Nail Trims and Grooming

How many of you out there regularly brush and bathe your dogs? How many out there trim your own dogs’ nails? How many of you out there brush your dogs’ teeth? My guess is that the numbers decreased with each question. Most of us understand that bathing and brushing come with owning a dog. And for many of us, these tasks are an enjoyable part of interacting with our dogs. Some of us, for many reasons, choose to have our dogs professionally groomed. But all of us expect that there is some “maintenance” required in owning a dog.

However, many of us forget about the rest of the animal. I have seen many dogs with extremely long toe nails, some so long that the foot is being deformed and the dog is clearly uncomfortable walking as a result! These dogs are usually loved and cared for but their owners, for whatever reason, have neglected this part of their anatomy. Nail trimming IS often difficult. Most dogs dislike having their feet handled and if a dog hasn’t been given regular nail trims from puppyhood, they can resist nail trims with a nearly violent reaction.

Lollie after a nail trim

Lollie after a nail trim

My own dog, Lollie, hated nail trims. I tried to give them to her as a puppy but she struggled so much she often got out of our hold. Once she learned that she could escape by fierce struggling, she struggled all the harder with each attempt. Add to this my fear of her reaction and we had a horrible situation on our hands. It got to the point that at one attempt I was certain she was going to bite me. I stopped trimming her nails and took her to the vet. There she was muzzled and put on her side and struggled so much that the vet assistant, who was restraining her, ended up with multiple scratches and the vet’s glasses were flung across the room (her flailing foot caught the stem of them and off they went, into the air). I realized that we were in for a lifetime of panic and unnecessary drama unless something radically changed.

I thought long and hard about this. I asked many different people what they would do. And came to the conclusion that this struggle represented something bigger in our relationship – a definite breakdown in leadership on my part and confusion about what each of our roles was. She was my first foster puppy and when I adopted her just one month shy of losing my beloved Sadie to Lymphoma I set up an unhealthy dynamic in our relationship. I often turned to her for comfort as she was growing up and allowed many behaviors to go unchecked out of a sense of pity for her difficult early months. Unfortunately, this likely contributed to her development of aggression later in life and it definitely contributed to the difficulty we were having with our nail trimming.

So, I decided that I was the one in charge and that her job was to do what I wanted. My job was to be clear, fair and to work hard to meet all her needs. We began changing the ways we interacted with Lollie in all situations – no more harassing Brandy, our older dog, no more demanding to be pet, no more pulling out front on the walks and no more deciding that she did not need a nail trim. As we were instituting these changes, I began desensitizing both of us to nail trimming. I decided that every Sunday for three months I was going to cut her nails. All of them. No matter what.

dog nail trimmerFor our first session I fashioned a muzzle for her and literally had to sit on top of her while I trimmed her nails, just the smallest tip so as not to even risk getting her quick. That first session lasted a half an hour and left both of us shaken. I was dripping with sweat and she released her anal glands out of fear. But I kept at it, each week. Near the end of that three month period I realized that trimming her nails in the basement had many different, but all negative associations. So I decided that I would do our next nail trim after a long walk. I chose a hike that lasted over an hour and covered over 5 miles. After we finished and before letting her into the car, I lashed her to the bumper with her leash and cut her nails right there in the parking lot. She was so tired out from the walk and in what Cesar Millan calls a “calm submissive” state that she didn’t even flinch for the first whole foot! I clipped each nail matter of factly and while she did cower a bit, she tolerated it standing on her own four legs, just loosely tied to the bumper. I was thrilled! We have continued our nail trims in this way ever since. I always tie her to the bumper of the car, rain or shine, even in the winter. She continues to tolerate it and I am proud of both of us. And, doesn’t it figure…she has the longest and fastest growing nails of all the dogs in our pack!! Gives us lots of opportunities for practice.

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