How to Trim Dog Nails: A How-To Guide


Unless your canine companion spends an inordinate amount of time outdoors or walks for several miles a day on concrete or asphalt, it is likely your dog will need their nails cut on a regular basis. This can be a nerve-wracking event for many dog owners. Fidgeting dogs, improper tools, and the fear of cutting too close to the quick and causing an injury are all common reasons for neglecting this chore.

Don’t despair. We’ll walk you through how to trim dog nails, why it’s so important and how often you should perform this necessary regimen. So, let’s get started…

Why You Need to Trim Dog Nails

Dog’s nails serve several purposes. They use them to get purchase in rough terrain, for digging, and to claw at predators and food. Most domestic dogs don’t need to navigate hillsides and mountains, and rarely need to use their claws to fight off predators or hold their food while they tear at it. Yes, they do still dig, but not enough to keep their nails at a manageable length.

Trimming dog nails is important for both their health and their comfort. As nails get longer, they elevate the front of the footpad or push the nail back up into the nail bed. Both consequences put abnormal pressure on the feet, which can lead to tenderness, swelling, and arthritis. It can also cause an abnormal gait, which can cause hip problems.

Nails that get too long on a dog may mean their pads don’t touch the surface, meaning that walking on slicker surfaces like hardwood can cause them difficulty. Those nails get in the way of actually laying their full pads down on the floor, leading to slipping, sprawling, and actual falls.

Left unchecked, a dog’s nails will also begin to curl inward and under the paw, at times embedding into the pad. This is not only painful when sitting or laying down, but walking can be excruciating.

So, now you understand why you need to trim dog nails. Let’s find out how often you need to get the tools out to do the job.

How Often to Trim Dog Nails

The time span between nail trims will be different for every dog. And you’ll also find that the front nails and rear nails rarely need to be trimmed at the same rate. This is because the hind legs are used for propulsion and jumping, wearing down the nails on the rear paws at a different rate than the front.

Dew claws—the claw that would be the thumb, rarely touch the ground and need trimming even if the other nails do not. Most dogs have dew claws on the front paws, some also have them on the rear paws. These are the nails that are most often seen growing into the foot, so be extra mindful.

Dogs that live in the city or suburbs and are walked on hard surfaces on a daily basis may rarely need a trim. Indoor dogs that don’t do much more than potty outside will require very regular trims. Country dogs that spend a lot of time out of doors, but not on hard surfaces, will also require more regular maintenance.

On the average, less active dogs will need a trim at least once a month. (Certainly a good reason to get them outside more!) Make it a habit to check nails at the beginning of each month. You’ll slowly develop a knowledge of how often your dog needs nail grooming and just put it on your smartphone calendar so you don’t forget.

TIP: A good rule of thumb is that if dog nails do not reach the ground when the dog is standing still, then they’re good to go. Once they hit the floor, its trimming time.

How to Trim a Dog’s Nails

Because you will need to handle your dog’s paw when you trim their nails, it’s wise to get them used to that sensation. If possible, start the nail trimming training when the dogs are still puppies. Puppies can be more accepting of new things and they will learn that nail tirimming is normal.

Overall, most dogs do not like to have their paws touched or held. If you have a dog like this, make an effort to get them used to you touching the pad. Maybe you can teach them to “shake,” or when they are on your lap and being petted, take the time to pet the top of their paws and then hold them for a second or two. This repeated behavior will get them more accepting of having their paws touched and make trimming dog nails a bit easier.

Next, you need the right tool. There are a variety of clippers available, from electric dremel-style tools to scissor and guillotine styles. There is no need to invest in an electric dremel nail grinder. It is more expensive than the other styles and the noise can be off-putting to your dog, who probably isn’t fond of the procedure to begin with.

Most veterinarians and dog groomers recommend the scissor or plier style nail clippers over the guillotine ones, as the latter can crush a nail, particularly if it isn’t sharp enough. So invest in a good quality nail trimmer. Safari, Epica, Simply Pets and Andi’s Pet all make highly rated products that will do the job and last for some time.

Pick a time when your dog is calm and relaxed. If you are indoors, use a towel on your lap with the dog on top. It’s easiest if someone else has the dog on their lap, gently keeping the dog still, but you can do this yourself as well. Make sure that there is good lighting, so that you can exactly how far to cut. Outside, you can do it on the lawn or chaise lounge.

Now, how to trim dog nails: Start with the back paws, as they tend to be less sensitive than the front. Hold the paw firmly in your hand. Cut the end off the nail, below the quick, at a 45-degree angle. You can choose to take several small cuts or one larger cut, but be very careful not to cut too deep. (Some clippers come with a guide that only allows you to cut a small amount at a time.) You can trim the nail up until you see a small black dot in the center, surrounded by white.

If you aren’t sure how far to cut back, look for the quick in pink nails. Then cut the black nails the same amount. If all nails are black, start slowly at the ends.

The first few times you do this, you may only get a nail or two done. Don’t be discouraged. Go back the next day and try to do a few more. Just make sure you don’t let too much time lapse between, as uneven nails can be problematic.

Should you happen to cut too far and nick the quick, you will see blood and your dog will not be happy. Pack a little cornstarch into the end of the nail and try to hold your dog still. The cornstarch will help seal the cut and stop the bleeding. And make sure they get a treat right away.

Speaking of treats, once you’ve completed the process of trimming, don’t forget to reward your dog. Positive reinforcement goes a long way and can make it easier on you next time around.

NOTE: Unless you have a very large breed dog, use only the small clippers. Since you are only trimming the very end of the nail, nothing larger is required.

If you having difficulty trimming dog nails on your own, there are alternatives. Your vet can do this during regular checkups or you can take your dog to a groomer and have them do the deed for you.

Happy trimming!