Trimming Nails

pupOne of the most important parts of grooming your Malamute is maintaining nails and feet. If you have a normal coated dog, other than brushing, it's the only trimming you will need  to do. Most Malamutes, however, are BIG babies when it comes to nail clipping. Many will even scream, cry and whine so much, you'd think they were being abused! You'll understand when your big tough Mal is reduced to squirming, begging and generally running for cover when you get out the nail clippers. The best way to teach a dog it needs to submit for this "torture" (in the Mal's eyes) is a really special treat. With a Malamute, is not that the actual clipping is so uncomfortable, but it's also an "alpha" gesture. A very dominant dog can have more difficulty with submitting than with the actual nail clipping, so it's always preferable to start young.

Most decently bred Malamutes will only have 2 dew claws on the front feet when they are born.  Some breeders remove these for show purposes (makes for a cleaner line) or sledding (to keep them from getting caught on brush), but I personally feel this is generally unnecessary as I've seen how our dogs use them like thumbs (would you want YOUR thumbs removed?).  Most Malamutes do not have rear dew claws - they are born without them, and if they are there, are removed shortly after birth.  The reason for removing the rear dew claws is that they serve no purpose and are prone to get caught and ripped off during sledding excursions.  (This is also the reason for the front dew claws to some extent - but again, I've seen them used like thumbs so feel this is unnecessary for Malamutes and probably only useful for dogs that do an extensive amount of sledding through heavy brush). 

Ideally, as a pup your breeder will have clipped nails and brushed the pup regularly and you can continue this. While young, nails should be clipped every week. In a very sensitive dog, just do a foot (or less) every day. Eventually, though he may not enjoy the experience, he will tolerate it well. It's very important you incorporate nails into your grooming routine since overgrown nails can become curved under and painful to walk on. Fur between the toes can be slippery on hardwood or linoleum floors so also needs trimming.  

First, assemble your tools - heavy duty nail clippers, scissors or trimmer, etc. An important note: buy the proper clippers. You will need a heavy duty pair - NOT the guillotine clippers. Some dogs have nails so thick even the heavy duty clippers are too small. In that case you may have to clip each nail several times at various angles so the nail can fit in the clippers. It's best if you clip the hair between the toes first (easier to see the nail). Use scissors or electric hair clippers to trim the fur level with the foot and around the sides level with the pad. Be careful not to nick the pad, especially on a puppy. I once nicked Hoover as a pup, and the spot is still there! pup

If you're just starting a routine, lie the dog on it's side and sit on the floor. Hold him there for a minute till he relaxes. You may need assistance with a wiggly dog and a muzzle for a very dominant dog. If you must clip without assistance, a leg placed over the neck as you hold the dog helps (similar to being pinned). Look at the nails and you will notice on any white ones there is a pink vein inside and often a little ledge hanging off. Never clip into the pink - it's painful and will bleed profusely.

On black nails, you will have to guess, but if you cut off as much as you do on the white nails, you should do fine. Styptic powder (or even white flour) will stop bleeding if you get a nail too close. A wonderful tool for a VERY sensitive dog is a dremmel tool. It grinds away the nail a little at a time and is more difficult to cut too close. A dog that is terrified of nail clippers will sometimes tolerate a dremmel tool better.

It is better to clip more often and take less off than to try and do too much at once! After you finish (whether it is one foot a day for a sensitive dog or all the feet) give him his treat even if he didn't behave his best. (You are gaining his trust -" if I try and lie still here, I will get a cookie"). Eventually, if you are consistent, he will come to associate good things with nail and foot care. Occasionally some Malamutes are not motivated by food (FEW Malamutes fit this category), but a game of tennis ball or perhaps a looooong belly rub after is the key to making him enjoy rather than dread foot care. Praise him with a happy "good dog" after every nail he lets you cut, and soon he might even enjoy the experience like Hoover. If you plan to groom the coat at the same time, you can always take a break between and give a treat for each.

Nail cutting checklist:

  • Don't try to hurry - it will just frustrate you both.
  • Talk to the dog in a happy tone.
  • Have treats handy; treat for every toenail at first - then every foot - then after all four feet. Treat even if you had to battle to get the nail trimmed.   You can sometimes give puppies treats while trimming as a distraction, but eventually you want to work toward only treating afterwards.
  • Trim at least every 2 weeks (weekly is better).
  • Use a heavy duty nail cutter or a grinder. Guillotine trimmers usually aren't adequate for most nails.
  • Some dogs seem to prefer the grinder, some the nail cutters (do what works best for your dog).
  • Hold the nail at the base so you don't bend it.  Hold the dew claw steady. 
  • Watch out for hair in the way.
  • Only trim up to the point where the nail starts to bend over (you can feel a hook under the nail at this point).  Better to take off too little and do it more often, than too much and make it bleed (and the dog skittish for future sessions).
  • Talk to the dog in a happy tone and use treats generously. Tell the dog how pretty he/she will look after it's done. (Never for a minute think they don't understand you!)
  • Praise Praise Praise! You can't praise too much! Praise after EVERY  nail you do.
  • Don't hesitate to ask a friend for help.  Sometimes you have to gently sit ON the dog or lay over the dog to get control.  (just be careful about putting weight on vital areas)
  •  When done (whether it's 1 nail or all...) praise, treat and be happy. Next time will be easier.