Nail Care For Dogs who Can't Be Touched

fearful dogs Nov 08, 2021
Paw with long nails

Do you have a fearful dog who you can't touch? Or maybe you can touch your pup, but they hate having their paws handled?  In this week's video, I describe some ways of keeping dogs' nails from getting out of control, even if you can't touch them. Here are the highlights: 


If Your Dog Is Having A "Nail Emergency" 

If your dog's nails are getting long enough to make walking uncomfortable, it's time to talk with your vet. Here are some pointers to keep in mind when you call the clinic: 

  • Ask for a sedated nail trim.  Unless there is a medical reason not to sedate your dog, your vet should be able to do a sedated trim. Being sedated should make the nail trim process less traumatic for your pup.
  • What if they say they don't need to sedate my dog?  While many techs and groomers CAN get your dog's nails trimmed without sedation, that doesn't make it a good idea.  Using forceful restraint to "get the job done" could unintentionally worsen your dog's fear of nail trims. More fear could lead to more aggressive behavior when the clippers come out. 

If you vet clinic isn't comfortable discussing doing a sedated nail trim, it might be time to connect with a Fear Free veterinarian or veterinary practice. 


At Home Nail Care For Dogs Who Won't Take Treats

If you can't touch your dog, and they won't take treats when you're nearby, you'll need a very hands-off approach to nail care. Here are some strategies we used with our dog Pancake early on: 

  • Deliver meals in food puzzle toys on concrete or another rough surface.  Use a variety of food puzzles that encourage different kinds of movement. In the video you can see Pancake using back-and-forth and sideways movement when working on a Bob-a-lot. With his treat ball, he mostly moves forward while he chases it.
  • Scatter treats or kibble on a concrete surface.  This is a good option if you have a pup who's reluctant to engage with food puzzle toys. 
  • Set up Scent Work games on a paved surface.  You can make the search area as as large as your space allows. Bonus: Combine mental enrichment with nail care!
  • Place abrasive surfaces along the usual routes your pup takes throughout the day.  For Pancake, this meant having a board with some abrasive tape on it in front of his crate, and by the back door. 


Nail Care For Dogs Who Will Take Treats From You

If your dog will take treats from you, or at least in your presence, you have a couple of additional options :

  • Play "Chase the Kibble":  Roll individual kibbles (or treats) along a paved surface. Many dogs love to chase rolled treats!  Bonus: If you do this for meals, one kibble at a time, your pup will be getting some exercise. 
  • Nail board training: You can make a dog nail board by sticking some abrasive non-slip tape on a wooden board, or even a sturdy cutting board. In the video I show a few of the training steps we used to get Pancake to file his nails on the nail board.  Check out this online course that covers nail board training.


Nail Care For Dogs Who Are Touchable (Just Not The Paws!)

If you can touch your dog, and they'll take treats from you, you have even more nail care options:

  • Long walks on paved surfaces: If you're able to leash up and walk your dog, this can be a great option. For some dogs, daily walks on city sidewalks is enough to keep their nails in check; 
  • Train your dog to enjoy nail filing or clipping. We didn't cover this training in today's video, but you can check out this online course offered by one of our colleagues. 


I hope this week's material gave you some idea about how to maintain your pup's nails- even if you can't touch them!  If you're looking for more one-on-one guidance with your fearful dog, check out our online training membership, the Reactive Dog Academy. For a more personalized plan, sign up for private training



If you work on your dog's nail care and have success, or trouble, we want to hear from you.  Join our Facebook group and post your questions or comments there, or email us at [email protected]