1. Get Your Dog Used to Having His Paws Touched
Most dogs don’t like to have their paws touched, so your first step in dog training for nail trimming is to habituate your dog to you handling his paws.
Do this by stroking them, massaging them, playing and taking hold of them several times a day while praising your dog in an upbeat voice and the occasional treat.
If your dog is particularly reluctant, start by inadvertently letting your hand brush against his feet and legs while pretending not to notice it. This tends to work well with dogs that are fearful and suspicious. Gradually, you can prolong the contact and as your dog relaxes, you can start to make your touch more purposeful.
Only progress to the actual trimming of the nails when your dog allows you to handle his paws without pulling them away.
2. Familiarize Your Dog with the Nail Trimmer
During the same period as you are working on paw handling, let your dog familiarize himself with the trimming tool.
Leave the trimmer next to his bed, or next to his food bowl, for a day or two to give him time to explore and get used to it.
Then have the trimmer present while caressing and relaxing with your dog. Stroke his body and his face with the trimmers. Let him sniff the trimmers in your hand and generally get used to you touching him with them. If your dog is already allowing you to handle his paws, also touch his legs and paws with the trimmer, or progress to this crucial stage once he is ready.
3. Grinder Training
If you are going to use a grinder, your next step will be to get your dog used to it being turned on. Start by turning the grinder on in another room and let your dog go and explore the grinder, its sound and its vibrations, in his own time. Leave a couple of treats by the grinder to encourage your dog to approach it. The grinder should not have any attachment on at this stage.
As your dog accepts the grinder and stops showing any apprehension, pick it up and turn it on and off repeatedly while your dog is present. Let him come closer and explore if he wants to. Keep the grinder with you during the day, turning it on and off every so often in the presence of your dog.
The next step is to start touching your dog with the grinder while it is switched on, still with no attachment. As before, start by moving it against his body and his face. When your dog shows no fear or reluctance, stroke it gently against his legs and paws. Always give your dog lots of encouragement in form of praise and treats at this stage.
Once your dog has accepted the touch of the nail grinder, you can start to grind a couple of nails. You have to see how far you can progress on your first nail grinding session. The important thing is to keep up the rewards and praise. Perhaps you have to content yourself with just trying it out on one nail.
You should always ensure that the nail trimming session finishes on a positive note. If your dog really starts struggling, stop grinding. Calm him down and then grind one nail for a just one or two seconds. Then end the session before any struggling starts again. Dont forget to give lots of treats and encouragement to show your dog how good he has been.
4. Clippers or Scissors Training
With clippers or scissors, snip around with them in the air every so often when you are relaxing with your dog. Stop to let him explore the clippers, then continue snipping closer and closer to the paws. Don’t rush this stage and only move on to trimming when your dog is at ease with the clippers.
When you get to the point of actually clipping your dog’s nails, don’t put the bar to high! You’ll only end up stressing both yourself and your dog. You might do extremely well and trim all your dogs nails in one go, but aiming to clip the nails on one paw, or even just one single nail, is much more realistic.
Start clipping one nail by following the instructions on how to lip dog nails or how to use a guillotine trimmer. Then make the experience positive for your dog by giving him a treat or two and lots of upbeat encouragement. He needs to know how good he has been even if he hasnt been totally cooperative.
Then decide if you will continue to clip another nail. After each nail, continue to give your dog another treat and more encouragement, and at the end of the session really make a show of how good he has been.
5. How to Progress
Keep in mind that it is better to take your time to gradually build up the number of nails you trim in one sitting. Frequent trimming in the beginning, say one nail a day or a paw every few days, will give your dog a better chance of getting used to nail trimming than if you trim all the nails in one go and then wait 2-4 weeks till next time.
If you do trim all your dog’s nails in one go the first time, you should continue to play with and touch your dogs paws with the trimmer in between nail trimming. This way your dog will remember that neither the trimmer, nor having his feet handled, is something to be feared or to resist. Also, be prepared for the possibility that your dog wont be as compliant the second time as the first time!