Q: We have a puggle we rescued in November 2010 from One of a Kind. He is a wonderful, loving dog but does not want his nails trimmed. We tried Petco but that was a disaster. Next we went to our vet. They did it twice but then said in the future they would have to tranquilize him as he is so stressed out that they cannot get a close trim. We tried to do it at home but he just does not want to be held down. He was “dumped” four times before we adopted him so we do not know what went on with this situation before we got him. Any suggestions?
— I.G., Wadsworth
A: Many dogs hate to have their feet touched. Many also hate to be restrained or held down. When you add in the chance that a nail can be trimmed too short and cause a painful experience, it’s no wonder that a lot of dogs absolutely hate having their nails trimmed. It’s important to know that the aggressive behavior that results is generally caused by fear that something bad or painful is going to happen.
When a dog is so panicked that he is thrashing, voiding his bowels, and trying to bite, he is a danger to himself and others. At this point you have two options for nail trims: Sedate him for each trim, or get to work at home counterconditioning his fear.
Your veterinarian is absolutely correct that at this point, continuing to hold him down and force him to have his nails trimmed is only going to be traumatic and dangerous. Sedation saves your pup a panic attack, and helps the veterinary staff perform a safe and effective nail trim. Ideally, though, it would be great to avoid the hassle, expense, and anesthesia for you and your pup every eight weeks. This is where counterconditioning comes in!
The idea is to help your dog associate the things he’s grown afraid of with a positive experience. With dogs, (especially puggles) the easiest way to do this is with treats. Make sure your dog is good and hungry — skip a meal if your dog isn’t very food motivated. They have to really want the treat for this to work.
Identify a treat your dog absolutely loves — peanut butter on a spoon, pieces of chicken, whatever gets his attention. Now offer the treat as you touch his feet.
If you practice this a few minutes every day, you’ll soon have a dog who doesn’t mind having his feet touched, and in fact looks forward to it. Only offer the treat as you touch his foot, so that he understands that foot touch equals reward.
Then you progress to tapping the nail with nail trimmers, and ultimately cutting the nail. Go at a pace so that your dog isn’t reacting fearfully, and be careful to avoid cutting a nail too short. If you are scared of nail trimming, you can also try using a file or Dremel-type tool to trim the nails down.
Dr. Sophia Yin has a very helpful video to illustrate the timing of how to offer the treats. You can find it on YouTube under “Dog Aggressive for Toenail Trim.”
I hope this helps your puggle enjoy his pedicures.
— Meg Geldhof, DVM
One of a Kind Pet Rescue
Please send questions about your pet to Kathy Antoniotti at the Beacon Journal, P.O. Box 640, Akron, OH 44309-0640; or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your full name and address and a daytime phone number where you can be reached. I will forward your questions to the expert I think is best suited to answer your particular problem. Phoned-in messages will not be taken.