How can we acclimate our pug to getting his fingernails clipped?
February 13, 2007 6:04 PM   Subscribe

How can we acclimate our pug to getting his fingernails clipped?

We've got a 1 1/2 year old pug who completely flips out when we try to clip his fingernails. He had a bad experience at the groomer as a puppy and since then the only way we can get his fingernails clipped is by taking him to a vet. And then he only lets them do it because he's too scared to do anything else.

So how can we acclimate our pug to us clipping his nails so he doesn't flip out?
posted by JPigford to Pets & Animals (18 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Your pug has fingers??!

You may not be able to - I've got a cat who hates it, and it's traumatic for everyone (so the nails hardly ever get clipped). But your pug is still young, so try just petting his paws - get him used to having his paws touched, without any clipping involved. Reward him lavishly when he lets you hold his paw for a couple of minutes. When (if) he tolerates having his paws touched, try clipping just one nail - reward really lavishly if he doesn't freak out. I have a cat (different one) who's OK with having his nails clipped if he's really sleepy or distracted by something; I don't usually clip all the nails at one go, but just one or two a night.
posted by rtha at 6:14 PM on February 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

My dog hated it at first. The first step, as above, is getting him used to having his hands, well, handled. The second step for me was getting the dog used to having something metal touching his paws. Let him sniff it, let him lick it, let him bite it, and be patient and sit there playing with him until he's totally comfortable with it and regards it as boring. Then clip a nail, and give him a small crumb of a treat (or whatever motivates hiim -- my dog is food motivated to an almost painful extent.) Wash, rinse, repeat, until he comes to regard nail clipping time as a fun event. May take a few times of having his nails trimmed.

If all else fails, have a helper hold a spoon with peanut butter or cheese-whiz in front of his nose. I guarantee he'll pay more attention to it than to his nails. (this is how they do things like anal temperature probes in vet clinics...)
posted by SpecialK at 6:20 PM on February 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

I dremel my dog's nails with a rechargable minimite dremel on the low setting. It's pretty easy, and it's much easier to avoid the quick. If the mere sight of nail clippers freaks your dog out, maybe approaching trimming his nails with a new method might work.

If it doesn't work, the dremel only costs about $20 & is useful other places. This site has a good tutorial on how to dremel your dog's nails. Also, the tips given there (slow acclimation, lavish rewards) could apply to nail clipping as well.
posted by neda at 6:44 PM on February 13, 2007

Two rules: take it slow and quit while you are ahead. I cannot overstate the importance of the second. It is so extremely common when on a roll to push it. Once you're on a roll, end on a high note. Better to take a week to trim all his nails and leave him excited about the next time than to do it all in an our and have him dreading the next time. This applies to all dog training, but it's especially important if he already has bad associations. Don't push it, stop when he's happy.

Since he's alreay dreading it, take it painfully slow. See the clipper? Treats! Wow, taking out the clipper is awesome! This is great, when are you going to take out the clipper again?! Then: touch the clipper to his nail. Don't clip, just hold it next to a nail and treat immediately. He blinks and it's over. What was that? Treats! Repeat until he's just dying for you to wave that clipper near a paw. Fondle his paws a little before you tap it against a nail. Not so bad. More treats! When you finally get to clipping, take off only the slightest little piece and then HUGE reward. Wow, it's like Christmas!

It can take a long time to overcome his aversion, don't coddle him and praise him for being afraid, act as if it IS Christmas, aren't you excited about this awesome clipper? It comes with treats! Spend a few minutes and then repeat later. You may have success using a dremel, it's what I use at home, but the fundamental idea is the same. A lot of patience, baby steps, and make it fun for him.
posted by hindmost at 7:01 PM on February 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

do it all in an our

hour. dammit.
posted by hindmost at 7:02 PM on February 13, 2007

Yes, exactly, it's all about pavlovian conditioning. Give him treats when you do it, and gradually he'll get to like it and he'll sit still for it. You'll have to persevere, maybe for a few months, but eventually it will work. My dog has gone from totally flipping out about getting eye drops to liking it because he gets a treat right after.
posted by Dasein at 7:37 PM on February 13, 2007

Also, I would suggest doing it at a time when he is wanting a cuddle, not when he's feeling frisky. I have to put my cat on subcutaneous fluids every day for about 10 minutes. I find picking the moment when she wants to bother me at work -- I mean cuddle and be pet is a good time. She is feeling trusting and wanting to be touched. I also cut her nails, no problem. Use everything you can to soothe him, like a secure environment which is comfortable but not easy to escape from. E.G., my cat has a cushion on a chair behind a curtain in an alcove. She settles right in. At first it was hell and I was in tears, but now it's just our petting time together -- and she gets the needle. Use your voice to soothe him. If he's just had a good meal, that's probably good, too.
posted by Listener at 7:47 PM on February 13, 2007

this is definitely a job that will take more than one sitting.
i have a very docile maine coon cat, and even he won't let me do all 20 claws at a time.

my superhero trick: i put my boy in a PILLOWCASE, with one paw sticking out- he tolerates the nailclipping much better when he can't see what i'm doing. maybe get your little guy used to being swaddled- when he's sleepy or just waking up is a good time to practice. snuggle him up in a blanket or pillowcase (make sure to cover his face so he can't see), pop out a paw, and play with it while you talk softly to him. after a few days, once he gets used to that, clip a nail or two, praise him, then let him go & give him more treats/praise. within a few more sessions you'll have a well-adjusted and manicured pug.

while we're at it, the pillowcase trick has another practical application- when i had to evacuate my house for a minor fire, my (indoor) cat was very easy to take outside and hand off to a neighbour in a tied-up pillowcase! cats are squirmy and pointy- pillowcases, on the other hand, are soft and easy to hold, and it kept him from escaping the sireny horror of my driveway while we stood around for an hour outside.
plus, my neighbour got to make jokes about "letting the cat out of the bag", which delighted him.
posted by twistofrhyme at 7:57 PM on February 13, 2007

This is a job for BF Skinner.

Clip a couple of claws, and then let him go and give him a piece of (cooked or uncooked) bacon. Come back the next day, clip a couple more, and give him another piece of bacon.

It won't be too long before he starts coming and begging you to trim his claws.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 8:04 PM on February 13, 2007

My dog hates it when I try to clip her nails. So - I walk her down to the local groomer's and pay them $5 to do it. She lets me massage her paws otherwise but goes batshit insane when she sees I've got the nail clippers out.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 8:13 PM on February 13, 2007

I have four pugs, and I have worked at a few vet clinics as a tech. I have tried many tricks (and treats), and it doesn't work. It seems to me that it's just a "puggie thing" that they flip out. I have yet to meet a pug that really tolerates having it's nails clipped. I doubt this info helps, but it's something to consider.

But the ideas others have listed are all really good ones...
posted by bolognius maximus at 8:14 PM on February 13, 2007

Great advice above. One sure-fire help for this is to have someone feed him peanut butter off a spoon while you do the deed (one tiny scrape off one nail per day AFTER he's comfortable with you touching his feet is plenty - the more you rush or force, the harder this will be). Clicker training is perfect for this kind of thing - start by simply touching a paw, click treat, etc. But don't try to do too much too fast.

Dogs often hate having their feet handled because their feet are critical to their survival (and because people often neglect teaching puppies to accept being handled properly, and then force them to just accept nail clipping). So don't grab, start with acclimatizing him to touching, then resting your hand on his foot, then gently encircling it, then gently holding it, then lifting it, etc. Lots of treats and praise, and only a little at a time (one touch, feed a treat, go do something else, a few times a day, increasing gradually). If his nails are bad, take him to the vet in the meantime - you need to teach him that there is nothing scary about having his feet handled and eventually his nails clipped at home, and the way you teach him that is by making it true - touching his feet brings good things like special treats he ONLY gets when you touch his feet (tiny morsels of whatever he likes best: peanut butter, steak, bacon, whatever he likes). Take it very slowly, it will take a long time for him to learn to destress about this and only one instance of pushing things too fast to take him back to square one.
posted by biscotti at 8:24 PM on February 13, 2007

Also, make sure you have the pliers type of nail clipper, not the guillotine type. And make sure they're SHARP. Dull blades and the guillotine type of clipper crush the nails and make the process much more unpleasant than it needs to be. Of course, if you want to train him to accept his nails being Dremeled, go for it, you get the best results with that but not everyone has the patience for it.
posted by biscotti at 8:27 PM on February 13, 2007

I ended up at the groomer's because after trying and trying and trying to get my dog acclimated to the clippers and many hours of it just stressing the dog AND me out - I took her to the groomer's to see her reaction and she has a kind of non-reaction to the situation and so in my head it's worth the $5 to get the job done without it causing stress for anyone. It takes the groomer a couple minutes.

My dog is a pug/chihuahua mix.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 8:29 PM on February 13, 2007

We go through hell when we try to clip one of our pugs' nails. He emits screams that I have never otherwise heard from him. The other one isn't so bad.

We have resorted to just filing them down with a regular nail file, which he (barely) tolerates.
posted by jayder at 9:17 PM on February 13, 2007

Why not train your dog to use scrape a giant nail file?
posted by peppermint22 at 11:12 PM on February 13, 2007

I have to support the peanut butter on a spoon suggestion. I have two big rhodesian ridgebacks and they are total babies about getting their claws clipped. I mean, they cry while enjoying the peanut butter.

It's a two person job. One person gives the dog a huge bear hug and holds a spoon covered in peanut butter for the dog. The other very quickly clips the nails. We can't get all the nails in one try, and we don't force the matter. We trim as many of the longest tips as quickly as possible and quite while we're ahead. Sharp blades reqired.

Just be glad the dog doesn't weigh about as much as you do.
posted by cyclopticgaze at 6:40 AM on February 14, 2007

One sure-fire help for this is to have someone feed him peanut butter off a spoon while you do the deed

We tried this, for ear-cleaning and bathing as well as nail-clipping. Our dog now fears peanut butter on a spoon.

We just have it done at the vet. It's worth $12 every couple of months not to go through everything people have described above. (But we live in the city and she's constantly walking on pavement, which files them down naturally, so she doesn't need it as often as your dog might. And we're within walking distance of the vet.)

For what it's worth, having watched how the vet techs do it, I think the key is for one person to hold the dog down on a table, rather than on the floor or in your lap, while the other person clips.
posted by staggernation at 6:57 AM on February 14, 2007

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