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How to Cut Your Dog’s Nails Correctly

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If you groom your dog yourself, learning how to cut dog's nails may not seem like a very important part of his grooming regiment, but in fact, it is. Without proper nail care your pet could experience pain and discomfort. Learning how to trim dog nails properly will make you feel more comfortable and ensure that you won't cut the quick by accident.

If You Cut the Quick…

Before we begin – what is “the quick”? This is the first question that most pet owners ask me when we're discussing how to cut dog nails.

The quick is a part of dog's nail, and this is what the dog nail structure looks like:

What is quick on dog nails

Dog nail's quick is very sensitive because it contains blood vessels and nerves. If you happen to clip the quick by accident, it will be painful for your dog, and it will bleed. Compare it to the way that you feel if your fingernail breaks or you clip it too short; it's not unbearable, but it is bothersome.

When you ask any professional groomer or veterinarian if they've accidentally cut the quick of a dog's nail before, they will all say yes. It happens to everyone, no matter how experienced you might be.

In light colored dog nails, it's easier to see the quick and avoid cutting into it. However, in black or brown colored toenails, it's almost impossible to see through the dog's nail and tell where the quick ends.

Fortunately, as much as you should avoid cutting into the quick, it's not the end of the world; worst case scenario, you clip the quick and it bleeds until you stop the bleeding.

This article and the accompanying video above will not only show you how to cut dogs nails, but also what to do in the event that you accidentally cut the quick. I am often asked how to clip dog nails, and I wanted to share this information to help pet owners understand that it isn't as difficult as they may think.

How to Cut Dog's Nails Correctly

How to Cut Dog's Nails Correctly

1. Get the Right Supplies (Clipper, Dremel, Styptic Powder)

The first thing you'll need to do is find the tool(s) you want to use to clip your dog's nails.

Here are the supplies I recommend to have on hand when cutting dog nails:

As you'll see in my video, I prefer to use traditional dog nail clippers. They're fast and easy to use, and that's what most professional groomers use as well. However, some people prefer a guillotine style clipper, which you'll see in the photo below, mostly for comfort.

Scissor style dog nail clipper
What scissor style dog nail clippers look like.

Both of these dog clippers are typically made with stainless steel blades. Traditional clippers are like scissors. You squeeze the handles together and the blades clip the nail by coming together horizontally.

With guillotine style clippers, the blades clip the nail vertically when you squeeze the handles together. There really isn't much a difference, it just depends on your personal preference and what's more comfortable for you.

You will also see me using a Dremel dog nail grinder (I've reviewed newest version here). These are electric devices that file the nail down instead of clipping the tip off. I don't prefer these simply because it takes a lot longer to trim your dog's nails with a Dremel than with regular dog clippers. Also, dogs may be timid around a Dremel tool due to the noise that it makes. However, they're good for finish up a dog's nail.

Before you begin cutting dog nails

2. Ease Your Dog Into It

It's best to start learning how to cut dog's nails when you first adopt your puppy. If you start from the beginning, he'll get used to this regular grooming practice quickly.

If you adopt an adult dog that is not used to having his nails clipped, it's certainly possible to get him comfortable with the practice, but it will take more time and patience.

Begin by simply getting your dog used to you touching his paws.

Watch the video and note the way I hold my Saddie's paw. Similarly, just hold your dog's paw like this and practice separating his toes.

Ease your dog into cutting the nails

After he's comfortable with this feeling, you can begin touching his toenails. Rub them and squeeze them so that he gets used to the feeling of pressure on his nails.

Then, when your dog seems comfortable with you touching his paw in different ways, you can bring out the nail clippers. Whichever type of clipper or Dremel that you choose, show it to your pet and allow him to sniff it.

When your pup is finished investigating the tool, just move the dog nail clipper or Dremel around and near his toenails and touch the end of his nails with the device.

By now your dog should be used to you touching his paws and comfortable with the trimming device that you've chosen. Congratulations – you're done with the hard part!

Cutting a dog's nails with dog clippers

3. How to Cut Dog's Nails Safely

Now you've got the tools; your dog is comfortable with the touch and the tools; and you're ready to move on. It's time to learn how to cut dog's nails for real.

My first piece of advice is don't be nervous. If you're nervous, your dog will sense that, and it will make him nervous too, making the whole process much more difficult.

Just relax and understand that if you trim your dog's nails too closely you may cause him a bit of pain. It's not great, but certainly not the worst thing in the world. Your dog will forgive you. In fact, he probably won't be mad at you at all.

Ready? Start out by holding your dog's paw firmly and then separating the toe that you'll be working with.

Using dremel to file dog nails

If you're using a Dremel nail grinder, turn it on and press it gently against the tip of your dog's nail. Shave off the tip until the nail is flat.

If using nail clippers (photo above the Dremel one), whether traditional or guillotine style, it's a bit more complicated. If your dog has white or light-colored nails, you should be able to easily see through to the quick. Clip off the end of the nail that sticks out past the end of the quick.

If your dog has dark nails and you can't see the quick, I recommend just taking off the pointed end of the nail for now.

As you continue to clip your dog's nails on a regular basis, the quick will recede. If you clip just the tip now, you can cut your pet's nails again in 5-7 days and take off just a bit more. Continue with this pattern until the nails are short enough. This is a more safe approach with dark colored nails on dogs.

How Short Should a Dog's Nails be Clipped?

4. How Short Should a Dog's Nails be Clipped?

In terms of dog nail length, a good rule of thumb is this: when your dog walks on hard surfaces, you should not be able to hear his nails clicking.

If you still hear clicking after you've trimmed your pup's nails, just wait about a week and cut a little more off the end of each nail.

As the quick recedes, you'll be able to continue cutting your dog's nails shorter and shorter.

It may take time, but you'll get there. This is particularly important to remember if you have adopted an adult dog that hasn't had their nails cut regularly in the past and may be less comfortable with the process.

5. Additional Tips on Clipping Your Dog's Nails

styptic powderIn my video above, you'll hear me mention styptic powder. This is a common product used by vets and professional groomers and Remedy+Recovery is the most trusted, popular brand. It helps to clot the blood if you clip the quick of your pet's nail, and it will stop nail bleeding 100%.

You will also hear me talk about the home remedies that I use. When there's no styptic powder around, I would typically use corn starch. Brands like Argo are as cheap (or cheaper) as styptic powder, and I always have it right in my kitchen cupboard and don't have to buy any additional products.

Corn starch works great to stop the bleeding, and so does flour. Any of these home remedy products will be fine to clot the blood, just make sure to have something on hand before you begin nail clipper, in the event that you nick the quick.

It may also help to have a second person assist you in the beginning. Having assistance, especially if it's your first time, will make things easier for you and your dog.

Finally, if you are just too nervous or don't trust yourself to properly know how to cut dog's nails, contact your local groomer or speak to your vet. They may be available to help and walk you through the process until you're comfortable enough to do it on your own.

READ NEXT: How to Choose the Right Dog Nail Clippers

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Guide on How to Cut Dog Nails

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