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How to Clip Your Dog's Nails

Cutting Your Dog's Nails The Safe & Effective Way

Clipping your dog's toenails might be a bit worrisome the first few times. Once you know how to do it correctly, you will be able to do trim your dog's nails yourself at home quite safely and efficiently.

We will look at the clipping tools you will require to get the job done, as well as the best methods for cutting your dog's toenails.

Cutting Your Dog's Nails

Dog Toenail Cutting Tools

There are a couple of different kinds of clipping tools you can use. You should use the one you are most comfortable with and most importantly, one that fits your hand well.

  1. The Scissor Style toenail cutter: This tool is a clipper that when squeezed brings the two halves together to cut, just like a pair of scissors. This is an easy clipper to place around any of the toenails, even in tight spaces.

  2. The Guillotine Style toenail cutter: This clipper squeezes two halves together as well, but instead of cutting like a scissor, it cuts like a guillotine. You place the dog's toenail inside a circular shape. When pressure is applied, a blade moves through the toenail, much like a guillotine. These can be trickier to use if your dog is moving his foot a lot.

  3. Quickfinder cutters: There is a newer product on the market that is made just for the pet owner. It is a clipper that is supposed to be able to sense where the dog's quick is, letting you know when it is safe to cut.

  4. Grinders: These are like small sanding tools. They quickly sand off the end of the toenail. They cauterize as they grind, in case you hit the quick, but these are very easy to take too much off of a toenail with. Also, if the tool accidentally slips off the toenail, you can cut your dog's skin open. Note: Best used by someone with experience in dog nail trimming.

  5. Clotting powders or gels: You want to try to avoid cutting into your dog's quick, which is the blood vessel that runs down each toenail. If you cut it, your dog will experience some minor discomfort, and it will bleed! You should always keep clotting powders or gels on hand to immediately stop the bleeding. Clotisol or a styptic power is best.

How to Cut Your Dog's Nails

A dog's toenail curves downward and if left untrimmed, will continue to grow under towards the pad. The more active the dog, the more he will naturally wear down his nails. Dogs that spent a lot of time digging or walking on concrete or hard surfaces will wear their nails down more than a dog who lives only on carpet.

A dog's toenails should ideally not touch the ground at all. If the tips barely touch the ground, it is okay, but they should be trimmed. Toenails that are too long will damage the dog's foot, and they can be easily caught and ripped out.

The best way to trim toenails is to begin early. As soon as you bring home a new puppy, begin trimming his nails every single week. He will become accustomed to the process, and it won't bother him - nor should it.

Even with older dogs or adopted dogs, the process should be initiated the same as above and maintained every week.

Here are the steps involved in cutting your dog's toenails:

  • You want your dog to be comfortable with the process. You might only cut one or two nails at a time, depending on how comfortable he is.

  • For larger dogs, have two people on hand: one to cut and the other to hold and distract.

  • Have cut up pieces of food like cheese cubes, hot dog slices, or something similar on hand. Have enough for each toenail, including the dew claws.

  • Many dogs do better when elevated on a table. Make sure it is secure and they cannot jump off or get hurt. One person can stand to one side or in front of the dog to hold him steady while you cut on the opposite side. Small dogs can often be easily held in your lap.

  • With one hand, hold the dog's paw so that you can see the toenails. The other hand will hold the clippers.

  • Dogs have a blood vessel that runs down the center of each nail. The quick will bleed if cut into. Usually, the quick starts just before the curve of the nail but not in all dogs. Dogs with white toenails allow you to see where the quick is, and you should cut a small distance after its end. With black toenails, you will have to guesstimate where the quick is, but generally, you should take a small amount of the curved part of the nail off. Done regularly, this might be about an eighth of an inch or less. It can be up to a quarter of an inch if you wait 2-3 weeks in between cuttings. You can make successive approximate cuts too by taking very tiny amounts off each nail once or twice to make sure you don't cut the quick.

  • Position the clipper blade around the end of the toenail where you intend to cut. Then, squeeze the clipper handle together to cut the nail off.

  • Once you cut, say 'Yes!' and immediately give the dog a piece of the food you have prepared. Each nail you cut, remember to repeat this process. Your dog will begin to associate toenail time with the good food items.

  • If you should happen to cut the quick, don't panic. Simply get your styptic powder or Clotisol and dab a little on the end with some pressure to stop the bleeding.


Tips to Remember:

Toenails should ideally be trimmed every week so that you only need to take the very tips off each toenail at trimming time. If you find them a bit rough, you can file the edges a bit. Don't let more than 2-3 weeks go in between toenail trimmings.

Your dog will be more receptive to the process the more often he does it. Always pair each toenail being cut with a food reward.

Not each toenail will have the same amount cut off. Don't blindly cut! Toenails always wear differently with the back ones usually wearing the most. Evaluate the curve of the nail and only take off nail that is curving or the tips of shorter nails. The goal is to have your dog's nails not touch the ground.

Remember to trim the dew claws on your dog's feet, if he has them. Many breeds like the German Shepherd Dog retain dew claws on their front feet, and some breeds also have them on their back feet. These can grow very long if left untrimmed as there is no way to wear them down naturally.

If you've never cut a dog's toenails before, you might want to have a veterinarian or groomer cut your dog's nails for you the first time and really watch the process first hand to get a feel for it. You can also learn more about the process by volunteering at an animal shelter and helping to groom some of the dogs up for adoption. This gets you some hands on experience.

Before you know it, cutting or trimming your dog's nails will be an easy task in your dog's grooming routine.

nail trimmer

Some other pages you may be interested in:

Learn how to solve or at least control your dog's behavior problems such as excessive barking, digging, puppy whining and jumping up on guests to your home.

What should you feed your puppy for his health, wellbeing and longevity?

What are the best dog training books on the market today?

Discover why clicker training is a brilliant option for your dog.

Please consult the services of a Professional Dog Trainer, Behaviorist or Veterinarian before implementing any of the advice contained on this site.