Ask the Dog Trainer: Clipping Claws, Step by Step

Dear Kendal,
We need help! We have a five year old Australian Shepherd named Misty who hates having her nails trimmed. She won’t let us hold her paw and we can’t even pick up the mower without her rushing for the door. It’s very stressful for everyone because we just want to help them stay healthy! We are lost ! To help!
–Legs out of bounds

Dear Paws Off Limits,
It’s very common for dogs to dislike having their nails trimmed, and I applaud your efforts to make it less scary for Misty.
First, slow down the whole process and set yourself smaller goals that can ideally be achieved without stress. Start by touching Misty’s paw briefly, then remove your hand and praise her. Then touch its paw for a few more moments, pull back and praise it. Work this way using short, frequent sessions with plenty of praise and tasty treats until she allows you to touch her feet without running away or showing signs of stress, such as licking your lips, tail tucking, shaking or growling.
Once Misty is happy to have her paws touched, now it’s time to take the next step. As a dog trainer, I prefer my dogs to voluntarily consent to necessary procedures such as combing their fur, brushing their teeth, and trimming their nails, so you’ll want to teach Misty to offer her paw to you.
To develop this skill, sit on the floor in front of Misty with treats and hold out your hand. Say “paw,” then reach down and gently touch his paw above the pad at the back of the ankle joint. Apply a small amount of pressure toward you until she lifts her foot off the ground, then reward and release. Repeat until you no longer have to ask for the touch and she raises the corresponding paw towards you when you reach out.
Then increase the duration by only rewarding her for longer periods of keeping her paw placed in your hand. At first she might only give you her foot for a second or two, but once she learns the game she should move on quickly. This is an important detail to learn as nail trimming can take a few minutes and Misty must remain still and patient throughout the process.
While you’re working on his paws, you can also turn the nail clipper into a wonderful treat-dispensing tool. Start by laying the mowers on the ground and scattering high-value treats around them to encourage him to approach. When she sees the clippers and starts wagging her tail in anticipation of an upcoming reward, you know your efforts have been successful.
Once Misty is thrilled to have her paws manipulated and the clippers a delight, you’re finally ready to mimic the whole nail trimming process. Sit down with your mower and ask for its paw. When she does, take the clipper and touch her nails but don’t cut them. Reward and repeat the action, touching each nail and increasing until opening and closing the nail clipper near his nails and finally cutting one nail. Do this, one nail a day, until you can trim all of her nails in one sitting and stay calm and happy.
It’s wonderful to take ownership of your dog’s grooming needs whenever possible, and by following these guidelines for gradually redefining the nail trimming process, you can soon help Misty stay healthier and happier.
Kendall and Chandler Brown are owners of Custom K-9 Service Dogs, a dog training business serving Minden/Gardnerville, Carson and Reno. For more information, visit or email

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