Teach Your Dog to do his own Nails!

By Deborah Jones, Ph.

Trimming a dog’s nails, either with clippers or a grinder, can end up being a very unpleasant struggle for both owner and dog.  It’s one of the most commonly cited husbandry issues. One way to help reduce conflict over this procedure is to teach your dog how to do his own nails.  

A scratch board can be a very useful tool for teaching your dogs to shorten his own nails.  It’s a great option, especially while you are working on counterconditioning nails trims with clipper and/or grinder.  Scratch boards are fairly easy to make and fun to train.

Making a Scratch Board

Scratch boards can be flat or curved.  Flat boards are simply a piece of square flat wood and curved boards are PVC pipe that has been cut in half vertically.  The curved pipe makes it easier for your dog to shorten all nails, not just the ones in the middle.

The board is then covered with sandpaper or traction tape so that you have a gritty surface.  I use self-adhesive tape on the surface of my boards. You can glue on regular sandpaper if you wish.  

The most challenging part of making curved scratch boards is getting the PVC pipe cut in half vertically.  Find a handy friend with tools to help you with this part!

Curved Scratch Boards

Training the Scratch Board

This is the fun part!  Your goal is for your dog to scratch the gritty surface of the board with enough pressure to wear down his nails.  

If your dog has any previous experience using his paws this process will likely be easier.  Hold the scratch board at a comfortable height for your dog to reach with a paw. Holding it at a slight angle may be easier for your dog than holding it straight, but it’s fine to experiment with positioning until you find something that works.

To begin training front foot scratching, mark & treat your dog for any attempts to touch his foot to the board.  As your dog begins to get the idea then you can hold out for stronger touches and dragging his foot on the board.  Keep up a high rate of reinforcement so that your dog gets plenty of treats for effort. Our ultimate goal is for strong scratches on the boards, but don’t push for too much too soon.  Lots of short highly motivating sessions will help you get to that goal.

Here’s an early training session with Tigger:

One way to teach back foot scratching is to prop the board up against a piece of furniture (or you might start here with an operant dog).  Encourage your dog to stretch up across the board and put his front feet on the furniture with his back ones on the ground in front of the board.  By feeding your dog in a stretched forward position he will need to adjust his back feet. That’s the movement you want to mark and treat.

In this video I am using a carpeted platform to begin.  Once Star has the basics of back foot scratching I will transition this to a flat scratch board propped up in the same way.  

Many people find that scratch boards are very helpful as a way to keep their dogs nails under control.  You may find that it’s enough to use alone, or in conjunction with clipping or grinding. Give it a try; you might be surprised at how quickly your dog picks up on the idea!  

Nails are on my mind all the time these days!  

My new online class All About Nails just started yesterday.  There’s still plenty of time to jump in and get all the class material, plus observe the Gold teams and their progress over the next 6 weeks.

https://www.fenzidogsportsacademy.com/index.php/courses/19985

In addition, I will be doing a webinar also titled All About Nails on Thursday December 13 at 9 pm Eastern time.  

https://www.fenzidogsportsacademy.com/self-study/webinars