How To Trim Dog Nails

Alex Seilis
how to trim dog nails

Keeping your dog's nails trimmed is an essential aspect of his care … but it can be a challenging and stressful task for many owners. It doesn’t have to be, though!

With proper knowledge and technique, you can trim your dog's nails without causing him any pain or discomfort. In this guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know about cutting your dog’s nails and how to cut dog nails at home. 

When To Trim Dog Nails

Before trimming your dog's nails, it’s important to have a basic idea of when dog nails need to be trimmed. The best rule of thumb is that you should trim your dog's nails when they start touching the ground or making a clicking sound when walking on a hard surface. 

However, every dog is different. Some dog’s nails may grow faster or slower than others, and may require more or less frequent nail trims. Where your dog walks make a difference too.  Nails can get worn down by walking on sidewalks or other hard surfaces, but dogs who exercise on softer surfaces will need their nails trimmed more often. Generally speaking, you should aim to check your dog's nails every three weeks, and trim them if necessary.

For more info, see our full guide on how long dog nails should be

Are Long Nails Bad For Dogs? 

A quick but important side note: cutting your dog’s nails isn’t just important for grooming and aesthetics. 

Dogs’ nails provide stability and help them navigate surfaces. If your dog’s nails are too long, this can make it difficult for him to walk around comfortably. Nails that are too long can also cause painful feet and affect your dog’s body posture. 

Nails that are too long also risk being torn if they get caught on something, which can be a painful injury. 

How To Find The Quick On Dog Nails

Before you start cutting your dog's nails, you’ll need to understand one key piece of anatomy in the nail, known as the quick. The quick is the living tissue that runs through the center of the nail and contains blood vessels and nerves. 

If you cut the quick, it will bleed, causing pain and discomfort to your dog. 

To avoid cutting the quick, here's how to recognize it. In dogs with light-colored nails, this is pretty simple. The quick is visible as a pinkish area near the base of the nail. 

Dark colored nails, on the other hand, are a bit more complicated… 

How To Cut Dog Nails That Are Black

Cutting black dog nails can be challenging as the quick is not visible. 

One tip you can try to cut dog nails that are black is to use a flashlight to see the quick, which appears as a dark spot in the center of the nail. For the best results, you’ll want to use a light with a tiny, narrow beam. 

After finding the quick, you still need to be extra careful when cutting dog nails that are black. You should start by taking off a small amount of the nail. Then, make sure to stop and check the end of the nail. If you see a white or greyish color, you are getting close to the quick, and you should stop trimming. 

If you’ve trimmed enough of the nail and are worried about going any deeper, you can use a file or dremel to file down the rest of the nail instead of cutting it. This will help you avoid cutting the quick and provide a smooth finish.

The Best Clippers And Tools For Cutting Dog Nails At Home

First you need to make sure you have the tools and equipment you’ll need to trim dog nails:

  1. Nail clippers: There are two types of nail clippers you can use for trimming your dog's nails - guillotine clippers and scissor clippers. Scissor clippers work like a pair of scissors, with two blades that come together to cut the nail. Guillotine clippers work by inserting the dog's nail into a hole in the clipper and squeezing the handle, which causes a blade to cut through the nail. We recommend only using “scissor” type clippers, because guillotine style clippers crush the toe, which is painful. Whatever you do, never put the whole nail in a clipper.
  2. Corn starch: Accidents can happen, and you may accidentally cut your dog's quick while trimming their nails. Many people use styptic powder sold for this purpose. However, styptic powders contain ingredients like aluminum that you’ll want to avoid. Cornstarch is a safe alternative, so make sure you keep some handy. It’s best if you have it tightly packed in a small container. 
  3. Treats: To make the experience more positive for your dog, be sure to have plenty of treats on hand to reward him for good behavior.
  4. File or dremel/grinder: A file or grinder can be used to smooth out any rough edges left after trimming your dog's nails. This is particularly helpful during the end of the trim, if you still need to shave the nail down but don’t want to risk cutting any closer to the quick. 

How To Trim Dog Nails

Now that you know how to find the quick and how to cut black nails, it's time to trim your dog's nails. Here’s how to cut dog nails at home:

  • Before starting, introduce the clippers to your dog and let them sniff and investigate the tool.
  • Use the tips we offered above to help find the quick in your dog’s nails, so you can avoid cutting it. 
  • Next, hold your dog's paw gently and use a clipper to take off a small amount of the nail at a time. Use a sharp, quality “scissor style” clipper that will make a clean cut. 
  • Avoid cutting the quick, and if you do accidentally cut it, use styptic powder to stop the bleeding. 
  • Remember to praise your dog and offer treats to create a positive experience.

Tips To Make Cutting Your Dog's Nails A Positive Experience

Even with all the tips above, trimming your dog's nails can still be a bit stressful for both you and your dog. So, here are a few final tips you can use to make cutting your dog’s nails easier. It all starts by making nail trimming a positive experience. 

  • Before introducing any clippers or cutting any nails, start by handling your dog's paws frequently, so he becomes comfortable with having his paws touched. 
  • Reward your dog with treats and praise whenever he allows you to handle his paws. 
  • Use a quality clipper and avoid rushing the process. 
  • Take breaks if necessary. You don’t have to force your dog to sit through the entire nail trim at once. 
  • If it’s really difficult to trim your dog’s nails, do one or two nails a day until you’ve done all 16 nails (plus dewclaws). 

With patience and consistency, and by incorporating the tips above, your dog will become comfortable with nail trimming, and it will become a positive experience for both of you. By following all the steps outlined in this guide, you can keep your dog's nails trimmed, healthy, and happy.

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