Nail Trimming Tips and Tricks

Nail trimming is an important part of ensuring your dog is healthy and happy. Long nails can easily break and lead to infection if the quick is exposed. Long nails also cause the paws to splay outwards preventing your pet from walking properly or comfortably, which can then potentially lead to skeletal damage or deformation.  

Most of the time nails are worn down by every day activities, especially if your pet is walked on pavement or otherwise spends a lot of time outdoors. Each dog is different however, and nails may wear down unevenly from front to back or may not wear down at all. Learning how to properly trim nails will ensure that you prevent any issues with your pet’s wellbeing, as well as give them a tidy, groomed appearance.  

Dogs in general do not like having their nails trimmed as even with an experienced groomer or owner the sound and pressure of the clippers can be uncomfortable. Add in everyday distractions from other family members coming and going, noise from the TV or appliances, or even disturbances in the natural environment and trimming can quickly become difficult. By following the tips below you can ensure that nail trimming is an easy, smooth process for you and your dog.

 

Get your pet used to having their feet touched and handled.

This will help in the long run when it comes to trimming your pet’s nails, and should start as early as possible.  Lots of praise and a treat or two can go a long way in making sure that your dog associates having their feet handled with a positive experience.

 Apollo paw touch

A fun way to get your dog used to having their paws touched is to teach them the ‘give paw’ trick. Have your dog sit in front of you and say “paw” while holding our your hand, palm up, towards them. Reward with a treat or praise when your dog successfully places their paw in your hand. If your dog is not so interested in tricks, working on the sit and down commands frequently while simply touching and holding each paw does just as well.

 

Have all of your tools and space ready to go.

Figure out where you would like to do your nail trimming. Select a space that is well-lit and free from loud noises or other distractions. Have your trimmers ready to go as well as a clean, damp towel or washcloth, a roll of paper towels, treats, and some sort of staunching agent (styptic powder is commercially available, though dry bar soap or cornstarch can be used as well) for in-case you clip the quick.

 Tools

 

Keeping your dog relaxed is key to success.

Begin by having your pet come and either sit in front of you or lie down next to you. If your dog is small enough, you can have them lie down on a table which will also give you a better angle for nail clipping and a little more control overall (you can do this with large dogs as well if the table is large and sturdy enough, and they are comfortable being off the ground). Offer lots of praise or a treat while remaining upbeat but firm. Dogs that are nervous or fidgety may benefit from having an arm draped around their body, which will also help you stabilize and keep them in place as you trim.  

Exercising your dog through play or walking is also a good way to burn off some energy prior to nail trimming. Your dog will be less likely to move around if they are a little tired.

 

Make sure each paw is clean and free of any debris.

Using the damp towel or washcloth, gently wash each paw pad and between each toe, keeping an eye out for debris and dirt. This is especially important during the winter and/or when the weather is wet and mucky as mud, salt, and ice can build up quickly. Paw cleaning will also help to prevent germs from getting into the nail or around the quick.

 Apollo back paw

 

Start by trimming whichever paw and/or nail your dog is most comfortable with you handling.

If you are unsure of which paw to begin with, start with the front feet. Your dog will likely be more comfortable if they can easily see what you are doing. Your trimmers should be held at a 90° angle to the nail, and the cut should be about two millimeters in front of the quick. 

 Dewclaw cut

Go slowly.

Take your time trimming each nail to ensure accuracy, prevent the nail from cracking or splitting, and to avoid hitting the quick. Going slowly will help both you and your pet stay calm, and you can also take a break between paws (or each nail if necessary) to gather your senses or praise your pet for doing well.  

Black nailWhite nail

In dogs with white nails the quick is easily distinguished as it will appear pink under the nail. In dogs with dark nails more caution will need to be taken as the quick is pretty much invisible though it may be partially discernible from the underside of the nail. Trimming off a little bit at a time will help prevent hitting the quick.

 

Don’t panic if you cut the quick!

Accidents will sometimes occur, and though unfortunate it is important to remain calm if you accidentally clip the quick. Just like young children, your dog will feed off of your reaction and respond in kind. If you freak out they will likely do the same, potentially trying to run away from you and causing more damage to the nail (and your carpets!). Instead, staunch the blood flow immediately with a paper towel, then dab the nail with your styptic powder, bar soap, or other staunching agent.

Apollo stiptic

 

Reward!

Once you are all finished trimming, reward your dog! They have just gone through something that they definitely do not enjoy, and giving them praise, a treat, or a favorite toy when done will help to reinforce their good behavior during the process.  

 

A note on dewclaws

While most dogs have their dewclaws removed as puppies, this is not always the case and some breeds do retain theirs as part of breed standards. These nails rarely touch the ground so are not subject to the same everyday wear as regular nails. They often continue to grow around in a circle, and can grow into the paw if left untrimmed.

  Dewclaw

Alternatives to trimming

Investing in a nail grinder has several benefits over regular trimming. This is a good option for those with puppies and smaller dogs, dog with thick nails, or dogs that are particularly fearful of having their nails cut. Grinding provides a smooth, rounded finish to the nail which helps to reduce accidental scratching, and the chance of the nail cracking or splintering is eliminated as well. Grinding however does take much longer than cutting, and the grinding surface will need to be replaced more often than regular trimmers. There is also a chance that your pet will not like the feeling and/or sound of the grinder.

When in doubt or if you are struggling to find a technique that works well for you, your veterinarian or groomer will usually offer professional nail trimming or grinding as a standard service for around $10 – $15.