Nailing the nail

By Tracie Korol

When I ask clients if they clip their own dogs’ toenails, on average, only one in eight takes on the challenge. That means the remaining seven either neglect their dogs’ nails completely or spend upwards on to $30 a month for a dog pedi. That’s lots of money over the course of a dog’s lifetime.

Granted, it is a rare pooch that enjoys the rigors of grooming. Some endure maintenance as their contribution to the dog-human bond. Sure, I’ll put up with this as long as you provide food, a squeaky and car rides.

There is the other dog preferring to live his life in complete grime, sporting toe nails like an aging movie star. But it’s not good for him. To get technical, proprioception is how your dog inhabits his body; in part, it is how his feet hit the ground. When long, gnarly nails shift his weight abnormally backward or if the dog’s weight is not equally distributed, because his nails are inches long, the proprioceptive picture is distorted. When the footfalls are unbalanced, you’ll have an animal whose mental balance isn’t what it could be. Besides, long, curling nails are unattractive and they hurt.

Nail trimming is usually at the top of the list of doggie “I Don’t Wanna’s,” a decision borne of a bad and painful nail-trimming experience or simply a matter of poor introduction. Conversely, it is also at the top of the list of pet owner “I Don’t Wanna’s” because of the fear of injuring the pet. As a wise dog-wrangler friend, and faithful reader recently said, “Trimming nails is the cost of doing business”.  The trick is to doing business is to do it a tiny bit at a time, never pushing to the point where either party panics, gets sweaty or squealy.

First: get good tools. (They don’t come from big box stores.) Dull blades that smash instead of cut, tools with poor visibility and cheap construction can turn nail trimming sessions into nightmares.  Search for “grooming tools” online for a reputable source. Choose a product that you would be comfortable using, either scissor-type or guillotine.

Desensitizing your dog to nail trimming can begin as simply as leaving the tool in plain sight for a few weeks, making it part of the environment.  Look at it from Dog’s point of view: “once a month she gets all uptight, pulls that Thing out of the bottom drawer, wrestles me to the floor, screams at me and then slashes at my toes for no reason!”  When Dog shows interest in the tool, make a happy noise, treat him and leave it alone. Do this every day for a few week then move to Step Two.   Hold the chosen device in your hand, and then put them down. As the week moves along, touch it to Dog’s flank, legs and feet, praising and treating even if he looks at you like you’ve lost your mind.

During this time, too, pay attention to the anatomy of Dog’s nails. If you are lucky, he will have a few whitish nails with the quick (the inner blood supply) visible. Nail color is often determined by the color of the host foot. Make a mental note of how far the quick is from the end of the nail.

When you’ve reached the day you can park your anxiety and can approach nail maintenance as a business arrangement, and you can touch the trimmer to Dog’s feet without him being interested in what you’re doing down there, slide in and do one nail. Then STOP. And treat. If he’s amenable, continue. If he shows discomfort or anxiety, put the tool down and both go do something else.

As long as you are centered and calm, he is centered and calm.  Over the course of a week you’ll trim all his nails with no struggle or mental trauma for either participant. There is no rule that says dog nails have to be trimmed to show-ring-style or even trimmed all the same day.

Until you become more confident of your dog’s anatomy, only trim off the very end of the nail. When Dog becomes comfortable with the process and will allow you to experiment, try making a few shallow shavings per each nail to come closer to the quick.  When you see a small dark-colored circle within the diameter of the nail, you’ve gone far enough. Rough edges will buff naturally if you follow the trim with a long walk on concrete. A long, fast run is also a great reward for a job well done.

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