Why is my dog frightened of having his toenails trimmed?

Although you might think a nail trim has more to do with grooming than behavior, lack of trimming can lead to split and infected toenails, toenails so long they grow into the toe pad, or the need for sedation or anesthesia just to achieve a monthly pedicure.

Some dogs are scared of having their nails clipped because they’ve been hurt while doing so, and others seem to be spontaneously fearful of the procedure. A very dominant dog may object to nail clipping because it makes him feel threatened.

If your dog shows any evidence of dominance, such as growling when you pass him in the hall or acting aggressively when you reach for his food bowl, consult with your veterinarian, an animal behaviorist, or a qualified dog trainer about methods for addressing this problem.

If your dog seems to be fearful of nail trimming, try a program of desensitization and counter conditioning. To desensitize him, begin handling his feet very gently for thirty-second periods throughout the day. Gradually increase the length of time and amount of pressure you use, until you’re able to grasp the toes as if you were going to trim a nail.

If your dog shows any fear, you’ve pushed him too far. Once he’s comfortable, lightly touch his toes with the nail trimmer; eventually he’ll tolerate having a single nail clipped and then several at a time. The counter conditioning process involves using food treats and sincere praise during all of the steps, helping him to associate having his nails trimmed with a good experience. Don’t give up; this procedure may take weeks or even months.