How to Trim Your Dog’s Nails

Medically Reviewed by Kathleen Claussen, DVM on July 15, 2023
4 min read

Owners should make trimming their dog’s nails part of their regular grooming process. Clipped nails are a sign of cleanliness and good dog hygiene. Getting your dog to sit still long enough for you to clip their nails can be quite challenging. It would help if you did what you could to make your dog’s nail clipping experience as stress-free as possible. 

It’s a good idea to introduce nail trimming early in your dog’s life. This will help dogs overcome any fears of getting their claws cut. Use positive reinforcement techniques like praising your dog and rewarding them with treats to make them view nail trimming as a positive experience.

Here are some steps to follow in safely trimming your dog’s nails. 

Select your dog's nail trimmer. You should only use dog trimmers designed for pet use. There are different types of dog trimmers you can use for the process. The guillotine type tends to be the easiest for dog owners to manipulate. It has a stationary ring through which you place the dog’s nail. Squeezing the handles causes a blade to come up and slice off the nail. 

The scissor-style dog nail trimmer is good to use on nails long enough to start curling into a circle. Not trimming long nails can cause them to press into the dog’s toe pad, causing them pain and potentially leading to an infection. 

You can also decide to use a grinder tool to trim your dog’s claws if you are not comfortable handling clippers. The noise they make can sometimes stress out the dog. Owners still have to be careful not to file too far down and cause an injury.

Get your dog used to the procedure. Get puppies used to the feeling of their paws being handled by gently holding them in your hands. Older dogs can also benefit from this technique, especially if they have experienced past trauma. With them, you may want to start with touching their shoulder before working down to the dog’s paws. Pull back if they seem afraid. Keep trying several times a day until they become comfortable with you touching their feet.

Show enthusiasm while allowing your dog to inspect the clipper. Giving your dog a treat during this time helps reduce fear in your canine when the dog sees the tools come out. 

Position your dog to remain in place. Even with lots of preparation, some dogs still need restraint to get them through the dog nail trimming process. You can try placing your dog on a table, then standing to the side of the table opposite of the paw you wish to trim. Carefully drape your arms and upper body over your dog. Use your forearm to stop your dog from lifting its head until you are done. It may be easier to trim your dog’s paws this way if you have a helper to assist. 

Make a note of your dog’s nail color and length. The color of a dog’s nails depends on the coloring of their fur and skin. Lighter dog nails have a pink section, called the quick. It contains nerve cells and blood vessels, so you must be careful not to cut that part of your dog’s nail. It’s harder to see the quick on dogs with black nails. Look for a chalky white ring that marks where the quick starts. 

Look for the dewclaws located on your dog’s inner paw surface. Some breeds, like St. Bernard’s, may have more than one dewclaw. The claws on a dog’s back feet are usually shorter than those on the front.

Extend your dog’s nail. Extend the nail by lifting the paw and gently placing your finger on one of the toe pads. Place your forefinger on the skin located above the dog’s nail on top of its toe. Apply a little pressure with your thumb by pushing it up and backward on the pad. Move your forefinger forward at the same time. 

Trim the tip of the nail. Use your clipping tool to trim the very end of the dog’s nail, straight across. Do the same for the dewclaws. Make sure you avoid cutting the quick. If you are using a grinding tool, start by grinding the bottom of the nail, then use it on the end to smooth any rough edges. Trim the claw to within 2 mm of the quick. Stop any trimming activity if your dog seems to be in distress. 

If you are using a grinding tool and have a dog with long hair, move the fur out of the way, so it doesn’t get caught while trimming your dog’s nails. Make sure you keep the clipper blade sharpened to avoid causing discomfort to your dog while trimming its nails.

If the nail is cut too short and it bleeds, apply pressure and maybe a bandage. You may need quick-stop powder.  Sometimes a trip to the vet is required if the bleeding doesn't stop.

Do not scold your dog if they show fear or pull back their paws during a dog nail trim. That may only increase their anxiety and make it harder for you to groom the dog’s claws. You may want to have a vet perform nail trimming on your dog before attempting to do so on your own.