Don’t Let This Happen!

Cali carries a newspaper
It’s easier to teach a puppy to retrieve than to teach her to let you trim her nails.

A headline a few weeks ago caught my eye: “PetSmart, groomer are sued in death of dog.” Obviously, this should never happen. Reading the article just made me sad, and angry.

The dog, Henry, a year-old dachshund, went to the groomer to get his nails trimmed. He emerged, bloody, with two broken ribs and a punctured lung, struggling to breathe. He died soon after.

The owners’ lawsuit seeks more than damages for their suffering and Henry’s. They want change. They want the state (it happened in California) to license groomers. Grooming is not regulated. And this was not an isolated incident.

I want change, too, but I’m not convinced that state regulation is the only or best answer. States are not doing a great job of preventing or punishing a lot of other cruel and horrific treatment of animals, including pets.

So, how can you prevent this from happening to your dog?

Most pet parents struggle with nail trims. It’s a tough sell with most dogs. I did everything by the book with both Jana and Cali: lots of gradual exposure, a ton of treats, and they never once got nicked. It worked with Jana, but not Cali. She still hates having her nails done. She’ll let me do it, but she’s not happy about it. It’s a lot harder to teach a dog to accept nail trimming than to teach her to sit on cue or even to pick up a newspaper, both of which Cali does beautifully.

But here’s the thing. Even though Cali does not like it, she doesn’t struggle. I get down on the floor with her, hold her paw firmly, and she lets me do it — then collects a very yummy treat after each paw.

I know that many dog moms are going to have someone else do the nails, but that’s even more reason to work on it. If the dog is not terrified, she won’t struggle, and the groomer won’t do … whatever that horrible groomer did to poor Henry.

Puppy classes should all include some basic grooming and conditioning to a nail trimmer or dremel-type file. Adult classes, too. Nail trimming is scary, especially the noisy dremel. Most dogs dislike having their paws handled. But the classes usually don’t even mention it. That’s too bad. But pet parents can do this on their own. Slow, gradual, exposure. Lots of encouragement and treats. The Whole Dog Journal has articles explaining step-by-step what to do. Or ask a trainer for help. You can do it at any age, but the earlier you start, the better.

And, if you do take your dog to a groomer, ask lots of questions. Try to find a place where everything is out in the open and you can see what they are doing to restrain dogs. Ask them how they restrain dogs. Do it for Henry. No dog should have to go through what he experienced.