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Why Use The Scratch Board For Dogs

What Are The 3 Methods Of Cutting Your Dog's Nails?

Scratch Board

Clippers

Dremel

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.

1 in 4 dogs have long nails

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. 

Rescues are more at risk for long nails

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. 

Ensuring that nails do not get too long is important for maintaining distal joint positions correctly (as longer nails are likely to increase dorsiflexion)

Dr Sarah Jane Hobbs

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.

Photo of a dog standing for a gait observation
dog stance but blue background helps identify problems more easily

Difficulty Walking

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.

Dog with nails that are too long

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. 

Source

This study found that asymmetric or uneven feet are important enhancing factors for the development of lameness.
 
Source:
Balch O, White K, Butler D, Metcalf S (1995) Hoof balance and lameness: improper toe length, hoof
angle, and mediolateral balance. Compendium on Continuing Education for the Practicing Veterinarian
17: 1275–1283.
Movement challenges  occur when the animal has unevenness on the feet. This is because the force exerted extra puts pressure on the muscles responsible for frontal plane movement. Frontal plane movement is the ability to move up and down. They suggest this was due the musculoskeletal system not being constructed to withstand movement and loading in the frontal plane as effectively as it is in the sagittal plane (left to right). 

This study determined that nail overgrowth is a significant risk factor for digit and forearm injury in agility dogs. 

Source

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?

Common Problems You Have With Nail Cutting

Large Dogs

Small Dogs

Old Dogs

Groomers May Not Solve Your Problems

White dog nails
Black dog nails

Desensitization and positive reinforcement is your Only & Best Option

“Effectively cutting any dog’s nails without force requires preparation, proper conditioning, commitment, confidence, and plenty of treats to be successful. Recognizing signs of stress and responding appropriately will significantly enhance the experience of both owner and dog during the process of nail trimming”.

Stephanie From BigDogMom Blog

Method #1:
Scratch Board

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.

Dog with a bleeding nail

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.

Materials

How To Make A Scratch Board For Dogs

Where to buy?

How To Train Your Dog To Use The Scratch Board

What To Watch For:

Scratching with paw pads not nails

Overfilling can cause bleeding

Make sure your dog is using both feet equally

Method #2
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

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?

6 steps to desensitize a dog to nail clippings
  1. Do not introduce the equipment until your dog allows you to:
    1. Put your hands inside their paws
    2. Hold his paw at different angles and;
    3. You can see the grey tone change in black nails.
  2. Once you & your dog are confident in the above procedure it is time to introduce the equipment to the dog.
    1. Have the clippers nearby on the floor
    2. Reward your dog with treats and praise.
    3. Gradually move the clippers closer. Always praising or rewarding. 
  3. After the dog is comfortable with the clippers.
    1. Hold them in your dominant hand.
    2. Play with his paw with your less dominant hand.
    3. Practice all the different angles you practiced above.
    4. Remember to reward with cookies if possible.
    5. At this stage, you may need to ask for help from a family member or friend for the rewarding part.
  4. BEFORE clipping, you must desensitize the dog to the clipper sound.
    1. Using a straw, stick, or any like object, clip it near your dog.
    2. Reward as soon as possible.
    3. This is done easily with another person.
  5. The next stage is to place the clipper on top of the dog’s paws and reward.
    1. Do not cut or make the snapping sound.
    2. Repeat using the different angle technique.
    3. Repeat this process but have the nail inside the guillotine or clipper.
  6. Once your dog is confidently not reacting to the sound and the clipper on his nail:
    1. You are ready to cut his nails.
    2. Make sure to trim little by little.
    3. You do not want to accidentally cut a lot of the quick.

Method #3
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.

Benefits

Difficulties

Materials Needed

They make ones specifically for nail trimming but any model will do if it has a speed setting @ 5000-7000 rpm

"One thing that some people do is just take the tip off the nail and, in my experience, that’s not enough to get that quick to move back. If you can use the Dremel, it is so much easier to use that and get the nails good and short without cutting into the quick because you can grind slowly."

❌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. 

Know How To Handle Every Aspect Of Your Dog's Behavior

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