Although you might think your pup's overreacting when she flips out at the sight of nail trimmers, she probably thinks you're overreacting by taking a guillotine to her poor nails. But a few clicks and a handful of treats have a way of making canines rethink their behavior.
Load the clicker by clicking it and immediately giving your pup a treat afterward. Do this in blocks of 15 to 20 repetitions about two or three times a day until your pup looks at you for a treat when you click. That indicates the clicker has been loaded. This preparation sends a message to your little girl that the clicker is a reward machine so she knows when she hears the sound, it means she's doing something right.
Touch your dog's paws with your fingers. Click and reward as soon as you make contact with your pup's paw. Slowly transition into sliding your finger between your dog's nails, pushing them forward and handling them like you would when you clip them. Always click, remove your hand and feed her a tasty treat. Rinse and repeat until your pup reacts positively to you handling her paws and nails for 20 to 30 seconds, or until she starts offering you her paw in hopes she'll receive a treat.
Show your dog the nail clippers. This is the stage where some dogs start getting a bit more tense, which is why slowly introducing the nail clippers is so important. Don't give your fearful pup the opportunity to react negatively. Bring the nail clippers forward so that she sees them, and immediately click and reward. Repeat this until she doesn't mind the sight of the clippers.
Lightly tap the metal portion of the trimmers against your pup's nails. As soon as you make contact, click and reward. After she doesn't mind the touch, up the ante by placing one of your dog's nails into the cutting mechanism of the trimmers, and immediately click and reward. Continue acclimatizing your little girl to the trimmers for about a day. Do not apply pressure to your pup's nail yet. You just want to show her that the scary metal slicing pieces of the trimmers are harmless.
Apply gentle pressure to your pup's nails, but don't clip her nails just yet. Each time you apply pressure, click and give her a treat. After about a day, your brave tail-wagging pup is ready for the ultimate showdown with the trimmers, but don't make a big deal out of it. Just start clipping her nails at a slow but steady pace. Keep talking to her in a neutral voice so that she remains calm. After you clip one nail, click and give her a treat. If you don't think you'll be able to click quickly after clipping the nail -- since you won't be holding the clicker at the time -- just feed her a treat instead. If she starts getting anxious after you cut a few nails, stop and do a few more the next day.
- Aside from modifying your pup's reaction to the nail trimmers, the most important part of nail trimming is to watch what you're trimming. Your main goal is to avoid cutting into the quick, which can be extremely painful for your pup and can cause a lot of bleeding. The quick appears as a pinkish color and is easily seen in light-colored nails. For dark-colored nails, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals suggests looking for and stopping when you see a light gray to pink oval start appear at the edge of the nail. The oval indicates you're approaching the quick.
- You can make nail trimming easier on yourself and your dog if you use guillotine trimmers for claws that aren't curling over. Scissor trimmers are helpful for the long, curling nails.
- The timing of your click is vital. If you click 5 seconds after you apply pressure to your dog's nail with the trimmer, she won't realize what you're rewarding her for. If you click at the exact moment you apply pressure, she'll realize that pressure means good things.
- If your dog reacts negatively, never click and reward. You're only reinforcing the behavior.
- Always act calm and relaxed, never angry or frustrated, even if your training sessions show little progress.
- If you cut into the quick, apply styptic powder to your pup's nail.
Located in Pittsburgh, Chris Miksen has been writing instructional articles on a wide range of topics for online publications since 2007. He currently owns and operates a vending business. Miksen has written a variety of technical and business articles throughout his writing career. He studied journalism at the Community College of Allegheny County.