If you have a dog, you are well aware that they have a number of grooming requirements. One of them is making sure their nails are always the proper length. Almost every dog owner has had to trim their dog’s nails at some point.
If you can do this on your own at home, you’re lucky. Many dogs dislike having their nails trimmed. This often raises the question on whether this procedure actually hurts them. Have you ever wondered whether your dog can feel their nails?
Signs Dogs Feel Their Nails
How trimming your dog’s nails will go depends on a number of factors. Some dogs are anxious about it because they are not used to it. Some might be in pain because their nails are overgrown. If your dog dislikes trimming or feels pain because of their nails, here are some signs to look for:
Growling – A dog that is in pain because of their nails (common causes include overgrown, curled, or split nails) might start growling at you if you touch their paws. They might also start whining or barking if you accidently cut their nails too short. Their nails have a nerve and vein (called a quick), which, if clipped, causes tremendous pain and even bleeding.
Whining – A dog that’s anxious about trimming nails might start whining in hopes that you stop with the trimming. They will whine if they are in pain, for instance, from clipping the quick.
Panting – Although many associate panting in dogs with them cooling down, it’s also a sign of stress.
Chewing – Your dog might start licking and chewing on their nails if they cause them pain. Overgrown nails are often painful.
History of Dogs Feeling Their Nails
Dogs have robust and hard nails. If you carefully look at your dog’s paws, you will notice that one of their nails is quite a bit further up on the side of the foot, and it never touches the ground. This is called a dewclaw. Usually, these claws can be found on the front paws of your canine friend, but some breeds, like the Great Pyrenees, have them on their hind legs too. These are remnants that were functional once and used by their ancestors.
Because their ancestors were hunters, they were very well equipped for the hunt: a long tail for balance, sharp claws to catch prey, and strong bite force to finish off the prey. The early canine ancestors were actually more of a cat-like creature and could climb trees, so having five toes was advantageous. As time went by, the ancestral line evolved into the cynodictus, which preferred the ground. Each generation became more and more adapted to their preferred way of hunting: in packs.
Since they didn’t use claws anymore in catching prey, their functionality changed considerably. Today, they are fixed in place and can’t be retracted, and they are harder and usually quite short. Still, they can overgrow and cause problems, which happens if the dog is not using hard terrain that wears them down naturally.
Science of Dogs Feeling Their Nails
Ignoring your dog’s nails isn’t an answer, as it’s important that they are trimmed regularly since overgrown nails can cause quite a number of issues.
With overgrown nails that touch the ground, your dog will immediately assume they are standing on a hill. This is basic evolutionary programming: if the nails touch the ground, there must be a hill. This will cause them to adjust their stance to the “hill.” Their front legs will be behind, perpendicular.
Because there’s no hill, they risk falling down face-first, so their hind legs help avoid that by coming under them. Prolonged change in stance can cause stress on their joints, especially their hips and hind legs, which leads to serious issues. There’s nothing you can do to stop this change in stance except make sure their nails don’t touch the ground.
Their feet can also become very painful because every time your dog makes contact with a hard surface, the nail is pushed into the nailbed. This pressure goes all the way to the toe joint. Over time, this causes inflammation, arthritis and realignment of the joints—all very painful conditions.
All of these are also the main source of the issue of why dogs dislike having their nails trimmed. Oftentimes, the nails aren’t trimmed regularly, meaning the dog is experiencing pain and wishes to avoid any contact with the paws. This can make trimming a real nightmare.
Training Dogs Who Feel Their Nails
If your pooch is one of those dogs that really dislike nail trimming, there are ways to make this easier for both you and your dog. As with everything else, the trick is to use positive reinforcement. If your dog had negative experiences with nail trimming before, this process can be quite slow, but persistence is key here.
In order to make trimming less stressful, here’s what you can do:
Get your dog used to touching their feet – if you have a new puppy, make sure they feel safe and relaxed when you touch their feet. Having plenty of treats at the start helps along with positive reinforcement.
Desensitize a dog that is anxious about trimming nails – a dog with previous negative experiences might be very anxious. You can help them overcome this by getting them used to you touching their feet. Start with just that. Once they are used to it, the next step is to squeeze their nails as you would when trimming them. They will quickly realize that nothing bad happened when you touched their nails, so it will be easier to trim once they need it.
By Charlotte Ratcliffe
Published: 06/29/2018, edited: 04/06/2020