If you struggle with trimming your dog’s nails for any reason, it’s worth making a doggy nail file and teaching your dog to use it. Clipping or dremeling (grinding) your dog’s nails might be the fastest method, but it can be stressful for your dog, not to mention scary for you if you’re afraid of going too far and hurting your dog. Teaching your dog to scratch at an abrasive surface is easy, fun, and best of all, free of fear and restraint. Your dog is in control of how fast and hard they scratch, though you can selectively reinforce for more powerful scratches. All dogs have different nails, and this method may not work for everyone. If your dog has soft, light colored nails, it should work great. If they have dark, hard nails, it’ll still work, but it will take longer. Size-wise, if you have a small dog, in my experience, they learn to “dig” at the board very easily, making it a quick process (see the videos below with Pinot). Bigger dogs may only be able to scratch with one paw at a time, making it a little more time consuming. I use two different kinds of boards to target all sides of the nails. You probably won’t be able to get dew claws or hind paws with a nail board, unless your dog is extra-super-talented. I spent about a year, off and on, trying to teach Pinot to scratch the board with his hind feet, to no avail. That said, in my experience, hind toenails generally require fewer trims.
At the end of the day, using a scratch board is a no-brainer. If nothing else, you either have fewer nails to clip (win!) or you can extend the time between nail trims (win!).
This is my regular scratch board. It’s an old piece of wood panelling, with a 3M stair tread stuck on either side of it. You can find these self-adhesive stair treads at your local home improvement store or order them online. You can also find rolls of the same material that you can cut to size. I find that the stair treads last longer than the roll. For the first nail file I made, I used regular sandpaper, which absolutely works, but is prone to tearing and doesn’t last long. The stair tread material is VERY durable! I used duct tape on the ends of the board so it wouldn’t scratch the floor if I used it inside.
I’ve had this one for a few years, and it’s starting to lose its grit, so I mostly use it to teach dogs to scratch, and to smooth my dogs’ nails.
This is my newer curved nail file. It’s a Halloween-themed plastic bucket that I got from the grocery store. I cut it in half, covered all the cut edges with duct tape (what would we do without duct tape?), and lined the inside of the bucket with the stair tread material. I cut a few notches out of the stair tread, so it would lay flat inside the curve. The curve is helpful because it allows your dog to make contact with their outside nails as well as their middle toes. You could use a large cardboard tube, large diameter PVC, or any big, round container, cut to size. I’ve also used flexible cutting boards/mats before, which was handy because it could lay flat on the ground, or I could hold it up in a curved shape. Be creative! It doesn’t have to be pretty…your dog won’t mind.
See, it’s not pretty, but it’ll get the job done! Since the grit will wear down eventually, I tend not to invest too much time, energy, or money into making the nail file look good. It will have to be replaced with some regularity anyway!
Here is a collection of videos:
You can use shaping to teach your dog to scratch the file, by selectively reinforcing interaction with the file. If your dog is nervous or unfamiliar with shaping, I would use a flat board, and start by hiding a treat under the board. Choose a spot where you won’t mind your dog scratching *around* the board–a sidewalk is ideal. Lay the board flat on the ground, then tuck a treat or two under the board (let your dog see you do this!). Your dog will likely start to paw at the edges of the board. Mark and reward any interaction! As your dog understands the game, you can start to lift the board bit by bit, so it’s at a better angle for scratching. If you need more help, feel free to email me!