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  • Liz MacHaffie

Cooperative Nail Trims



Your dog can learn to actively participate in his nail trims! Because he is choosing this behavior on his own, it can make him much more comfortable and willing to have his nails done.​

Set Up

  • Choose a well-lit location where you will always do his nails. This is a signal that you’re going to do your trim. (If you've been doing Mat Game for Cooperative Care, this is where you'll do it!)

  • Gather some medium value treats and/or some peanut butter or squeeze cheese on a spoon/spatula. You want to use treats that are yummy to your dog, but not ones that he would do absolutely anything for. (We want to keep him calm and not too over-excited!)

  • Set a timer for 2-3 minutes for your first sessions. (You don’t want to go longer than this until your dog is comfortable having at least a few nails done at a time.)

Training Time!

  • Invite your dog to interact with you, but don't tell him to "come". This is all based on your dog volunteering to do things, and you asking if he'd like to do something, rather than telling him.

  • Next, you’ll be doing your Nail Trimming Action (see below), followed immediately by a treat. Your dog should be comfortable and stay with you, showing little or no signs of stress while you do each stage.

  • You should get three successful repetitions in a row before moving on to the next one. (Where your dog willingly participates and doesn’t move away from you.)

  • You’ll progress through the steps until your timer goes off OR until your dog says he's done. At the start of your next session, start a step or two behind where he last finished.

  • Here are the suggested Nail Trimming Actions: (Your dog may need some steps broken down even further, and that’s okay!) ​

  • Briefly run your hand down your dog's leg and touch his paw.

  • Briefly pick up your dog’s paw.

  • Briefly pick up your dog’s paw and hold it for 3 seconds.

  • Hold out your nail trimmers or dremel in front of your dog, near his feet.

  • Touch your nail trimmers or dremel to your dog’s wrist/paw. (If using a dremel, repeat this step with the dremel turned on, ensuring he is protected from any nicks.)

  • Pick up your dog’s paw and touch the nail trimmers to it.

  • Pick up your dog’s paw, choose a nail, and apply a slight amount of pressure with your trimmers.

  • Increase the amount of pressure that you applied until you cut the nail or file it down.

  • Trim two nails at a time.

  • Once your dog is comfortable having at least one nail at a time done before he needs a treat, you can start to do multiple nails per session! Work your way up from one paw to all four!

  • Finally, enjoy having a dog who willingly has his nails trimmed!


PS: For dogs who may bite during this, muzzle training should come first. :)


Want more Cooperative Care in your life? You can add it to your training program with us, and/or check out Deb Jones' book here!


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