Trimming Toenails

If you regularly walk your dog on concrete surfaces for an hour or more a day, your shepherd may effectively file her nails down enough that they don't need trimming. However, most owners find that the healthy shepherd's toenails grow very quickly. To keep them from clicking as she walks on hard floors, you will probably need to trim the dog's nails every two weeks.

If your shepherd is relatively tolerant of new sounds and smells, consider grinding your dog's nails with an electric nail grinder. The vibrations from the grinder, as well as the resulting sound and smell, are upsetting to some dogs. The benefits to this method are that it's fast; it leaves a smooth edge on the nail; and if you hit the quick, the heat from the grinder cauterizes the wound.

The key to clipping toenails is to keep from “quicking” the nails. Each nail has a blood supply, known as the quick, that flows nearly to the end of the nail. To keep your shepherd's nails short, you need to trim the nail almost to the quick. If you trim too far and cut into the quick, it can be painful for your dog and make quite a mess. The nail will bleed profusely, and your shepherd is likely to become frightened of the trimming process.

Proper grooming is central to your dog's hygiene.

What makes it more difficult to trim the shepherd's nails, as compared to those of many other breeds, is that most shepherds' nails are black. You can't see where the quick ends as you can in a white or clear nail. To approximate where the quick ends in a nail, look carefully at the underside of the nail. You will see a differentiation between the nail closest to the toe and the tip of the nail. The point at which the nail becomes smooth (near the tip) consists of only nail and no quick. Clip the nail a little before the nail becomes rougher.

If you are looking at your shepherd's nails and just can't tell, clip off the very tip and then file the nail. Your shepherd will let you know when you approach the quick. If you hit the quick while filing, the dog will yelp before you are able to draw blood.

In addition to dark nails, the German shepherd is known to have a foot “thing.” If you don't condition your shepherd to being handled all over, including his feet, you aren't going to be able to hold his paws to cut the nails. To prevent problems, work with your puppy daily handling his feet and cutting the tiny nips of his nails.

Even if he has had his nails trimmed without any problems many times, an adolescent shepherd may decide to challenge you. You may have a docile, quiet shepherd one week and an ornery, snarling monster the next. Don't buy this bluff — cut those toenails anyway. Once you've gotten through a challenging toenail trimming, be prepared for a few more similar sessions. Continue to ignore your shepherd's challenges. Do not reprimand the dog verbally or physically, as this will only escalate the confrontation. However, you should reward your shepherd with a treat for each toe he allows you to trim without fussing.

If you are totally discouraged by your shepherd's attempts to halt toenail-trimming sessions, or if you truly believe she is dangerous, contact your veterinarian immediately. Explain the situation, have the shepherd examined for any possible physical problems, and seek professional help from a veterinary behaviorist, certified animal behaviorist, or skilled trainer.

If your shepherd becomes particularly difficult to handle, go back to the basics. Trim one toenail a day. If you get good behavior on most attempts (say eight or nine in a row), increase the number of nails you trim to two per session. Then increase this to three per session, and so on. Your shepherd will eventually return to his normal behavior.

Special Cases

If you've adopted a rescue shepherd, it is very likely he has had very little experience with toenail trimming. Introducing him to this grooming task will require a lot of time and patience. In fact, before you can even begin, you'll need to work on building your shepherd's trust so he will let you touch his feet.

You can begin by showing him the clippers and rewarding him for no reaction. Next, hold the clippers near his paw without touching the nail. If the first two steps are successful, touch each of his nails gently with the clippers. Remember to reward good behavior, and ignore any fussiness.

If you are concerned that your shepherd might react to the pain of being quicked by biting or may act aggressively to dissuade you from trimming her nails, consider muzzling her while you are working. You can also arrange for a groomer to do this chore for you.

Once you've gotten your shepherd to accept the touch of the clippers to the nail, quickly clip a tiny nubbin off the end. If he doesn't respond, reward him for allowing you to do this. Take tiny clips from just a few toenails each day, being careful not to quick him. Gradually work up to trimming one paw a day, two paws a day, and then all of his toenails at once.

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