I have for a while wanted to write an article on this subject and we have a great little dog in here at the moment for rehab that prompted me to get right to it.
He is a Kelpie X and has a lot of character, no really he is a cool guy, I really do like him.
He is here to help with his dog aggression, but we noticed on initial inspection that his nails are some of the worst we have seen.
At least 2 vets have said that they will not cause him any issues, but that simply is not true.
He has been taken to the vets to have his nails clipped and he exploded and would not tolerate it. This can happen when nails are very long, they cause pain in the toes, feet, legs and into the dogs shoulders and back.
A decision was made to fit a muzzle, and this also ended in a fight.
This had resulted in the muzzle being associated with a fight, nails and pain and now trying to fit a muzzle was met with the most energetic, aggressive display he could muster.
This had transitioned into a rehearsed behaviour for this guy, so, when we went to fit the muzzle, he would react hard core instantly and the moment you stopped he was happy.
Now, I want to make absolutely clear that I don’t have a problem with a dog wearing a muzzle during vet work, vets, like us, work with their hands and just cannot risk being bitten, so if a policy came in where every dog wore a muzzle during vet treatment, I for one would not oppose that.
When this fellow was highly stressed, and the muzzle was presented and he delivered an explosive response, in this case at least (hindsight), it would have been better to sedate him, or postpone the nail trimming until he had been muzzle conditioned.
This event made him incredibly resilient and aggressive to muzzle fitting and he would fight hard and bite if you tried, he would not give in or just accept it, but go as hard as he could for as long as you would try.
He is 7 years old and his age and the stress must be considered if you were going to persist and force the issue.
We wanted to reset this association he had with the muzzle because as he approaches being a senior, he may need to see a vet from time to time and sedating him every time may be a health risk.
We also needed to get to those nails and whilst we could trim them to the nerve ending (quick), as the quick regressed we would need to trim a number of times, and keep them trimmed for his overall well being.
We have gone through a process of conditioning him to a platform to create an expectation and association of reward. We moved to having the muzzle on the platform through what seemed like a million steps with him wearing the muzzle and being relaxed with it.
Then we could start to touch feet, lift legs, touch nails and show clippers.
Another million steps and we got a nail clip without a fight.
This progressed to all nails clipped and cleaned with the Dremel without any concerns from him!!!
Given the nail condition and some sore points in his back, we had our Osteopath Sam come and give him some treatment.
This previously would have been impossible as he would fight off any treatment or approach.
This fellow had some tight spots in his back and of course the toes needed some massage and work.
Even through some deep tissue massage there was not a sound, snap, growl, or any negative reaction from him.
The treatment session lasted around 45 minutes and he was perfect throughout the whole session.
When finished he strutted around the room like a new man!
Pain free, feeling fresh and free.
Muzzles are often thought of as a sign of an aggressive dog, that is like suggesting that a crash helmet is a sign of a bad motorcycle rider or a seat belt means your going have a crash.
Teaching your dog or puppy to wear a muzzle and associating the muzzle with good things, such as food, a walk etc. can future prepare your dog if you need to use a muzzle in a situation that requires one.
Trying to get a muzzle on a stressed dog and then clipping nails, examining a wound etc. is not the best practice. Whilst with some dogs you may get away with it, this does not mean you should.
With other dogs, it can drive them into learning extremely aggressive behaviours.
It took a LOT of time and countless steps and repetitions to desensitise and counter condition the muzzle, then being touched, then the feet and finally nails and trimming.
This can often be avoided by taking these steps, one at a time. Less stress for you and your dog and your vet.
Of course I am aware that this is not possible in all cases, dogs going to vet for urgent care may not be able to go this route.
A little on nails
When we breed puppies, we trim their nails regularly as the tips of them can be very sharp and scratch and irritate their mum during feeding.
We encourage owners to trim regularly with loads of food thrown into the mix. Taking your time, being patient and helping your puppy learn to enjoy the pampering.
Dog nails are easily forgotten, but they can be a source of discomfort for dogs and can result in pain that can resonate through the toes and up to the shoulder and back in some cases.
Some dogs never need their nails trimmed, usually something to do with the surfaces they are on, activity levels etc. and some need them trimmed quite often (2 – 4 weeks).
If you can hear your dogs nails tapping on hard floors as they walk, they are likely too long. We do not want nails in contact with the ground when walking.
There are various tools to trim nails, clippers, clippers with limiters that limit how much you can take off per clip, guillotine style, dremel sanding tools and the list goes on.
Most dogs will be able to learn to relax with enough patience and commitment from you regardless of tools.
I prefer to clip them as I am old school, then dremel edges and I think this gives the best overall result.
These are some of the ways we can help when dogs come for rehab with us. Dedicated and caring owners bring their dogs to us to get their behaviour and sometimes health, weight, structure etc. all on track.