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Ask A Vet: Why Do Dogs Hate Having Their Nails Trimmed?

Keeping our dogs’ nails trimmed helps save our floors and sometimes, our skin. It is also good for the dog, as nails can grow too long, sometimes even curling back into the skin. But if it is for their own good, why do dogs hate having their nails trimmed so much?

It is a question dog owners have pondered for years.

dogs hate having their nails trimed

Having their nails trimmed can be painful if done incorrectly.

When trying to determine why dogs hate having their nails trimmed, it may help to review the anatomy of the nail. Dogs’ nails are similar to our fingernails, except in humans it is obvious which part is the nail and which is the finger (the part with the nerves.)

For dogs, the nail is made up of an outer portion which is comparable to our fingernail, and an inner portion which is more like our nail bed. The inner part contains the nerve. When you trim, you only want to cut the horny outer portion and avoid the nerve. It is harder to see the distinct parts, especially if the toenails are dark, but trust me, they all have a nerve, called the quick, and if you cut it, it hurts… A LOT.

Pain is the main reason dogs hate nail trims. If your dog is ever cut too close, even once, he will remember it. Nature provides pain as a protection. If something hurts, an animal must learn to avoid, and even fight it. This is a survival instinct.

having their nails trimmed can be painful

Speaking of anatomy, short-legged pups like Dachshunds, Bassett Hounds and Corgis may be especially sensitive about having their limbs extended for a trim. These pups and those with arthritis or previous injuries likely experience more discomfort during the process. Again, pain is a strong memory for a dog and to survive he needs to remember painful things and avoid them.

Having their nails trimmed can be very frightening.

Fear is another thing that dogs instinctively remember. Animals in the wild must be able to recall and avoid situations or places where they feel their lives are in danger, like a place where predators lurk or there is a sharp drop off. When you restrain your dog, (without previously teaching him that there is nothing to fear) you trigger his fear response and his survival instincts kick in.

He might struggle, causing you to tighten your grip. Then he truly panicks and feels he cannot escape. His fight or flight response could cause him to kick, struggle, or even bite you. This damages your bond irrevocably. From that point on, you are nervous whenever you go to trim the nails. Your dog reads your anxious body language, and it confirms there is a need to be afraid.

having their nails trimmed can be frightening

Nail trims require patience.

If your goal is to trim all the nails at once, you may be setting yourself up for failure and frustration. Instead, try patiently breaking it down into tiny steps and slowly working towards a goal.

Many dogs hate having their nails trimmed simply because they never learned to accept body handling. If you have a puppy, start him out right. Break down handling his feet into tiny steps. When you reach for his foot, give him a treat. Gradually progress from touching to lifting the paw, then try handling each individual toe. If, at any time, he retreats or resists, go back to the last step he was comfortable with and reward there. Do not hurry him.

having their nails trimmed requires patience

When introducing the trimmers, smear them with peanut butter so he starts to associate them with good feelings. The first time, you may not even trim a single nail, but you are creating a comfortable scenario around body handling and nail trimming. Remember to take it slow to avoid overwhelming your pup.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

When dealing with a dog that already hates having their nails trimmed, consider letting your vet help. There is no reason to have anyone traumatize your dog. Veterinarians have safe, effective handling techniques and medication protocols to ease your dog’s fear as he learns that he is safe during nail trims. The best place to start is with a Fear Free (sm) Certified Professional. They are experts at removing fear and pain from all handling your dog may experience.

Dogs hate having their nails trimmed because it is scary, potentially painful, and requires them to relinquish control of their bodies. You can help your pup overcome these issues with patience, compassion and care. Remember, if you are nervous during trims your dog will sense it and become fearful himself. Unless you are confident in your skills, leave nail trimming up to the professionals. Even one bad experience could lead to a lifetime of anxiety for your dog.

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Written by Dr. Kathryn Primm
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