Have you ever experienced walking in shoes that were just a tad too small, or forgotten to clip your toenails (I know, gross) and had to wear your shoes which felt quite uncomfortable? Well, that’s kind of what it’s like for dogs to walk on overgrown nails!
Today’s blog post explains why it’s important to maintain your dog’s nails, what tools to use, and how to use them. If your dog’s nails can use a bit of improvement, keep on reading!
Why you should keep your dog’s nails short
Before people lived in modern homes, dogs used to roam around freely. Dogs were actually bred and kept to help us with certain tasks. You can think, for example, of herding, hunting, and tasks around the farm.
And even before that, just like wolves, dogs were animals that roamed freely in nature all day.
This means that their body was used to walk on soft textures such as dead leaves, grass, and sand. Longer nails were useful in walking and climbing and didn’t cause the discomfort they do these days.
Now concrete pavements, roads, and hard floorings in your home, are perfect for us but are very different from what animals are used to, and dogs have to adapt to this different and more solid surface.
Since their nails can no longer dig into the softer texture that nature designed for them to walk on, it’s important to keep their nails shorter in order for them to remain comfortable and to prevent potential damage in the long run.
Importance of nail maintenance in balance
A dog’s paw pads are very important in balancing whilst running or whilst walking on smooth surfaces. These pads are supposed to make contact with the ground in order for the dog’s brain to figure out where the horizon lies, and whether or not the body is standing upright, so to say.
If a dog’s nails grow longer, they touch the ground. As a result, the pads don’t make (full) contact with the floor. This is mainly an issue with dogs that perform in sports such as agility and flyball, but it can also influence older dogs or individuals with joint issues.
Additionally, overgrown nails can cause an odd positioning of the toes. The toes are flattened out instead of curved as they are supposed to. In the long run, this influences bone growth, especially during puppyhood.
Now when we first acquired Mojo we knew a lot about health and behaviour, but we had never researched nail maintenance. When Mojo was roughly 10 months old someone politely shared their opinion on Mojo’s nail length.
After a bit of research in a super helpful Facebook group dedicated to nail maintenance for dogs, we decided we had to make a change and put in the effort to shorten her nails (or rahter claws, because that’s what they were at that point).
As you can see in the pictures above, Mojo’s nails were quite long. Her feet actually pointed outward as a result, and her nails clicked on the floor as she walked through our dorm room.
Now that Mojo’s nails are shorter, her paws don’t point out as much as they used to, and the house is nice and quiet.
The picture below shows what Mojo’s nails look like after having had no nail trim for 3 weeks. Although she gets plenty exercise, her nails don’t wear down from that whatsoever. If your dog’s nails look like this, he’s in desperate need of a pedicure!
Nail maintenance for other species
Now most of you might not know this, but we also own two cockatiels. Birds also have claws that continue growing throughout their life. In nature, they would climb trees but in pet homes, they often don’t move around as much.
As a result, their nails tend to overgrow, which influences the position of the their toes. The pictures below show the difference in foot placement on a flat surface after a nail trim session.
Getting your dog used to nail maintenance
When we first bought nail clippers we quickly realized that Mojo was extremely uncomfortable when we tried to handle her paws. We realized that we couldn’t simply start clipping her nails, as she would become extremely fearful.
We did not want to force Mojo into doing something that she didn’t feel comfortable with, so we took our time to ease her into the process.
Owning a dog that was scared of us touching her feet, has taught us a few things. We now know, that it’s clever to introduce paw handling as soon as a dog arrives to your home.
If a pup gets used to you touching and fiddling with their paws, and gently playing with their nails, introducing nail maintenance will be much easier.
It’s a step by step process
If your dog is scared of having their paws messed with, we’d suggest to do the following.
Once or twice a day, sit down next to your dog whilst they chill on their bed or the sofa, and bring a number of small treats. As treats, we suggest using single ingredient meat based treats, which you can even easily make at home in a size of your preference.
Teach them the paw command if they don’t already know it, and reward your dog as soon as their paw touches your hand. Every day, you increase the reward interval, meaning that your dog’s paw has to rest in your hand longer and longer each day.
We did this for two weeks or so, until we could actually close our hand around Mojo’s paw and hold it for 30 seconds without any stress signals (such as tongue flicking or yawning) or without her trying to pull her paw away from us.
From here, you can slowly introduce soft squeezing, as well as gentle fidgeting with the individual toes.
As soon as your dog shows any discomfort, it’s time to take a step back. Don’t overflow your dog with this, take all the time you and your dog need!
Introducing the tools to your dog
Although it might now seem that your dog is ready for anything, approaching their paw with a tool in hand might cause a stressful situation. Hence it’s important to introduce these tools slowly as well.
First, let your dog sniff the clippers or file and reward them for approaching the tool.
Then, ask for a paw command whilst holding the tool in the hand they are touching.
If your dog is OK with all of this, fiddle with the dog’s toes whilst the nail file is near. Slowly approach the paw with the tool and reward before the dog shows stress signals.
Now, for every dog this is a different process. Some dogs can do this within a few days, but for some it may take weeks, or months even!
If you would need more help on this matter, feel free to send us an email or to leave a comment below!
Which tool(s) to use
There are a few tools that can be used, and I will explain the pros and cons before explaining what tool we use and how we use it.
Nail clippers are the most common tool used to shorten a dog’s nail. Oftentimes they are not sharp enough and putting pressure often feels uncomfortable. Along with that, if you’re inexperienced, it’s quite easy to hurt the dog and this will put you a step back in your process.
We don’t use nail clippers because Mojo feels extremely uncomfortable when we do. If you want to learn about nail clippers, join Nail Maintenance for Dogs on Facebook and you can find all the information you need!
Another tool often used to maintain a dog’s nails is the dremel. It’s an electric tool that has a rotating attachment. The attachment that can be used for your dog’s nails looks like sandpaper or stone, and has an abrasive surface. It’s basically a sander.
It works like a charm, but the noise and vibrations can be a bit overwhelming to dogs that tend to be nervous around sounds or electric tools.
Make your own dog nail file
We personally choose to use a handheld nail file. This is cheaper, and doesn’t involve electricity so it’s great to use on the road. It’s also ideal for dogs that are sensitive to noises.
Although there are fairly durable nail files on the market, we can’t find examples that last us a while because the abrasive surface wears off with a few nail filing sessions. Their nails are quite tough!
We hence buy a few cheap nail files and wrap those in 100 grit sandpaper, securing it with some tape. This is extremely inexpensive and the nail file used as a base can be used for a very long time.
How to use a nail file to shorten your dog’s nails
Usually, dog nails are shortened with a clipper, by taking off the pointy tip of each nail. This temporarily shortens the nail but doesn’t decrease nail length permanently.
The inside of a dog’s nail is live tissue, which keeps growing as long as it’s protected by the hard horn layer.
With our nail file, we remove the outer layer around this live tissue all the way around the tip of each nail. By doing this every few days, the live tissue will slowly recede, and the nails will shorten over time.
This can also be done with sharp nail clippers, as long as small slivers are taken off bit by bit.
It’s quite difficult to explain this in written text, so we suggest to watch the following video to get a better idea of what we’re talking about.
We hope that this blog post made you understand the importance of nail maintenance for our four legged friends. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask us below, we’re happy to help!