The art of pretend
By JOHN WADE, Special to QMI Agency
Trimming a dog's nails makes a lot of people nervous, which can make a lot of dogs nervous. For many dogs, having to hold still, have their feet handled and coping with the sensation of nails being clipped wouldn't be a problem at all if it someone was "pretend clipping" with real clippers during every television commercial while they were still little.
When my eldest son was little, I used to hold him in one arm while shaving with an electric shaver and buzzed it around his head for a pretend shave. At some point before my second son was born I switched to using a razor. His mother, having seen upon occasion a number of blood stained dots of tissues decorating my face, for some reason put the kibosh on any further father/son pretend shaving bonding of any kind. In any event, the youngest didn't get any shaving experience, electric or otherwise.
A little later in their lives, it came time for their first big-boy haircuts and there was a marked difference in their response to the electric clippers. The eldest was nonplussed, whereas when it was the youngest's time and the clippers got close to his head, he got a look on his face like the barber had traded up to a chain saw, bounced out of the chair and headed for the door. Moral: acclimatize, rather than surprise.
The fear of cutting into the quick and causing some bleeding is the average dog owner's main concern, so many dogs are sent to the veterinarian or a groomer instead. Truth be told, even there quicks get cut now and then. A big part of the difference between a pro nicking too far and a dog owner is that the pros don't worry about it. They just slap on a little goop designed for just such an event and move on to the next nail. Dog owners, however, react a little differently and can easily shift their dog's anxiety level skyward. The dog is laying calmly, paw extended and the owner clips too short, spots some blood and starts yelling something like, "Help! Help! I've killed my dog!" and a terrified dog leaps to its feet yelling, "What? What? Somebody's dead? Hey, whose blood is that?" The poor dog forever after connects the sight of the clippers with either their own imminent demise or the plug being pulled on their owner's sanity.
Even if a dog owner is going to have someone else do the job, or they have a dog that gets so much exercise its nail never need trimming, for two reasons I still recommend they do acclimatization. First of all, it's one thing for homeowners to relieve their own stress by reassigning the job, but that doesn't necessarily lessen the dog's stress. Puppy dress rehearsals will pay off in reduced stress for the dog when the real curtain comes up.
Secondly, at some point in its life a dog may get some sort of foot or limb injury that requires daily attention. That's not a task as easily transferred to a third party and treatment is easier to apply and easier for the dog to take if a "Stay still while I'm doing something you may not like" foundation has been laid early in life.
For anyone brave enough to try, I have a free diagram showing where the quick is and a how-to article that I'll send if you want to email and ask for it.