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the Dog Blog

Paw Pedicure: How to Trim Your Dog’s Nails

A woman carefully trimming a dog’s nails.

Trimming your dog’s nails can be an intimidating experience for both you and your furry friend. However, it’s extremely important to do so, as untrimmed nails may lead to some possible painful issues for your dog. Fortunately, a little preparation can help you keep your pooch’s paws in prime condition. Here’s what you need to know about trimming your dog’s nails.

Invest in Nail Trimmers Made for Dogs

In order to trim your dog’s nails, you’ll need the right tools. Human nail trimmers, regular scissors, and other tools aren’t designed to handle your dog’s nails. There are specific trimmers designed to handle dog nails that are available at your local pet stores.

There are a couple of different styles of dog nail trimmers you can choose, including scissor clippers and guillotine clippers. The American Kennel Club recommends using scissor clippers for large dogs with bigger, thicker nails and guillotine clippers for small or medium-sized breeds. You should also have some corn starch, styptic powder, or a styptic pencil, the latter of which you can find at most pet stores, on hand for when you are ready to trim. More recently, battery operated or plug-in nail files, also known as grinders or dremels, have entered the market. This article will cover nail trimming using clippers.

Prepare Your Dog for the Nail Trimmer

The average dog needs her nails cut once or twice a month, but that’s difficult to do unless your furry friend is comfortable with the process. It’s important to take a few steps to prepare your dog for the nail trimming experience.

Introduce your dog to the nail trimmer

Let your dog see and sniff the trimmer. It’s good to let your dog get used to seeing it so that its sudden appearance isn’t a cause for concern. Reward her with a Bil-Jac Treat and some praise after she investigates the trimmer.

If your dog isn’t a fan of you holding her paw, you may also need to get her used to you interacting with her feet. To do this, start by calmly picking up one of your dog’s paws for a second or two before setting it back down and rewarding her with a treat and some praise. Once your dog gets used to this initial action, try holding her paw for longer periods of time, building up to 10 seconds. After you hit that milestone, try to gently move her paw around. After every try, reward your dog so that she knows she’s doing a good job.

Some dogs can take longer than others to become comfortable with people holding their paws, so you may need to spend a few days practicing with all four of your dog’s paws. However, teaching this behavior can make nail trimming much less stressful for you and your best friend.

Get your dog used to having the nail trimmer near her

Start using the trimmer to interact with your dog. First, touch her paw with the trimmer and give her a treat. Once she’s comfortable with that, touch her paw with the trimmer and squeeze the tool without cutting a nail so that she hears the noise. Again, reward her with a treat. If she’s comfortable with the noise, touch her nail with the trimmer and follow up with a treat and more praise. This process can take a few days, so be patient during the process and provide your favorite furball plenty of affection so she knows that she’s doing a good job.

Trim Her Nails Carefully

Now that you’ve helped prepare your pooch for her paw-dicure, it’s time to trim some nails with a little direction and practice. Have her trimmer and some corn starch, styptic powder, or pencil on hand before you start. You can even put a little bit of powder onto a small plate so you are prepared if needed. Make sure you are feeling relaxed and confident since your dog will sense how you’re feeling.

Holding the paw

Once your dog is okay with you handling her paws, it’ll be easier for you to make her nails more accessible for your trimmer. Gently pick up her paw with one hand and place your thumb right on top of her paw right behind the nail you want to trim. By lightly pulling back with your thumb and pushing up underneath the toe with your forefinger, you can extend the nail to make it easier to see and trim.

Cutting or filing the nail

The trickiest part for many pet parents is figuring out how much they need to trim off their dog’s nails. You don’t want to leave too much, but you also need to avoid cutting into the “quick,” which is the small, fleshy part inside the base of the nail. This process is easier with dogs who have light-colored nails where you can see the quick when you trim, while dark color nails don’t give you this visual guide. To avoid cutting into the quick, don’t trim past the curve of the nail. Cut the nail at a 45-degree angle so that the top of the nail juts out slightly farther than the bottom. Check each nail after you trim to make sure you have not cut the quick.

If you do happen to cut too far and you are seeing some bleeding, it’s time for some styptic powder, pencil, or corn starch (in a pinch). A Q-tip or cotton ball can help you apply the powder. It’s also important to comfort your dog and make her feel better with a treat and some kind words so that she knows that everything will be okay and won’t immediately think of pain the next time you need to trim her nails.

Start small

It’s always better to take your time and get used to trimming nails until you’re comfortable with the practice. The first time you go to trim your dog’s nails, only focus on one nail. Cut just a tiny tip off that nail and reward you dog. Stop with that one nail for the day and do the same process each day for a different nail until they are all trimmed. The next time your dog needs her nails clipped, she should be conditioned enough for you to try multiple – or even all of them if she’s relaxed enough.

Don’t be Afraid to Find Help if You Need It

With a little practice, trimming your dog’s nails can be a pretty quick, easy process. However, there are some situations where you may need to find a professional dog groomer. You can call ahead to ask if you need to make an appointment to have your dog’s nails trimmed. Many pet stores that offer grooming don’t require an appointment, you may just have a short wait. If that’s the case, don’t worry – your dog won’t mind if she needs the occasional professional pawdicure.

Ready to find out some other ways that you can pamper your precious pooch? Join our Best Friends Club today to receive our exclusive email newsletter full of informative articles, training tips, and members-only discounts on Bil-Jac dog food, treats, and other products.