What Are The 3 Methods Of Cutting Your Dog's Nails?
The scratch board for dogs is the best method for most pet owners because it’s easy. Over 100 vets were questioned. On average they said that 1 out of 4 household pets’ nails needs to be trimmed and that many times patients spend extra $$ to avoid the process all together.
42% of dogs who are surrendered to shelters have overgrown nails. Did you know that, as dog’s nails grow so does the quick. The quick is what supplies blood to the nail. Because the quick grows longer as the nail grows, your rescue is most likely to have long quicks. In addition, the more you put off grooming the worse it will be.
Fear of cutting the quick is the #1 reason why owners do not cut their dogs nails.
Nail trimming is nerve-racking, difficult, and requires a compliant dog. This is why I recommend to use the scratch board method.
So many pet parents put off cutting nails or have their groomers do it, BUT even groomers will cut your dog’s quick by accident.
YOU HAVE TWO THINGS GROOMERS DO NOT: TIME & TRUST
If you take the time and build trust with your dog you could outperform groomers in the nail cutting department.
Why You Should Trim Your Dog’s Nails?
Gait and Toenail Length In Quadruped Animals
Much of what we know about canine fitness is derived from the equine world because the sport of horse racing is much older than canine sports (700 BCE vs 1919 AD).
It is commonly accepted in the equine sports world that the following issues arise from neglected hoof maintenance. These issues have been even linked to early retirement in equine athletes.
Long Nails In Dogs
Spine and Posture Problems
Abnormal spine and posture can be caused by many types of illnesses; however, one preventable cause is nail length. When nails touch the floor they can begin to curl causing the dog to shift its weight to the side to maintain balance. Shifting weight can cause the dog to put too much strain on joints, muscles, and tendons.
When their nails touch the ground, dogs may also shift their weight to their rear legs. This causes abnormal posture.
To determine if your dog has an irregular posture put your dog in the stand position. Your dog’s legs should be over their chest or pelvic and weight should be equally distributed. If your dog has an abnormal stance you should examine his nails and/or contact your vet for a diagnosis.
Dogs should walk in a four-beat gait, in which each limb steps sequentially and not at the same time. It is very common to see dogs walk at a pace. A pace is when two legs on each side move simultaneously or at the same time. When the nail begins to curve under it will dig into the paw. Therefore, each time a step is made it will cause the dog to jolt its body upwards straining the neck, back and head. This movement is what has been linked to lameness in horses. According to the research, quadruped’s musculoskeletal is not efficiently built for this movement.
Log Nails & The Brain
Natural filing of nails occurs when dogs run, chase, and play; however most dogs are confined in household environments which causes their nails to be abnormally long.
The only time a dogs nails should naturally touch the floor is when they are moving uphill. Therefore, when a dog’s nails hit the ground it gives feedback to the brain to shift their weight to the rear.
The shifting of the weight in non-hill circumstances can cause overuse of the rear muscles, limping (lameness) or myofascial trigger points and weakness in other muscles.
Damage To The Surrounding Paw Pad
When nails are allowed to grow uncontrollably they can curve inside and poke through the pad. This is extremely painful for dogs and can cause infection.
Peer Reviewed Research
This study found that differences between rear and front limbs are more important than individual differences. This was also supported by the 2018 study below which showed that compensation only occurred when the front and back were uneven.
This study determined that nail overgrowth is a significant risk factor for digit and forearm injury in agility dogs.
How do you know if your dog's nails need to be trimmed?
If you can hear your dog’s nails on the floor they are too long and need to be trimmed.
To test if your dog’s nails are too long, take them to a room with hardwood or tile floors and listen. If they are clanky they are too long & are likely snagging on things like the carpet.
What Pet Parents Do Wrong?
1. Wait Too Long Between Clippings
As nails grow so does the quick which is the part of the nail that supplies the blood. This is why frequent nail cutting is ideal.
With older & rescue dogs you should be making small cuts often because it will promote the quick to recede. This is why cutting small amounts of the nail every week is better than a monthly or quarterly grooming
2. Never Sharpen Their Tools
Scissors and guillotine clippers need to be sharpened at least annually. Otherwise it will take more effort to cut the nail and could cause uneven cuts.
3. Never Conditioning Between Trips To Groomer
If you do not condition your dog to the clipping process it requires the groomer to use force. Force is more likely to result in bleeding and increase the fear response. But here is the catch, if you are conditioning your dog you should just do it yourself.
4. Using Force
Using force creates a fear response. This makes your dog jolty which results in more accidentally bleeding.
5. Do Not Allow Ample Time For Desensitization
Some owners will follow desensitization plans such as the ‘Side Toe Side Method’ but move on too quickly
6. Overreact If You Hit the Quick
Dog’s are masters at reading our emotions. If you overreact to a dog’s bleeding nail they will sense something is wrong and could create a bad association.
Common Problems You Have With Nail Cutting
Groomers May Not Solve Your Problems
Desensitization and positive reinforcement is your Option
The scratch board method uses sandpaper attached to a board. It is similar to a filer without the need for an active tool. Instead, it teaches the dog to file their own nails and does not require you to desensitize your dog to clippers.
1. It's Less Scary
Many dogs have already had bad experiences with nail clippers. This is usually the case when the dog won’t let you go near his paw with clippers but is fine with paw handling.
2. It Prevents Sharp Nails
No more cuts on your hand, legs, and face.
3. There Is a Minimal Chance Of Bleeding
Nail clipping done incorrectly can cause the nails to be sharper but, the scratchboard has a natural filing effect.
4. Requires Training
Teaching rear scratching is difficult. In addition, teaching “scratch” takes patience. But so does the side-toe-side and Dremel method.
3 Step DIY Scratch Board For Dogs
Incline scratchboards are ideal because it allows the dog to get a proper angle. However, I use the balance board which is cheaper I simply place it at an angle against a wall.
How To Make A Scratch Board For Dogs
Where to buy?
How To Train Your Dog To Use The Scratch Board
Step 1: Have Treats In Hand
Try training treats as they are less calorie dense. In addition, you may want to use human food which is also known as high value treats. This can include: Chicken, Turkey Hot Dogs, and String Cheese.
Step 2: Place the board on an angle and not flat on the floor
The angle creates the correct filing motion. Otherwise, your dog’s nails will not be filled at the tip.
Step 3: Stand on the left or right side of the board
Being on either side of the board serves as a cue for which paw you want them to scratch. It does not matter which one they start with but be consistent.
Step 4: When your dog sniffs the board or even looks at it & reward
This is called shaping a behavior. Shaping a behavior is when you ask for behavior A, reward, and then ask for behavior B which is similar to A. You keep shaping a new behavior until you arrive at the one you want.
****Continue rewarding the sniff until your dog is continuously offering sniffing behavior without issue.****
Step 5: Raise the criteria of when you give the reward from a sniff to a light paw touch.
Typically a dog will get frustrated because they are not being rewarded for the sniff and will paw at it out of frustration. Reward
****Continue this step until your dog is continuously offering paw behavior.****
Step 6: Raise the criteria from one paw to two paws
Typically a dog will get frustrated if they are not being awarded and will offer the two paw behavior. Reward
😡 If your dog starts to get frustrated and stops offering the one paw all together. Reward the single paw behavior again to reinforce it. Do this a couple of times until they are continuously offering one paw
Then go back to waiting for two paws.
Step 8: Teaching Rear Scratching
Follow steps 1-9. But instead of sniffing, you want a back paw touch, and then the raised criteria to a 'digging' motion. Name the cue “Dig”.
Toenails grow at a slower rate and will not need to be done as often.
What To Watch For:
The Side Toe Side Method
The Side Toe Side method uses clippers but teaches you the most effective way to desensitize your dog using the unique side toe side method.
Scissor Style Clippers
Guillotine Style Clippers
Objective Of The Side-Toe-Side Method
1. Determine the color of your dogs nails
The first thing you need to do is determine the color of your dog nails. Your dog may have all white nails, all black nails, or mixed.
2. Identify the quick
The focus of this exercise is for you to see every angle of your dog's nails.. At this stage, you should be looking at your dog’s nails and trying to identify the quick. The quick is the part that supplies the nail with blood. The quick will bleed if you cut it. With white nails, the quick will be pink and easier to see. The quick will create a lightened effect on the nail's natural color. As a result, black nails will have a greyish tone. If you are struggling to find the tone change try a different angle or compare the nail to the white ones. The quick may be similarly located on the nail (but not always).
3. Hold your Dog's Paw At Multiple Angles
Holding the dog's paws in awkward positions replicates the real process of trimming your dog's nails. This is because you may need to adjust your position. Many times we see videos of the dog sitting perfectly still on the table. But this is not real life and if you have not practiced multiple positions your dog may react. Training in this manner helps you better identify the quick. If your dog has been well trained he should not wiggle.
This Is The Side Toe Side Method
Part 1: Basic Paw Handling
Part 2: Advanced Paw Handling
For example, bend the paw at the wrist or extended.
Rotate your dog’s hip or shoulder by pulling it towards you. The hip would move towards you like they would do when peeing on a hydrant. Be gentle.
Continue the Side-Toe-Side Method and begin altering your position with his paw in your hand. Do not let go of his paw. Hold his paw and move from a sit to lying down.
The more angles you come from the more comfortable your dog will be when you need to change positions. Additionally, some angles will allow you to see the change of tone in black claws more easily.
At this stage, you should be looking at your dog’s nails and trying to identify the quick. The quick is the part that supplies the nail with blood. The quick will bleed if you cut it.
Professional groomers have a hard time identifying quicks on black nails. But you can hold his paw at different angles in a different light which means you have the advantage. Remember, you have two things groomers and vets do not have: Trust and Time.
6 Steps To Desensitize Your Dog To Clippers?
- Do not introduce the equipment until your dog allows you to:
- Put your hands inside their paws
- Hold his paw at different angles and;
- You can see the grey tone change in black nails.
- Once you & your dog are confident in the above procedure it is time to introduce the equipment to the dog.
- Have the clippers nearby on the floor
- Reward your dog with treats and praise.
- Gradually move the clippers closer. Always praising or rewarding.
- After the dog is comfortable with the clippers.
- Hold them in your dominant hand.
- Play with his paw with your less dominant hand.
- Practice all the different angles you practiced above.
- Remember to reward with cookies if possible.
- At this stage, you may need to ask for help from a family member or friend for the rewarding part.
- BEFORE clipping, you must desensitize the dog to the clipper sound.
- Using a straw, stick, or any like object, clip it near your dog.
- Reward as soon as possible.
- This is done easily with another person.
- The next stage is to place the clipper on top of the dog’s paws and reward.
- Do not cut or make the snapping sound.
- Repeat using the different angle technique.
- Repeat this process but have the nail inside the guillotine or clipper.
- Once your dog is confidently not reacting to the sound and the clipper on his nail:
- You are ready to cut his nails.
- Make sure to trim little by little.
- You do not want to accidentally cut a lot of the quick.
File Using A Dremel
The Dremel method uses a rotary tool to file the nails. It requires you to desensitize your dog. This is similar to the side toe side method but is filing not clipping.
They make ones specifically for nail trimming but any model will do if it has a speed setting @ 5000-7000 rpm
How To Teach The Dremel Method?
Step 1: Desensitize your dog to the sound of the Dremel.
Step 2: Ask for the paw
Step 3: Desensitize your dog according to the Side Toe Side Method
Step 4: Put the Dremel on the lowest setting
Step 5: Tap the Dremel against your dog's nail
You want to tap and not hold because the Dremel can create heat from the friction.
Step 6: Reward
❌What Methods NOT To Use? ❌
Objective Of The Side-Toe-Side Method
Do not hold or restrain your dog. This will cause your dog to wiggle and possibly get injured if you cut the quick or the dremel sands their pads.
What Happens If Your Dog’s Nail Starts Bleeding?
Use baking soda or corn starch on the nail and compress with a towel until bleeding stops. Bleeding typically stops between 5-20 minutes. Otherwise, you can buy styptic powder on amazon if you prepared in advance.
My Recommended Method
The scratch board for dogs is the best method for owners who are scared of cutting the quick. It is also much cheaper then hiring a groomer who is very likely to accidentally make your dog bleed. Owners tend to use the scratchboard method more frequently than traditional desensitization techniques. Frequency is key here because the more often you clip the nails the shorter the quick gets. Whether that means clipping, using scratchboard or a Dremel, pick what is right for you.
Have you never trained a dog before? Or are you unsure how to reward without a clicker? Download our free training guide. You will learn how to use positive reward training with our loose leash walking guide.