It’s Not The Dog That Needs Training—It’s Me

We’re early in a new year. Time to set training goals for my pup. But what more can I teach my Mary Poppins dog (practically perfect in every way)?

Maybe it’s not the dog that needs training. Maybe it’s me. And the training I need is in how to trim my dog’s too long nails.

Honey the golden retriever visits dunes at Cumberland National Seashore.

Yep, we spend a lot of time together. And I know YOU need more training than I do.

My Biggest Failure

I like to think that in many ways, I am a good dog person.

I worked hard to socialize Honey from a young pup so she would feel confident and comfortable in a range of experiences.

Now that we live on a boat, I see the fruits of all that early work every day.

Honey the boat dog waits in the dinghy.

Did you ever imagine I’d be brave enough to ride in a dinghy? I sure didn’t.

But there is one way in which I am a big fat failure. And it’s all because I am squeamish. I don’t like lumps, bumps, stitches, blood, and even hangnails. And my squeamishness (heck, let’s just call it terror) keeps me from grooming Honey’s feet.

Yes, I’m afraid of cutting Honey’s toenails. Her nails are too long. And it makes life hard on her.

Long Dog Nails On A Boat

Wet surfaces are slippery. That’s why many of the walking areas of our boat are coated in non-skid coating. It keeps our feet from slipping when the deck is wet.

Unfortunately, non-skid is designed with boat shoes in mind, not dog paws.

Honey the boat dog prepares to leap off the boat at the dock.

I’m getting ready to make a big leap. I hope my feet don’t slip.

If you want to keep a dog from slipping and sliding, you need to make sure the nails don’t keep the pads from making full contact with the ground. Oh, and if you have a dog whose fur grows between her pads like a golden retriever’s, then you need to keep that fur clipped short.

In other words, when I don’t cut Honey’s nails often enough, she has trouble getting around the boat and docks without slipping.

Honey the boat dog leaps onto the Darien dock.

Okay, here goes nothing.

When we lived in a house, Honey walked on concrete every day. It wore her nails down enough that I didn’t worry too much about trimming them.

Recently, we spent nearly two weeks anchored off the shore of Charleston, South Carolina. We walked Honey across the city and back, causing her nails to file down to a more reasonable length.

But now we’re entering beach territory. And a sandy beach doesn’t wear down her nails. Time to get clipping.

Honey the golden retriever runs on the beach at Cumberland National Seashore.

Beaches are fun. But they do nothing to trim my nails.

Honey is fine with it. I’ve been handling her paws since she was a puppy. She shows absolutely no fear when getting her nails done.

But I’m a nervous wreck.

Time for a training session.

Nail Trimming School

Recently I saw on the Facebook group for people helping reactive dogs (DINOS – Dogs In Need Of Space) that dog trainer Lori Nanan was offering a class to teach trauma-free nail trimming.

I entered a contest and won a spot in the class (and no, I’m not writing this in exchange for the free class; I just found it helpful and thought you might also).

Lori had hit the quick on her dog’s nails, causing bleeding and plan. The incident scared both of them so much that Lori took her dog to the vet for trimmings for the rest of her life.

After graduating Jean Donaldson’s Dog Training Academy, Lori designed a class to teach people how to train their dogs to accept feet handling and nail trimming and even come to enjoy it. A side effect of the training is that fearful humans are also positively reinforced when they see their dogs responding to nail trimming with comfort.

And it’s that training that I need.

The school is online and breaks the steps down into small pieces. It features an interview with a veterinarian, and trainer Jean Donaldson. And it includes videos showing trainers going through the steps with their own dogs.

The only problem I had is probably not an issue for you. Lack of bandwidth from the boat made watching videos difficult until I arrived in an anchorage with strong wi-fi. And students need to makes sure ad-blocking software doesn’t prevent images from coming through.

I’m progressing through the training with Honey (who is just fine with me handling her paws, even after I’ve quicked her at least twice) to file her nails by hand. It’s a better option for us than using a clipper on a rocking boat or a dremel-type tool.

And the slow pace of the training steps and accompanying information is helping me feel more confident. I can definitely do this and get Honey’s nails under control.

Honey the boat dog walks down a steep ramp at low tide.

Well if you succeed, you’ll certainly make it easier for me to get up and down these steep ramps.

Nail Trimming Resources For You

When I reached out to Lori asking for the link to share if readers wanted to take the class on their own, she volunteered that she is offering the class at 50% off to celebrate Valentine’s Day.

Visit and enter the coupon code “VDAY2018” (without the quotation marks) from now until February 15 to get the class for half the normal $39 price.

If you’re not as freaky, scared as I am, here’s one other excellent resource to share that is absolutely free.

Jennifer of My Brown Newfies did a great post on understanding the anatomy of a dog’s nail and how to trim them even when they’re dark.

I strongly urge you to check it out if you just need a little knowledge to make your nail trimming easier.

Training Goals for 2018

So here it is. My big training goal for 2018: I will develop a regular nail care routine with Honey and start trimming those overgrown nails.

I’ve really let them go. So getting Honey’s nails to the best length for the boat might be my 2019 and 2020 training goal as well. But you’ve got to start somewhere, right?

Honey the golden retriever poses with a live oak in Gascoigne Bluffs Park.

And if you don’t meet your training goal, I guess I’ll just need to learn to scratch like a cat to wear my nails down.

Your Turn: Nail trims—are they traumatic or easy? And do you have a good routine that works for you and your dog? What is it?

We’re joining the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop! Join Wag ‘n Woof PetsTenacious Little Terrier, and Travels with Barley each month to share positive training posts, starting on the first Monday of the month and lasting all week.
Positive pet training blog hop.




  1. Nail trims? Well, when I had Kissy and the right size trimmers for her nails, it was no big deal. But those trimmers are too small for Shadow’s and Ducky’s nails. So, when Ducky gets her baths at daycare, she also gets her nails trimmed. And for Shadow? I have the girls at the vet’s office do them for me when they need it in between her visits with Auntie Andrea (her groomer and former pet sitter). One of these days though I might just take the plunge and buy a pair of trimmers.

    • Sounds like you have a whole team of doggy caregivers to make nail trimming a pleasant experience for everyone. It takes a village, eh? 🙂

  2. http://Martine%20Swiderski says

    I used to have no fear trimming my dog’s nails until I cut the quick on Duster’s paw one time. It bled for what seemed like forever. Now I don’t trim them at all, I farm it out to a local groomer. But with the new pup, I’ve been thinking I’ll try to get back into it, and I have therefore been handling his paws a lot. He’s fine with it. Time for me to get my courage up. Maybe I’ll check out this course…

    • Yes, nicking that quick is a bloody nightmare. I’ve only done it twice but I have never trimmed Honey’s nails since without having a bowl of corn starch standing by to put her paw into and stop the bleeding, just in case.

      One of the big ways the course has helped me is to convince me to finally give up on using clippers and just use a file. It will be good enough and help me let go of the fear.

      If you take the class, I’ll be interested in knowing what you think of it.

  3. We are all different around here. The Dremel is for me and Bailie, Madison won’t let Mom use it on her nails yet. Thursday is nail day, for cats and dogs. We like to keep them as short as possible.

    • Your mom is such an overachiever. I want to be here when I grow up. 🙂

      Nail care is so important and it’s great that your mom works so hard to keep everyone’s paws in the best shape for all the things you do.

  4. I’ll admit that I too, am kind of terrified to trim the dogs’ nails and rely the daily miles of walking to naturally wearing them down. If I move to a more remote location down the line, I’ll have to get over the fear too. Guess you’re not the only upright who needs to be trained. 😊

    • The reason I found the class so attractive was because of Lori’s emphasis on the trauma the we humans experience when we accidentally hurt our dogs.

      But I’m giving up my clippers once and for all. If I can file Honey’s nails more often, I shouldn’t need anything else.

  5. Wilson came to me dremel trained at 4 months old! So easy! Plus living in suburbia, the sidewalks took care of most of it. Jimmy was not trained at all so we used clippers because he doesn’t like the noise of a dremel. John and I would both hold him and he hated it! Then one day, I tried it by myself and he could have cared less. Who knows why, but now I do it myself and it is simple. The new young’un….meh, who knows. The nails are so tiny right now I don’t want to try at all.

    • Isn’t it amazing how dogs tell us what they need? You’ve built such a bond of trust with Jimmy he’d probably let you do anything. But when he saw your husband coming along, he probably wondered what he was in for.

  6. http://Edie%20Chase says

    Thanks for the links. I’ve cut my dog’s quick a couple of times, it’s always more traumatic for me than her. A quick yelp and it’s forgotten, me I still feel guilty about it even though it’s been a couple of years.

    • If you take the class, I hope you find it as helpful as I did. It was reassuring that the teacher had her own trauma with nail care.

      I find that the best trainers are those who are as kind to people as they are to dogs. And Lori in this class definitely was.

  7. I Dremel Mr. N’s nails because I’m afraid of quicking him with clippers. I coax/cajole him into it every couple of days. If you have room for it, have you considered a scratch board for Honey?

    • Before we moved on board I was looking at a scratch board. And her ramp has a sandpaper surface that we could use in that way.

      But Honey really likes being handled and cuddled. So I think that getting into the habit with a file is going to be the best way to go.

  8. http://Meagan%20&%20Merlin says

    I let my partner handle Merlin’s nails. I’m too nervous to do it. He doesn’t like his nails being done, but i think after a lot of perserverance he will tolerate it. His nails usually get naturally filed so it’s mainly his dew claws that need trimming. For some weird reason his left dew claw grows faster than his right one.

    • My husband is better at doing medical procedures (and yes, I think of nail trimming as a medical procedure) than I am too. It’s funny that Merlin’s dew claws have their own mind.

      Maybe the next time you go to the beach you can check out his foot prints in the sand to see if you can find any clues as to why some claws would grow faster.

      The vet in the class talked about how different nails can grow at different rates. And dogs will react differently to having different paws handled too.

  9. I don’t remember ever even worrying about nail trims with our first two dogs. I guess that was because we hiked a lot, and that meant a lot of travel over rocks (we didn’t walk on pavement much so it must have been the rocks).
    When we got up to 4 dogs in the house, hiking stopped and we were faced with nails that needed to be trimmed. I am OK with doing it myself, though I tend to be conservative because I’m afraid of getting that quick (which means doing them more often). While none of the dogs have loved it, Luke is the first that wouldn’t allow it at all. I think $39 sounds like a bargain if it might help us through this, and half price even better! I need some new ideas with Luke so hopefully we’ll find some here. Thanks for sharing! I may even learn some tips that make it easier to do Cricket’s.

  10. I often say that our dogs have the fastest growing nails in the west. That’s despite the many miles that they both cover on our trails every day. Neither of them loves having their nails trimmed but we do okay. I’ve taught them that there’s a trade – one treat for every nail trimmed. I put the pile of treats just out of their reach and dole them out one at a time. We get by. They both have black nails and they both squirm a little – so I do make mistakes. However, the benefits to keeping their nails short far outweigh the occasional mistake. Early in R’s life, I occasionally slacked off on his nails, and they got much too long. He repeatedly split nails when they were too long. Then, one of those got infected and the nail had to be removed – which had complications…. and it taught me to put it on the calendar to clip their nails every two weeks! And I do – because I never want one of our dogs to go through nail removal again.

    I’m so glad that you’ve learned some things to make it easier for you. I’m glad that filing works for you. I’d never have the patience for it. Kudos to you!

  11. I use a glass nail file for B. She doesn’t really mind it but she has my number and will often try to hide her nails or wave her paws around. Why? Because she wants the reward she knows is coming. I don’t treat her when she gives me a hard time but she still does it to me. And other times she’s totally fine. I dread doing it though because I never know which personality will surface.

  12. Nail trims are nightmares for us, too. Barley is fine with me using a grinder after we did some work to introduce it slowly. But I’ve never used it on Rye (or in front of Rye), and she flips out when she even sees it on a shelf. She’ll hide from me if she sees me actually pick it up. We just go to the vet and have them do it because we just haven’t found anything else that works for her and they can get it done in minutes–which is worth the money to me! Hope y’all make more progress than we have! Thanks for joining the hop 🙂

  13. I’ve never trimmed any of our dogs nails, except Silver’s and that was a nightmare. Taking her to the vet was another nightmare. I had to practically lay on top her while the tech clipped each nail. It was awful and I swore I wouldn’t put her through that again, so we did one nail at a time while she was sleeping. It worked for a while.

    But all the other dogs keep their nails fairly trimmed from walks, concrete and wood decks. What a blessing!!

    Good luck with Honey!

  14. There needs to be a nail trimming class like this for cats, too. Cupcake hates having her paws handled, and it has led to the cycle of my not wanting to do it because it bothers her, which then means, I let it go even longer, which means she resists more next time. Cat psychology is different than dog psychology, so I’ll have to look and see if anyone has offered anything like this.

    Meanwhile, you and Honey are going to do great on her trims. It sounds like you’ll be a pro before you know it!