The Importance of Proper Nail Grooming to Dogs
© copyright ‐ Tia Resleure, Houndstooth & Nail
Overgrown nails cause a dog’s toes to splay, adversely affecting their gait, and can contribute to leg breaks in fragile‐boned breeds like Italian Greyhounds. Irregular attention to nails can lead to permanent conformation problems, early arthritis and in some cases, serious crippling.
Trimming nails with clippers tends to remove too much nail (causing pain and bleeding) or not enough nail. Sharp nail edges can scratch your skin and snag your clothing. Long sharp nails are more likely to get caught on things and rip the nail from the dog’s foot.
Show folk have long been aware of the superiority of using a grinder on nails. Well groomed nails are a typical part of presenting your dog nicely to a judge and the public. Grinding one to three times a week rather than clipping every two or three weeks will give your IG the best feet and leg health.
Admirers of Italian Greyhounds, as a rule, tend to be quite an intelligent lot. There’s no reason why they can’t learn to use an electric grinder. Some people might think they can avoid learning this because they intend to take their dog to a groomer to have the nails done. Going to a groomer 1‐2 times weekly is inconvenient and costly! If you are terribly timid about using a grinder you can use the hand file with this takes much more time. Your responsible breeder or rescue rep will make sure that you are comfortable with using an electric grinder before leaving you to your own devices.
Dogs from knowledgeable, experienced breeders and rescue groups will have already had some training to accept nail grinding. If your dog is from another source you will need to teach the dog yourself or work with a trainer. You must be calm and patient and careful not to inadvertently encourage struggling and fussing by crooning to the dog that it’s “okaaaay” to be fussy, difficult or scared. Set a goal of at least two matching nails at a time (do not interfere with the dogs balance) and don’t give up or you will be teaching the dog that being a brat is effective in making you back off. Praise the dog when he is cooperative only, otherwise just tell him to knock it off and quit being silly.
Overgrown nails, forcing the dog to rock back on his foot and carry his rear legs much farther forward under his body, than normal.
Overgrown nails forcing the dog to rock back on his foot and ﬂattening the spring in his toes.
Same dog as above, after a couple days of daily, aggressive, nail grinding. These nails will be made even shorter, without pain, after several more days of frequent grinding.
You will want to do frequent and regular grooming of your IG’s nails for their optimum health and safety. Nails should be groomed before they look overgrown. If you hear them clicking on the floor they need to be shortened. This could be as often as every other day but at least once a week. The reason we don’t recommended regular trimmers or clippers is because you actually need to allow the nails to overgrow before you can use them safely.
Overgrown “quicks” (the vein inside the toenails): Overgrown quicks can be made to recede without causing pain by carefully grinding the nails daily until they are at an acceptable length and then as often as needed to maintain that length.
The important thing to remember when grinding nails is to use short strokes and keep the grinder moving from nail to nail, going back to nails that aren’t short enough, so the nails don’t heat up. Discomfort from heat is more noticeable to the dog than causing a speck of blood on a cooler nail. Most dogs will have no reaction to lightly hitting the quick, so long as the nail isn’t allowed to overheat. This makes grooming even black nails a breeze! In case you do accidentally nick a vein, have styptic gel or powder on hand. (I recently switched to Kwik Stop Gel Formula and find it more effective and less messy than styptic powder.)
How short? Nails should no clear the floor when the dog is standing. If you hear clicking when the dog walks you should try to get the nails shorter. Because IGs have a “hare foot” the nails and quicks are more inclined to grow out and long. You don’t need to be concerned that you are ruining a dog’s natural hare foot by making the nails too short: “hare feet” and “cat feet” are dis by the shape of the foot, not by the length of the nail.
This dog’s nails certainly look like they need grooming now. The nails hit the ﬂoor while standing and tick on the ﬂoor while walking. To maintain nails at a healthy length you will want to grind them BEFORE they look like they need grooming.
Tip: practice on a small piece of wood until you feel comfortable with the tool. Pay attention to the direction that the tool’s tip is spinning. You will quickly discover which ways you can hold the tool against the wood so the tool (and nail) doesn’t jump.
The Dremel Lithium Ion Cordless, available at hardware and craft stores, is my favorite tool for nail grooming. Here I am demonstrating that you need to hold the Dremel very close to the sanding drum so your thumb is clearly longer than the tool. The release button is away from the palm of your hand so you don’t accidentally hit it.
The thumb of the hand holding the tool must ALWAYS be braced against the hand holding the paw, or against the paw itself. The nail you are working on should always be held between your other thumb and foreﬁnger. This is necessary to maintain the greatest level of control and stability.
I prefer to work with the ﬁne (120 grit) sanding drum unless I’m doing a large dog with long nails. I use the tool at #2 setting which is approximately 7,000 rpm.
The sanding drum shown here is 1/2″W x 1/2″H (dremel# 407). Some people prefer to use the 1/4″W x 1/2″H sanding drum (dremel# 430) because it can initially be easier to move around the dog’s paw. I ﬁnd that the 1/4″ wide sanding drum heats up more quickly.
Practice turning your wrist/hand so that you can reach both sides of the nail and at diﬀerent angles. You will want to do position adjusting with the Dremel rather than disturbing your dog. Don’t forget to keep your thumb braced!
I like to work on nails while the dog is lying on it’s side, on my lap or next to me on a raised pillow. This is a good habit to keep if you ever wish to have an anesthesia‐free dental performed on your dog. Doing nails and brushing teeth with the dog in this passive position helps to speed the training process for an experienced canine dental hygienist.
Notice that the dog is very relaxed but I am still using the forearm of my paw holding hand to keep the dog steadily pinned by his shoulder for safety. Until your dog is trained to accept this type of handling you should have a helper to hold the dog’s neck and shoulder down for you.
Your grinding strokes should be smooth, short and conﬁdent. If you don’t use enough pressure the grinder will bounce on the nail and the dog will ﬁnd it ticklish.
Make note of the various thumb bracing positions I use.
I like to grind some nail oﬀ of each side of the nail for a prettier, tapered nail (rather like the tip of a pencil but still respecting the shape and curve of the vein). This is entirely a matter of personal preference: your primary goal should be to shorten the nail length and to leave smooth edges.
Don’t forget to keep switching the nail you are grinding so it doesn’t overheat.
Doing dew claws will initially feel a bit awkward because you need to hold it steady and away from the dog’s leg to get all sides.
Going for the bit on the underside.
On to the dew claw of the leg that is closest to your body: We’ve pulled the camera back so you can see that I’m actually turning out my elbow on the tool‐holding side.
All ﬁngers are being used to steady the paw.
Oops! Got a little nick but the dog didn’t feel it and the blood isn’t even beading up! Think of all the stressful sessions you may have had while using clippers on black nails.
Nails are now clearing the ﬂoor.
Note: Few vets are sensitive to the ﬁner points of conformation and gait and will rarely stress the importance of proper nail grooming. If your dog’s nails are even a wee bit too long and is going under anesthesia anyway for surgery, take advantage of this opportunity to ask the vet tech to cut the nails short enough to clear the ﬂoor while the dog is still under anesthesia. This is known as “quicking” the nails (meaning to cut into the vein) and you might need to repeat your request to be sure it gets done. Expect to pay for this additional service as each nail needs individual attention to stop bleeding. This will give you a new fresh start if you’ve been less than diligent.