A Matter of Trust

With each new dog we’ve adopted, I’ve slowly gotten them used to having their nails trimmed by holding their paw. Praising them. Releasing the paw. Giving them a treat. And then, repeating the process again and again, until they look forward to me holding the paw.

Once they are comfortable with me holding their paw, I move on to touching the clippers to a nail. Praise. Release. Treat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

The next step is trimming one nail. Praise. Release. Treat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

I gradually increase the number of nails on each paw that I trim before praising, releasing, treating, and repeating.

Finally, I trim one entire paw. Praise. Release. Treat. Repeat the process with the next paw…

You get the idea.

Although it sounds tedious, and a bit like a Dr. Seuss tale, (One nail. Two nails. Three nails. Four.), it’s well worth the rewards. Over time, I’ve actually gotten Leah & Toby to enjoy nail trims, and our 2 cats tolerate them fairly well. (I don’t have to drag them out from under furniture like I used to.) But while Toby and Leah run over and flop happily on their sides, lying patiently while I manipulate their paws to get a better view of the quick before cutting, Meadow has never been thrilled with the idea.

There were a few occasions a while back where she actually laid down for me to do her feet, and several occasions where she sat while I did her front feet, but she was really on edge and hasn’t done so in a long time. She prefers to stand, which makes it difficult to cut her nails safely, (I have to flip each paw upside down to see better, much like picking a horses hoof), and I’m always afraid I’ll hit the quick, and she’ll never trust me again. So I take very little off her nails each trim, and in response to my cautiousness, Meadow has grown more comfortable with the routine…

And finally, after months of working with her – Meadow lay down while I did all four of her feet the last time I trimmed them – and even seemed quite relaxed, as if she was at the Spa! I was so proud and we were on such a roll…

“Good girl Meadow,” I exclaimed. “Two more paws to go!” Snip. Snip. Snip. “Good job – we’re nearly there!” Snip. Snip. Snip. “Good girl – just one more nail and we’re all done!”

And then…when I was on the very last claw on the very last paw…


“Yipe!!” Meadow cried out in both pain and surprise. She leapt to her feet, dashed across the room, and shot me her most horrified expression.

Needless to say, I was devastated.

Luckily, upon examination, I did not actually nick the quick. Not only was that good news for Meadow, it was good for me because blood makes me a bit lightheaded. But I could see the pink, which means I got way too close. I tried to end the experience on a positive note, by touching the clippers to her front nails, praising, and treating, but she looked tense and I stopped after a few tries.

Perhaps I was rushing. Perhaps I was too proud. Perhaps the quick had not receded enough since our last trim, and it would have happened regardless. In either case, I’m heartbroken that I hurt and frightened her, and praying she will trust me again next time I drag out the clippers. Luckily, I was granted a short reprieve, since my vet cut Meadow’s nails way back during her surgery, but I know within a few weeks, it will be clipping time again. In the meantime, I have started over again. Hold her paw. Praise. Release. Treat. I hope by the time her nails are ready to be trimmed again, the incident will be forgotten, but only time will tell…

Have you ever worked really hard to desensitize your dog to something, only to have the whole thing blow up in your face?


Want to adopt a dog of your own who doesn’t mind having his feet handled? Have you heard about Simon?

Check out THIS POST and THIS POST and THIS POST - and while you’re there, please give him a share.





18 Responses so far.

  1. Jodi says:

    Poor Meadow, poor you.

    Hubby always used to cut Sampson’s nails but he had some very close to the surface quicks. :-( There was one time where he bled really badly and we both felt so awful!

    So I took over the duties and even those his nails are light colored, his quick is usually pretty close to the surface. I actually stopped cutting his back paws because there is one nail that no matter how I cut it, it makes him bleed. :-( Sweet boy that he is, he still trusts me to cut them. It’s far easier for me though to let Sara cut them.

    Less stress on me. :-)

    • Donna says:

      I like to do my own dog’s nails not only to save money, but also because I believe Leah and Meadow would be more stressed having someone else do them. Toby would let anyone do them, but he’s so easy (light nails like Sampson too) that I just do them myself. Leah’s are the worst, they are always long, and they are very dark. But I only take off the tips, so I haven’t gotten her yet. Off to go knock on wood now. :-)

  2. jan says:

    I hope she forgets but dog memory is so strange. They can remember some things for years and forget other things in five minutes.

  3. Leslie says:

    Oh Donna, I’m so sorry for you and Meadow. What a frustration and, I’m sure in your eyes, a disappointment. I can tell you from my own experience though, that I don’t think the original work you put in with her will go away entirely. It might set you back a little bit but you’ve built a trust that isn’t going to be blown away by one incident. At least, I don’t think so. Bella has proven to me time and again that the patience we put in to teaching her something is rewarded by her resilience to unexpected events. Back up a few steps and go again. I don’t think you’ll have to wait as long to get as far this time.

    • Donna says:

      Thanks for sharing your experience Leslie. It’s good to hear that Bella is growing resilient to unexpected events due to your hard work. It’s tough to make a mistake and experience a setback. I have backed up a few steps, but it’s going to take me time to get the nerve to do those nails again – even if Meadow is game. :-)

  4. Pamela says:

    I quicked Honey for the first time recently. After her initial yelp, she was a real trooper. And she doesn’t seem to hold it against me. I, however, still feel awful and am waiting for my husband to do the next trimming.

    He doesn’t appear to be stepping up so I guess I’d better strap on some cojones.

    Probably the most disturbing episode of the Dog Whisperer I ever saw had a small dog who hated having his nails trimmed. Cesar held him down for a long time while he struggled and struggled. I kept shouting at the screen, “just get some peanut butter!”

    Luckily you’ve built up a big bank of trust with Meadow. I know this last incident didn’t clear out all your deposits.

    • Donna says:

      So, is the Dog Whisperer why you gave up cable? Ugh. That show is just awful. I don’t understand why so many people think his methods are okay. :-(

  5. Teri says:

    I agree that Meadow should recover fine from this. It’s frustrating when we work so hard and then somehow sabatoge that progress! We had a “fun” (rolling my eyes) time with Stella’s nails as well but she is pretty good with them now. http://lifewithrileystella.blogspot.ca/2011/10/mani-pedi-time.html

  6. Basil says:

    It’s horrid when things like that happen, typist is having a very similar experience at the moment! Sounds like you are doing an amazing job though!!

  7. Kristine says:

    Yuck. I am sorry that happened. I am sure Meadow will recover quickly and regain her trust in you much faster this time than she did before. Good on you for taking your time with her in the first place. Not everyone would be as patient. I am not sure I would be!

    I did have a similar experience a long time ago while working on desentizing Shiva to me grabbing her collar – an important thing for emergencies. Everything was going well until one time I went a little too fast and grabbed it a little to hard, she gave me this freaked out look and wouldn’t let me grab it again, not even for treats. It took a while to gain her trust again but I did and she has been fine since. I am sure Meadow will be too.

    • Donna says:

      I’m glad you were able to overcome that with Shiva. One of my trainers taught that as well, and I think the collar grab is a great thing to teach your dog for emergencies.

  8. Poor Meadow and poor you. Nail clipping can be stressful if you can’t see well. We clip all of our dogs nails. Well hubby does the dogs and I do the cat. I have the easier job because her nails are not hard. Thunder’s nails are big and hard. He does not enjoy nail clipping because I think the clipper squeezes the nails even though we have it sharpened regularly. Treats help. :)

    • Donna says:

      Great that you and hubby have a team effort. I do all five of them around here. Leah has nails sound a lot like thunders. But she is patient about it, so that helps a lot.

      P.S. – somehow I missed a hole string of comments from you, and they all popped up today – so sorry I took so long in replying to them all. Computes baffle me sometimes!

  9. Oh dear,

    Sorry for Meadow and you after all your hard work!! Mum started the whole nail trimming thing with me when I was a pup, her method wasn’t as good as yours, and I’m pretty sure there weren’t as many treats – doh!!

    However, luckily for both of us once I started running with her every day it became unnecessary to trim my nails as they never get long enough now – phew!!

    Good luck with the next session,

    Your pal Snoopy :)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>