Why is my dog chewing his paws and biting his nails?
A dog licking, chewing, or biting their paws and nails is a noisy process. Licking sounds like a sloshing washing machine. Chewing sounds like a sloshing wood chipper washing machine. Nail biting sounds like a sloshing washing wood chipper machine chef, chopping carrots. Why do dogs chew their paws and nails? Allergies, boredom, obsessive behavior, or self-comfort. Finding your dog's reasons requires filtering through those variables.
Read my How I beat our dog's itchy ear yeast infections article that addresses allergic dog dermatitis and chronic dog ear infections. We eliminated those two problems. When you're addressing the paw and nail chewing problem, eliminate the allergy and fungus question first. Nothing will fix paw and nail chewing until you've removed allergies and fungus.
Dante has healthy skin, clear ears, and a very happy belly now. Which adds up to a very happy dog. His obsession with his feet and nails seemed a lost cause, though. He could not stop being that sloshing, washing woodchipper machine chef, chopping carrots. His feet and nails turned ragged. He has backyard time on tap, a dog friend, toys, bones, and my obsessive nature. Boredom wasn't the issue. At night on the couch, his slurping chewing left wet swaths on the couch. Self-comforting crossed my mind until I sat in one of those saliva puddles. The only thing that crossed my mind then was stopping this behavior.
2 steps stop a dog chewing feet and biting nails.
- Keep their nails trimmed. This is healthier for them and eliminates the last passive problem that would cause the nail biting. This can be a big ask for some dogs. Dante and I worked on his fear at home, and when I couldn't get the job done, we visited our vet for a pro nail trim. Through several clipper iterations, we found the one that was sharp enough and easy for me to hold, making the process as fast as possible. You want easy to control, sharp clippers that leave a clean cut. Dante has no problems with his nail trims at home now.
- Bitter Apple. Not just any bitter apple spray, this one. I don't spray directly on Dante's feet. He's fearful and not paying attention to the lesson. The spray interrupts the training. I spray into a folded square of paper towel. I keep that near me, since Dante is always near me. When he investigates his paws, I grab that square, pet Dante's head to get his to get his attention, and gently wipe the top of each paw. No words, nothing to explain. He'll get the connection. I pet his head again and go back to my business. He goes back to investigating his paws and realizes his paws are no longer tasty. I poured pickle juice on his cheerios. Wiping the tops of paws is enough. No admonitions. No positive reinforcement needed. Make sure you disengage their brain with a pet to the head or belly and a good, long, loving look into their eyes. Every time the washing machine kicks in, we do this exact process. Do not apply the bitter apple unless the washing machine kicks in. The message must be clear. If I lick my paws, they taste terrible. It took one day to stop Dante's obsession. I'll keep my saturated paper towel near for a few days. For edification.
Stopping a nail biting, foot chewing dog requires eliminating allergies, fungus, and boredom first. Benadryl is a help in the allergy department, but if you're still feeding allergy triggering foods, it only masks the problem. When you've got a healthy dog obsessing, Bitter Apple. Bitter Apple wiped on, not sprayed, works with no drama but all the results.