By Ruth Morris, Registered Veterinary Nurse and Puppy School Tutor for Cardiff

“As a veterinary nurse for over 21 years, I witness a lot of very upset dogs when it comes to being handled for basic husbandry, such as nail clipping. But it really doesn’t have to be this way. With a bit of gradual training, any dog can become more relaxed and happier to have their nails trimmed and handled. The younger the better for this, as puppies are more flexible to learning new things and have not already had any negative experiences or been surprised by the need for a nail trim.

Set yourself up for success

Choose your moment to practise this. An excited puppy, full of beans, will make for a very busy experience. When too sleepy, your puppy may not be sufficiently aware of what is going on. A calm and relaxed puppy is perfect to work with, in order to develop this important life skill. Treats, treats and more treats if we want our animals to learn something new and be comfortable with a novel experience. It really helps if they have a positive emotion attached to that new experience and that’s where having a tasty treat, whilst they are learning to have their feet held, comes in.

Nail clip image from Gwen.2Slow and Steady wins the race

Take the training at the pace your puppy is comfortable with. If they become upset or pull their feet away, for example, then go back a few steps to a level where they are comfortable. Work on the three second rule: handle puppy for three seconds only, then reward and repeat. Working this way means that the puppy learns the procedure only lasts a few seconds, and that a lovely treat follows. Watch carefully for any unhappy body posture from your puppy (pulling leg away, trying to manoeuvre away from you etc). Start by gently stroking down the leg towards the foot and rewarding with a treat at the end. Repeat this process a few times until puppy is comfortable and relaxed. Build up gradually to having the puppy’s paw held using the above process, gradually extending the time that you hold onto the paw before releasing and rewarding.

Nail clip image from Gwen.4

When nail clipping occurs, it is necessary to hold each individual toe steady, above the nail itself, so that good visualisation of the nail can be obtained. This is the next important step to build up with puppy. This is also helpful if you ever need to examine their paws for any other reason... So not just helpful for nail clips. The next step is to introduce the equipment. You can introduce puppy to the nail clippers by placing them on the floor and putting some tasty treats around them. Hold the nail clippers close to the nail and make the action of clipping … WITHOUT clipping the nail itself.

Nail clip image from Gwen3

If you want to use a nail file in the future, now is a good time to start introducing it. Perhaps use it on your own nail whilst holding your dog's foot, so that they can become accustomed to the noise prior to the sensation. Once you have successfully built up to this stage, you can start introducing the same process on a surface like a grooming table or a vets examination table, with a rubber mat... exercise mats are perfect products to practise with at home, as they are very similar. Only cut your puppy’s nails if you feel confident about how to do it correctly. Speak to your veterinary practice who may be able to show you how to determine where to cut, or who will be able to do it for you if you prefer. Either way, the preparation that you’ll have put in, in order to get your puppy feeling really comfortable about the whole process, will be hugely appreciated – both by the vet AND by your puppy!”

Written by Ruth Morris, Registered Veterinary Nurse and Puppy School Tutor for Cardiff