How to Trim Your Dog's Nails using Positive Reinforcement


Many dogs, if not the majority of dogs really dislike having their nails trimmed. The main reason this occurs is because they have had previous negative experiences with nail trimming or the dog does not like having their paw held in general, especially with the amount of restraint needed for nail clipping.

The key to teaching your dog to tolerate or hopefully even enjoy having their nails trimmed is to break down the process step by step. By going slow and training each step, you make it much easier for the dog to tolerate the procedure. 

Even if you take your dog to the groomer or veterinarian to have their nails done, this process will make it much easier for the dog and your groomer/veterinarian will appreciate the training you put in.  

If your dog currently dreads having their nails clipped, you will need to go through the steps really slow. For example, you my practice step one a few times a week for 3 weeks before you are ready to move on to Step 2. It may also help to try a nail dremel tool instead of the clippers and then move through the steps the same way only using the dremel instead of the clippers.

If you have a puppy or a dog that does not have a negative association to having their nails clipped, you can progress through the steps at a faster pace.

I use food to create a positive association to each of these steps. The type of food you should use needs to be high in value to the dog. Kibble may work for some highly food motivated dogs whereas cheese is a better choice for others.

Here are the Steps:

Step 1) Present the Clippers- The first step is to create a positive association to the clippers. This is easy to do, just bring out the clippers and feed the dog a few treats. Then put the clippers away and repeat the process. Practice 10 presentations in one session and do this a few days a week.

Step 2) Pick Up the Paw- The next step is to bring the clippers out, pick up the paw, and then feed. This continues the positive association to having the paw picked up while the clippers are out.

Step 3) Touch the Clippers to the Nail- Here, we are showing the dog that the clippers touching the nail is not that scary. Make sure to feed every time the clippers touch the nail.Try doing 5 touches and then end the session.

Step 4) Hold the Clippers on the Paw for a Few Seconds- This step trains the dog to remain still during the procedure. If your dog tries to pull their paw away, you will want to try not to release the paw from your grip. You want to show the dog that only when they remain still, do you give the food and let go of their paw. If your dog has a tough time dealing with this step, you need to repeat more training sessions on steps 2 and 3.

Final Step) Clip A Nail- Once your dog is comfortable with all of the previous steps, you are ready to clip a nail. I recommend only clipping one nail the first time you do this. After I clip the nail, I reward heavily initially to show the dog that letting me clip a nail will provide an ideal situation for the dog.


Once the dog becomes comfortable with the process, you can begin clipping multiple nails in one session. I always provide a special food treat after I trim a dog’s nails, even when they are comfortable with a nail trimming session.

Published on July 23, 2017

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