Dog nail trimming anxiety

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Now let’s start with our anti dog nail trimming anxiety training

To begin with your training, call your Bull Terrier to a quiet place in your home she likes, with as few distractions around as possible. We have fluffy area rugs in our home for Mila to play on. With my supplies ready in a way she cannot immediately detect them, I call her on the rug, after I have removed all distractions (like her toys). Rather than cutting right to the chase I first cuddle a little with her, maybe exercise some small tricks like “paw” and reward her with my “regular” treats, talk to her and just make her feel comfortable around me.

No matter if you use a clicker or not you guys are now “warmed up”. Now it’s time to show off the nail clipper to your dog. Let her sit or lie down like you would want her to do it eventually for clipping. Now let her sniff the nail clipper tool, she can even take it in her mouth, only take it away when she really bites it.
Praise her for every “friendly” interaction with the nail clipper (sniffing, licking, touching), even if it is only for one or two seconds. Also reward her with your regular treats (one at a time will do).
Once you feel you can go further – that can be in the same training session or one of the next – try to pet her paws with the nail clipper. Just touch them with it and if your dog does not freak out for at least one or two seconds, catch this moment, shout your marker word , quickly take the clipper away, praise and treat her. In this case you can dig out the real yummy ones. She has done great!

Depending on how things develop in this session or your next sessions, more or less quickly you will now watch your dog getting used to being around the nail clipper with less and less fear and/ or aggression.

Provided she tolerated the steps before, things you can do as next steps:
– Holding her paw and pet it with the clipper
– “Fake” clip her nails by holding the nail clipper close to a nail and clipping into the air as loud as you can to get your dog used to the clipping noise

Remember to always rewarding your dog for staying calm as follows
Action with paw and or nail clipper >>> dog stays calm for short moment >>> click or marker word >>> praise & reward.

Also reward progress in different ways to show your dog, where you are going with this.
Did she just stay calm for more than just a few seconds or did she let you touch all four paws with the nail clipper?
Time for the jackpot! Praise her like crazy or give her two or three of the yummy treats. Don’t give them all at once, but one after another. This makes her realize that she is now getting MORE. If you give them in bulk, she will not really notice the difference between one piece and more than one.

*Drum Roll*

Once the both of you are comfortable with having the nail clipper around and on her paws in as many sessions as it may take, you can go one step further and try to clip the first nail.
Don’t try to clip all nails at once, even if your dog seems calm in the beginning. Split the trimming into sessions. One session can be one or two nails, one paw or both front paws – whatever your dog by now is able to tolerate without becoming nervous.

I know it is hard sometimes to stop at that point. Once you have made it half way, it’s enticing to go the whole distance. But if possible, end the clipping, RIGHT BEFORE your dog is becoming nervous.
Keep the situation as comfy as it gets by all means.

That also means: If possible in any way, avoid cutting into the quick. This is not only a mess. It causes your Bull Terrier pain and of course that may cause a relapse in your training.
Always take away only tiny bits of the nail rather than too much! In the beginning this also gives you the chance of practicing with your dog more often, because you have more material left to cut :).
In case the worst case happens and you accidentally cut into the quick, have styptic powder ready to stop the bleeding.

Do not try to cut more nails on your anxious dog during this session.
Instead distract it with some cuddling or tug of war – whatever you think os best for YOUR dog in this situation. Try to still end this experience in a positive way for your Bull Terrier.
After that it may be necessary to go one or two steps back in your training to regain your dog’s trust and confidence again.

Dog nail trimming anxiety


If you have difficulties finding the quick of a clear claw, rubbing some baby oil on the nail can make it more visible for a moment.

I have never seen a Bull Terrier with dark nails, but if you have one, cutting needs to be done even more careful. Only small pieces at once, then inspect the bottom of the cut claw. Once you notice a small white circle occurring at the cut area, stop cutting immediately! That is when the quick appears.
In general it is good to keep a dog nail short by cutting it once or twice a month in tiny pieces. This keeps the quick from excessively growing into the nail, making it even harder to trim it.

Yeah, we did it!

Let’s assume you have just cut the first one or few nails of your Bully without any accidents.

You can now go ahead and work yourself up to the amount of nails you want to cut in one session in the future.
If that means it will only be one nail a day, well, then make that your routine, just don’t loose track. 🙂
Once you have mastered the challenge and feel you do not need the clicker any more for the nail clipping, keep the motivational part and always have some praise and a treat ready every time you clip your dog’s nails to make it a positive experience every single time.

It is important that you also always enjoy the interaction with your dog yourself. Be relaxed and patient enough to take small steps. Also be prepared for fallbacks.
If you get stressed, you will pass that on to your dog. Therefore never train your dog when you are in a hurry or don’t feel good about it.
It’s only natural to loose patience at some point. But don’t get angry or nervous. If you catch yourself in that mood, quit the training for today, even if you have only cut one or NO claw at all yet. Tomorrow is another day and your Bull Terrier’s nails will not grow through the roof overnight.

Dog nail trimming anxiety - Mila happy

“Well, that wasn’t sooooo bad after all! I may get used to that claw eating thing!”

Relax and value even the smallest amount of success. You have done a great job already by putting ALL THAT THOUGHT into the matter. You are trying to make your dog happy in an unwanted situation! Thats a great project!
For now to end the current session and calm down yourself, just let your dog do something it cannot fail with to earn a treat. How about a “sit”, “paw” or a trick she already knows very well? Or just give her a big hug, show her that she did great and end the session with that. This gives your dog the positive feedback that you are not angry, there’s nothing to be afraid of and close to you, love and treats are the only thing waiting for her.

I bet she will be happy to try again tomorrow and in a few sessions maybe even wait for you already in her spot for her lesson, just because it is so much fun!

U P D A T E 1

Quick update about me and my personal efforts with Mila:
I just tried the clipping again in our daily (ok, ALMOS T daily 🙂 ) clicker training session.
She was completely calm, no biting, nipping or aggression against me or the clipping tool. She even “kissed” me (licked my ear), while I bent down to cut. We did all the nails that had to be done. So, I would say – SUCCESS! I am happy that we really have mastered this challenge and that she is not afraid anymore. This took me about 5-6 clicker training sessions, I didn’t exactly count. Also it doesn’t matter. All it should tell you is: It IS achievable in a reasonable amount of time.
I think I will stick to the clicker for a while and take things slowly – but for tonight I am really happy.

I hope this encourages you to try it yourself and see how smart our Bull Terriers are.

U P D A T E 2

Now a few months later, we are no longer experiencing any problems with nail clipping. Mila does not attack the clipper anymore and we do no longer need the clicker. Sometimes she still gets a treat after I have finished all four of her paws for being so nice and staying calm. But most of the time now she will also be confident with praise and a big hug!


2 thoughts on “Dog nail trimming anxiety

  1. Pingback: Dog grooming and general body care

  2. I’m going to try the clicker method. I think my body and I can conquer this as well as my other two dogs faith and Jack! Thank you so much for your assistance. I will let you know how it goes! Thank you again and have a great day evening months a year etc. etc.

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