Fear Cutting Your Dog’s Nails No More
Updated: May 17
This blog originally appeared on Your Pit Bull & You, a nonprofit I ran from 2013-2018.
How to Cut Your Dog’s Nails Without Causing Them Fear, Stress or Pain
I’ve been very quiet on the blogging front for a while- for a few reasons. First, I am not actively working with dogs (other than my own) very often and second, I’ve been very, very busy! The two have combined to, at times, make me feel like I don’t have much to say and at others, pulled me away from writing for pleasure in favor of sticking with what needs to get done. In October of last year, I launched my first online course about cutting dog’s nails, called Nailed It! A Course in Canine Nail Care. I expected it to reach maybe 50 people if I was lucky and right now we are at just under 400 students. To say I am blown away would be an understatement. It’s turned into a wonderful community, full of people who want to do well by their dogs. And nails, it seems, is simply a convenient outlet for them to put some new practices into place and some TLC into improving their dog’s lives. I am thrilled each and every day when I go into the forums and see how people are not only willing to try a new approach, but that it seems they’ve anxiously been waiting for one. It’s almost as if the course gives them a much needed sigh of relief, in addition to a road map for getting the job done.
One of the biggest things I have learned so far from Nailed It is that there is a real thirst for knowledge out there, that people have a real desire to be able to do things with their dogs without causing them fear or pain. For so long, people have been exposed to faulty information (“He’s being dominant, it’s ridiculous to say he’s scared about having his nails clipped!”) and then made to feel as if their inability to get something done- whether a nail trim, an ear cleaning, or any number of potentially invasive (or painful) procedures done was their fault. It had nothing to do with faulty information or bad advice- (and #sorrynotsorry)- but recommending restraint by multiple people for a nail trim or cornering a dog to deliver ear meds is not good advice. For too long, we’ve been reactive, rather than proactive to, not only training for behavior-related issues, but for addressing things that will be a part of routine care for most dogs’ lives- be it nail trims, vaccines, grooming, dental care and so on.
Thankfully, the times are changing. The evidence continues to point to the fact that we can make dogs participants in their own care- and do things with them, rather than to them. Nailed It is simply my contribution to this. Dr. Sophia Yin introduced low stress handling to the veterinary field years ago and now initiatives such as Fear Free Pets are advancing the ball by providing education and practical information to vets, vet techs and trainers. The Academy for Dog Trainers will be introducing the Husbandry Project, which is designed to get field-tested training plans out there into the hands of trainers and owners to help prepare dogs for veterinary visits and care and everything that goes along with it. As I said, the times are changing. And it’s about time.
“We can do things- like veterinary care, husbandry or grooming WITH dogs. These don’t have to be things that are done TO them.”
When I was coaching people through the Nailed It training plan, it became very clear to me that if you give people good information (about processes, how these processes work, how animals learn, etc) and guidelines in the form of training plans, by and large, they can be successful. If you remind them that it’s not a race, that their dog isn’t a lemon and they are not a failure, they can do it. Now that I have new students almost every day, the same rings true, whether they are trainers, veterinarians, vet techs, owners of older dogs who have struggled for years, first time dog owners and so on. Good information makes light bulbs go on. Solid instruction provides the steps and supportive language builds empowered students, ones who know they are not alone. That this struggle of theirs is experienced by others is often one of the very things that allows people to move forward. Struggle can make us feel alone- and shame can often be part of this as well. I know all too well the embarrassment of having a dog whose nails were too long (that’s what inspired this whole thing, after all!) and the feeling of failure I had at not being able to use the faulty information I was given to get the job done. Turns out, given what my students have accomplished, had I just been given accurate information, I probably would have been successful with Rocco, the inspiration for the course. I’m grateful for what I’ve learned along the way, which has allowed me to be successful with Hazel and coach so many others towards success.
And I continue to learn from my students. I watch them make decisions that will serve them and their dogs best in the long run (“I think I’ll start with a file and get comfortable with that before trying a Dremel or clippers.”). I help them troubleshoot and then watch them enjoy the benefits of their efforts (“He wasn’t comfortable with my filing all nails on a paw at a time, so I built from one swipe on each nail to varying how many swipes I did on each- problem solved.”) and I am absolutely filled with delight when they send or post pictures of what they’ve achieved. Whether it’s one nail or all of them doesn’t matter. For people who were not able to file, trim or clip their dog’s paws in the past, every step is a victory and worth celebrating.
In preparation for this blog, I asked people to share some of their before and afters. For me, seeing is believing. Jessica Dolce shared the images below of her dog Boogie, and as you can see, they’ve made terrific progress.
Jessica called the course was a ‘game changer’, which thrilled me to no end, because not only do I admire her tremendously, to me, this means that the course is truly effective and does what it set out to do.
Glenna C., who I coached via video before the course was launched is now able to comfortably use a Dremel on her dog Portia’s nails and the “daggers” are a thing of the past. Glenna proved herself a stellar student throughout the coaching process, and shared all of her setbacks and progress, which helped inform the course tremendously. We have she and Portia to thank for proof that the training plan works and that troubleshooting and coaching (rather than guessing or going it alone) can move people ever closer to success.
Katherine D. shared a close up of her dog, Maggie’s nails, and you can clearly see the difference. Recognizing the need to go at a slow and steady pace helped them actually making more progress, and faster, than fighting through it. That’s not magic- when you can get dogs to be willing participants in their own care, things can go much faster and are more sustainable for the long haul.
And my favorite of all, was this post I was tagged in on Instagram, in which the shame (and unfortunately, the shaming) that can come with having nail care problems is clearly and openly addressed- and how supportive spaces are often crucial to moving forward. I swear, I think one of the biggest reasons Nailed It is successful is because it allows people to safely express their fears, their shame, their worry over their dog’s well-being without judgement, as much as it gives them a map for moving forward. That it has allowed someone to self-reflect is not just a bonus to me; it’s part of acknowledging our own humanity, and that though we may have struggled in the past, we can always try to do better in the future.
As for me, I am always learning. From my students, from my dog, from my mistakes. The image at the top of this blog is from just the other day. Hazel’s nails are a bit longer than I’d like and when I got back from vacation, I was a little disappointed at their length and realized that I haven’t been as diligent as I’d like. Then I remembered that the only way I was going to get there was to simply get back to work. I was gifted some large packets of nail files, so I switched back to those from a Dremel. Interestingly, Hazel offered a position on her side (I’ve not been picky about her position because we have been doing so well) and found the process to go faster and smoother than it had in a while. I often recommend to my students that they switch tools depending on comfort, but it hadn’t really occurred to me to do it, simply as a way to keep things novel and interesting for my dog!
Nailed It has become so much more than a course on nail care for dogs. It’s a wonderful community and a testament to the fact that when we know better, we do better. The days of causing dogs unnecessary pain and fear are coming to an end, and though some will leave kicking and screaming, the numbers of us determined to do better will continue to grow and dogs will be better for it- and I am willing to bet, so will we.