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Scratch board to file dog nails

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We have had a great deal of trouble with trimming Katie’s nails. 
as a small puppy, we played around with it, got her used to it, handled her paws, she was bit squirmy but not bad and wasn’t fearful. There was never a bad experience or anything that I could point to. When she was about 6 months maybe, everything changed. I never figured out what triggered it, but since then she hates having her paws touched and it is pretty much impossible to trim her nails.


she is now 2 years old and I am still unable to trim her nails with either clipper of grinder (we have tried both), might have to take her to the vet to have it done at this point, just don’t want to traumatize her further. She never forgets anything and if she even know we are planning anything to do with her feet will run and hide. I am still working on training with handling her feet at all in a non stressful way, rewarding any contact, just have been trying this for awhile without much progress.


which brings me to the scratch board. Kind of like a giant nail file for dogs, where the dog initiates scratching action against the board covered in sandpaper. Katie does like to dig at things, maybe would have some success training with pawing at the board.

I was wondering if anyone has tried this and if it actually works to keep nails manageable. I guess wouldn’t work for back nails and maybe only for the centre nails on the front feet? Does it damage the dogs pads at all? Maybe at least would give us more time between nail trims and time to work on the issues some more. She does wear down her nails a fair bit through daily activity, but we do participate in canicross dog sports and I have read articles detailing the harmful effects of long nails on the dogs gait and posture.


also did you build your own scratch board and which grain of sandpaper did you use?






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Well, unfortunately, I know a LOT about this topic!  lol  Long stories - I will abbreviate them.

Kylie:  my 2nd rescue.  Hated to have paws touched/nails trimmed.  The vet never saw a dog as bad....thought some groomer had "done a number" on her.  Tried a scratching board.  Didn't work for us - not efficient.  Might look like it works for a small amount of time, but not long term.  I did have the $10,000 fix:  paved my driveway.  She would grind them down running on it. Eventually I would have her stand facing my husband at the kitchen table and he would feed her while I would lift a paw and do a nail or two.  Sometimes I got 3 before she refused to stand anymore;  sometimes only one.  Tried every trick in the book.  Eventually she got old (11) and then didn't seem to care.

Piper and Parker:  So starting as puppies, I started clipping nails every week.  No problem.  (I did this years ago with my GSD puppies and never had a nail issue.)  All  is going well.  Then one day, at about 4-5 months I think, we went to clip nails and they both literally freaked out.  Nothing had happened. Never cut the quick.  (Now I have new insight on Kylie;  probably nothing ever happened to her, either.)  If you look up my posts, you will find posts on nail trimming/foot sensitivity that I have asked here, and the responses. 

Update:  Piper will let you do her nails.  She looks away like she's dying, but it gets done.  Parker, however, is a maniac.  He does not like to have his feet touched or the feeling of being restrained.  He does not get aggressive -- he just panics and wants to get away.  I am working with him on the foot and leg sensitivity.  We go to the grooming room and he gets treats for letting me put pressure on it. I also try to work on that just when sitting on the couch.  It's a slow process - and I do mean really slow.  Here's something I've noticed - he does not mind me trimming his foot hair as he stands. He does NOT like it if I lift the foot.  I'm working on a similar theory with the toenails. I have a friend who's a retired groomer (45 years) and she said it's the pressure of holding the foot that they don't like.  She said if I can get him to stand on the edge of the table I might have better luck since his foot will be down.  I have not tried that yet, but plan on attempting that.   

So good luck with your girl.  I will follow your post with interest.  And I will post if I find anything new that works on this problem.  And I loved your picture! 


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That’s funny, Katie sounds a lot like Parker.

about the same age, just one day freaked out about the nails, no cause I could point to. And she is a total maniac, like full on panic mode. I also try all the tricks, slowly running my hand towards her foot, etc. she doesn’t mind having muddy paws wiped, things like that, but over the winter I wanted to try the mushers secret paw wax on their paws for running in the snow. Major no go with her.

she really wants to be “good”, is the other thing. I think it is very distressing for her too to know that she is not doing what is wanted of her, she just can’t help it.

I got some sandpaper to try, just need to get a board going and then work on training the scratch command. Will update.

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I think the reason the scratch board seems like it will work but then doesn't is because they do not put enough pressure on the paw while scratching for it to make a big difference.  Also it is hard to get them to repetitively scratch enough.   But no harm in trying it, though.  Good luck!

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A friend who's a veterinary technician certified in Fear Free techniques once told me about a way to help trim uncooperative dogs' nails, but I haven't tried it.  It involves using a mesh screen with boxes large enough that the dog's nails fit through.  The dog stands on the mesh and the person trims the nails from below.  This avoids having to hold or restrain the paw which is often the thing the dog doesn't like, as mentioned above.  I imagine a Dremel would work well with this if the dog will tolerate it, but regular clippers might work as well. 

My rescue border terrier X was initially very bitey about having his feet handled, but since he's only 18 pounds I used a soft muzzle and just dremeled him on my lap.  He was perfectly quiet with the muzzle.  I eventually stopped using it and he's still fine with nail care.  OTOH, one of our Border Collies will not allow me to do her nails, but since she'd happily walk through fire for my husband, I just have him hold her leash and I quickly clip her nails without incident.

Good luck with Katie!


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  • 3 weeks later...
On 5/21/2023 at 7:55 AM, amc said:

 I imagine a Dremel would work well with this if the dog will tolerate it, but regular clippers might work as well.


I did a Dremel-type rotary tool on Hazel as my first foray into trimming her nails. I would first clip them further out on the nail to get started, then Dremel the rest for a smooth finish. This did ok, but it seemed to take a long time, and she wasn't thrilled with that. I eventually just used clippers only. I put a light behind the nail so I can see where the quick is, and then just clip to avoid it. I think I've only cut one quick in the last 10 times I've clipped them her nails. Conveniently, her back nails stay fairly trimmed on their own. We probably walk on the sidewalk for at least 30 minutes a day, so that no doubt helps them from getting too long.

Before even clipping the nails, I'm spending a lot time just trimming her paw hair so i can see the nails. My previous short hair dogs never had hair that grew through their pads. How about your BC Terrier mix, lots of paw hair too?

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  • 2 months later...

UPDATE:  So I have posted before about my problems with Parker and his nails/feet.  I have worked with him on the grooming table with de-sensitizing touching his feet and holding them.  It has been slow and not much progress.  Yesterday I embarked on the technique I had used with Kylie (who was even worse than Parker back in the day) -- my husband gave him a treat while sitting at the kitchen table, while I got down and took a foot and got -- one nail!  With Kylie it was one nail a day.  With Parker, even that food wasn't enough for him to start contorting his body to escape the dreaded foot-thing. 

I had tried a scratching board with Kylie, and never got anywhere with teaching her that.  The board was too big and it relied on her doing the scratching. 

So I gathered up my treats and a piece of sandpaper and Parker and I went out on the porch.  I had him sit in front of me and gave him a word (I chose scratch, even though he is not doing the scratching - I am).  I then took his foot, quickly and lightly rubbed the paper on his nails, and quickly gave him a treat.  First couple times it was just a quick swipe and food!  But he soon got the gist of it -- and my dogs are VERY food motivated -- and it was not long that "scratch" had him picking his paw up.  He still tried to pull it away, but not as abruptly since he wanted the treat.  Worked on it for maybe 5 minutes with a few breaks, and we were done. 

I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that was a very, very positive experience for both of us.  We will continue and I will keep you all posted.  I am thinking of eventually moving to a sanding block type of tool.  I did notice they make dog nail files, but they are too narrow for us right now.  Also, this has to be done carefully so the sandpaper does not catch on the pads.  I slip my hand over the pads to expose the nail and prevent the paper from touching the pads.

I am seeing that maybe this will work to stop the paw sensitivity and maybe in the future I will be able to grind or clip.  But for now, I am ecstatic at the small about of progress we made tonight -- which is HUGE in our book!! 

Piper came out and wanted to join in the fun (i.e. food!)  She lets me do her nails, but she thought it was just fine to get her nails filed in order to get a treat. 

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