The two secret tools to trimming a dog’s nails without fuss


My dog, Gracie, has always hated getting her claws clipped. It was so bad that we only did it when she was sedated by the vet for medical emergencies.

The other day, however, she was wagging her tail while getting a manicure. I held her paw in my hand and used a grinder on one of her claws. But it took a lot of hard work to get to that point.

I’m a dog trainer, and I’ve taught Gracie to do many complicated tricks. But somehow I never thought to train a super useful trick: letting a human clip her claws. So, her front claws would get dangerously long. After hearing what happened to my friend’s dog when his claw broke (he ended up having to get toe surgery), I became fixated on figuring out how to make the whole thing a less arduous procedure.

The solutions were right in front of me all along: cat food, and a dog’s drive to dig.

The cat food claw trimming miracle

Every day I feed my cat wet food as Gracie watches on, drooling. One day, while rinsing out the can for recycling, I realized I didn’t have to waste the little bits of food that remained. I could use the cat food as a high value treat in training. I would let Gracie lick the can while I desensitized her to having her claws touched (and eventually trimmed). I feed my cat small meals several times a day, so Gracie would have short training sessions several times a day, every single day.

A grinder, which is a kind of Dremel tool, is an alternative to a claw clipper.

I started by letting her lick the can while I gently touched her paws. When she got used to that (after several days), I began to lift her paw and apply gently pressure. I would have to hold her paw firmly when I used the grinder. As long as she was paying attention to the cat food, and not my hand on her paw, I could progress to the next level, which was introducing the sound of the grinder. I started at a very low speed so the sound would be quieter. Professional dog trimming grinders have different speeds. If you use a PediPaw you can keep the grinder with the cover on, wrapped in towel to mute the sound. The food distracted her, but it also was helping create a new association: Grinders aren’t so bad. Every time it comes near me, I get cat food. 

As she became comfortable with the sound, I began to speed up the grinder. While I was holding her paw, I would touch my hand with the grinder so she could feel the vibration for a few seconds (always while she was licking the cat food can). If she showed any stress I would immediately stop, and start again next time, but go back to an easier level. From here, the next step was to touch the grinder to her claw while it was turned off. After doing this for several days, I started to use the grinder for a second or two, just a tap on a claw, and stop. Switch to another paw, and then stop.

It took several weeks to get Gracie used to the grinder, but the actual training time was only a few minutes a day. I found a way to incorporate training into my everyday activities. Instead of rinsing out the cat food can, I reach for the nail grinder and sit on the floor to work with Gracie until she licks the can clean. That takes her a minute or two.

The sandpaper solution 

After all the work I did to get Gracie used to the grinder, I discovered a way to get her to trim their own nails: a scratch board– a board covered with abrasive material that dogs love to scratch. (I followed these instructions.) Everyone said it was incredibly easy to train dogs to do it, because it’s just like a dog’s natural digging motion. I bought the abrasive “3M Safety Walk Coarse Stair Tread” tape, and before I could finish laying it down on the board, Gracie was scratching her claws on it. No treats, no training. She was having a party, trimming her own claws. I still can’t believe it. It just must feel good!

I won’t stop using the grinder, it’s more precise and it will smooth out the rough edges left by the scratch board. Also, it’s the only way to trim the dew claw. But if your dog doesn’t like having his or her claws trimmed, I suggest you try out a scratch board. Just make sure to watch your dog while he or she uses the board, and put it away when you’re not there. Otherwise, she might keep scratching it and injure herself. Apparently, nail trimming can be just that much fun.

Featured dog claw image by JTContinental.


4 Responses

  1. Giovanni Pilette

    April 27, 2013 10:03 pm

    As with all species, cats have requirements for specific dietary nutrients. Certain nutrients, including many vitamins and amino acids, are degraded by the temperatures, pressures and chemical treatments used during manufacture, and hence must be added after manufacture to avoid nutritional deficiency…

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