Using dog nail clippers can be a difficult process. That's because, in most cases, dogs do not naturally like the idea of you applying something that is sharp to their feet, not to mention that clippers make a lot of scary noise! Unfortunately, it's impossible to explain to your dog that nail clipping is necessary, but you can make the whole experience less traumatic for both of you by going about it the proper way.
The first step is buying the right kind of nail clippers. Dog clippers come in two basic styles: plier/scissor and guillotine. The type you choose depends heavily on the size of your dog and the toughness of his nails. For larger dogs and those with harder nails the scissor type of clipper will usually work better, while medium and small dogs generally do better with the guillotine style, which requires less pressure to use. Another option is a nail grinder that slowly wears down the nail like an emery board would. This might be a good choice for dogs than don't tolerate tools that cut the nails.
Whichever type of dog nail clippers you choose, it is important to understand that keeping your dog's nails trimmed is a necessity. This is particularly true for active breeds like the Australian Shepherd. Long nails can be a hazard as they can easily become caught up in agility equipment, heavy fabrics or other surfaces and cause injury.
So you've got the clippers and you know that you need to use them, but that's only half the battle. The difficult part might be convincing your dog! Remember that you don't want to just grab the dog and start clipping, especially if he seems skittish about it. That will only reinforce the idea that this is not pleasant. Instead, you need to stay calm and take a gradual approach to it.
Ideally, using dog nail clippers should be a calm and routine experience for both you and your dog.
Before you even introduce him to the dog nail clippers, you need to get your dog used to having his feet touched. The feet can be a very sensitive area for dogs and many don't like you to handle them, but clearly that's a must for clipping nails. Sit with your dog and gently touch one foot while talking to him in a soothing voice. Repeat this step with each foot until he becomes used to you touching them, then do the same while actually picking each foot up.
Only after you get this far should you introduce the clippers. Don't apply them to the nails right away, just hold them so that they touch his foot so that he gets used to the idea of them being close to his toes. And don't make any noise with them yet either. Throughout this process, continue to praise him and reinforce that by giving treats.
Once he's gotten used to seeing the dog nail clippers, then you can begin applying them to his toes and clipping. Don't move too far in toward the toe itself so that you don't clip into the sensitive "quick" of the nail. This can cause pain and bleeding, which could traumatize the dog. Just in case of bleeding be sure to keep some styptic powder on hand to help stop the bleeding if necessary. Clip cleanly and quickly while praising your dog, then file the nail with a regular emery board to smooth out any jagged edges.
The goal of nail clipping is to make it as benign an experience as possible for both you and your dog. Staying calm and comforting, praising and rewarding him will go a long way toward taking the trauma out of having his nails clipped. If you go about it properly, then you'll be able to keep him safe and healthy by making sure his nails stay nice and trim!