Stephanie Zablah-Kruger

Train your pet to love ‘spa day,’ starting with a nail trim

Train your pet to love ‘spa day,’ starting with a nail trim
When grooming your pet at home, introduce the nail trimmer slowly and include treats to keep the animal engaged. (Contributed photos)

Stephanie Zablah-KrugerIt’s never too late to train your pet to adore being trimmed, washed or brushed.

With dedication and clever planning, you and your dog, cat, rabbit or bird can make it happen.

Disposition, time and rewards are essential. All parts of the process should be positive encounters for both the animal and trainer. If you’re having a bad day, it’s better to skip that day’s session and try again when you’re in the right mood.

Many people are understandably anxious about trimming their dog’s toenails. When dogs have dark nails, it’s difficult to know where the blood supply is and accidents are commonplace.

Short sessions are consistently the most useful. If you notice your pet is hesitant to take an interest, then you are presumably going quicker than your pet would like. Utilize a higher value treat to make the session more worthwhile for your pet.

Training steps and ­considerations

The most effective way to prepare your pet to tolerate handling and, in turn, nail trimming is by breaking up the entire process into baby steps that will turn into “reinforcement points.” Clicker training is effective, but you can also use a word-marker and a variety of treats. I usually grade my treats from 1 to 10 and save the higher value treats for harder steps.

Here is the order for your reinforcement points:

Clippers equals treats.
Keep still and handle a paw.
Lift paw in your hand and separate the toes.
Place the paw in your hand while the nail trimmer is in your other hand.
Acknowledge the nail trimmer drawing logically nearer to the foot.
Acknowledge the nail trimmer contacting the foot.
Acknowledge the nail trimmer touching the nail.
Acknowledge the nail trimmer tapping on the nail.
Acknowledge the nail trimmer managing the nail.
Trim the very end of the nail.

This is a general outline. Each step can be broken down into smaller steps if your pet needs more training time.

Process varies by animal type

This system can be used on cats, dogs, birds or rabbits. The difference will be the types of treats you use, how long the sessions are and how you manipulate the animal’s foot.

For instance, cats have a short attention span, so I don’t normally have training sessions that last longer than 1-2 minutes. Cats will walk away if they are not engaged.

Birds don’t have three other feet to balance on, so it’s easier to train cooperative nail trimming while they’re grabbing onto the side of their cage. This technique also separates the toes nicely.

If you make the process fun, nail trims will be a breeze.

You can contact Stephanie at or 510-408-7162. Visit the website for more information.

Stephanie Zablah-Kruger
Stephanie Zablah-Kruger

Animal behaviorist, Stephanie Zablah-Kruger, 37, has 14 years’ experience in the veterinary field and as a trainer. Reach her at, (510) 408-7162.