two while praising them. This creates more willingness and cooperation from your dog compared to just grabbing their feet. Build up to being able to gently hold their paw while you clip as they learn to accept it.

Don't Punish Fear Responses

If your dog jerks their paw away, tries to run off, or cowers during nail clipping, don't scold or punish them. Doing so will just make them more fearful next time. Be patient and understanding. If they get too worked up, simply stop the session and try again later in a calmer state of mind. Over time and with positive experience, your dog will gain confidence during nail trims.

Give Them Control

Allow your dog some control during the process so they don't feel forced. Let them sniff and investigate the clippers at their own pace. Don't restrain them tightly – keep handling gentle. Pause when they seem anxious. Clip just a nail or two then let them be done. Show them they can walk away if needed. Giving them more autonomy makes nail clipping less scary.

Make It Part Of Your Routine

Incorporate nail clipping into your regular schedule, so it's not an unusual event that overwhelms your dog. Aim to trim a few nails 2-3 times per week as part of their routine care. Regular, brief positive experiences will help your dog accept it as a normal part of their life, not some terrifying ordeal. Be consistent with it.

Pair With Pleasurable Activities

Do nail trims before or after something your dog enjoys, like a walk or play session. This associates nail clippings with fun, happy times rather than fear. Your dog will think, "Oh boy, we're going to the park after I get my nails clipped!" Instead of dreading it, they'll anticipate the fun outing it leads to. Strategically schedule nail trims around activities your dog loves.

Set A Calm Mood

The environment and your own energy will influence your dog. Create a quiet, calm mood for nail clipping. Turn off loud TV or music so there are no jarring sounds. Speak and move in a mellow, reassuring way. Have treats readily available. Ask any family members present to also be chill and positive. Your dog will pick up on the zen vibe around them.

Don't Restrain Too Tightly

Having your dog gently held still can help make nail clipping easier. But don't restrain them too tightly or forcefully. Let them remain relatively loose and free to move a bit. Too much restraint can overwhelm them with stress. Cradle them gently with light pressure and lots of reassurance. Find a balance between keeping them still yet feeling relaxed.

Practice Touching Their Paws

Outside of nail clipping time, frequently touch your dog's paws in a gentle, relaxed way. Gently squeeze their toes, rub their pads, tap their nails – whatever they'll tolerate without pulling away. Always pair with rewards. This repeated handling teaches your dog to accept and not fear having their paws manipulated. It will make them more comfortable when the clippers actually come out.

Start With Tired Dogs

Schedule nail clipping right after your dog has had vigorous exercise and is pleasantly worn out. Their lowered energy level will make them less likely to wriggle and resist. Take them for a good long walk or play session first. You want a nice and mellow dog to clip nails on, not one who's full of pent-up energy. A tired dog is a cooperative dog when it comes to nail trimming time.

Lean Into Your Dog's Love of Food

One reason positive reinforcement works so well is that most dogs adore food. Use their natural food drive to your advantage when training for nail trims. Let them nibble tasty treats continuously as you clip. Delectable goodies will override anxiety and fear. Your dog will learn that "nail trim time = I get yummy treats!" Lean into their innate food motivation.

Make Sure They Get Plenty of Exercise

Dogs that don't get enough physical and mental exercise are often more high-strung and anxious – a bad combo for calm nail clipping. Make sure your dog gets adequate activity each day. Take them on long walks, play fetch and tug, give interactive food puzzles, provide chew toys, etc. A dog with pent-up energy is going to have a harder time chilling for nail trims. Exercise helps them be calmer in general.

Ask for One Paw at a Time

If your dog is fearful about getting their nails clipped, start by just lifting one paw while praising, treating, then lowering it again. Repeat this with each paw separately over multiple short sessions. Work up slowly to holding the paw briefly, touching the clippers to their nails, and finally clipping just one nail at a time as they're comfortable. One paw at a time reduces stress.

Use a Gentle, Reassuring Tone

It's natural to use a higher voice when praising dogs. But for anxious pups, it can actually rev them up too much. Use a low, gentle, soothing tone when talking to your dog during nail clipping instead. This prevents overstimulating them when they're already nervous. Quiet, calm praise relaxes them rather than winding them up. Find the tone that says "You're okay, I'm

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