Person trimming a dog’s nails

Key takeaway

Trimming your dog's nails is an important grooming process that can help your dog stay active and healthy. However, nail trimmings are not a fun experience for many pet parents and their pets. Luckily, you can help your dog overcome their fear of nail clippers with proper training.

Trimming your dog's nails is an important part of the grooming process. Having nails of the proper length can help your dog stay healthy while ensuring they don't get hurt walking. You can get your dog's nails trimmed at your vet's office or by a local groomer if you're too afraid of cutting your dog's nails at home. However, those options can be costly and give your dog more anxiety about nail trims.

Ultimately, every dog owner should know how to trim dog nails so they can save a little money every month and help ease their dog's anxiety. Many dogs prefer to have their nails trimmed by their owners at home because it's a more comfortable, less scary experience. Unfortunately, nail trimming isn't easy, especially if your dog is scared about the process.

It's important to start getting your dog comfortable with paw touching and nail trimming as soon as possible so they can learn that the process doesn't have to be painful or scary. Some dogs will be able to have their nails clipped, while others might need to be restrained so they don't nip or wiggle around too much. This article will discuss how to trim dog nails safely at home, how often you should do it, and why trimming dog nails is important.

  1. Choose the Right Type of Nail Clipper
  2. Gather Your Supplies
  3. Find the Best Position for You
  4. Gently Grab Your Dog's Paw
  5. Clip the Tip of the Nail
  6. Don't Forget the Declaw
  7. Reward Your Dog

1. Choose the Right Type of Nail Clipper

Finding the right nail clipper for your dog's nails and the type of dog you have is important because it can make learning how to trim a dog’s nails easier. There are many types of nail clippers out there, and the best option depends on your preferences. However, some clippers may be easier for beginners. These are the types of nail clippers available for clipping your dog's nails.

Types of dog nail clippers

  • Scissor clippers: Scissor clippers look like regular scissors. However, they're smaller and have tiny, curved edges towards the middle of the blades. These types of clippers are best for small dogs and puppies. They also may be easier to use because they allow you to easily access the nails to clip them at the correct angle.
  • Guillotine clippers: Guillotine clippers are also another popular choice for pet parents because they have a hole indicating where you'll put the nail. These clippers are great for all types of dog nails. However, they can be more difficult to use, especially if your dog tries to wiggle away while you're clipping. If your dog is trembling and showing signs of canine anxiety, guillotine clippers may make it more challenging for you to clip their nails because you have to put the nail through a hole in order to cut them.
  • Plier clippers: Plier clippers are similar to scissor clippers, but they are stronger thanks to a spring, making them ideal for larger dogs with thick nails.
  • Nail grinders: Nail grinders are another popular choice for all types of nails. Many dogs prefer grinders because they're afraid of clippers, while others don't like the sound of a nail grinder. Nail grinders also make the process of trimming your dog's nails longer because you're filing down the nail instead of clipping it. However, they can be safer because you can file your dog's nails and avoid hitting the quick. You can also use a clipper and file your dog's nails down so that they're less sharp.

While some clippers are better for certain types of dog nails, the best clipper comes down to your dog's behavior during nail trims. If your dog has anxiety and tries to wiggle away from you, using a scissor-style clipper may be the best option because it allows you to clip a dog’s nails much quicker.

2. Gather Your Supplies

Before you start clipping your dog's nails, it's important to have all of your supplies ready. Along with a nail trimmer, you should also have clotting powder nearby just in case you accidentally clip the quick and your dog starts to bleed. If you don't know what a quick is, it's the area of the nail that contains blood vessels. You mustn't clip your dog's nails too short because hitting the quick can cause severe pain to your dog while also making them bleed.

Ultimately, the best way to avoid hitting the quick is to cut your dog's nails a little at a time. If your dog's nails are long, the quick will have grown with them, so you don't want to go too short right away.1

Since nail trimmings may never become your dog's favorite activity, always have high-value treats nearby. As soon as your dog allows you to clip their nail, give them a treat to reward them for their good behavior. Rewarding your dog can also teach them that nail clippings are good experiences because they come with treats.

Depending on how your dog behaves during trimmings, you may also need a muzzle to prevent them from trying to bite you. Having an additional person there to hold your dog can also make the experience less uncomfortable for them. You can have the second person comfort your dog by petting them during the nail trim.

3. Find the Best Position for You

Depending on how your dog reacts to nail trims, you can try a few different positions. Usually, the most effective position is draping your arms over your dog and placing your forearm over their neck to keep them from moving their head.2 However, you can also allow your dog to stand on their own and put your thumb on their paw pad to spread their toes and clip the nails one at a time.

If your dog likes to fidget during the process, you can also have one person hold the dog while the other trims the nails. Some pet parents also find more success by putting their dog on their side so that they can get a better angle of the nail and see the quick.

4. Gently Grab Your Dog's Paw

To clip your dog's nails, you should be able to grab your dog's paw gently. If your pet is not comfortable with having you touch their paws, you may have to go back to your foundational training and basic dog commands and teach the dog to shake hands. Doing so can help them become more comfortable with paw touching.

If your dog is comfortable with you grabbing their paws, you can continue with the nail clipping. Then, pick up the paw and gently place your thumb on the toe pad with your forefinger on the top of the toe so you can reveal the entire nail.1 Next, you'll push your thumb on the pad to extend the nail and see its full length. This can also help you get a better angle. Once you've revealed the nail and can easily get the clipper on it, you can start clipping.

5. Clip the Tip of the Nail

Clipping your dog's nails is not as simple as cutting a chunk of the nail off. Your dog has a quick in their nail that should never be cut, so it's important to learn how to effectively clip your dog's nails without hurting them. White or lighter-colored nails are easier to cut because you can see the quick within them. Trimming black dog nails is more difficult because you don't know where the quick is since you can't see it through the nail. If your dog has long nails and you can't see the quick, it's always best to trim short at first to avoid hitting the quick.2

Cut nails at a 45-degree angle

Your dog's nails should be cut at a 45-degree angle for best results2, which can help you avoid hitting the quick and ensure your dog's nail shape is comfortable for them to walk outside or on the carpet.

6. Don't Forget the Dewclaw

Your dog's dewclaw is the claw that's connected by skin above their paws. It's typically sharper and more angular than their regular nails. The easiest way to cut the dewclaw is by bending it away from your dog's leg and cutting it with scissor trimmers. Unlike regular nails, your dog's dewclaw cannot be filed away by walking on pavement, so it's likely to be sharper and more dangerous than their other nails.2

7. Reward Your Dog

Pet parents should always reward their dog with treats and praise to make nail clippings a positive experience. Depending on your dog's behavior during nail trimmings, you may have to stop multiple times to reward your pet. If your dog handles nail trims well, you can give them a treat once the entire process is over.

Tips for Trimming Dog Nails

If your dog hasn't been trained for nail clipping, the process can be brutal for both of you, so it's important to learn a few tips to make it easier for everyone and keep your dog happy so that nail trimmings do not become a negative experience. So now that you know how to cut dog nails, here are a few tips to help you trim your dog's nails.

Tips for trimming dog nails

Distract them with peanut butter

Distracting your dog with peanut butter on a lick mat can help them forget about what's going on around them, which can help ease any anxiety they might be feeling around nail clippers.

Introduce the nail clipper

Before you can start trimming your dog's nails at home, your dog needs to get acquainted with the nail clippers. Introducing your dog to the clippers is a process that can take many weeks or months, so don't expect to be able to trim your dog's nails right away. Instead, you'll use reward-based training to help your dog understand that the nail clippers come with treats. You can let your dog sniff the clippers and reward them every time they come close. Once your dog has mastered that, you can reward them for putting their paw on the clippers so that they become accustomed to them.

Ask a vet for help

Many dogs experience severe anxiety when getting their nails clipped, especially if they've had a negative experience, such as their quick being cut before. Your vet may be able to provide you with anxiety meds for dogs to help take away some of their fear.

Go slowly

It's important not to make nail trimmings a negative experience, so you should always go slowly and not rush the process. Your dog isn't going to be happy about getting their nails clipped right away. Taking the time to train your dog can help make the process easier for everyone. With time, and as long as you continue to reward your dog, they will become more comfortable with nail trimmings at home.

When to Trim a Dog's Nails

Some dogs will need their nails trimmed every month, while others can go months without getting their nails trimmed. How often your dog needs their nails trimmed depends on how fast they grow. Some dogs can grind their nails down if they're frequently walked on hard pavement or sidewalks, which means your dog may only need their nails clipped a few times a year.3

To determine if your dog's nails are too long, consider whether or not you can hear them on the ground when they walk. If your dog's nails sound like they're tap dancing, it's time for a trim.

Close-up of long dog nails

Why Is it Important to Trim Your Dog's Nails?

Many pet parents let their dog's nails grow too long because getting their dog's nails clipped can be difficult. However, it's important to keep your dog's nails at a healthy length because it can cause several problems. When the quick becomes too long, and your dog is constantly putting pressure on their nails, they can injure the tendons in their feet and legs over time.4

Additionally, walking on nails that are too long can cause your dog to shift their weight on the nails to prevent discomfort, which can cause problems in their posture and affect their bones and joints over time. Finally, having nails that are too long reduces your dog's traction on hard, slippery floors, so it can make walking around your house more difficult for your pet.4

Final Notes

Clipping your dog's nails is important for their overall health and quality of life. However, it can be a chore that you and your dog want to avoid. Luckily, with the right tools and techniques, you can train your dog to get their nails clipped without squirming or trying to hide. While nail trims can cause anxiety in dogs, you can help ease stress through proper training and anxiety medication.

Dutch offers telemedicine for pets to help you find ways to ease your dog's anxiety during nail trimmings. Whether your dog has general anxiety or fear of the clippers, a licensed veterinarian can provide a treatment plan to reduce their stress and ensure they get the care they need to stay healthy.

References

  1. Meyers, Harriet. “Trim Your Dog's Nails Safely: Tips, Tricks, and Grooming Techniques.” American Kennel Club, 10 Nov. 2021, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/how-to-trim-dogs-nails-safely/.

  2. “How to Clip a Dog's Nails.” Veterinary Teaching Hospital, 10 Mar. 2022, https://hospital.vetmed.wsu.edu/2022/03/10/how-to-clip-a-dogs-nails/.

  3. “Dog Grooming Tips.” ASPCA, https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/dog-care/dog-grooming-tips.

  4. “Nail Neglect Can Lead to Health Problems for Your Dog.” American Kennel Club, American Kennel Club, 23 Jan. 2018, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/nail-neglect-can-lead-to-health-problems-for-your-dog/.