My dog freaks when I try to clip his nails. How can I get him to relax?
Many dogs are sensitive about having their nails cut, getting their ears cleaned, or just being handled during exams and other procedures. Small, slow steps are needed to train and teach your dog that he’s safe and that having his nails clipped is a normal thing.
To begin, make sure you have lots of tiny treats available, and feed him a few as he sniffs and examines the clippers. Put the clippers down and try gently touching his legs and feet with your hand, frequently offering treats. If he doesn’t take the treats (but under normal circumstances would), he’s still too nervous, and you need to slow down. Touch higher up on his body and legs, and take your time.
Do this several times a day for as long as it takes him to relax while being handled. Touch many parts of his body, slowly and gently, so he gets used to the idea and to the feel of it. (This is not the same as petting, and he knows it.)
Practice this in a comfortable environment for your dog, and make the treats yummy and plentiful. As each “touch training” session stops, so do the treats; that way he comes to associate lots of treats with having his paws handled.
Gradually, move your sessions toward holding his paw in your hand, bringing the clipper up to his paw, touching the clippers to his nail, and eventually clipping his nail–just one the first time. As you get through each successive step, remember how hard this is for your dog and praise him for being so brave.
As you both get more comfortable with the paw handling and nail clipping, you’ll progress from clipping one nail per session to two, four, or more until you’re clipping many in a session. Don’t worry about getting them all though–there’s no rule that says you have to clip every one of your dog’s nails each time!
Another option is to consider using a Dremel (a tool that grinds nails rather than clipping them). Some dogs who absolutely hate nail clippers tolerate a Dremel very well. Use a metal or coarse sandpaper bit at the end, and make multiple, light touches to the ends of the nails.