How to Safely Trim Your Dog’s Nails

Can you imagine walking around with toenails that are way too long, uncomfortable, and start to making walking a painful experience? Eventually, overtime, long nails begin to cause problems in our pets, causing problems with their posture and their joints. It’s important to keep your pup’s nails trimmed neat and clean in order to help them have the best mobility and pain-free life. If you have always wanted to learn how to trim your dog’s nails at home to save you a trip to the groomer or vet, we have some tips to help you learn how. Here is info on how to safely trim your dog’s nails.

First, about a dog’s toenail anatomy

The toenail of a dog is made of layers. The outer shell is a sturdy material and it is the part of the nail that is seen by the naked eye. The inside of the nail is the protective coating. It’s a soft layer, and it is known as the “quick.” This is the part of the nail that houses the nerves and blood vessels, and it starts at the base of the nail close to the curve of it. If you cut into the quick, you will instantly know that you have because you will get an instant reaction from your dog, and not a happy one. He will probably jump and yelp, and may even whimper out of pain. You will also see some blood since you tapped into the blood vessel.

If your dog’s nails are light-colored, you will be more likely to see the quick. You’ll recognize it by the pinkish-colored area at the base of the nail. Dogs with dark or black-colored nails won’t be able to see the quick, since the black pigment hides it. If your dog’s nails are the darker colors, a good way to learn where the quick is on your breed is to see a lighter nail-colored dog of your breed so that you get a good feel for where the quick’s located. Once you know, never trim near the quick. You should never trim any closer than 2-3 millimeters away from it in order to prevent a very mistake.

The proper nail trimming tools you’ll need

There are home trimming tools you can purchase at pet stores. The two main types of nail trimmers are clippers and grinders, and what you will want to use are the ones that make your dog feel the most at ease. The benefits of grinders are that most people have a better sense of control and there’s a smoother outcome on the nails with them. Dremel is one of the most popular brands of grinders, but keep in mind, if your dog is skittish to sounds, the buzzing noise may make him uncomfortable.

Clippers come in two versions – scissors and guillotine. You know what scissors are, and a couple good dog grooming brands include; Miller’ Forge, and Safari. Guillotine clippers are designed with a hole in the center where you poke the tip of your dog’s nail through. Once you have the nail in the hole, keeping the guillotine blade away from quick, you squeeze the handle and the tip of the nail is snipped. One thing that can make some dog owners uncomfortable with the guillotine is that you can feel like you have the nail situated perfect in the hole, get ready to snip, and your pup yanks his leg or moves and you miss the perfect cut, or knick the quick.

Preparation for trimming the nails

Practice with the trimming tool you chose. You can practice on things like a toothpick or chopstick. Next, work with your dog to get him used to having his paws held and sitting still in your lap or next to you. If your dog doesn’t like his feet messed with, he may yank his leg back when you try to hold it and keep it still. You may need to work with him a while before attempting to trim nails. Give him treats as you hold his paw, letting him know this is good behavior he is performing, letting you touch and hold his leg and paw. Give him lots of praise as part of his reward.

Once you’ve done this a few weeks, set your trimmer out on the floor with a treat on it and around it to let him sniff it and adjust to it. Give him praises as he approaches it and retrieves the treat. After a couple of times of just a trimmer on the floor and the treat, if it is the grinder that buzzes, turn it on while its on the floor with the treat on top and a couple near it to let him learn to recognize the sound and adjust to it. Do this a few times over a couple of weeks.

You feel like your dog is at ease with the trimmer and letting you hold his paws, so now, it’s trim day. You’re going to give it a try, so get out your dog’s favorite treats and have them close by. You will need your trimmer, and a jar of styptic powder plus cotton balls. You want these on hand as a precaution, for the “just-in-case” accident, but if you should accidently hit the quick, gently pat some of the powder around the base of the nail to help stop any bleeding. If it happens, once you get the bleeding taken care, don’t panic, calm and reassure your pup, take a breath, and keep going.

You will also want a nice comfortable spot to work with your dog. You need good lighting and a relaxed atmosphere. Depending on the size of your dog, you may prefer he lies next to you on the couch, on the floor, or him standing in front of you while you sit on either. Whatever makes it easiest for you to reach all four paws, and each nail on each.

Steps for trimming his nails by Clipper

  • Grasp the tool with your dominant hand (left or right)
  • Hold the first paw in your hand firmly with your thumb on his foot pad, your fingers on top of the foot, close to the nail bed.
  • Start at the very tip of the nail – especially for dark or black nails.
  • Start trimming, using 1-2 mm increments at a time as you move toward the quick.
  • After each clip, look at the cross-section of his nail to monitor how close you’re getting to the quick. As soon as you begin to see a tan-colored oval appearing, you’re close to the quick and you need to Stop cutting. That’s as far as you want to go!
  • File the nail with a file to smooth the nail.

Steps for trimming his nails by Grinder

  • Using the same method as for the clippers, take hold of your dog’s paw.
  • Just gently touch the grinder to the tip of the first nail and in your head, silently count to two then remove the grinder from the nail.
  • Hold the grinder away from the nail for a few seconds and use those seconds to praise and reward your dog for being so good.
  • Continue on with the grinding, grinding just for two seconds at a time, and begin looking at the cross-section of the nail, always monitoring it for the tan-colored oval. Once you see it, Stop grinding and praise and reward your pup!
  • Move on to the next nail.

Final thoughts

One of the best ways to get your pup accustomed to you trimming his nails is to be patient, go slow, and praise and reward. This is not a task for when you are in a hurry or don’t have the time to follow all the steps thoroughly. If it becomes overwhelming, take a break and give your dog a break, too. You can always go back to the other nails or paw…there is no rush and certainly no law that says you have to do all four paws all in one sitting. Once you’ve completed all four paws and gained some confidence for next time – it’s time for you to go reward your own self.


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