How To Cut Your Dog's Nails

I have been putting writing this post off for about 3 weeks now. Every time I think about it, is seems like there’s just so much to say. However, I know that this seems to be the ONE thing that people hate doing, and usually it’s because they’re “scared” to do it. I hate it because my dogs are so bad for me when I do it. They’re GREAT for anyone else, however, so know you’re not alone if it’s hard for you to do your own dogs. They just “know” us too well, and know how far they can push us…in any case, I’m going to try to explain this so that you realize that there’s nothing to be scared of, truly, you just need patience and confidence. So here we go!



Why it’s important.

When a dog’s nails are left to continuously grow, they can cause quite a few pretty serious problems. They can curl back underneath and actually grow INTO the pad of the foot which could require surgery to remove. They can catch on things and break off which is VERY painful and will bleed profusely. They can also grow in a way that is painful and makes the dog shift the way it walks creating foot and shoulder issues. For older dogs that are starting to loose their “footing”, long nails can make it hard for their feet to “grip” the floor causing them to slide, fall down, etc…and well, you get the picture. This really isn’t something you should ignore, just like you wouldn’t let YOUR toenails grow forever. Gross, sorry about that mental picture you just got!

When to do it.

When your dog is standing still, if their nails are touching the ground, you need to trim them. Some dogs that walk/run regularly on sidewalks or concrete may never need to have nails trimmed as they are being filed down naturally. Having said that, all dogs walk differently and one of my dog’s nails NEVER touch the ground no matter how long they get. However, this is not okay because they could still get caught on something and break off. Just because you can hear them “clicking on the floor” isn’t necessarily an indicator either because sometimes, no matter how short the nails are, they’ll still touch the ground when they walk.

**exception: Dew claws. If your dog has them, they will always need to be trimmed since they never touch the ground. Try to make it a habit to check these regularly.

What you’ll need to get the job done.

1) Again, patience and confidence are your two most important tools you’ll need. This isn’t THAT big of a deal and if you read all of this, you aren’t going to actually hurt your dog. Even if you end up seeing a little bit of blood, it’s not the end of the world and you’re dog won’t “hate you”. Promise.

2) Nail clippers. There are two styles: 



We only have the plier style in our shops and I’m pretty sure ALL of our groomers use that kind. However, if you look online at other posts on how to do this, you’ll see lots of examples of people using the second kind. I really don’t know why…I just know I learned with the first kind and it seems like it would be harder to try to get the nail lined up with the second kind. But either is fine, it’s just a preference thing. Also, they have different sizes so make sure to get the right size for your dog. 

3) Styptic powder (or some clotting agent). This is used to stop the bleeding if needed and has a bit of numbing agent in it too. But seriously, don’t freak out at the word blood. Please. 

3) If you want to get really fancy, you can also use a metal nail file after cutting to smooth the edges. But then, you’ll just be showing off. Just kidding! Some people also prefer to use a dremmel tool instead of clippers which is fine. Everything in this post is true if you’re using a dremmel or clippers. I’ll add a couple of notes at the end specific for dremmeling the nails.

4) Treats. Lots and lots of them. Just because.

Anatomy of the nail.

Two basic parts: the nail and the quick. The quick is the vein that runs through the middle of the nail and also has nerve endings. This is what you are trying to AVOID cutting during this process. If you cut too short, you will “quick” the nail and it will bleed.

On a dog with clear nails, it’s easy to actually see the quick–it’s the pink part:

However, on darker or black nails, you can’t see it. It doesn’t change anything, you’ll just need to be a bit more aware.

Now the fun begins.

The best thing you can do is get your dog used to you messing with their feet as much as possible. Squeeze each nail so that they get used to the feeling. Most dogs have more of an issue with the fact that you’re touching their feet than than the actual nail trimming. If they get used to that, you’re half way home.

Next you’ll grab the foot you want to start with. Hold the foot for a few seconds until they stop trying to pull it away. Move the hair out of the way and take a VERY SMALL slice off of the end of the nail. Continue to take small slices until you see this:

The black circle in the middle is the covering of the quick, this lets you know you’ve taken off as much as you can. (*note: the quick will recede from air, so if you’ve taken off as much as you CAN, but you WANT them to be shorter, repeat this process every 10 days or so and you’ll be able to go a little shorter each time)

No matter HOW careful you are, you will sometime hit the quick. If you’ve done what I said above and taken off tiny slices, chances are you’ll just hit the very end. This really isn’t anymore painful to the dog than a good pinch, so DON’T PANIC. Your dog is going to read you, so if you get all freaked out, so will they. Don’t apologize or baby them, because they WILL learn to manipulate the situation (which is why my dogs are so bad. Also, I’m going to write a post someday on how dogs manipulate their owners. I see it every day. It’s pretty funny.) Simply grab the styptic powder, take a small pinch of it and hold it to the bottom of the nail that is bleeding. This will stop the bleeding almost immediately. However, you may need to do it a couple of times depending on how short you cut it.

That’s it. For most dogs this really shouldn’t be that big of a deal. Again, your dog is going to “read your energy” so if you go into this stressed out, your dog is going to be stressed out. Remember, you’re doing this because you LOVE your dog and want to take care of them so have that attitude before you start.

*Notes about dremmeling: You can still go too short and hit the quick with a dremmel, so go SLOW–don’t just hold the nail to the file until you get used to how fast the nail actually files down. Also, if your dog has long hair, be VERY careful not to get the hair caught in the spinning wheel! I don’t think I really need to explain why, right? OUCH! You know that one that you’ve seen on TV? Well, it’s expensive and completely not necessary. The ONLY thing that is different about it, is that it will turn off if you push too hard. That can be a good thing, but now that you’ve read this post, you don’t need that feature :)

Just in case this isn’t enough information for you, I found a couple of videos that I think are pretty good. THERE’S a TON of videos online if you want to watch even more.

A good, but kind of long (7 mins), overview:

How to cut nails on an aggressive dog:

Still not comfortable? Call us and we’ll take care of it for you :)