The At-Home Guide to Trimming Your Dog’s Nails

toy breeds & tiny puppies (5)

Trimming your dog’s nails can be an anxiety inducing task for both you and your dog. But knowing just the right place to clip their nails to prevent injury doesn’t have to be a guessing game. The Detroit dog groomers at Canine to Five have compiled the perfect at-home guide to trimming your dog’s nails that’ll walk you through every step of the way.

What to use?
Not all nail trimmers are created equal, and purchasing the proper style and size for your dog will help set you up for success.

For small dogs or tiny puppies, you’ll need scissor style clippers.

Small dogs and tiny puppies - small nail scissors

For medium large dogs, you’ll need large nail clippers.

Medium and large dogs - large nail clippers

You’ll also want to be prepared with styptic powder in the event a nail starts to bleed.

When to trim?
A good rule of thumb is to trim your dog’s nails once they start touching the ground. Much like human nails, a dog’s nails will continue to grow and grow until they curl outward, or worse – inward. Long nails can be uncomfortable for your dog to walk on, they take away your pup’s traction making it easier for slips and falls, they’re more susceptible to breaking or tearing off completely, and they can grow into your dog’s paw pads causing pain and infection. If you hear your dog’s nails clacking on the ground, it may be time for a nail trim!

Image of long dog nails and trimmed dog nails

Where to trim?
Arguably the most important question – WHERE? Most dog owners know that inside of a dog’s nail is a vein called the quick. This vein is the source of blood and all of your anxiety. If you’re lucky, and yes – when it comes to dog nails, you can actually get lucky – your dog will have white or clear nails that make it possible to see the quick from the outside.

Another image of long dog nails and trimmed dogs nails

The quick is where the pink part of the nail begins – trim just below this line.

But for many of us, our dogs either have one or more nails that are all black, making it impossible to see where the quick is from the outside of the nail. In this case, the best method is to trim little by little, which we’ll cover in the next section.

How to trim?
So we know what to use, when to use it, and kind of where to cut it, now – what is the best technique?  If this is the first time you’re trimming your dog’s nails, or you already know they’re are a bit nervous when it comes to a pawdicure, you’ll want to incorporate some positive reinforcement training first before diving in. Here is a video that shows how to desensitize your dog to the idea of nail trimming and create a positive experience for them.

  • “If your dog has nails that are naturally very dry and crack or flake often, it’s best to clip the nails after a bath when they are still moistened, this can help prevent further cracking”Detroit Dog Groomer, Brittany

If you have a small dog or tiny puppy, the easiest way to cut will be in your arms with nail scissors. This video below shows how to use nail scissors on a calm and collected dog.

  • “When clipping, always start slow and work your way up. A lot of the time you can judge how much to take off by the neighboring nail you have already trimmed. Sometimes, back nails need less off than front nails because of how dogs carry their weight.”Detroit Dog Groomer, Brittany

For dogs with black nails, trimming little by little is the only way to go. This video will show you how to spot the quick from the inside of the nail.

Unfortunately, it is very easy for a dog to have a bad experience with nail trimming. Either they’ve had their nails cut too short in the past which caused pain and bleeding, or they were restrained too aggressively instilling fear into the process. Whatever the reason for your dog’s fear, know that is is very common and most dog owners struggle with nail trimming at home.

Groomer Brittany says, “The big thing to remember is that even one foot or one nail a day is a big achievement when working with a dog who doesn’t like having it done. There is definitely plenty of time to work on building that trust with a dog in making this a positive and productive process, so don’t rush and stress either of yourselves out. Try to approach it as confidently as you can because your dog will pick up on any and all of the energy you put out there.”

If your dog is very much opposed to having their nails trimmed, getting someone to help gently restrain your dog while talking to them, or feeding them something yummy like peanut butter, can make a big difference. Here are Detroit Dog Groomers Lisa and Najee working together to trim a dog’s nails.

If your dog is more than nervous with nail trims and behaves aggressively, you may need to incorporate muzzle training with them. This video below shows you how to first train your dog to tolerate wearing a muzzle, then how to safely restrain a fearful dog to trim their nails.

Finishing Touches
Once you’ve finished trimming your dog’s nails with clippers, you can move on to using a dremel. The sound of the dremel can be scary for some dogs, so a nail file can be used instead if needed.

  • “Always make sure that the hair is pushed back on long coated/hairy footed pups. This can be done with pantyhose, or even a plastic bag and all you do is poke the nails through. This is all extremely important when using the battery operated nail filer to prevent hair, body parts, or other objects from getting caught in the parts that spin.”Detroit Dog Groomer, Brittany

Filing your dog’s nails will help you get closer to the nail’s quick, and the closer you trim to the quick, the further this vein will recede making it possible for shorter nails.

Illustration of the anatomy of a dog nail

If your dog’s nails are long, your dog will more likely tolerate dremeling if you clip them first, then dremel as a finishing tool. But, if your dog’s nails are already short, or known to have long quicks, dremeling can help maintain that shortness and help the quick recede.

In addition to achieving a shorter nail, the dremel can help with shaping and rounding out the edges, making it more pleasant for us humans when our dog jumps up or sits on our lap. Allowing your dog walk or run on concrete can have a similar effect.

Help! My dog’s nail is bleeding!
If you end up cutting into your dog’s quick, stay calm. You’ll want to have styptic powder on hand to dip the nail into. Dipping the individual nail into styptic powder not only coagulates the blood and stops the flow, it helps creates a clog at the bottom of the vessel which will prevent bacteria from entering the blood vessel.

If your dog’s nail was cut severely short and it will not stop bleeding, contact your vet office for further direction.

You’ve got this!
At Canine to Five, we believe in you and know that you can trim your dog’s nails at home! But if your dog has other ideas, our Detroit Grooming Salon offers nail trims with haircuts, baths, as a walk-in service, or while your dog is with us for doggy daycare or overnight dog boarding.

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Cartoon depicting a movie theater with dogs in the audience watching a farce on Night of the Living dead reading: Night of the Living Nail clippers

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