How to Trim Dog Nails

Trimming your dog’s nails is an important part of your dog's regular care. Learn how to trim your dog's nails with help from our grooming expert.

By | Posted: December 4, 2012, 8 a.m.

dog nailsTrimming your dog’s nails is a necessary chore and should be done every three or four weeks.  You can do it yourself or have a groomer or vet clip your dog's nails for you. Most groomers will be happy to show you how it’s done and it might be a good idea to do this the first time around.  If your dog absolutely detests the process and it turns into a huge struggle, my advice is to let the pros do it. This unhappy scenario can be avoided by getting your dog used to having his paws handled when he’s a pup.


Reasons to Clip Dog Nails

Whether your little buddy knows it or not, he will be much better off if his nails are trimmed regularly and not allowed to become overgrown.  The results are not pretty and can contribute to health concerns:

• Dog nails that grow too long may curl around the paw and puncture the footpad, causing pain and infection.

• They can also interfere with his normal gait, resulting in deformed feet that are splayed, nail breakage, bleeding and general discomfort in the feet, legs and hips because he cannot walk properly.

• Overgrown nails will cause him to rock back on his paws, causing a strain on his joints and ligaments.


Ideally, nails should be short enough that they don’t click on the floor. Folks who show dogs trim them extremely short, but active everyday pets need a little traction as they go about their daily adventures. For most dogs, the front nails will grow longer than the rear nails because dogs tend to "push off” from their rear, naturally wearing them down. Trimming or grinding the nails every two weeks should keep them adequately short, but if you are looking to recede the quick, doing it on a weekly basis would work best.

Dog Nail Trimming Tools

There are two types of nail trimmers you can use, the pliers type and the guillotine variety. I usually recommend the pliers version because that is what I use in the salon. If you would prefer to use a dremmel tool to grind your dog's nails, click here to learn more.

 Dog Nail Trimmer Dog Nail Clipper

Cutting Your Dog's Nails

You can cut your dog’s nails anywhere, but for smaller dogs it’s easier to do the job with your dog on a grooming table rather than in your lap or on the floor. If you don’t have a grooming table, any table will do, but you will want to enlist the help of a friend or family member to help hold the dog. They can also help relax and calm the dog for the pedicure process. 

1. With the pet on the grooming table, begin with the rear paws. Face away from the dog and hold the paw. Use your body weight to gently keep him in place.

2. Lift the paw only as far as needed, being careful not to twist the leg and cause injury. 

3. "Tip” each nail, removing only the curved portion to avoid cutting the quick.

4. Trim off any additional length, still being careful to avoid the quick.

5. Moving to the front paws, stand by the dog’s front end and lift each one so that you are looking down on the upturned foot, similar to shoeing a horse.

6. "Tip” each nail and trim any excess.

7. To keep those sharp newly-cut nails from scratching your legs, file them with a large emery board or nail file to smooth them down.  

8. Praise your dog lavishly once the job is done and reward him with a tasty treat!

dog nails"Quick" Fact

The quick is the vein inside each nail that will bleed if you nick it.  If the nails are dark, you cannot see it but if they are white, it will be a pink portion inside.  On a dark nail, look at the cut nail, if you see a dark circle in the nail’s center, that marks the quick and you have gone far enough.

It is always a good idea to have styptic powder on hand because sometimes accidental nicks do happen. It’s not a big deal and a dab of styptic powder will stop the bleeding, but it can cause the dog to be leery of the process because it can hurt, just like it hurts you if you cut your nail too close and pinch the skin beneath.


Ask The Expert 

Have additional questiong about clipping your dog's nails? Get more expert advice on these common dog nail trimming concerns.

Dog Bites When Clipping Her Nails
I have a female Cocker Spaniel-Poodle mix who hates having anything done to her feet. I took a class on grooming and she still tries to bite me when clipping her nails. Any suggestions? More>>

Grinding Dog's Nails
Our 7-year-old Harrier has very thick, hard nails. The groomer uses a nail clipper and follows with a grinding tool or dremel on her nails. I would like to try grinding my dog's nails myself. Can you please give me explicit directions on how to properly use a grinding tool on dog nails? More>>

Dog's Nails Are Too Long
I can tell that my Miniature Dachshund’s nails are too long, but can’t cut them any shorter due to the length of the quick. Is there a way to shorten the quick? How often should I cut the nails in order to get them as short as they need to be for her comfort? More>>

Trimming A Small Dog's Nails
I have a Miniature Pinscher that hates to get his nails clipped. Pet store clerks have told me to use a file on his nails since they are so small. If I walk my dog daily, will that keep his nails short enough? More>>

Clipping An Ingrown Dog Nail
My Yorkie regularly goes to the groomer, but I noticed one of her nails has grown into her paw. How do I handle clipping that nail? I am scared to do it myself but now find myself not happy going back to that groomer. More>>

Dog Dislikes Nail Clipping
My dog won't allow me to trim his toenails.  What do you suggest I do to lessen his resistance? More>>

Dog's Nail Is Broken
Somehow, my 3-year-old Jack Russell Terrier totally broke off one of his toenails – all the way down. Do you think it will grow back? More>>

Dog's Nails Are Dry And Brittle
Our Rottweiler, has severe problems with her toeails. They split to the toe, and the nail actually breaks completely off, exposing the quick. What can we do to help improve our dog's nail health? More>>

 Learn how to trim your cat's nails>>


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11/25/2015 3:33:23 PM

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Puppy Dog   Twin Galls, ID

8/19/2015 12:01:10 PM

I 'm disappointed that so much of the postings are out dated. How about some new stuff? As to this particular article...I was a dog groomer for 46 years, and while this may work, I find it preferable to have the dog lay on it's side while I trim feet, and toes. They are less tense, and don't curl their toes in, making it more difficult to do.

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Nancy   PINE VALLEY, California

5/19/2015 1:28:20 PM

Use a dremel, quick and simple

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