4 Important Tips for Cutting Your Dog’s Nails

Take away the stress of cutting your dog’s nails at home with these four easy tips!

Jan 25, 2024By Jessica Montes
tips for cutting your dogs nails

Some dogs are cool as cucumbers (and others turn into a squirming mess) when you try filing their nails. For owners with the latter bunch or anyone who wants to save some money by giving their pup an at-home pedicure, we’ve got you covered. Learn the best nail-trimming techniques used by vets and three tips for making grooming comfortable for both of you!

First Things First: When To Trim Dogs’ Nails

Dog nails
Photo credit: Ivan Babydov

Just like brushing your dog’s teeth, clipping their nails is a part of a healthy grooming routine. A quick look at your furry friend’s paws lets you know if they need a trim. If they have nails that touch the ground while standing, it’s likely time for a grooming session.

As your dog walks, keep an ear out for a clicking sound on the ground that tells you it’s time for a pedicure. Aim for a nail trim once a month, depending on how fast they grow. However, if your dog is an avid digger or if they frequently run on hard surfaces, you can get away with a longer wait period.

Unlike humans, having long nails isn’t fashionable for dogs and can lead to some common health problems. Repeatedly leaving your pet with longer nails increases the chances of painful breakage and foot deformation in extreme cases. Frequent trims are crucial for their health and comfort.

What to Know About Dog Nail Anatomy

Dog nail anatomy
Photo credit: Four Paws

Cutting your dog’s nails can cause some anxiety for both parties involved. Owners wonder if they are cutting too much and whether their dog is fidgety because of physical pain or discomfort. Fortunately, understanding dog nail anatomy can ease most of these worries.

There are three parts to look out for. The bone is the deepest layer, the pink part is the tender area called the quick, and then there’s the shell. Avoid cutting into the quick. It will bleed and lead to a painful experience for your pup.

For dogs with dark nails, it's not easy to see the layers. Snip small sections at a time until you see a white “chalky” layer; this acts as a heads-up that you’re close to the quick.

How Vets Cut Dogs’ Nails

Vet nail trim
Photo credit: Gustavo Fring

So you know how often to trim the nails and how to spot the quick. Now we’ll tackle the steps for standard clippers. Here’s how to trim in five easy steps:

  1. Grab a paw and gently push on the toe pad with your thumb.
  2. Place your forefinger on the skin above the top of the toe. Move aside any fur.
  3. Push upwards with your thumb and move your forefinger forward to extend the nail.
  4. At a 45-degree angle, snip the tip of the nail. If you haven’t reached the “chalky” layer for dark-colored nails, you can make another small clip.
  5. Repeat until the doggy pedicure is complete!

Be sure you aren’t squeezing your dog’s paw and causing discomfort. Also, readjust your gentle hold on the nail if your dog keeps moving. If all of this sounds overwhelming, having a second person will make it easier. One person can be in charge of holding and exposing the nail, while the other focuses on trim angles and lengths. Ask your vet for a tutorial if you still aren’t sure.

Tip 1. Pawsitive Reinforcement

Dog treats
Photo credit: Jessica Lewis

The five steps won’t work as smoothly if your pup doesn’t stop moving. Luckily, the following tricks can keep your dog calmer during the grooming process.

First, don’t underestimate the power of pawsitive reinforcement. Praise your dog after you trim every nail and complete a paw. Letting them know they are being a “good boy” or “good girl” after each successful trim will build a more positive experience for them. Hearing your soothing encouragement while they are semi-restrained can reduce anxiety.

After you’re done, shower them with more praise, give them pets, and reward them with a snack or DIY dog treat for their patience. Treats are the ultimate pawsitive association!

Tip 2. Use Distractions

Peanut butter
Photo credit: Karolina Grabowska

Maybe your pup needs more than one snack at the end to remain calm. Consider having them eat the entire time and distract them from the clipping. You can slather dog-friendly peanut butter (made without xylitol and artificial sweeteners) on a plate or give it to them on a spoon. While they lick the golden yumminess, you speedily trim each nail. Keep the jar close by in case they devour it before you’re done.

A slighter messier option involves serving your pet a bowl of yummy bone broth. Look for store-bought broths without hard-to-pronounce ingredients, or make your own by boiling bones and veggie scraps like carrots and pumpkins, some of the healthiest foods for dogs.

Tip 3. Get an Electric Nail Trimmer

Electric trimmer
Photo credit: Dremel

Investing in an electric nail trimmer means you quickly file down each toe. Some have multiple topper sizes so you can choose the one that fits your dog’s paws. Follow the same guidelines as using a standard clipper and just file down a bit at a time. It’s best to move slowly with electric trimmers as they wear down the nail much faster than manual clippers, and you can reach the dog’s quick after a few seconds.

Keep in mind that noise levels and vibrations also differ by model. Certain trimmers are quiet, while it may take time for your dog to get used to the humming of others. Likewise, dogs aren’t initially used to the buzzing at their fingertips and might move away in discomfort.

Tip 4. Use Different Trimming Tools

Nail files
Photo credit: Justyna Grabowska

Nail trimmers with safety stops are wonderful tools because trims are limited to small snips. You might have to clip your dog’s nails more frequently, but you have peace of mind that you won’t hurt them.

Consider a pet nail file if you want more control over trims. You can use the clippers to make one cut and then file down to the desired length. Nail files decrease the chances of cutting into the quick. This works best for patient dogs who can sit still or stay distracted until all 20 nails are trimmed.

Ideally, you wouldn’t cut into your doggy’s quick, but accidents happen. Styptic powder will come in handy if you’re trimming at home for the first time or have a squirmy dog. Dabbing this on a nail will stop bleeding.

Jessica Montes
By Jessica Montes

Jessica is a California-based writer, journalist, lover of animals, and vegan of 17 years. Growing up, she owned parakeets, fish, a rabbit, and a red-eared slider turtle. She currently has a black cat named Marty and a tabby named Jellybean. In her free time, she enjoys reading, baking, camping, and roller skating to funky tunes.