Speaking dog – Nail clipping

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Did you know you can speak with your dog? Well, ok, not speak as you and me but still, you’d be surprised at the amount of exchange that’s possible. Let’s take nail clipping, for example, an activity that most dogs hate.

Nail clipping leads to ears laid back and tail tucked

dogs nail clipping

As soon as you take out the nail clipper, Rover disappears; ears laid back and tail tucked. By those actions, he “tells” you that he really doesn’t like your plan.

Chaos ensues while you struggle with your dog to get the job done and at the end, you’ll both be sweaty, tired and pissed-off. So how can you get Rover to understand the nail clipper isn’t dangerous? You simply need to tell him using a language he can understand.

Clicker help for cutting the claws

In my opinion, nothing beats a clicker to establish clear, quick communication. For those of you who don’t know what a clicker is, it is a small device which emits a sharp click sound when you press it.

This sound tells the dog what he did was a good thing and that he’ll receive a treat. (To know more about the basics of clicker training, please click here.)

Basic steps for cutting the claws

So all you need to start working is a nail-clipper, treats and a grouchy dog. Here are the basic steps you’re going to go through:

  1. Hide the nail clipper behind your back. Show it to the dog and give him a treat in the following second. Repeat.
    *You must stick with this step until the dog shows joy and interest when you take out the nail-clipper. Be patient, it may take a while but jumping the gun at this point will make all other efforts null and void.
  2. Touch the dog’s paw. If he stays calm, click and reward.
  3. Take the paw in your hand. If the dog let’s you do it and stays calm, click and reward.
  4. Bring the nail clipper near the claw to trim. If the dog stays calm and relax, click and reward.
  5. And so on until the ultimate goal: clipping a nail.

One major thing to keep in mind is this: if at any moment your dog removes his paws or even gets up and goes away, you mustn’t try to hold it back. This behavior means that Rover can’t stand the manipulation or that he’s had enough for now.

If the dog leaves, note how long the session lasted and next time, shorten it. You want to leave your dog on a positive note.

You will have to repeat those steps often for the dog to clearly understand what you want. Once again, if you try and go too fast, Rover will get scared or feel nagged and you’ll only stretch out the process.


Take your time and accept that you might clip no nails at all in the first days. When you finally get there, stop after only one claw and let the dog go. Over time, he’ll get better at it and you’ll be able to trim more and more nails.
What’s beautiful in all those steps is that the dog is never forced to do anything since you take care to explain what you want while respecting his rhythm and emotions. Each click gives information to your dog as each of his reactions gives you some data on his mood.

With a clicker, no more need to constrain or use force,

You just need to “discuss” until both you and your dog get to an understanding. Of course, at the beginning, you’ll need to be patient but imagine the future: you take out your nail clipper and Rover sits down calmly while holding out his paw. Don’t you think it’s worth a little sweat?

For any comments and questions, feel free to contact us!

Sébastien Larabée, dogs nail clipping

Sébastien Larabée




Amelie Delobel

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