6 Tips for Trimming Your Dog’s Nails at Home

Hear your dog’s nails clicking on the kitchen floor? That’s an excellent indication it’s time for a nail trim.  Dog’s nails should be clipped every two to six weeks depending on your dog’s breed and lifestyle. Taking your dog to a professional is one way of seeing to your dog’s nail needs. Doing it yourself is another.

Yet not everyone feels comfortable taking a pair of scissors to their dog’s nails. Many are afraid of nicking the quick (a vein inside the nail) and drawing blood. But cutting your dog’s nails doesn’t have to be scary. Here are six tips that will help make the process as easy and smooth as possible.

1. Start Young

Dog owners aren’t the only ones who can be afraid of nail trimmings. Dogs that never had their nails clipped at a young age, or only intermittently, may be afraid as well. Especially when you throw in nail grinders that can make a lot of noise.

To avoid having an adult dog afraid of having his nails clipped, acclimate your dog at an early age.

Start by handling your puppy’s feet on a regular basis. Play with his paws and squeeze his toes gently. Reward him with praise or treats for staying calm.

Once your puppy is used to having his feet handled, introduce him to his grooming tools. Show him the scissors, nail clipper or grinder. Let him smell it. Again, reward him for staying calm. The point is to show him there’s nothing to be afraid of. Do this several times over the course of one or two weeks, before trying to cut his nails for the first time.

When you think your puppy is ready for his first nail trimming, start small. Clip just the tiniest tip on one toenail. Reward him for good behavior and move on to something else. Next time, try two or three nails. Your dog’s reaction can guide your progress. If he seems totally fine with it after the first one or two times, move on to full trimmings. As always, be sure to provide lots of praise and treats for his good behavior.

Over time, your puppy will learn there’s nothing to be afraid of. And, even better, that getting his nails done means he gets to spend extra time with you on the receiving end of lots of love and treats.

2. Choose the Right Trimming Tool

Choosing the right dog nail trimming tool is essential to making the entire process smooth and easy. But how do you know whether your pooch needs a scissor- or guillotine-style clipper? Or maybe you need a nail grinder? Or a doggy version of an emery board?

The first thing to know before choosing a nail trimming tool is that no matter which style you select, it must be the right size. The right size for your dog’s nails. And, the right size for your hand. Choose the wrong size and, at best, you might give your dog a lousy manicure. At worst, you can injure your dog’s sensitive feet.

Toy and small dog breeds don’t usually need much more than a scissor-style clipper. With smaller, thinner nails, one or two quick snips is all you need. A great feature of scissor-style clippers is that the full nail remains visible making it easier to see where the quick begins on dogs with light nails. Additionally, many scissor-style clippers have a guard that makes accidentally cutting the quick much less likely. (Have big hands but a small dog? The Safari Dog Deluxe Nail Trimmer has bigger finger holes to accommodate all size hands.)

Scissor-style nail clippers can also be used on bigger dogs and those with thick nails, but you’ll need some decent hand strength to do the work.

Another good choice for small or medium dogs is a guillotine-style clipper. With these, you slip the nail through the hole, then simply slice off the tip. Guillotine-style clippers also come in larger sizes to fit medium to large dogs. An advantage of the guillotine-style clipper is that it’s usually spring-loaded, thereby requiring less force to make a cut than scissor-style clippers. The downside is there’s no safety features to prevent accidents. They’re not generally recommended by groomers for novice nail cutters.

While you can use a guillotine-style clipper on big dogs, many owners opt for a nail grinder when it’s time to trim their big dog’s thick nails.

Nail grinders are also a good choice for owners who are afraid of cutting too much of their dog’s nails (either because they’re extra long or very dark). By slowly filing the nail down, you can keep track of how close you’re getting to the quick the entire time. The downside of nail grinders is that the process can take a while (30 to 60 minutes in most cases). Also, be careful to take breaks if you’ve been working on a single nail for some time. The grinders can build up heat and burn your dog.

Manual nail files are similar to dog grinders in that they slowly file away at the nail rather than clipping. The process is entirely manual and can be time-consuming.

If you’re not sure which tool is best suited for your dog, ask your vet or vet tech for a recommendation.

3. Take Your Time

Getting through a nail trimming session with your dog is not a race. In fact, the faster you go, the more likely you are to make a mistake. Take your time. Multiple small cuts to each nail may be better than trying to get the entire nail all at once and risk cutting too much.

If your dog gets antsy, it’s okay to stop part way through the process and pick it up at a later time. As cliché as it sounds, it’s always better to take it slow and safe than speedy and sorry.

4. Have a Light Source

To minimize the chances of an accidental cut to your dog’s quick you need a steady hand and a lot of light. Being able to see clearly is the best way to avoid accidents, especially if your dog’s nails are dark and you have to keep an eye open for the white circle that indicates you’re approaching the quick.

We can’t help you with a steady hand, but we can recommend choosing a brightly lit spot for nail trimming sessions. Outside in the middle of the day under natural light is a great option, as is a room with bright lighting.

Some grinders come with a built-in light to help, but even so, we’d still recommend avoiding spots with dim lighting.

5. Keep a Blood Clotter at Home

Accidents happen to the best of us and even professional dog groomers will nick a dog’s quick from time to time. Having a blood clotter on hand (such as styptic powder) lets you handle the situation quickly. You can also look for a clotter that disinfects and numbs the pain, in addition to stopping the bleeding.

6. Be Patient

More than just taking it slow, dog owners need to remember to be patient with their dogs. Not all dogs will always be comfortable with having their nails trimmed. In some cases, like with high-energy dogs, sitting still for 30 minutes might be too much.

Whether your dog is giving you a hard time, trying to run away, or has started whining, remember to be patient. Try to understand the experience from your dog’s point of view, then respond in a way that will make it better for him, not you. Maybe you need to try a new nail cutting tool. Or maybe it’s time to call it a day. Either way, paying attention to what your dog is trying to tell you and actually listening to him can ultimately make a lifetime of nail trims an enjoyable activity you can happily do together.