Do you constantly hear your dog’s paws “click-click” ing on your floors as he roams the house? Does the sensation of his sharp claws digging into you during your cuddle sessions make you wince?
If so, he’s probably due for a nail trim. But getting him to the groomer can be a huge ordeal — plus it can be pricey and tough to fit into your schedule.
For these reasons, it’s a good idea to learn how to clip your dog’s nails at home. It may not sound like fun, but trust us: with the right techniques and a bit of patience, it can be a lot easier than you think!
We’ve got everything you need to know about trimming your dog’s nails. Grab those clippers and let’s get started!
The Complete Guide to Clipping Your Dog’s Nails
Getting Started: Choosing Your Clippers
First things first: you need to obtain the proper nail clippers for your dog. Clippers made for humans just won’t work, and choosing the wrong pair of dog clippers could result in frustration and pain.
There are two main styles of dog nail clippers: scissor and guillotine.
Scissor-type clippers resemble pliers that fit around the nail and have handles that are squeezed together to make a cut. Guillotine-type clippers have a hole that the nail is inserted into; when the clippers are squeezed, a blade is lowered, cutting the nail.
We recommend scissor-type clippers: they allow for more precise cuts and don’t squeeze the nail as much as guillotine clippers do. Squeezing the nail can make your dog uncomfortable and even hurt, which is less likely with scissor-type clippers.
Step 1: Get Your Dog Used to Paw Handling
If your dog has had bad experiences with nail clipping in the past, he may be very reluctant to let you handle his paws at all, let alone trim his nails. So you’ll need to convince him that having his paws held isn’t so scary after all.
To do this, start handling his paws every day. Give him treats, pet him and talk to him in a calm voice while you gently hold his paws, pressing lightly on the pads if he’ll allow it.
Once he’s used to that, start holding your nail clippers in one hand while holding his paws in the other, but don’t clip anything yet. Just get him accustomed to having his paws touched in the presence of the clippers.
And once he’s used to that, you can hold the clippers up to his nails (without clipping them) and let him get comfortable with that. When he’s able to handle that, he’s ready for a calm and cooperative nail trimming.
Step 2: Understanding Your Dog’s Nails
Before the clipping begins, you need to understand the anatomy of your dog’s nails. This knowledge will help you avoid hurting him during the process, plus it’ll make it easier for you, too.
The tips of your dog’s nails don’t contain any nerves or blood vessels, so there’s essentially no sensation in them. But further, down the claw, you’ll find the quick — a blood vessel that, if cut, causes pain and bleeding.
On light-colored nails, you can see the quick easily: it’s the darker, opaque inner part of the nail that extends back into the paw. If your dog has dark nails, hold a flashlight up to them to identify the quick.
When cutting, keep an eye on the cut surface of the nail. It’ll appear white or gray, then turn solid black (for dark nails) or pink (for light nails) just before you reach the quick.
Your goal is to cut the nail close to the quick without actually touching it. It’s better to make several small cuts and watch for color changes than to make a large cut and possibly overestimate the safe distance.
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Step 3: Get Clipping!
When you’re ready to clip, assemble your tools and prepare a comfy place for your dog to sit. You may wish to get him up onto a table so you can get in a better position to trim his nails.
Keep some flour, cornstarch or styptic powder on hand in case you cut too deep. If you see blood, apply a little powder to quickly stop the bleeding.
A flashlight will help you locate the quick, so it’s good to keep around if your dog has darker nails. And if you want to keep him distracted, a dollop of peanut butter on a spoon or plate should occupy him long enough to get some cuts in!
Have your dog lay down on his stomach, then position yourself above him so you can hold him down with your body weight. Another person may be helpful here, especially if your dog is particularly large or wiggly.
Once you’re in position, hold the clippers in your dominant hand and grasp his paw with your non-dominant hand.
Place your thumb on one of the toe pads, pushing up and backward slightly, and press on the skin just above the nail with your index finger. This will make the nail protrude further, making for an easier cut.
Now position the clippers, so the very tip of the nail is between the blades. If your clippers have a nail guard — a small bit that swivels down to stop the nail from going too far between the blades — you can use it to help you position the nail.
Make sure the cut will go straight across the nail, not at a diagonal. The clippers should be positioned at a right angle to the nail, and the cut should run parallel with the bottom of the quick.
Then squeeze the clippers and swiftly cut the tip of the nail. You can then move further back, cutting until you begin to see the pink or black color change that indicates your proximity to the quick.
If you cut too far, immediately apply styptic powder to the wound and call off the clipping for the day. And if your dog struggles or won’t cooperate, don’t force him to keep going — it’s better to wait until he’s calm again than to have him flinch at the last second and cut too deep.
But if things are going smoothly, continue clipping each nail in this manner until he’s all trimmed up. Don’t forget the dewclaws on the backs of his paws — they’re nails like any other and need clipping, too!
Throughout the process, talk to your dog calmly and reassure him that everything’s fine. The calmer you are, the calmer he’ll be, so take care to manage your own emotions as well as his.
"If you think dogs can’t count, try putting three dog biscuits in your pocket and then give him only two."
-- Phil Pastoret