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Four Reasons Why Dogs Hate Nail Trims

Updated on September 9, 2014

Reasons why dogs hate nail trims

Why dogs hate nail trims.
Why dogs hate nail trims. | Source

Does Your Dog Hate Nail Trims?

Does your dog dread getting his nails clipped and goes hiding the moment you get the clippers out? If so, getting those nail trims done are certainly a chore you may want to leave to the groomers of vet staff. But why are some dogs so scared about nail trims? What triggers them to go hiding or acting defensive? Truth is, when you are clipping your dog's nails there are several unpleasant things going on all at once. Let's take a moment to see what is really going on in Rover's head so we can better understand him and take some steps in making the task more pleasant. Following are some reasons why dogs dislike nail trims.

4 Reasons why Dogs Hate Nail Trims

  1. Your Dog Hates Being Restrained

When you are clipping your dog's nails, you'll need him to stay still for you. Most likely, you'll need to hold him in a way to stop him from moving. Some dogs can struggle with this. They feel defenseless and may feel the need to move to free themselves from your hold. If your dog has fought and freed himself from your hold in the past, negative reinforcement will be at play so the behavior of fighting against your restraint will repeat and increase in the future. In other words this is what happens: your dog is restrained and he will do what it takes to remove himself from the unpleasant situation either by wriggling, hiding or attempting to bite. If these behaviors have removed him from an unpleasant situation in the past, granted, it will repeat in the future.

This is something that is deeply ingrained in a dog's need to protect himself from perceived harm and general survival. Many people think that the key to solving the problem is doing everything possible to prevent the dog from hiding, wriggling and attempting to the bite. They will therefore chase the dog, corner the dog, hold the dog tighter or muzzle the dog. Yet, by doing so, they are definitely not solving the problem, but they are for sure making it worse! Now the dog not only dislikes being restrained but dislikes everything you do to get him restrained, the whole chasing, cornering him, holding him tight and putting the muzzle on because he knows it leads to feeling more and more defenseless and scared. And then-drum-roll... comes the nail trim...Soon, you'll end up with a dog that becomes more and more difficult to deal with. Yes, you may hold him tight like a salami, but this will not change his perception of the whole nail clipping process. If you dreaded your dentist, tying you up in the dentist chair will surely keep you still, but will it make you like the dentist more? Of course not! So the ultimate answer to this problem is changing the emotions about the whole restraint and nail trimming process. We will see how in the next paragraphs.

2)Your Dog Hates Having his Feet Handled

For a very good reason puppy classes should have some time dedicated on how to get a dog used to being handled. This will help with any future vet and grooming sessions. I like to set up "mock vet visits" to get the pups used to being handled. The pups get used to getting on a table, being touched in various body parts all while they are being offered treats and loads of praise. I have met my fair share of dogs who dislike having their feet touched. When dogs come to me for board and training there are times where I may have to lift a paw to check for thorns or bruises. I am always very cautious in doing so as some dogs hate having their feet touched especially from a stranger. But why is that?

According to veterinarian Dr. Patty Khuly, despite the fact that Rover's feet are pretty tough, they are packed with sensitive nerve endings. And why are there several nerve endings there? Because dogs rely on their feet so much and they need to be aware of any pressure that may cause serious injuries. Your dog therefore will put less weight on the leg if he feels there's an embedded piece of glass. Injury to the feet from am evolutionary survival standpoint could put any animal in a potentially dangerous situation where they may have a hard time hunting, running from predators and fending for themselves! It is thanks to the abundance of nerve endings in dog feet that vets during a neurological evaluation test pain perception by using a hemostat to pinch a toe.

3) Unpleasant Past Experiences

OK, so your dog will hold still well, up until you start clipping. Don't feel lucky about this, as soon your dog may start resenting being restrained once he realizes day after day that the nail clip takes place right after being restrained. Why do dogs hate nail trims? There are several possibilities as we have seen above. One of them is an unpleasant negative experience. You or somebody else may have cut the quick causing pain. A groomer may have been rough in handling your dog. Your dog may not feel comfortable being handled by strangers. Once a negative happening takes place, your dog may bookmark the event as negative, and will dread future nail trims from that day on.

4) That Terrible Clipping Noise

Some dogs will flinch when they hear the clipping sound. It may because they have associated it to a negative experience. For instance, if once you have once cut the quick and your dog heard the clipping sound a fraction of a second prior, granted your dog will dread that noise as well. Just as in clicker training, when the clicker become a bridging stimulus between the behavior, the click and the treat, the nail clipper can become a bridging stimulus between the clipping sound, the clip and the pain, or in sensitive dogs, just the general unpleasantness of the nail trim is sufficient to make him dread the noise. The conditioned emotional response in dogs who are clicker training is likely anticipation and eagerness, whereas, in dogs who dreads nail trims, the conditioned emotional response involves negative connotations such as fear, stress and anxiety.Certified applied animal behaviorist Patricia McConnell in her article "Nail Wars" states that this can be very possible. She claims "After all a ‘click’ is extremely effective at getting a dog’s attention. A clicking sound has an instant onset, abrupt escalation from no power to full power, and a full range of frequencies (the better to light up more acoustic receptor neurons), and few sounds are better at getting at becoming meaningful to a mammal. "

Interestingly, Patricia McConnell further reports how many dogs who dreaded nail trims all their lives, became more and more tolerant of them once they went deaf. She also reports how the same exact thing happened with her dog Pippy after switching to a grinder. After all, us humans behave the same. Raise your hand if you had a negative dental procedure once and when you hear the dentist's drill you now get anxious. And a negative experience isn't really always necessary, you can fear the dentist simply because you are anxious by nature and dread having little control over certain situations!

As I think about these great changes when switching from a clipper to a grinder, a dog training phenomenon comes to mind. In dog training, we trainers know how we must sometimes change a cue because it has become a poisoned cue. For instance, if we have used the word "Come" to only give the dog a bath (something the dog dreads) or some sort of negative experience, the dog will become more and more reluctant to come because he has associated the word come with a negative experience. The cue "come" has therefore become poisoned. What do trainers recommend in this case? Of course, they won't tell you to stop calling your dog, and it may be hard work to to change the emotions about the word once negative associations have established. So they'll likely tell you to start from scratch, and no longer use the word "come" to call your dog, but to use a whole different word that is going to assume positive associations. So the owners will likely say "here!" and give loads of treats and praise and the dog will soon be on his way to enthusiastically start running every time he is called.

In such a matter, it could be very possible that dogs have associated the clipping noise with the unpleasantness with the clipping procedure, but once the owners have started using a grinder and making the process more pleasant, the dog started to become much more cooperative and tolerant.

As seen, dogs have many good reasons to dread nail trims, and it can be a combination of all the above. To prevent this issue, make sure you get your puppy habituated from an early age to being handled, getting his feet touched and enjoying nail trims through desensitization and counterconditioning. Stay tuned for an article on how I trained a difficult foster to enjoy nail trims.

Alexadry© All rights reserved, do not copy.


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    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Farricelli 

      7 years ago

      Letting them walk and play on hard surfaces can help get those nails trimmed down nicely. I say long nails can be a sign of dogs who aren't exercised much, and if they are, they do so mostly on soft surfaces such as grass/carpet. There seem to be however dogs who just grow nails at a faster rate. I never saw my dog's nails grow long until she got a torn ACL and had to stay on a strict low-exercise regimen. That's the first time, I had to file them down.

    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 

      7 years ago from Philippines

      Interesting to know that dogs feet are very sensitive and have a lot of nerves. One of my dogs, Winniechurchill hates having her paws touched. And all three of them hate trimming their nails. So, we don't trim them.

    • ladyguitarpicker profile image

      stella vadakin 

      7 years ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

      Makes sense, my husband nipped Trixie's paw, now I am the only one that can cut the nails. Nice article.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      7 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      The dog I once had did have nail trims and that was uncomfortable. Another helpful hub from you about dogs.


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