Trimming your dog’s nail is something that every dog parent should know how to do. Unfortunately, it’s an often overlooked skill. Many new dog parents think they can simply pick up the clippers and trim their nails, just like we do for our own nails. Sadly, if you don’t learn how to do it properly, it’s likely to be a painful experience for your dog with lasting psychological effects.
First, let’s talk about why they need to be trimmed. When dogs’ nails get too long, they can snag on things and cause injuries. The longer they grow, the more they curl down under the paw. This puts pressure on their toes, feet, and legs, and can cause pain and eventual deformity. So, nail trimming is more than cosmetic, it’s essential health care.
The most important thing you need to learn about trimming dogs’ nails is their nail anatomy. Dogs have a nerve ending and blood supply in their nails called a quick. Accidentally cutting the quick will cause pain and bleeding. You must cut the very end of the nail in front of the quick.
To make this a pain-free, positive experience for both of you, here are step-by-step instructions on how to trim your dog’s nails.
Step 1: Tool Selection
There are two main types of pet nail clippers: scissor-style clippers and guillotine-style clippers. There are pros and cons of each style, but it’s mainly a personal preference. Visit your local pet supply store and see which kind you find most comfortable and easy to maneuver. Both of these clipper styles require precision and a calm pup.
If you’re uneasy about cutting their nails, another option is a nail grinder, which electronically files down their nails. While this option is generally safer, preventing nails from being cut too short, it does make the process longer, and the sound and vibration can cause dogs anxiety.
Accidents can happen with any of these tools, so it’s best to be prepared. Keep Remedy + Recovery® Styptic Powder on hand to help stop bleeding quickly. Another important tool? Treats. Giving treats before, during, and after nail clipping helps create positive associations for your dog.
Step 2: Acclimation
If you and your dog are both new to at-home nail trimming, take some time to get them used the idea. Handle your dog’s paws and claws as early and often as possible. This goes for puppies too. Make it part of your daily grooming and petting. Examine your dog’s nails and look for the quick.
After you’ve purchased the nail clippers, give your dog a week or two to get them used to it. Let them sniff the clippers and touch the clippers to their paws without trimming. Give your dog treats after they’ve allowed you to touch the clippers to their paws. Also, give yourself some time to practice with the clippers before using them on your dog.
Step 3: Trimming
Take your dog for a walk or play to release energy before the trimming session. Once your dog is calm and you both feel ready, it’s time to cut one nail. Give your dog a treat and let them sniff the clippers. Then, gently push up on the toe pad to extend the nail, hold back the fur, cut just the tip in front of the quick. Give your dog another treat and lots of praise.
If this is your first time trimming their nails, patience is key to long-term success. Aim to trim one nail a day at first, focusing on safety and making it a pleasant experience. Eventually, the process will be quick and easy for both of you.
Most dogs need to have their nails trimmed every 4-8 weeks. If your dog spends a lot of time walking, running, or playing on hard surfaces like concrete, their nails may naturally wear down more than a dog that spends most of their time on soft surfaces like grass. Keep in mind, the longer their nail gets, the longer the quick gets too. So, if you let their nails grow too long, it increases the likelihood of the quick being cut when trimming. The quick recedes with frequent clippings, so it’s best to keep nails regularly maintained.
Some dogs have very high anxiety about having their paws and nails touched. For these dogs, distracting them while trimming can be helpful. Some dogs enjoy licking peanut butter out of a toy while their owner trims their nails. If it’s just too distressing for both of you, it’s best to leave it to the professionals and take them to the groomer for trimmings instead.