How to Clip Dog Nails

Three Parts:Preparing to Clip Your Dog's NailsClipping Your Dog's NailsHandling and Preventing Injuries

Trimming your dog's nails might not seem like a terribly important task, but it actually is. Not only will trimming the nails make your pet look better, but it will also help prevent the nails from breaking, which is painful and can lead to an infection. Nails that are too long can also change the way your dog walks and lead to more serious bone and joint issues. Don't be afraid to cut your dog's nails. With information and confidence, your dog's nails will be trimmed in no time!

Part 1
Preparing to Clip Your Dog's Nails

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    Choose a pair of nail clippers. You have a couple of options. One type looks like a pair of scissors and works in the same way. You place the nail between the blades and squeeze the handles together. The other kind is a guillotine-style that has a hole where the nail is placed. A blade slides up and cuts the nail when you squeeze the handles.[1]
    • Both types work well, but it may be hard to trim the very thick nails of some large dogs using the guillotine-style clippers.
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    Gather other supplies. Have a styptic powder ready to stop the bleeding if you accidentally cut the nail too short and into the quick. Have treats ready to offer and give extra attention to reward your dog for cooperating both during and after the trimming. This can help to make this and future sessions a success.[2]
    • Though you should always try your best to avoid cutting the nails too short, even the most experienced professionals will sometimes cut a nail too close.
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    Choose the right time. Try to start the trimming sessions when your dog is relaxed and in a comfortable place. A good time might be after a meal or after he's tired from exercising or playing. Your dog will probably be too worn out to wiggle or struggle.
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    Keep your dog calm. Talk in a calm and quiet voice to help him keep calm. If he's never had his nails trimmed, gradually get him used to having his feet handled. Sit with him a few times a day, for a few minutes, and gently rub his legs and feet. Once he seems comfortable with you touching and handling his feet you can begin touching the clippers to his nails.
    • Use treats as rewards during these sessions to help your dog get comfortable with clipping.[3]

Part 2
Clipping Your Dog's Nails

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    Decide where to make the first cut. Identify the quick of the nail. It contains a blood vessel and a nerve, so avoid cutting it. If your dog has white, clear, or light colored nails then it may be easy to see the quick. It will look like a small, pink tube that runs inside the nail center and ends before the tip. With black or dark colored nails you will not be able to see the quick and will have to rely on other methods. Even if you can see the quick, it may extend further than it appears.[4]
    • Always start by cutting less of the nail than you think you can. You can always cut more later, but cutting too much is painful, can cause bleeding, and will make your dog reluctant to have the rest of his nails trimmed.
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    Grasp the foot in the palm of your hand, firmly but gently. Do this in a position that lets your hand face the same direction as the paw, toward the front of the dog. Gently wrap your fingers under the pads and use your thumb to stabilize along the top of the digit that you're working on.[5] This position works best for front paws.
    • Try not to hold the foot between the pads since many dogs find this ticklish and involuntarily jerk.
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    Lay your dog on his side to clip the back feet. You'll have an easier time if you lay your dog on his side. Place him on a table so that you don't have to bend and restrain the dog. Place your arms across his body so you can grasp the back foot and clip.[6]
    • You may not need to do much more to restrain a small dog. But, you may want to use your body to help secure a larger dog. If your bigger dog tries to stand, lean your torso over the dog's body and keep one of your arms over his neck.[7]
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    Pay attention to the shape of the nail. You will see that the bottom of the nail is relatively straight until it curves closer to the tip. Using the clippers, cut off the tip of the nail by continuing that straight line, avoiding the quick. Be sure where the actual blade will be cutting the nail. Some clippers may slightly hide the blade and make it seem like you are trimming less than you actually are.[8]
    • Always cut from top to bottom and not side to side to avoid splitting the nail. Also, try to cut perpendicular to the nail, avoiding extreme angles.
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    Begin by tipping the nails. Hold the digit being trimmed and cut only a very thin shaving off the nail at the tip. Keep removing small slices of the nail until the nail is the desired length or until you start to see an oval shape on the cut surface. This is the sign to stop cutting because you are getting close to the quick.[9]
    • If your dog has dewclaws, be sure to cut them as well. These are the nails that are located higher up and on the inside of the leg. They may need to be trimmed more frequently than the other nails because they don't get any wear from contact when the dog walks.
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    Reassure your dog if you've cut the quick. Accidents happen and you may cut the quick of the nail. If you do, stay calm and gently talk to your dog. Give him a treat right away to distract and pacify him.[10] It will be easier to calm your pet if you already have him in a good position when starting out. Keep your dog in place by standing over him and draping your arms over his body. This may keep him from squirming away if you accidentally cut the quick.[11]
    • If your dog acts angry or aggressive when getting his nails clipped, you may just want to take him to the veterinarian for professional clipping.
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    File the nails. Once trimmed, the nails will be rough along the edges. You can use a nail file to smooth these after clipping.[12]
    • Some dogs may not need any or all of their nails trimmed because they will keep them worn down from their normal activity.
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    Keep your dog calm. Your dog may instinctively pull away as you cut the nail. Quickly and calmly reassure him that this is what he should expect to happen. Using a treat can help with this. Dogs learn by our lead and if you reassure them and proceed to the next nail as matter-of-factly as possible, they will take their cue from you.[13]
    • Depending on your dog, you may only be able to trim a few nails before needing to give him a break. Each session, try trimming more nails than the last and eventually you will be able to trim them all in one sitting.

Part 3
Handling and Preventing Injuries

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    Take control. Remain calm and confident, but ready to treat any problems when trimming your dog's nails. If you happen to hit the quick of a nail and the nail starts to bleed, don't let your dog to wrench away from you and run around. This will help limit the pain and further damage to the nail. You can also calm your dog and control the bleeding.
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    Stop the bleeding. Apply styptic powder to the area as quickly as possible. Keep hold of the paw and press the powder onto the end of the nail until the bleeding stops. You may have to keep packing the powder onto the nail for several minutes, but the longer you are able to apply steady pressure the more effectively you will stop the bleeding.[14]
    • If you don’t have styptic powder you can use cornstarch, flour, or even a bar of soap.
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    Reassure your dog. Try to keep him quiet and calm. Give treats to distract and calm him. Prevent him from walking around or running for the next 15 minutes. This will help keep the nail from bleeding again and will also help to prevent further damage and mess.[15]
    • Comfort your dog so that he continues to trust you and won't have negative associations with nail clipping.
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    Grind the nails instead of trimming them. In the future,use a grinder, an electric tool that files the nail down instead of cutting it. This avoids the sharp edges and split nails that can occur when trimming. Some dogs prefer this, while others are resistant to the vibrations and noise made by these types of devices.[16]
    • When using a grinder you have to be careful not to come in contact with pads. This can cause cuts or irritations, be very painful, and make your dog reluctant to allow this procedure in the future. Injuries to the pads can also be very slow in healing.
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    Take your dog to the vet. If you do not have any styptic powder on hand or you are worried that you cannot properly cut the nail, let a vet or a groomer take care of the clipping. Dogs with darker nails will be very hard to clip and it's best left to someone confident and able to treat the dog if there is a problem.[17]
    • If you still want to try to clip your dog's nails, many vets, vet techs, and groomers will be glad to show you the proper way to trim nails.


  • To get the quicks to recede at a steady rate the nails should be clipped every ten to fourteen days.
  • If you dog is being sedated for any procedure, it is a good idea to ask your vet to clip their nails at that time. Many vets will do this at no extra charge.
  • Tipping the nail will cause the quick to recede a bit more each time you do it. This is especially comforting if your dog has black nails.
  • Puppies are easily adapted to this grooming step, but at times, older dogs will come to you with a past experience that was unpleasant to them. Most important for success, is patience and gentle handling.
  • Never clip the nail if you have anything short of a perfect view of it. Hair should not obscure your view in any way.
  • If the dog won't sit quietly on his own, have an assistant squat behind the dog, wrap one arm around the dog's neck to control the head, and hold a paw in position with the other hand. This should prevent the dog from attempting to escape and keep him still enough to prevent injuries. However, this is a last resort and is likely to create a negative association with this routine, making it difficult in the future.


  • If the nail is bleeding freely after thirty minutes of applying pressure and powder, call your veterinarian.
  • If you have a dog who has been traumatized badly enough to try to bite when you grasp the paw, it is probably kinder and less traumatic for him to be taken to a vet. This way he can get professional treatment and sedation.

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Categories: Dog Grooming