Tank offers down in the background, the scratch board in the foreground.

It’s safe to say that most dogs hate having their nails trimmed. If you read our article on how to trim nails and laughed at the thought of doing your dog’s nails yourself, consider trying to teach your dog to use a scratch board instead.

Scratch boards are a great way to do nails at home for a variety of reasons. It’s easy to teach your dog how to do each paw without having to touch their feet at all. It’s easy to make a scratch board. If you don’t want to bother making them, they’re also available online. (Affiliate Link.)

This article teaches you how to train the front paws, and we’ll do a later article for the back paws. You will still have to get the dew claws clipped, but just 2 nails should be a lot easier and faster than all of them!

You will need a scratch board, a clicker, some treats, and have the clicker loaded with your dog.

Step one: Teach your dog to target the board with their foot

For this stage your dog doesn’t need to scratch, face the correct direction, or do anything other than touch the target with their paw. You can lure the behavior with treats, guiding them until they step on it, and then clicking and rewarding.

If they won’t step on it at all, you can start by clicking and rewarding any interest in the scratch board at all, including looking at it, sniffing it, or coming closer.

Once your dog is willing to put a paw on the board and does it regularly, the next phase is to angle the board slightly.

Once your dog is comfortable with touching the board at an angle, the final step is to make the scratch board vertical. Reward them if they put a paw on the board–but it’s likely they’ll switch to scratching instead.

Once they start scratching instead of putting a paw on the board, reward exclusively for the scratching behavior.

If your dog genuinely won’t scratch, you can try putting a treat on the board, showing the dog the treat, and then covering it with a towel. Don’t let the dog have it if they try to nose bop the rag, but if they scratch, click and reward.

It may take time

The dog we taught to scratch a scratch board doesn’t scratch things naturally. He often offered other behaviors such as sit or down instead. This is fairly normal. Ignore anything that isn’t related to the scratch board, and your dog will catch on. It takes time to teach your dog to use a scratch board, but it’s definitely worth it.

Stay Safe

If your dog bites for his nails, it’s a bad idea to try and touch his feet or legs and physically drag them over the file. The goal is to have the dog willingly cut his nails himself, instead of doing so by force. It may take patience for your dog to figure out the target, but it will be well worth the time.

Once your dog knows how to use the scratch board with his front nails, it’s time to do the back nails! The first step in doing the back nails is learning a trick, two paws up. Your pup will need to master “Two Paws Up” before they can scratch with their rear legs.

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By Andrea

Andrea is a dedicated dog mom of three chihuahuas. She has over a decade of experience as a dog groomer, chihuahua owner, and more recently as a dog trainer. She loves all things canine, particularly chihuahuas.

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