Categories: Grooming

A Step-by-Step Guide to Trimming Dog Nails

Image by Anne Hornyak, via Flickr

Dogs nails are constantly growing, so unless your dog spends a great deal of time running around on hard abrasive surfaces (which will wear them down), you may need to trim the nails from time to time. If left unchecked, the nails can curl around, making it difficult for the dog to walk on smooth surfaces, and may snag on carpets, furniture or branches and tear off, which can be extremely painful. Nails on dew claws can grow right around and can penetrate the skin if they are not checked regularly.

Dog Nail Trimming: The Basics

If your dog’s nails clatter when he walks on a smooth surface, or if his nails touch the floor, it is time for him to have them trimmed. Before we get started lets have a look at the structure of a dog’s nail, what what equipment is needed to complete the task, and what we need to consider to make the experience more acceptable to your pet.

Dog Nail Structure

A dog’s nails consists of a hard exterior nail that covers and protects the tender quick (pink area within the nail that contains nerves and blood vessels). When trimming a dog’s nails you must take care not to cut into the sensitive quick area, which will not only cause pain, but will also bleed profusely. A dog that has been hurt during nail clipping soon learns to associate this as an awful experience, and is not likely to be a very willing participant in the future.

Some dogs are blessed with light-colored nails that are semi-translucent, allowing you to easily see the quick. However, the quick is not visible in dogs that have dark-colored nails, so extreme care must be taken not to cut the nails too short.

Image by Aaron Tait via Flickr

Some dogs have dew claws situated on the inside of the paws (front or rear, or both). Dew claws are found higher up the paw and don’t touch the ground, so they don’t wear down and need to be trimmed regularly to avoid problems. An overgrown dew claw that grows into the pad can cause an infection, and will cause the dog much pain. Dew claws can be surgically removed by a veterinarian under anesthetic if they pose a problem to the dog, but it is best to do this when the dog is still a puppy when the bone and cartilage is still soft.

Making Dog Nail Trimming an Enjoyable Experience

Many dogs do not enjoy having their feet touched, let alone having their nails trimmed, so you may need to reassure your dog to calm it down when cutting its nails. Start by gently brushing your dog’s coat, talking softly and reassuring to him as you work. Once he is relaxed, take a paw in your hand, gently massaging the paw until he is comfortable with you doing this. Once he is relaxed with his paw in your hand, you can begin trimming the nails with the nail clippers.

Dog Nail Trimming: Equipment & Supplies

Gather all the necessary equipment below, making sure that you have all the tools that you will need to trim your dog’s nails on hand before you start – this includes first aid supplies, just in case…

  • Dog nail clippers (either scissor type, guillotine type, or plier type nail clippers)

  • Nail file or nail grinder (optional) – to smooth off rough edges

  • Styptic powder/pencil/solution – to stop bleeding if your nick the quick

  • Cotton wool or gauze – can be used to apply pressure to stop bleeding if you don’t have the above supplies

How to Trim Dogs Nails: Step-by-Step

The first time you clip your dog’s nails, work with extreme caution. Your dog may resist you, so it may be safer to have someone to assist you initially until your dog learns to accept having its nails clipped. Work slowly and gently, talking softly to your dog to reassure him as you systematically trim each nail.

  1. Hold your dog’s paw firmly, but gently.

  1. If your dog is blessed with translucent nails that allows you to easily see the inner quick, you can clip off the transparent tips of the nails, making sure not to cut too close to the quick. If on the other hand your dog has dark-colored nails and the quick is not visible, you will need to err on the side of caution and trim off just the tips of the nails.

  2. First Aid: Should you happen to nick the quick and the nail starts to bleed, apply pressure with some cotton wool, gauze, tissue, or a cotton swab to stop the bleeding. Styptic powder (or styptic pencil or solution) will stop the bleeding quickly, so ideally have this on hand. Reassure your dog before moving on to the next nail.

  3. After you have trimmed all the nails on one paw, you can file off the rough edges with a nail file to give a neat finish if you wish.

  4. Repeat the above steps on all paws until all the nails are trimmed.

  5. If your dog has dew claws, don’t forget to check these when trimming dog nails. Dew claws are higher up the paw and can easily be overlooked on long-haired dogs, and as these do not wear down readily, they can curl around and penetrate the pad to cause a painful wound.

Image by Suzanne Phillips via Flickr

When you have successfully completed trimming all the nails shower your dog with praise for being such a good dog or reward him with a treat.

Final Nail Trimming Tips

Should your dog have a bad experience during nail trimming he may struggle and fight to break free. If he is really afraid, he may even try to bite, which could pose a risk of injury to you.

The following tips can help you manage a frightened dog:

  • Break up nail trimming with other activities, such as combing, brushing, or offering a tasty treat as a reward, before moving on to the next paw. This will allow your dog to have a rest and let him calm down before proceeding.

  • A nail grinder, which grinds down the tips of the nails, may be more suitable for a nervous dog. Follow the steps outlined above, grinding off a little at a time.

  • If necessary, place your dog on a suitable grooming table and restrain him with a noose; if he is aggressive, use a muzzle to prevent him from biting you.

If you are still not confident about trimming your dog’s nails, rather take him to a professional grooming salon or to your vet and ask if you can watch to learn how it is done.

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Featured Image by Anne Hornyak, via Flickr
Jenny Griffin

is the Owner/Founder of Ecologix Environmental Media Services, Ecology Matters, and Stuff4Petz. Jenny is a freelance writer specializing in topics related to pet care, animal welfare, and environmental issues. She has published a series of Pet Owners Guides - view her Amazon author profile. Jenny has worked with animals all her life, having owned her own pet shop, dog grooming parlor, and educational mobile petting zoo; and has also worked in the fields of marine science and environmental education. Jenny resides on a smallholding with her extensive menagerie of rescued animals, which is in itself a full time job. When she is not writing or caring for her animals, she can be found surfing the waves at her local beach, or spending time with her horses.

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