From the Ground Up

“Hurray! It’s the weekend and I get to trim my dog’s nails!” <said nobody ever…especially if you have multiple dogs to keep up or if they are not huge fans of this necessary past time.>

Many dogs hate getting their nails trimmed while some merely tolerate it. If they had great husbandry as a puppy they may not actually mind getting it done, but I’d be willing to go out on a limb (heehee pun intended)  and say that even they would probably choose any other way to win treats from their humans. On the other extreme, there are some dogs who need to be tranquilized to get their nails trimmed because they fear it so much. Whether they like it or not, keeping your dog’s nails neat and short and the hair trimmed under and between their toes is a not only for good doggie hygiene, but for their overall wellbeing.

Dogs use their nails to grip the surface they are on when they run and turn however, if they are too long there are a host of problems that can arise.

Which way is up?

Proprioception:  it’s a fancy word for perception or awareness of the body in relation to the world around you. One way a dog gets information about the world around them is through their feet. If their nails are too long then their pads are not making appropriate contact with the ground and sending misinformation to the brain on which way is up.  This is important for pets and performance dogs alike.

Think about it…

When a dog’s nails are too long it causes the pads on the foot to land differently on the surface that it is in contact with.  In the diagram below (please excuse my art skills), the picture on the left shows how the bones in the toe properly align when the toenail is short. The toe on the right shows the alignment is angled because of the long nail. IMG_5670

As nails grow longer, the angles at each joint change. Everything is connected, right? The angles at each joint move from one joint to the next:  the toes (phalanges) to the wrist (carpus or tarsals in the hind limbs), up towards the elbow or knee (stifle) joint, to the shoulder joint and hip joint.  All of which are connected to the spinal column. All connected. All having an effect on each other.

This altered alignment can cause pain and stress in the joints. Think about how this may feel with each step they take as their nails hit the ground and put pressure on the nail beds in the toes. (This causes sensitivity in the nails from the constant pounding which may be one of the reasons towards the aversion to nail trimming.)  Also, the dog will compensate when they move as their brain is fooled into thinking “up” is in a different position (remember the proprioception I mentioned). This in turn can cause the dog to engage the muscles in their body differently and support their body and mobility differently.  If it is a prolonged issue then more serious problems can occur such as arthritis or other chronic issues throughout the body.

Long nails obviously affect every dog whose feet touch the ground, but if your dog is a performance dog this presents another level of concern. Think about how this can affect them as they run across the dogwalk, turn on a flyball box, trot around the obedience ring, or as they race over the dock ready to dive into a pool for a toy. Maybe they will lose their footing, not be able to jump as high, or turn as quickly or tightly.  Or… perhaps they will sustain an injury.

Senior dogs with long nails often will stand with their feet under them and their back rounded when their nails are too long. By cutting their nails, you can change the way they stand and to help support their mobilizer muscles (the bigger ones) and stabilizer muscles (the smaller, supportive muscles). Keeping the hair between the toes and pads of their feet trimmed will help them to have better traction on the surface they are in contact with (especially if that surface is tile, hardwood or other type of smooth surface).


Whether your dog is a family companion or your best competition partner, keep an eye on your dog’s nails and trim them regularly even if you need to enlist the help of a friend, a groomer, or your veterinarian office.  Your dog’s joints, spine and muscles will thank you for it.

Thanks for reading!

happy training