Nail Filing for Dogs Part 2: Paw Handling

fearful dogs Dec 14, 2021
Holding Dog Paw

Is your dog's nail care impossible because you can't touch their paws? In this video I discuss how to train your dog to allow paw handling, so you can file their nails (see our video on nail board training for an alternative.)  Here are some helpful tips for training your dog to tolerate having their paws touched: 


How to Get Your Hands On Those Paws! 

 If your dog currently won't let you touch their paws at all, here are some ways to get started: 

  • Where can you touch your dog?  Although it might seem counterintuitive, it can help to start this training by touching other parts of your dog's body, other than their paws. Try starting with handling an area where your dog already enjoys being petted.
  • Slowly move towards the paws: Over successive training trials, move your handling from the area your dog is totally comfortable being touched, toward their paws. See the video below for examples.  
  • Start each repetition in a "safe zone": Begin each training repetition by placing your hand somewhere that you dog enjoys being touched, and then move your hand closer to your dog's paw while keeping your hand on your dog's body.


Planning Your Training

As you write your training plan, here are a few parameters that you can vary across training steps to change difficulty:

  • Where touch starts: Where will you place your hand to begin the training step? 
  • Where touch stops: Where is your hand going to be at the end of the training step? 
  • Open hand vs. grasping: Will your hand be open, or closed around the paw? For some dogs, grasping the paw will be more difficult. 
  • How many hands: Are you going to reach with one hand or attempt to handle the paw with both of your hands? Ultimately, you'll need both hands to use a nail file or clipper. 

Now that you've planned what your steps will look like, let's take a look at how to do the training.


Doing the Training

Now that we have an idea of how to approach touching the paws, we can begin incorporating it into the "lie on your side" position training from last week.

  • Add handling as a distraction to stay: Start with your dog lying on their side. The behavior you're rewarding at each step, is your dog staying in that position while you pet them, touch their paw, etc.; 
  • Work towards having hands on your dog's paws: Follow your plan for slowly working your touch towards your dog's paws
  • Use an open hand:  Keep your hand open to start, avoiding grasping as you build comfort with the paws being touched;
  •  Grasp foot gently:  Next practice grasping the foot with a light grip as if ready to file;
  • Handle the toe: Work up to grasping each individual toe as you will likely need to do this while filing;
  • Using both hands:  Grasp your dog's paw with one hand, while touching a toe with the other.

Note: Some experience writing training plans or the support of a trainer may be needed to personalize this setup. This plan provides the building blocks of the training, but pieces should be customized for your own dog.


How Do I Know When to Step Back?

If your dog is struggling with a step in the training, it might be a too difficult for them. Here are some behaviors to watch out for: 

  • Pulling a paw away from your hand;
  • Flinching;
  • Turning to look at your hands.

If your dog does any of these things during training, or growls or snaps, you'll likely need to back up in your training plan by 1 or more steps.  


I hope this week's video is helpful as you work your way towards nail filing. Next week, we'll look at incorporating the file as we continue our series on nail care.

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 are getting started with paw handling, we want to hear about your successes or struggles. Join our Facebook group and post your questions or comments there, or email us at [email protected]