A: This is a very common problem. In nature, it is an act of dominance for one dog to bite another one’s foot. Without proper conditioning, a dog’s natural response is to resist having its feet handled. If there has been any time when a nail has been cut painfully close, the defensiveness will be even greater.
When training a new puppy, there should be lots of foot handling with positive reinforcement. Also handle the ears, mouth, and abdomen as much as possible. Have your veterinarian teach you the proper way to trim nails so that you do not injure your puppy. When starting young with positive reinforcement you can make nail trimming easy for life.
Since you are already having difficulty, you will need to retrain your dog. This means limiting any struggle associated with the nail trimming. I suggest you start to handle one foot briefly every time you are doing something fun. Paw handling can be added to playing fetch, going for a walk, feeding breakfast, and other daily pleasantries. Once paw handling is less distasteful, start training your dog to sit, then lie down, then let you handle paws in return for a treat. When this training is complete you can begin to trim the nails.
When you begin, start by only trimming one nail every night. The nightly routine should involve sit, lie down, handle paws, and trim one nail followed by a treat. Alternately, you can use a wood file to gently file a nail at a time. Once one nail is tolerated, slowly add nails until you can trim them all.
You can see that this slow, gentle retraining can take time and dedication. If the nails need to be trimmed before training is complete, natural sedatives and/or prescription tranquilizers can be used to ensure it is not a negative experience. One difficult or painful nail trim can undo months of training. Speak to your family veterinarian to discuss the best approach for your particular pet.