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Doing a Dog’s Nails

Author: Sally Bushwaller | Date: March 16, 2012

Many of us have struggled over the years with trimming our dogs nails. While it’s completely possible to train dogs to like having their nails done, most of us don’t have the time and energy required to get our dogs to that point. So about a year ago, I decided I didn’t want to stress out my dogs anymore, and I clicker trained my girls to do their own nails. They scratch sandpaper to sand down their nails.

To teach this, you’ll need a few supplies. I started with an old piece of counter-top that I was going to throw out. Any board about 2′ x 3′ will work. Purchase the highest quality medium grit sandpaper you can find. Put adhesive on the back of the sandpaper and adhere to the board so the pieces butt up against each other. I used 4 pieces.

There are several steps to teaching your dog the process, but overall, it’s quite easy. I tried to show the steps in my videos below, but my girls are experts at this now, and they weren’t cooperating when it came to trying to get them to go backwards to show the early steps. They just love to do this and shoulder each other out of the way to get a turn at the board. Even my scaredy girl Hope loves it now, although it took a little longer to teach her.

Here’s how you teach your dog to do her own nails:

1.    Get an old plastic lid and lots of tiny, yummy treats. Put a treat under the lid and put it on the floor. Hold the lid in place on the floor so the dog can’t move it much. Your dog will probably try different ways to get the treat out from under the lid. At some point they will touch their paw to the lid. The second that happens, click and treat. Repeat several times.

2.    Now, lay the lid, again with a treat under it on top of your sandpaper covered board. Repeat the process several times, always clicking and treating. Add a command to this for the paw touch, something like “TAP” would work.

3.    While sitting on a chair, prop the board in front of you and hold it in place with your legs. Hold the lid in place on the board with your hand (no treat under it) and cue the dog to TAP the lid. Repeat several times, always clicking and treating.

4.    Try it without the lid now. Point to the board and say TAP. Repeat several times, always clicking and treating.

5.    This is the only tricky part. I just started waiting for my dog to TAP on her own without a cue and clicked and treated. Then I stopped clicking and treating each TAP and began to watch the dog to see if she dragged her paw on the board at all or got a little frustrated and began pawing it, then clicked and treated.

That’s it really, I just expanded the last step until they understood that scratching was what earned the click and treat. After that it was a breeze.

I do this about twice a week to keep their nails short.

Occasionally, I have to do a little touch up with the Dremel tool grinder, but not normally.

This technique is only for the front nails. I haven’t taught them to do their back nails, but those seem to get worn down more easily on their own. So have fun teaching this and watch the videos of my girls manicuring their own nails!




    1. Jill says:

      Don’t they tend to just use one paw? My girls are like that. It would be hard to get them to do both.

    2. Jill,
      Yes, they do tend to do one paw more than the other. But they won’t do it indefinitely because the nail will get short and it will hurt if they keep pawing, so they stop. Then just wait and click and treat any movement of the other paw towards the board. You could also attach a command to each paw if you were so inclined. As the dog was scratching with left paw, say LEFT. And the same thing with the right paw–RIGHT. Now my girls switch back and forth.

Our trainer gave us lots of tips and “homework”, as well as useful resources.

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