Many dogs don’t need their nails clipped, wearing them down naturally while walking around. Assistance dogs are likely to self-maintain this way, as most spend plenty of time walking around out of the house. However, natural erosion isn’t always enough, and dew claws, which don’t come into contact with the ground during walking, require trimming.
If your dog’s claws grow too long, they can grow into her foot pads. Obviously, this causes discomfort and pain, potentially interfering with mobility and performance of assistance duties, and possibly leading to infections. Nails curving inward need to be trimmed. Another telling sign is hearing your service dog’s nails clicking on the floor when she walks.
Do You Want to Do it?
A lot of people prefer to have their vet or professional groomer clip their dog’s nails. It’s certainly simpler, especially with dogs who aren’t cooperative. A wriggling or struggling dog doesn’t make nail trimming easy, and there’s always the risk of injuring her paw or accidentally cutting the nail too low and severing the quick (the vein that runs into every nail).
If you choose to take on the responsibility of maintaining your assistance dog’s claws, ask your vet or professional groomer to give you a live demonstration of how to safely and properly do it.
Preparation and Restraint
Dogs accustomed to having their paws handled tend to be more accepting of nail clipping. A good home health exam includes a thorough, close-up look at your dog’s paws, so hopefully you’re performing them regularly so your dog is used to having her feet handled. If your dog isn’t too fond of the practice, handle her paws for increasing amounts of time on a daily basis, following up immediately with treats and affection.
You may need to restrain your dog during nail trimming. Have your vet teach you how to do so appropriately. Typically, lying your dog down on her stomach or side and draping your arms over her body and neck are effective. Having a second person on hand to help is beneficial.
Clipping the Nails
There are two types of clippers for dog claws: guillotine-style and scissor-style. Guillotine clippers are generally best, though scissors are called for when a nail is too curved to slide into the hole of a guillotine-style trimmer. Both are easy to use. Scissor-style clippers operate just like scissors, while guillotine-style clippers involve sliding the tip of the claw through a hole and squeezing the handles to send up a blade that severs it.
Hold scissors at a right angle to the nail. When using guillotine clippers, cut upward from the underside of the claws. If your dog has light or clear nails, the quick is visible as a pinkish area that doesn’t extend to the tip. Cut 2 millimeters above the end of the quick. If it’s not visible, don’t cut any farther down than the curved tip of the nail. Look at the inside of the nail after you clip it; if you see a dark area inside, you’re at the live part of the nail and should not cut any farther down. Use a firm, decisive squeeze to quickly and fully sever the tip of the claw in one attempt.
If You Cut the Quick
Cutting the quick causes pain and bleeding, which can be heavy and last for a good while, also putting your carpet and furniture in jeopardy—not to mention your dog’s trust in you. If you mistakenly cut into the quick, don’t fret. Even experienced and cautious home groomers have accidentally done so at some point, as it’s not hard to do, especially if your dog’s nails are darkly colored.
Stop the clipping session and apply styptic powder or use a styptic pencil on the edge of the bleeding nail. These are available at most pet supply stores and pharmacies. It may sting upon application, so be prepared to hold your assistance dog in place to finish the first aid. Comfort your dog and offer some treats, and hold off on the rest of the trimming for a while. Once the bleeding stops, wash the nail with lukewarm water and put a bandage on to prevent licking and infections. If the bleeding doesn’t stop after half an hour, proper clotting isn’t occurring, so consult your veterinarian right away.
Keep it Positive
As with any grooming procedure, keep things positive when trimming your service dog’s nails. Never yell at or punish your dog for not cooperating. Dogs don’t associate punishment with undesirable behavior, they only become afraid and increasingly resistant. If she’s obviously scared or stressing, hold off for the time being. If it doesn’t go well after a few tries spaced well apart, consider letting your vet or groomer handle the clipping to make it as quick, painless, and safe for your dog as possible.
Speak encouragingly and lovingly to your dog the entire time, and offer lots of praise and physical affection right after. Offer treats immediately after, too, so she learns to associate nail clipping with good things to come.
With positive reinforcement, practice, and repeat sessions, trimming your assistance dog’s nails will become easier and easier over time.