What happens when you combine an unsocialized primitive breed of dog with a penchant for dramatics with sharp nail clippers and noisy grinders?
Horror. Loud, heart-stopping cries from your distressed Shiba. And you, equally distressed, defeated, and afraid.
Afraid of getting bitten and also afraid of never being able to clip your Shiba’s nails regularly without losing your sanity and / or some blood.
I feel for you because I know exactly what it feels like.
But I learned that hopelessness does not make it impossible. And hopefully, the tips included in this post will help you realize that too.
Shiba Inu Nail Maintenance- Golden Rules
Start SLOWLY - baby steps - think marathon vs. 5k
Safety first - take appropriate measures to protect both you and doge
Learn proper positioning and use equipment if necessary - IT HELPS!
Your attitude is EVERYTHING! If you are freaking out, your dog is too and more so...
Some dogs may not come around no matter what - it's not your fault. Just be sure to seek professional help
Shiba Inus - Primitive Nature + Prima Donna Attitude
Shiba Inus are a basal, or primitive breed of dog that have more wild characteristics than more domesticated breeds such as retrievers and labs.
Because of this, trust and respect from your Shiba Inu needs to be earned.
And the earlier, the better.
If there is one thing. One thing, that Shiba Inu owners could do to eliminate 90% of behavioral issues with their Shibas - it would be early puppy socialization.
By socializing your Shiba pup to other people, other dogs, and scary sights and noises you’ll significantly reduce common behavioral and emotional issues later on in your dog’s life.
Unfortunately, not enough Shiba Inu owners spend the necessary time to socialize their puppy correctly.
Of course, this is easy to understand as caring for a new puppy is an already daunting deal.
But if you’re reading this and your Shiba is still a puppy, don’t waste another moment and start socializing.
[Read more about Shiba Inu puppy development here]
Sometimes, Shiba Inus are rescued or adopted as adults where the socialization window has long passed.
So whatever learned or not learned habits are already packaged in with the Shiba.
And it’s going to take some bit of unwrapping to get to the good parts.
On top of this “primitive” nature, most Shiba owners are familiar with the “prima” Donna attitude - or as some say, Shibattitude
This attitude usually manifests in shrieks, screams, and howls for the slightest hint of discontentment.
For the uninitiated, these sudden screams can startle you to the core.
But pair this high pitched screaming with nail cutting and you got issues.
Fortunately, with Shibas - it’s usually all bark and no bite.
Somewhat like wolves, vocal communication is still strong in Shibas.
However, even though you know that your Shiba is likely just having a screaming fit, many
groomers will be too unnerved by the screaming and may not want you and your loud Shiba back
at their salon.
Don’t worry too much though. You don’t want a groomer that can’t handle difficult dogs anyway.
With some persistence, you will find an experienced groomer that will be able to handle your Shiba drama queen or king.
And if even that fails - you’ll just have to take it to a veterinarian that has the right attitude and staff to get the job done.
Remember though - as much as possible, it's much better in the long run if you can trim your Shiba's nails yourself. Read why here.
Tip: Don’t ever have your dog fully sedated simply for a nail trim. If that’s what your vet recommends - I'd consider looking for another vet.
For even the most difficult of cases, two or three trained vet techs, and a muzzle / head cone will be more than enough to get the ordeal over with in the least stressful way possible.
If your current veterinary staff can’t handle this, it’d be best to find one that can.
An example of a calm Shiba = "GOALS"
Why is Nail Trimming So Important?
Overgrown dog nails not only looks unsightly but it’s also bad for your dog’s health.
You don’t want to be “that” dog owner - it’s not a good look.
Long nails are at greater risk for breaking, cracking, and getting stuck to things.
Cracked and broken nails are painful for dogs and make the task of getting your Shiba to trust you with her nails that much harder.
Additionally, long nails affects your dog’s ability to walk and run correctly - eventually leading to bigger problems down the road like arthritis and gait issues.
The longer you let your dog’s nails grow, the harder it gets to keep it under control.
Dog nails are not like grass where you can just let it grow and give it a good hacking later when it gets unruly.
That’s because as the dog’s nails get longer - so does the ‘quick’ - that sensitive area which will bleed and cause pain to your dog if cut.
By regularly trimming your dog’s nails, the quick will recede and you can eventually be able to cut the nails shorter and shorter before hitting the quick.
Comprehensive Video on Acclimating Your Dog To Nail Trimming:
Shiba Inu Nail Care - Tip #1 - Baby Steps, Baby Steps, Baby Steps
While some Shibas (especially those trained from puppy hood) learn to accept nail care quickly - the majority will take much longer.
A lot longer.
If you start too fast, you’ll inevitably risk traumatizing your Shiba to the point where future nail grooming will be close impossible
Think of it as an ultramarathon or 100 miler versus a quick one mile jaunt around the park.
Training starts slow - like simply handling paws everyday with positive associations.
Then progress to putting your Shiba in a safe nail clipping position and handling paws.
Next, try quick file or clip to see how much you can get away with.
Alternatively, if your Shiba is not bothered by noise too much, you can instead start with a Dremel like grinder / sander.
Shiba Inu Nail Care - Tip #2 - Your Mindset and Attitude
Dogs are highly perceptive and will pick up on how you’re feeling in a snap.
If you’re stressed - your dog is stressed.
If you’re fearful - your dog is stressed.
If you’re not confident - your dog is stressed.
If all of these apply to you, then it might be more critical to work on these weaknesses before even attempting to trim your dog’s nails.
In the meantime, you can leave nail trimming duties to a qualified and trusted person until you are ready to properly work with your Shiba.
If you’re not confident, fearful, and stressed, you’ll only make future nail trimming sessions harder and more unpleasant for your Shiba.
Shiba Inu Nail Care - Tip #3 - Safety Is ALWAYS FIRST
Getting bitten in the face is not pleasant. (Happened ages ago when I had zero dog skills)
It usually involves a lot of pain, tears, stitches and a Tetanus shot.
The reality is even the most well-trained dogs bite - especially when stressed / fearful.
If you’ve raised your Shiba from as a puppy - you’ll at least have a better understanding of your dog’s mood and likely reactions.
But if you adopted or rescued an adult Shiba, you probably won’t be able to predict how the dog will react to different situations.
This is where safety measures make a big difference.
The absolute best safety tool is something that can’t be bought.
It must be learned and ‘earned’.
As your dog’s caretaker, you must be able to understand your dog’s moods, fears, and temperament.
And as your dog’s ‘teacher’, you must put in the time for training and obedience.
In a nutshell, you need to have: Training, Obedience, and Trust (T.O.T) .
Basically, if you can’t even get your Shiba to obey basic obedience commands, how do you expect her to give you her nails willingly?
Shiba Inu Nail Care - Tip #4 - Don't Give In - Grooming in non-negotiable
Shiba Inus are known for being loud.
For this reason alone, many Shiba owners feel that grooming an unwilling and loud Shiba is IMPOSSIBLE.
Shiba Inus are smart and use these high dramatics for a reason - it works. The high-pitched screaming and squealing sounds like they're being tortured - so they know their terrified owners will stop.
Don't fall for it.
You need to stay calm, collected, and steadfast.
As long as you feel that the Shiba is not a bite risk and simply being dramatic - keep going on with the conditioning and training.
Don't push it though. Learn when to stop and always end on a positive not.
Watch this video of a loud Shiba Inu being conditioned to accept wearing a muzzle:
Helpful Safety Tools For Shiba Inu Nail Care:
Supplements / Medications
For certain cases, veterinarian-prescribed medication can help to reduce anxiety during grooming sessions.
It’s important to understand that medicine should not be used as a crux but rather a tool to help acclimate your Shiba to being handled.
Long term, the goal is to fully desensitize your dog to accept handling / grooming without the need for medications.
Certain supplements may help, but the efficacy on most is spotty at best- so we don’t recommend them.
Before even thinking about giving your Shiba medications, be sure to consult with your vet on your plan of action.
Some medications veterinarians prescribe include:
Options If You Just Can't Do It Yourself...
Although it would be ideal if you could trim your Shiba's nails yourself, sometimes it’s just not possible.
Don’t feel bad or defeated.
Trimming a screaming and / or biting dog’s nails is not an easy task.
You may not have the physical or emotional ability to handle the stress which is not good for your Shiba anyway.
Your job now is to find a qualified person/s to do the task right.
[ Important ] Remember, finding a good dog groomer is just like finding a good doctor.
All groomers are NOT made alike.
Some may have little to zero experience whereas some grooming business owners have done it for decades.
It’s critical that you take the time to find an experienced groomer that has the right skill sets to deal with difficult Shibas.
Tip - Steer clear of grooming services at ‘big box’ pet stores.
Veterinary Offices -
Most veterinary offices provide grooming services such as nail clipping, teeth cleaning, and anal gland expression.
But just as with dog groomers - not all veterinarians / vet techs are equally skilled and or patient when it comes to dog grooming tasks.
Make sure your veterinarian has the patience and empathy to get the job done right - preferably without excessive medication / sedation.
Also, it’s perfectly fine to have your ‘main’ vet for health issues and another vet / vet office for grooming.
Remember, don’t give up if a groomer or vet can’t handle your dog - think of it as dating, keep looking until you find the perfect match.
So Where Do I START??
You just read or at least skimmed through quite a lot of info.
Now, you probably are wondering, what next?
The answer is, it depends.
It depends on the Shibas age, past and present experiences with nail grooming, general obedience / training skills, and finally trust and comfort with you.
Not all tips and guidelines will apply to you and your Shiba. Every Shiba is unique and requires personalized care.
So your first step is to assess your Shiba and her particular needs and then devise an action plan best suited to her.
Go through the following guidelines and see which ones will likely bring the most success for your Shiba
Favorite Nail Care Tools
For Young Puppies
Hurrah, if you’re Shiba is still a pup - your nail trimming future with him looks bright. Here are some guidelines:
- Start socializing and training now
- Handle paws often - tip: do this when your puppy is in a happy and relaxed mood
- Always incorporate positive associations with paw handling (treats, play, petting, voice praise)
- Introduce grooming tools with positive associations (you can start with just a clipper or a clipper and dremel at same time - if your puppy reacts negatively to dremel, you can start with just a clipper and filer first)
- Proper positioning is important! Learn which grooming positions work best for your pup and again do this often with positive associations
- Eventually try clipping the tips of your puppy's nails in a comfortable grooming position with you guessed it… more positive associations (It’s best to this after your puppy is worn out from a play session)
- SUPER IMPORTANT - Don’t hit the quick! When your Shiba pup is just learning the ropes, it’s important to keep the experience as pleasant as possible. Clip just tiny bits at a time
- Do the same process for introducing your Shiba to a dremel if you haven’t done so already
For Adults (Raised from puppyhood, little to no fear issues)
If you have an adult Shiba that is not nail trim trained due to fear issues, etc than you have a bit more work cut out for you.
You’ll have to spend quite a bit more time slowly working on your Shiba’s fear issues before moving to clipping / sanding too fast.
Start by following the same standard nail grooming guide listed above. The only modification would be to spend more time with the desensitization process.
Guidelines For Adults:
- Follow guidelines for basic nail grooming for puppies and adults
- Find your Shibas “happy” factor (certain treats, praise, play, massage, etc) - and use it in training as a positive association
- Incorporate more obedience training and exercise into your Shibas weekly routine
- Practice proper positioning often - with paw handling and positive praise / reward
- That’s it keep going with paw handling and positivity until you see noticeable improvement
For Adults (Rescues, Moderate to severe fear issues)
Adopting and or rescuing adult dogs is a truly noble deed.
It’s not easy to train and change the habits (good / bad) of older adults.
But, it’s not impossible.
It’s just going to take a lot of patience and diligence.
You’re going to be following the basic nail grooming guidelines but with some added steps. Before starting, it’d be a good idea to pick up some supplies that may help you with the process.
Supplies / Equipment Helpful For Nail Maintenance (Some VERY Helpful)
- Muzzle (important to be the right size)
- Neck cone
- Styptic powder
- Grooming table (good investment for multiple dogs)
Guidelines For Difficult Doges / Rescues
- Before attempting grooming, spend the first few weeks bonding and introducing new positive experiences
- Assess your dog’s overall comfort / well-being - safe place to sleep, eating well, toys / recreation etc - and see if you need to improve anything
- Assess your comfort - make sure you are comfortable with the tasks ahead. A positive, confident, and assertive attitude is a MUST
- After a while, some obedience training can be introduced slowly
- If the dog is a bit risk, start introducing a properly fitted muzzle (with lots of positive associations)
- Give your dog lots of exercise preferably in nature
- [ Begin following standard guidelines for adults / puppies ]
- Assess how your dog responds to the procedures - if the dog shows discomfort - slow down a bit. If the dog seems fine - increase desensitization
- Depending on the dog - additional measures may be needed to continue positive progress.
- Calming medications prescribed and recommended by a veterinarian
- Extra protection (muzzle, neck cone, additional help from family / friends)
- Grooming table - Very helpful to get better leverage and to keep the dog from squirming and trying to run away. (Introduce with positive association techniques)
This was a long post.
But an important one.
Hopefully it'll help you tackle the task of Shiba nail care with more confidence - and more importantly, hope.
Don't get discouraged if you you simply can't groom your Shiba yourself.
Just realize that there are other roads to success. The most important thing is that you take the necessary steps to find the best path.
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