Can you guess what common procedure is one of the biggest causes of stress for dogs in the veterinary clinic? For many dogs, nail trims are the one procedure that will throw them over the edge with panic and stress.
Why do nail trims cause the most cooperative of dogs to suddenly become unglued?
- Many dogs are not fond of or used to having their feet handled for more than a couple of seconds at a time, if at all.
- They don’t understand what we are doing, and it is not a quick procedure with 20 plus nails to be trimmed. Many dogs will tolerate a couple of toenails being trimmed, but quickly lose their cool by the 2nd or 3rd foot.
- Many have had negative experiences. Cutting nails too short, pushing past the dog’s comfort level and forced restraint can all cause negative associations. Even when nothing “bad” has happened in the past, a dog can still be stressed by the sound of the clippers, pressure on the nails during clipping or fear of restraint.
So, what can be done to make the experience less stressful? Conditioning, training and positive associations (high value food treats and plenty of praise) done at home gradually, over time, are the best ways to acclimate your dog to the nail trimming process. Training your dog as a puppy to accept nail trimming is optimal, but most dogs, regardless of age and past experiences can be conditioned to allow nail trimming. The time this takes will depend on the individual, their fear level and past experiences. Even if you are not comfortable doing nail trims at home, spending time conditioning your dog to the process of nail trimming can help tremendously in making nail trims at the vet clinic less traumatic. Stressful nail trims at the vet clinic, pet store or groomer can cause negative associations with the facility and increased anxiety and fear for other visits down the road.
There are several good videos and articles online that can help guide you through the training process. One video that we recommend can be found at bit.ly/nailtrimtraining. In this video a “clicker” is used as a marker, but a word or click of your tongue can work just as well. The main point is to start very slowly, making positive associations with yummy food rewards. Use a high value treat (whatever your dog finds irresistible ) and only give this treat when you are working on paw handling and nail trimming. Lots of praise and ending on a positive note is important as well. Make nail trim training sessions fun and something your dog looks forward to. Go as slowly as your dog needs before advancing to the next step. Your goal should be for your dog to be completely comfortable before going forward.
If a nail trim needs to be done in the meantime, there are anti anxiety medications that can be prescribed to help make an in clinic nail trim less stressful. Keep in mind however that in dogs with very high anxiety, medications may not be enough. Adrenalin and fear can override the effects of the drug. In these cases, training and conditioning are vital for moving forward. Every stressful nail trim makes it that much harder to get to a place of low stress trimming in the future.
We are here to help. If you need further tips for conditioning at home or feel like your dog could benefit from some anxiety reducing medications before a visit, please don’t hesitate to call.