My Dog Bites When I Cut His Nails [Ending This Bad Habit]

dog uncomfortable getting nail cut

To stop your dog from biting while cutting its nails, the best thing you can do is desensitize your dog to nail clippers. Touch their paws with nail clippers throughout the day, but don’t actually clip the nails. Give your dog a treat each time you touch their paws with the clippers.

Manicures and pedicures are often relaxing for most of us. It’s a time for us to sit down, relax in a quiet area, listen to relaxing music…a glass of wine never hurts either! 

Unfortunately, the words “relaxing” and “nails” rarely go together in dog language. In fact, nail-trimming is not typically in any dog’s list of Top 100 favorite things to do.

However, it is a necessary evil. If a dog’s nails aren’t trimmed, it can cause pain and discomfort. In severe cases, overgrown dog nails can cause the pad to splay or affect how your dog walks. It’s like when we have shoes that are too small and every step hurts our feet!

We know our dogs’ nails must be trimmed, but what can you do if your dog fights or bites when you get out the nail trimmers? Below are some ideas for helping your dog without getting hurt.

Stay Calm and Collected

When we get out the clippers, we need to remain calm and collected. Dogs can sense our feelings (maybe even faster than we can!) and know when something’s up. The more calm and confident we are, the more our dog will feel at ease.

Play with the Paws

Many dogs love to be petted, while others are more reticent. If your dog is not a cuddly breed, they may be more picky about how much you touch them and where. 

It’s best to not let most of your holding or touching time with your dog be associated with negative experiences. 

Stop the fight before it happens by easing your dog into the idea of getting his nails cut with casual paw-holding. 

When you see the dog wants attention and is relaxed (not hyper or anxious), this is when it’s a good time to bond. 

Sit next to the dog, let it sniff your hand, then rub under his chin. Then work towards doing short paw rubs. 

Make a conscious effort every day to play with the dog’s paws while giving affection. This is a great way to desensitize your dog to nail-trimming.

Bribes

Playing with the paws is a great way to neutralize anxiety and fears, but positive reinforcement also goes a long way in the dog seeing nail-cutting as a good thing. 

A few weeks before the dog will need a trim, pull out the clippers, and give your dog a treat simultaneously with the clippers in eyesight. 

You can also let the dog sniff the clippers (just don’t let it eat them!). After repeating this exercise daily, your dog will slowly begin associating the clippers with treat-time. Then, when it is finally time to use the clippers, your dog’s fear-responses will have decreased significantly.

Short Term Solutions

While desensitization and positive reinforcement are important for alleviating your dog’s fears, you may be reading this because your dog needs his nails clipped right now. 

If that’s the case, it is important to protect yourself and your dog while you trim his nails. Your dog’s vet also may recommend medication to help his stress level go down.

Using a muzzle is important if your dog bites when under stress. Keep in mind your dog’s safety and your own. To put the muzzle on, you can feed the treat through the muzzle and quickly slip it over his head as he takes the treat.

It is helpful if someone can hold the dog for you so you can focus on clipping the nails. It is better to never directly “front” the dog while he is in a fearful state. In dog language, this face-to-face position shows aggression on your part. If you can, stay at right angles to his face or beside him as this will be a much more “neutral” position.

Pain: The Reason Your Dog Bites

So now that we’ve learned how to prepare the dog and what measures to take beforehand, let’s discuss how to actually cut your dog’s nails. 

One of the main reasons dogs bite when we cut their nails is because of a negative experience in the past.

If you’ve ever cut your dogs quick, it’s painful! Each time they see the clippers they’re going to remember the pain and do whatever they need to do to avoid the pain again. 

We want this to be as painless as possible… for them and for us!

The Quick

If you’ve ever torn a nail into the quick before, you know how painful this can be. A dog does, too! 

Unfortunately, this is often where their mind goes when they try to bite you when you pull out the clippers. They are thinking something along the lines of, “This really hurt last time, I don’t want it to happen again!”

Unfortunately, this thought process leads to the vicious cycle of them pulling their foot or trying to bite while you’re trying to cut. You then miss where you are trying to cut because they are pulling against you or you are dodging their aggressive strikes. 

This leads to likely cutting into the quick and cementing in the dog’s brain that this is a painful experience.

The quick is easy to spot if your dog has white nails with pink beds. It is a matter of “don’t hit the pink nail beds.” When a dog has dark-colored nail beds, it is a little more challenging to see the difference. Look underneath the nail to see the gray area, which is the quick.

File Down

If left untrimmed for too long, the quick grows up to the very tip of the nail, making it almost impossible to trim. 

Here, you will have to file down the nail using an emery board or pumice stone. You will need to file the top and sides of the nail (without touching the quick). This will have to be done daily for around three weeks, or until you see the nail bed recede.

Tip Trimming

When you can see a clear difference between the quick and the nail, you can finally trim the nail. 

Hold the nail between your thumb and index finger where you see the nail begin to curve. Cut a little at a time and check after each cut until you see that you have clipped all the excess nail. This can be a time-consuming process, but your dog will feel so much happier when he can finally walk on his feet without pressure on his nails!

Last Resort…

The nails should be trimmed before they become overgrown. So, if all else fails, make an appointment with your vet! 

They are trained to handle dogs that don’t enjoy being handled. While there, you can watch their technique and also ask them for tips that may help with your specific dog’s temperament.

Techniques for Keeping Trim

Now that you have gotten your dog’s nails where they need to be, the goal is to keep them that way. The more often a dog has positive experiences with cutting nails before they are causing pain, the easier it will be for you and your dog!

Some ways to keep the nails in good shape are to:

  • File down
  • Walk on concrete or abrasive surfaces
  • Trim every 3-4 weeks

These habits will help to keep your dog’s nails healthy and make walking more comfortable. Continue to create regular bonding time with your dog to build trust and take the fight and bite out of your nail-clipping routine. This will make for a happier dog and a happier you!

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