The three most common responses American Pit Bull Terrier owners give when asked "how do you clip your dog's nails?" are as follows:
"We take her to the groomer!"
"Isn't that what vets are for?"
Unfortunately, unless you have a very active dog who wears down his nails on concrete or asphalt, nail clipping is essential. Allowing your pit bull's nails to grow too long makes walking uncomfortable for your dog. Left untended for long periods of time, overgrown nails can split, break, or even cause paw deformation.
Fortunately, clipping the nails of your pit bull doesn't have to be daunting task.
Nail Clipping Desensitization
The key to making nail clipping a pleasant--or, at least, tolerable--experience for all involved lies in desensitization. Ideally, the process of desensitization should begin in puppyhood. It is much easier to convince a never-injured puppy to sit calmly while you clip her nails than to try and persuade an adult dog with painful memories that you are the one human in the world who will wield the clippers for the cause of good.
But regardless of your pit bull's age and background, the steps involved in getting him to accept nail clipping are essentially the same. If your dog is among those who require a bit more effort than others, just be patient. The reward will be worth your time. And speaking of rewards, yes, they will be involved.
First, grab a bag of treats and sit with your pit bull in a comfortable location with positive associations, such as a favorite cushion on the sofa or a preferred spot on the floor. If you have a grooming table, you could also place your dog there and start developing positive associations with it as well.
While maintaining an easygoing, relaxed demeanor, show your dog the nail clippers while petting him. Let him sniff the clippers and get accustomed to them. Give your dog a treat to help develop a positive association. If you are doing clicker training, remember to click before you provide treats.
Now squeeze the clippers in front of your pit bull. Some pit bulls, usually those with no prior knowledge of nail clipping, will display either interest or boredom with the silly item in your hand. Treat and praise.
Other pit bulls may show signs of fear. Attempting to bolt off the couch, whimpering, shaking, and trying to burrow into the sofa are all signs that your dog may be somewhat disturbed by the nail clippers. If your dog already tried to hide or refused to come when you called because she heard the words "nail" and "clip" in the same sentence, that also may be an indication that there will be some avoidance issues to work through.
But the good news is, regardless of whether your pit bull is confident or terrified around the clippers, your next steps are the same. Rather than go ahead with the actual clipping process, pet your dog's feet. Many dogs don't like their feet being touched, even when grooming is not involved, so it's important to get them comfortable with the concept. Stay calm and relaxed. Again, reward your dog for letting you spread his toes and play with his feet.
Repeat this process until your dog is comfortable with both the clippers and you handling her paws before you actually start clipping. Even if she seems comfortable right away, let her develop some positive associations for at least a couple of days before you cut her nails. You might also consider playing games with your dog as you accustom her to the clippers and having her feet handled.
If you haven't already done so, there's no time like the present to teach the "shake hands" command. Seriously, handle your dog's paws in a fun and friendly fashion every day, whether you're grooming or not. If your dog doesn't want you to touch her feet under the best of circumstances, the nail clipping process will be exponentially more difficult.
Starting to Clip
Once your pit bull is comfortable around clippers and lets you handle her paws, it's time to start clipping. Make sure you have a coagulant such as styptic powder handy in case you accidentally cut the quick of your dog's nail. With most dogs, you can get an idea of where the quick stops, and while you'll do your best not to quick your dog, it's good to have a coagulant ready to stop the bleeding just in case.
If you do cut the quick, it's not a disaster. Stay calm and stop the bleeding by applying styptic powder to the tip of the nail, and maybe give your dog an extra treat. Then continue clipping as if nothing happened, both so your pit bull will understand that nothing too awful just occurred, and to demonstrate that most of the time, you'll cut his nails without causing injury.
If your pit bull gets too stressed during the clipping session, especially when you are both still getting used to the nail clipping process, don't feel that you have to clip all the nails at once. End the session on a positive note. After a nail has been successfully and non-painfully clipped, praise and treat your dog. Then go play. The more times you clip without incident, the easier clipping will be in the future.
Nail Clipping Tools
There are three basic types of nail trimmers, two that clip and one that grinds. The standard "open" clipper basically functions like a doggie-nail-sized hedge cutter, while the "guillotine" style of clipper covers the entire tip of the nail and slices it off when you squeeze. Both of these clippers work the same way--they cut off the end of the nail.
The third type of nail trimmer is an electric tool that grinds away the end of the nail. Some dogs find this type of nail filing easier to deal with than clipping. Others view the grinding tool as a combination vacuum monster and torture device. You'll have to use a little trial and error determining which type of trimmer works best for your pit bull, but many dogs who flee from clippers will tolerate the grinder, and vice versa.
The one final tool option to consider is having a friend or family member help. Nail clipping often proves easier with two people working together. One person can clip while the other holds, pets, and treats.
In any event, by slowly desensitizing your pit bull to the nail clipping process, you can make this task considerably less traumatic for the both of you.
You can also try a calming solution that will keep then calm and be less likely to fidget, like Petalive's Problem Pet Solution.