How To Deal With Aggressive Dogs During Nail Clipping?
The dreaded task of nail clipping! I hear you. As a dog owner, this is one of the most stressful and challenging parts of my dog’s care routine. It's not uncommon for dogs to become aggressive or anxious during this process. But this aggression normally stems from fear or discomfort rather than anything else. And good news! There is a way of making the experience more pleasant for you and your pup.
In this blog post, we'll explore some effective strategies and tips when dealing with aggression in dogs during nail clippings. After this article, you’ll have the tools to keep those paws healthy and your pooch happy.
Quick disclaimer: If you have concerns about your dog's aggressive behaviour, it's always best to consult with a professional to ensure the safety and wellbeing of both you and your pooch.
Why Do Dogs Dislike Having Their Nails Trimmed?
Before diving into solutions, it's crucial to understand the underlying causes of aggression during nail clippings.
Related: How To Cut Dog Nails In 4 Simple Steps.
Why? Well, if you know the root of your dog’s fear or discomfort, you can find more effective solutions to soothe them.
So what’s running through your dog’s mind when you whip out the nail clippers?
Here are a few suggestions:
Recognising these factors will help you approach the situation with empathy and patience.
Now let’s talk solutions, shall we?
7 Ways To Deal with Aggression in Dogs During Nail Clippings
Below are some powerful techniques to help prevent and ease nail clipping anxiety.
I recommend you try a combination of all of them to be multi-pronged in your approach.
Start with Desensitisation
Desensitisation is the key to helping your dog overcome aggression during nail clippings.
Essentially, the sooner you get your dog used to nail grooming tools, the better.
Gradually introduce your dog to the clippers or grinder, allowing them to sniff and investigate without feeling threatened.
Related: Getting Your Puppy Accustomed To Having Their Nails Clipped
If you’re using a nail grinder, I recommend switching the grinder on a few times and feeding your dog treats. That way they’ll have positive associations to the sound of the grinder rather than abject fear.
I show you how I desensitised my dog to the Lucky Tail Dog Nail Grinder in this video below:
Get Your Dog Used to Having Their Paws Handled
In the previous tip, we talked about desensitising your dog to nail care tools. But there’s another way to desensitise them.
Handling your dog's paws regularly, even outside of nail clipping sessions, will help them become comfortable with touch.
To make this a habit, make a conscious effort to touch your dog’s paws when you pet them.
Gently touch and massage their paws, rewarding them for staying calm and relaxed.
You can even train your dog to do certain tricks that involve handling their paws.
For example high fives, handshakes, “paw”, and dancing.
Related: How Long Should A Dogs Nail Be?
This process will gradually desensitise them to paw handling, reducing the chances of aggression during nail clippings.
Related: Should You Trim Your Dog's Dewclaws?
Create a Relaxing Environment
Grooming should be a pampering experience. Why can’t nail care be too?
Choose a quiet, well lit area where you can comfortably perform nail clippings.
Create your own little nail spa!
Minimise distractions and create a calming atmosphere. Playing soft music or using aromatherapy can help create a serene environment that promotes relaxation for both you and your dog.
You can also pair nail care with other grooming techniques that your dog enjoys. For example, if your dog likes to be brushed, do this first to get your dog relaxed and happy.
Use Positive Reinforcement Techniques
Positive reinforcement is a powerful tool in dog training.
During nail clipping sessions, reward your dog for cooperative behaviour.
Start by offering your dog their favourite treats, giving plenty ofpraise when they allow you to handle their paws. Then gradually progress to giving rewards during the actual clipping or nail grinding process.
This positive association will help your dog connect pleasant experiences with nail clippings..
Use the Right Tools
Simply put, nail care is going to be ten times harder for you and your dog if you’re not using the right tools.
Some dogs do better with nail clippers because clipping is quite quick. Nail clippers are also quieter than nail grinders.
If clipping works better for your pup, choose the best dog nail clippers you can find that are sharp and easy to use.
Other dogs prefer nail grinders because they can feel gentler than clippers. The pressure and subsequent “click” of clippers can make dogs more anxious.
If nail grinding works better for your pup, choose the best dog nail grinder that is quiet and ergonomic to use.
If you’re not sure what to go with, check out our article on nail grinders vs nail clippers.
Take It Slow and Steady
Rushing the nail clipping process can increase your dog's anxiety and trigger aggression.
Begin by trimming a small portion of the nail at a time.
Give your dog plenty of breaks between each trim. Those breaks are a great time to give your dog praise, a cuddle, or a treat (or all three!).
Related: What To Do If Your Dog Has Nail Problems.
I also recommend that you keep your first nail care sessions incredibly short. So perhaps clip one nail only on one day and come back to the next nail on the second day.
This sounds arduous but trust me – this slow approach will pay off.
Gradually increase the duration of the sessions as your dog becomes more comfortable.
Remember, patience is key!
Consider Professional Help
Finally, you need to know when to throw in the towel.
Some dogs are just way too frightened, aggressive, or traumatised to ever let you handle their paws.
You may also feel nervous about clipping your dog’s nails because they’ve lashed out before.
Your nerves are palpable to your dog. They can literally smell fear. (1)
If your dog's aggression persists or you feel too nervous to do it yourself, seek professional help.
You have a few professionals you can consult:
- Dog groomers
Dog groomers are highly skilled in dog nail care and can show you the best practices. Not only that, in their line of work, they have to deal with nervous and aggressive dogs all of the time. They have certain techniques to help a dog stay calm. So taking your dog to a groomer can be the perfect way to maintain your dog's paws without the stress.
- Dog trainers/behaviourists
If your dog’s aggression is problematic and feeding into other areas, consult a dog trainer or pet behaviourist. They might be able to identify an underlying cause for the behaviour and teach you gentle training techniques to help your dog become calmer and happier.
I’d say vets are a last resort and more applicable if your dog’s aggressive behaviour around nail care is unusual. That is to say that they’ve been perfectly happy having their nails trimmed but one day, they turned aggressive out of nowhere.
If a trainer nor a groomer can help you, there may be a medical or psychological reason your dog is being aggressive. A vet can investigate and advise if something may be wrong.
For example, my dog once had a splinter in between her paws but we couldn’t see it. She became very aggressive when we handled her paws when ordinarily she’d be fine. After a trip to the vet, we discovered she was injured all along!
Other causes of sudden aggression could be doggy dementia, depression, pregnancy, etc.
If there’s no underlying medical issue, a vet may also advise that your pooch take a sedative to keep them calm:
“In some cases, medication for anxiety or some mild sedation may be beneficial. Commonly used medications include trazodone and gabapentin. Pushing the issue could amplify your dog’s fears and make the situation worse.” (2)
Canine professionals can proved specialised guidance, tailor-made solutions, and further insights into your dog's specific needs.
Related: How Often Should You Cut Your Dogs Nails?
Final thoughts: Making Dog Nail Trimming More Peaceful
Dealing with aggression during nail clippings can be a challenging task, but with the right approach and a whole lot of patience, you can turn it into a positive and stress-free experience.
Remember, desensitisation, positive reinforcement, and gradual progress are essential in helping your dog overcome their fears and anxieties.
Related: Common Dog Nail Problems & How To Solve Them.
By understanding the root causes and implementing these strategies, you'll be well on your way to maintaining your dog's paw health and fostering a stronger bond with your pooch.
Here are some more articles to help you feel confident caring for your dog’s nails:
- Buehler, J. October 19, 2017. “Dogs really can smell your fear, and then they get scared too”. New Scientist. Retrieved July 15, 2023. https://www.newscientist.com/article/2150956-dogs-really-can-smell-your-fear-and-then-they-get-scared-too/
- Llera, R., Buzhardt, L. “Taking the Stress out of Nail Trimming for Dogs”. VCA Hospitals. Retrieved July 15, 2023. https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/taking-the-stress-out-of-nail-trimming-for-dogs