Desensitize Your Puppy - Clipping Nails and Grooming and More

Updated: May 5

​You can totally teach an old dog new tricks, but some things are harder to implement as your pup gets older. Puppies adapt quickly to new things, so just a little effort now goes a long way! These small habits definitely produce the biggest benefits for you and your puppy.


I have learned through years of experience (meaning, my own errors!) that if you do not create these moments with your puppy, you are setting yourself up for messy situations in the future. You deserve to be a happy dog-owner!

Don't force any behavior on your pup

They will only resist more and you will quickly become frustrated or mad.

Touch your puppy's face often

Why is this important?

​Well, for a wild fox or wolf, it really wouldn’t matter. But for our fur babies, there are many moments where their faces are being handled and in close proximity to another person's face.

Think about it…

  • Checking ears for infection or cleaning

  • Removing something dangerous from their mouth

  • Small children who want to play with them

  • Cleaning teary or crusty eyes

  • Brushing teeth or checking gum health

  • Vet check-ups

  • Administering medicine

  • Getting groomed and bathed


Needless to say, this is a necessary reality for our dogs today.

It is not in a dog’s nature to understand the action of having their face handled. It never happens in the wild, so the natural reaction is fear or discomfort. Desensitizing your dog to having his/her face touched will save you and your dog (and the groomer and vet) from a lot of unnecessary stress.

And it is easy!!!

How do I start?

​When you are petting your puppy, nonchalauntly hold his/her face. Only for a moment, then go back to petting. Don’t force it. If your puppy turns away then take a small step back by petting their back or neck, then slowly work your way again towards their face and reward them for it. After a few days or weeks, you'll be able to advance to holding their snout for an extended period of time, opening their mouth to look at their teeth, and running your fingers around their eyes. Let them know that this is a good thing and that they can trust you with the experience.

Verbal affirmation and food are great ways to show your puppy that whatever they are experiencing is something good.

Pet your dog while they eat

This action builds a pact between you and the dog:

"My owner is not a threat to the things that I value most. "


Why is this important?

​Many dogs “resource guard” things that are important to them: food, toys, and people. This instinct to protect what is theirs often leads to aggressive behavior when they feel their resources are being threatened i.e. you have a guest in the house, you give attention to someone or something else when your dog wants your attention, your pup thinks that all the shoes in the house are his property and he snarls at you when you try to take them away.

How do I start?

To avoid this behavior and build your dog’s trust in you, stay close to your dog while they are eating from their bowl. This action will extend their trust that their resources are protected in a wide variety of scenarios outside of eating from the bowl.

When your pup is eating, crouch down near them and pet them, saying “good boy/girl.” They may begin to growl, but don’t be offended. It’s instinct! Take a small step back, but stay close, and give verbal affirmation. Tomorrow try again to get closer and pet your pup.

It is not always possible, but if time permits, your puppy should be earning his food through training. Take their portion of kibble and practice a command or two, feeding them kibble as reward. This also teaches your dog that "the good stuff" comes from you, and they will be less likely to guard against you when they are eating from their bowl.

This is key for when your dog is beginning to “resource guard” with other dogs or children around. It is basically teaching them that SHARING IS CARING.

Hold your puppy’s paws and nails often

Why is this important?

This falls under the same category as to why I recommend touching your puppy's face often. For those moments that your dog needs their nails trimmed, or he injured his paw, it will be a lot less stressful if your pup is comfortable having his paws handled.

I have heard some horror stories about dogs not wanting to get their nails cut and lashing out to groomers and veterinarians. They will thank you for having desensitized your dog to having his/her paws touched!

How can I start?

When you are petting and cuddling your pup, or while they are napping, hold their paws. Don’t grab them harshly because it will create a negative experience.

Again, never force any experience on your puppy.

Hold their paws and reward them with a treat and affirmation. Let them know that this is a normal thing in their life and there is no need to be alarmed.

Start off small with just a touch or a handshake, then let go and keep petting.

As he/she is comfortable you can advance to rubbing their paws, observing their nails and putting your fingers between their paw pads. The most advanced is being able to apply pressure to their nails by squeezing their “fingers,” simulating a nail trim.

​It will take a while for your puppy to get used to this and stop pulling away. Again, this not something they naturally know. In the wild, having your feet grabbed (bitten) is a danger from other animals, so be PATIENT and kind.

As puppy parents, it is our job to prepare our puppies for the life ahead of them.

With children, our job is to give them the tools they need to live a happier life:

"wait your turn, share, no means NO, you can't have everything you want when you want it."

These lessons are critical to learn as a child for them to have peace and stability as adults. THE SAME GOES FOR YOUR PUPPY.

Remember, a well-trained and desensitized dog has (1) more freedom, (2) a sense of purpose in life, (3) more attention from people, and ​(4) happy owners!

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