Skip to main content

Four Reasons Why Dogs Hate Nail Trims

I've been working professionally with dogs for over a decade. I'm a former veterinarian assistant and currently a certified dog trainer.

Why do dogs hate getting their nails trimmed?

Why do dogs hate getting their nails trimmed?

Does Your Dog Hate Nail Trims?

Does your dog dread getting his nails clipped and immediately hides the moment you get the clippers out? If so, getting those nail trims done are certainly a chore you may want to leave to the groomers of vet staff.

But why are some dogs so scared about nail trims? What triggers them to act scared or hide? Truth is, when you are clipping your dog's nails there are several unpleasant things going on all at once. Let's take a moment to see what is really going on in Rover's head so we can better understand him and take some steps in making the task more pleasant.

Here are some reasons why dogs dislike nail trims.

4 Reasons Dogs Hate Nail Trims

  1. Your dog hates being restrained
  2. Your dog hates having his feet handled
  3. Unpleasant past experiences
  4. That terrible clipping noise

1. Your Dog Hates Being Restrained

When you are clipping your dog's nails, you'll need him to stay still for you. Most likely, you'll need to hold him in a way to stop him from moving. Some dogs can struggle with this. They feel defenseless and may try to free themselves from your hold.

If your dog has fought and freed himself from your hold in the past, negative reinforcement will be at play, so the behavior of fighting against your restraint will repeat and increase in the future. In other words this is what happens: your dog is restrained and he will do what it takes to remove himself from the unpleasant situation either by wriggling, hiding or attempting to bite. If these behaviors have removed him from an unpleasant situation in the past, it will repeat in the future.

This is something that is deeply ingrained in a dog's survival instinct and a need to protect himself from perceived harm. Many people think that the key to solving the problem is doing everything possible to prevent the dog from hiding, wriggling and attempting to bite. They will therefore chase the dog, corner the dog, hold the dog tighter or muzzle the dog.

Yet, by doing so, they are definitely not solving the problem, but actually making it worse! Now the dog not only dislikes being restrained, but dislikes everything you do to get him restrained—chasing, cornering him, holding him tight and putting the muzzle on because he knows it leads to feeling even more defenseless and scared.

And then comes the nail trim. Soon, you'll end up with a dog that becomes more and more difficult to deal with. Yes, you may hold him tight like a salami, but this will not change his perception of the whole nail clipping process. If you dreaded your dentist, tying you up in the dentist chair will surely keep you still, but will it make you like the dentist more? Of course not! So the ultimate answer to this problem is changing the emotions about the whole restraint and nail-trimming process.

2. Your Dog Hates Having His Feet Handled

Puppy training classes should have time dedicated to getting a dog used to being handled. This will help with any future vet and grooming sessions. I like to set up "mock vet visits" to get the pups used to being handled. The pups get used to getting on a table, being touched in various body parts all while they are being offered treats and loads of praise. I have met my fair share of dogs who dislike having their feet touched. When dogs come to me for board and training there are times where I may have to lift a paw to check for thorns or bruises. I am always very cautious in doing so as some dogs hate having their feet touched especially from a stranger. But why is that?

According to veterinarian Dr. Patty Khuly, despite the fact that Rover's feet are pretty tough, they are packed with sensitive nerve endings. And why are there several nerve endings there? Because dogs rely on their feet so much and they need to be aware of any pressure that may cause serious injuries. Your dog therefore will put less weight on the leg if he feels there's an embedded piece of glass. Injury to the feet from am evolutionary survival standpoint could put any animal in a potentially dangerous situation where they may have a hard time hunting, running from predators and fending for themselves! It is thanks to the abundance of nerve endings in dog feet that vets during a neurological evaluation test pain perception by using a hemostat to pinch a toe.

3. Unpleasant Past Experiences

OK, so your dog will hold still well...until you start clipping. Your dog may start resenting being restrained once he realizes that the nail clip takes place right after being restrained.

Why do dogs hate nail trims? There are several possibilities as we have seen above. One of them is an unpleasant negative experience. You or somebody else may have cut the quick causing pain. A groomer may have been rough in handling your dog. Your dog may not feel comfortable being handled by strangers. Once a negative experience happens, your dog may remember the event as negative, and dread nail trims from that day forward.

Many dogs hate the clipping noise.

Many dogs hate the clipping noise.

4. That Terrible Clipping Noise

Some dogs will flinch when they hear the clipping sound. It may because they have associated it to a negative experience. For instance, if in the past you have cut the quick and your dog heard the clipping sound just before it, your dog will dread that noise as well.

Just as in clicker training, when the clicker become a bridging stimulus between the behavior (the click and the treat), the nail clipper can become a bridging stimulus between the clipping sound, the clip and the pain. In sensitive dogs, just the general unpleasantness of the nail trim is sufficient to make him dread the noise.

The conditioned emotional response in dogs who are clicker training is likely anticipation and eagerness, whereas, in dogs who dreads nail trims, the conditioned emotional response involves negative connotations such as fear, stress and anxiety.

Certified applied animal behaviorist Patricia McConnell in her article "Nail Wars" states that this can be very possible. She claims "After all a ‘click’ is extremely effective at getting a dog’s attention. A clicking sound has an instant onset, abrupt escalation from no power to full power, and a full range of frequencies (the better to light up more acoustic receptor neurons), and few sounds are better at getting at becoming meaningful to a mammal."

Interestingly, McConnell further reports about dogs who dreaded nail trims all their lives became more tolerant once they went deaf. She also reports how the same thing happened with her dog Pippy after switching to a grinder. After all, we humans behave the same. Raise your hand if you had a negative dental procedure once and when you hear the dentist's drill you now get anxious.

And a negative experience isn't really always necessary, you can fear the dentist simply because you are anxious by nature and dread having little control over certain situations!

As I think about these great changes when switching from a clipper to a grinder, a dog-training phenomenon comes to mind. In dog training, we trainers know how we must sometimes change a cue because it has become a poisoned cue.

For instance, if we have used the word "come" to only give the dog a bath (something the dog dreads) or some sort of negative experience, the dog will become more and more reluctant to come because he has associated the word come with a negative experience. The cue "come" has therefore become poisoned.

What do trainers recommend in this case? Of course, they won't tell you to stop calling your dog, and it may be hard work to to change the emotions about the word once negative associations have established. So they'll likely tell you to start from scratch, and no longer use the word "come" to call your dog, but to use a whole different word that is going to assume positive associations. So the owners will likely say "here!" and give loads of treats and praise and the dog will soon be on his way to enthusiastically start running every time he is called.

In such a matter, it could be very possible that dogs have associated the clipping noise with the unpleasantness with the clipping procedure, but once the owners have started using a grinder and making the process more pleasant, the dog started to become much more cooperative and tolerant.

Does your dog hide when it's time for his nail trim?

Does your dog hide when it's time for his nail trim?

Start Them Early

Dogs have many good reasons to dread nail trims, and it can be a combination of all the above. To prevent this issue, make sure you get your puppy habituated from an early age to being handled, getting his feet touched and enjoying nail trims through desensitization and counterconditioning.

Further reading

  • Dog Training: Understanding Poisoned Cues
    Learn about dog poisoned cues and how to deal with them before they start becoming a problem. Tips and strategies to get your obedient dog back on track.
  • Causes of Lumps on Dog Paw Pads
    Wondering what may cause unusual lumps and bumps on a dog's paw pad? Learn possible causes for why your dog has lump on paw pad and why it's so important to see the vet.
  • How to Make a Dog's Nail Quick Recede
    When you allow Rover's nails to grow too long, the quick grows along with the nail. Be careful when you decide to trim those nails and let the quick recede. Ask your groomer of vet for help!

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.


Adrienne Farricelli (author) on September 08, 2014:

Letting them walk and play on hard surfaces can help get those nails trimmed down nicely. I say long nails can be a sign of dogs who aren't exercised much, and if they are, they do so mostly on soft surfaces such as grass/carpet. There seem to be however dogs who just grow nails at a faster rate. I never saw my dog's nails grow long until she got a torn ACL and had to stay on a strict low-exercise regimen. That's the first time, I had to file them down.

Mona Sabalones Gonzalez from Philippines on September 08, 2014:

Interesting to know that dogs feet are very sensitive and have a lot of nerves. One of my dogs, Winniechurchill hates having her paws touched. And all three of them hate trimming their nails. So, we don't trim them.

stella vadakin from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619 on September 06, 2014:

Makes sense, my husband nipped Trixie's paw, now I am the only one that can cut the nails. Nice article.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on September 05, 2014:

The dog I once had did have nail trims and that was uncomfortable. Another helpful hub from you about dogs.