Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The dreaded nail trim...

One of the most universally hated procedures we do is the nail trim. Clients hate to do them at home, dogs hate to have them done, and I hate to do them on someone else's dogs ;-). Amazing that such a simple, easily trained procedure can be the cause of such angst.

Recently there has been a lot of TV time spent promoting a product called the "Pedipaws" and it's cousin the "Peticure". These products are both basically nail GRINDERS as opposed to nail CLIPPERS. In the TV commercials, the dogs relax on the couch and let their owners effortlessly grind the nails away....but we've all been around the block a few times and fallen prey to those infomercials before, right? Flowbee, anyone?

Here's an entertaining video about what REALLY might happen if you try one of these products

Ok, here's the skinny on these products. For years show groomers have used nail grinders on their dogs. These can be either products specifically made for the purpose, or many use a dremel drill with a sandpaper cylinder or grinding stone. I use a dremel mini mite cordless on my own dogs; for a larger dog you probably need a full sized one. The main difference in the TV products is they have a "guard" which is supposed to protect you from trimming too short. Now, I haven't personally used these products, only looked at them. To me the guard does not look like it is going to prevent anything and I am a bit worried that some dogs could be at risk for getting their nail caught in it. However, the guard is removable. The products themselves should be fine to use, they look a little less sturdy to me than a typical dremel or nail grinder, but they're also probably a little cheaper.

The advantage to these over trimming your dogs nails is you can get them a bit shorter and a LOT blunter, so no more sharp edges. This is great for older folks with thin skin or those with expensive hardwood floors and large dogs. Some dogs object less to them than to the nail clippers, but this is not universally true. If the nails are really long, you still need to clip them before you grind or you will be there for days. I see absolutely no reason to use them in cats, who do best with human toenail clippers (the slightly larger ones, not the teeny fingernail ones). You can get cat nails plenty blunt and short with these.

BUT just like using nail clippers you have to TRAIN your dog to tolerate it. Sorry folks, no magic bullet here. And I do not dremel nails for my patient as a general rule unless they are sedated for surgery (we alway trim nails any time we sedate a pet, sometimes I will use my own dremel on dogs I think I can do a much better job on provided that mine is charged up and in the clinic, and it's not a big dog with thick nails- mine is too small for that). Training a dog to tolerate nail trims or grinding is generally not that hard to do, especially if you start with a puppy, but it does take some time and persistance. (Personally I think if you are not willing to invest at least that much time in training a dog you should look at other options like a goldfish, but that' s just me). We generally talk about how to do this with all of our new puppy clients at least once during their puppy visits. However, below I will post a video that is quite good for teaching a dog to tolerate nail trimming (essentially the same procedure for nail grinding, I just add a step in which I start by turning the grinder on every night while I feed the dogs so they start to associate the noise with something pleasant). One additional caveat; if you have a dog with hair legs or belly, you must be careful not to catch their fur in the grinder as it can get wound up quite tightly very quickly. One easy safeguard is to take an old kneehigh stocking and put it over their leg; poke the nails through the end or cut the very tip off; this will confine the leg hair and keep it out of your way. Here's the nail training video: 


This video was the winner a year or so ago in a contest for videos of positive training techniques. I think it is quite good. If you are dealing with a young puppy, I do add in one thing that is slightly less positive but certainly not harmful in any way; I like to hold the foot just tight enough that they can't pull it away and wait for the pup to sit quietly (this is best done up off the floor, a washer or dryer top works well). If they want to wiggle, that's fine, I just hold the foot and wait till they're done. Sometimes the wiggling can get quite dramatic and they will twist themselves inside out. Not what I would recommend to the puppy, but again, I just wait until they relax, then I praise, treat, and release the foot. The dog learns very quickly that nothing bad happens if they hold still, that struggling does NOT get them what they want (release), and that cooperation is in their best interest. This is best done with a young puppy as with a larger, older dog who is determined it can turn into a rodeo which we would prefer not to do. However, I really do like them to learn early that fighting me is not to their advantage and never gets them what they want. The timing of your praise is very critical; it is best to keep your mouth shut and just sit there while they wiggle as anything you say to try to soothe them sounds like praise and reinforces the wiggling. As SOON as they relax for a second praise and loosen your hold a little, offer a tiny treat with your free hand. If you get the timing right, for most puppies this takes 2-3 5 minute sessions before they figure out what you want. There is the occasional one who is a bit harder core (most often an older pup, in which case fall back and follow the video above and table this for a while).

Hope this helps! A few five minute sessions as a puppy can save you and the dog a lot of stress through the rest of their lives, and your vet will love you for it. Even if you prefer not to trim them yourself, do the work to accustom them to the foot handling and half the battle is over.

1 comment:

  1. The pedipaws is very cheaply made. It is less noisy that a regular dremel, but the down side is that if the slightest amount of preasure is applied it stops the roatation. It might be useful to smooth off edges after a nail trim, but to actually trim a nail with it would take forever. Not a product I reccommend. Long nails are my pet peeve. I have show dogs and can't stand to hear their nails on the ring mats. I am proud to say I have 5 retrievers that sit still and let me trim their nails alone every month, and I usually wind up quicking at least one nail, but they still sit nice for me every time. That's what hard work during puooy hood does. There truely is no excuse for long nails.