#32 – Fractious Nail Trims


NMVMA listserve Behavior Tip #32


Hi colleagues-

Lots of pet owners bring their dogs for nail trims because it has become such an odious chore at home. Their dogs struggle and may try to bite. Restraint for this in the veterinary hospital can get the job done but for a price. Having learned to fear us and our facilities these freaked-out dogs can become increasingly defensive-aggressive during any medical procedure.

The following is a simple way for pet parents to learn to happily trim their dogs nails at home. If a staff member is interested they can teach individual dogs to associate the earning of food rewards in the clinic. Your hospital can charge for this behavior modification training and continue earning revenue when the dogs return for a  much better experience. This method is consistent with Fear Free. It’s a client and patient pleaser.

You are welcome to share the below method with your clients. The video is by my late friend and colleague Dr. Sophia Yin. Her legacy continues to serve us well.

All the best,



Nail Trimming-Teaching a dog to actually like it

Nail trimming has been a significant cause of fear and stress for your dog.

  • This is simple to manage in a way that can lead this boy to actually look forward to having this done.
  • An essential component of this method will be gentle holding of your dog and each of his legs. There must be no “restraint”.
  • I have attached a link to an excellent video below.
  • Start by wearing a treat bag loaded with tasty morsels.
  • Remember that much more than simply desensitizing your dog to this procedure you folks will actually be teaching him that he can earn a conditioned reinforcer (the word “Treat”) immediately after the nail trimmer comes near his paw.
    • After your dog shows relaxation with the trimmer near his paw you can briefly and lightly touch it to a nail.
    • Immediately after the touch say, “Treat”. Then give him a small treat.
    • After your dog is relaxed with this you can advance to opening the trimmers and clamping them lightly onto a nail. Immediately after doing this say, “Treat”. Then give him a small treat.
    • The next step will be squeezing the trimmers a little on the tip of the nail. Immediately after doing this say, “Treat”. Then give him a small treat.
    • Finally, you can nip a small bit off the end of the nail. Immediately after doing this say, “Treat”. Then give him a small treat.
  • Always remain calm.
    • Never reinforce enthusiastically. This would ramp-up your dog’ arousal at a time when we need him to be peaceful and relaxed.
    • Keep training sessions short-about 3-4 minutes max.
    • It will take a few of these brief sessions for your dog to accomplish each of these steps.
    • Repeat training sessions only twice daily.
  • Never nip off more than just the point of a nail. A painful consequence would be nobody’s friend.

Here is a link to a good training video



Jeff Nichol, D.V.M.
Residency trained by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists
Veterinary Behavior Medicine
Albuquerque and Santa Fe

I invite you to peruse and use any of the information from this and past nmvetlist missives. You will find the entire archive on the For Veterinarians page of my website, drjeffnichol.com/