Avoiding Machine Gun Fire

by Sandra Ilmanen -- Education Committee

I was dozing in bed late one Sunday morning when suddenly I heard the rapid patter of what seemed to be machine gun fire. Opening one eye, I saw that the television was not turned on, which eliminated the possibility that World War II was being re-run. I realized that the noise was advancing rapidly through the kitchen and up the hallway. "Terrorists," I screamed! Rapidly gaining consciousness, I pulled all the covers up over my head and curled up into a ball (a reflex maneuver -- no doubt well known to those of you who also have a husband who thinks the best way to get you up on a late morning is a cruel joke!) The machine guns stopped and countless bayonets speared my body. My husband had let all the dogs in at the same time to say "hello!" Four Welshies can be quite animated after a few hours outside. The love is appreciated in spite of its enthusiasm -- the machine gun fire and bayonet wounds, on the other hand, meant I had failed miserably in keeping those sprouting toenails trimmed. Toenail trimming does not take long or have to be a constant fight, although it does require a consistent monthly schedule. A sharp pair of clippers, patience, and a little training can get you through.

Begin training as soon as you get your pup. It's easy to rationalize your way out of it with those little nails, but some early training now can save work in the long run. Whenever your puppy is sitting with you, handle his feet -- working your fingers between the toes and out around the nails. Apply brief, painless pressure to his nail with your fingernails. Keep him calm and praise his tolerant behavior. If he can only hold still briefly, have someone scratch his stomach while you're doing the footwork. He will learn to let you handle his feet without fighting the process sooner than you think. Although people-type cuticle nippers will suffice to do puppy nail trimming, you will need to purchase a good pair of toenail clippers for your adults. Two types are available. One is similar to a pair of pliers or scissors and has two cutting "hooks". The other is known as an anvil toenail trimmer and has a locating hole and sliding blade that shears the nail off. The scissors type is most often used by groomers and is fast. However, without a strong, sure hand the tool can twist while being used causing the dog "discomfort." It is difficult to sharpen. The anvil type requires that the nail be directed through an opening in the clippers. This makes it a slower process. Twisting the nail is not a problem because the blade cuts with an even pressure directly across the nail. The blade is easily replaceable and not difficult to sharpen. It allows a more exact picture of the amount of nail that will be removed, whereas the scissors type obscures the edge of the proposed cut. If you are lucky enough to have a pup with white nails, you will find that you can see a pinkish region extending down from the toe in the center of the nail that ends a little before the nail tip. This segment is known as the "quick." The blood supply and nerves are found in this part of the toenail so if you cut through it, bleeding and pain will result. If your dog has dark nails that are opaque to a bright light, you will not be able to see the quick. The best method for a dark-nailed dog is to remove a SMALL amount each time on a very consistent schedule. The quick maintains a relatively constant distance from the tip of the nail. Your cut should be made close to the quick, but with a sufficient safety margin for error. I find that it is easiest for me to put my dog on his back with a strong light source (a window or bright light) on the far side. Having previously trimmed off the hair on the toes around the nail, I can easily see the location of the quick. The anvil type trimmer allows me to make a precise, safe cut. With puppies and young dogs it is VERY important to err on the side of caution. Although some of them might forgive one painful experience, they will seldom forgive or forget the second -- and nail trimming will be a fight forever.

If an accident happens, don't panic! That will just cause the dog to panic! Keep a firm pressure on the toe and nail until bleeding stops. Do not be surprised at the amount of blood -- if you let the dog loose there will be spots everywhere. It is not a bad idea to keep a styptic powder like Rich Health Kwik-Stop™ handy. A pinch will immediately stop the bleeding but will also sting the dog a bit. If the nails are long the quick will also be long. This prevents a one-step shortening of the nail. In this case it is necessary to clip off a small amount of the nail tip every week or so. The quick will continue to recede as the nail gets shorter. Eventually you will reach the proper length and can begin a more normal trimming schedule of roughly every three to six weeks. Dogs that spend a lot of time on rough concrete will need little trimming. Dogs that are mostly inside will need it more often. A dog's nail file can also help your maintenance program. The metal file gives the fresh cut a smoother shape and removes sharp tips. It can be used more often than the clippers, thus allowing a more rapid recession of the quick and shortening of the nail. Besides stopping those clicking noises when walking, you can help your dog to avoid expensive toe nail breaks and tears by keeping the nails short . Keeping them at the proper length also prevents painful and crippling distortions of the feet and pasterns. The familiarization process has the side benefit of making such necessary procedures as grooming of the feet and removing foxtails and cholla thorns more tolerable to your dog.

When those nails hit the floor and you hear those characteristic little clicks, you can solve the problem quickly with your clippers and file. You can avoid the machine gun fire. Then when your Doggie Air Force comes flying in formation and Stealth-bombs your stomach on a Sunday morning in bed you will have had no warning at all!

All materials are Copyrighted;
Some 1994-8 by
Gary Ilmanen
Saga Research
All Rights Reserved