How to properly cut a dog's nails

I want to cover several aspects of cutting a dog's nails in this post: what kind of nail clippers to use, the length and angle nails should be cut, what to do when you accidentally cut the quick, and how to go about cutting dogs' nails if you have a particularly skittish canine.

It's important to keep a dog's nails at an appropriate length, because when dogs' nails get too long, their posture is affected, as they will change the manner in which they walk and stand in order to accommodate the extra length. This can seriously affect their bones and muscles, causing permanent damage. Moreover, a dog's blood vessels and nerves will eventually extend into their longer nails, which means if the nail is damaged or cut later on and a nerve is severed, they will experience a great deal of pain.

This is why it's essential to keep a dog's nails trimmed, and trimmed properly.

How often should you cut a dog's nails?

How to properly cut a dog's nails
These dogs get a lot of outdoor activity,
so their nails probably won't need to be
trimmed as often.
It depends on the dog's activity level and what kinds of surfaces he walks on. If your dog is very active that spends a lot of time outdoors on rough surfaces, his nails are probably well worn and he won't need grooming in this area very often. However, if your dog does not do a lot of activity that allows his nails to naturally be worn down, you most likely will have to trim his nails more often.

A quick way to tell if your dog's nails need trimming is by seeing if they touch the floor when he is standing up. If they are pressing against or touching the floor, then they should be cut. You can probably also hear that they need cutting when the dog is walking or running around, as their nails will make a tell-tale clicking sound against the floor. There should at least be a millimeter or two of space between a dog's nails and the floor when they are standing still.

What kind of dog nail clippers should you use?

There are many different kinds of dog nail trimmers and clippers available on the market. It really boils down to what you and your dog are comfortable using.

How to properly cut a dog's nailsI prefer using basic clippers to make clean simple cuts. If you opt for this method make sure you get the right size for your dog's paw. The downside to these is that if you're not experienced or careful, you can easily cut the quick.

How to properly cut a dog's nails
Some people like using the electric trimmers that file down a dog's nails. Those help you take away small layers of nail at a time. I have heard that some electric tools get hot the longer the rotary turns against the nail though, which can be painful for the dog.

Basically, every kind of tool has their pros and cons. It's up to you to figure out what you like best.

How to create a pleasant nail-cutting session

This is very similar to how you would get a dog used to the idea of getting his teeth cleaned. You essentially want to teach your dog to trust you whenever it's time to get his nails cut.

When first introducing your dog to a nail clipper, have his favorite treats ready as well. Before you start your first session, put some time aside to let your dog smell the clipper and handle it near its feet often. When finally comes the time to cut his nails, remember to remain calm throughout the process and to gently shower the dog with praise a regular intervals. When the entire thing is over, give your pet treats so that he learns to associate nail-cutting with a positive experience.

If it's too late to introduce your dog to a pair of nail clippers for the first time, and he is already nervous around clippers and is distrustful of anyone who has them, well, we'll discuss that later in the post.

Trimming to the correct length and angle

When you're cutting a dog's nails, particularly a dog with dark nails, take off at most only a millimeter at a time. This way you avoid accidentally nicking the quick. The quick is easy to identify for dogs with light colored or clear nails, as it is the pink part inside of the nail. However, it's impossible to see in dogs with black nails, which it's why safer to simply only cut or shave off at most millimeter during each nail-cutting session. Trim nails at most on a weekly basis; this will allow the quick inside of the nail to recede from the previous trimming session.

Make sure the blade or trimmer you're using takes of the nail from a top to bottom position, rather than from side to side. This will minimize the dog's discomfort. When you see a small oval- or circle-shaped area emerge in the center of the nail, that means you're getting close to the quick and you can stop and go on to the next nail.

The cut to a dog's nail should also be at a slanted angle to prevent accidentally nicking the quick, as a dog's nails curve downward, and the quick grows in the same way. If you're not sure, begin by aiming for the hard "outer shell" of the nail instead of the softer part in the middle.

How to properly cut a dog's nails
The nails on the dog paw shown above are clipped to an appropriate length. Notice the small oval-shaped area in the middle.
Left: The ideal angle to trim a dog's nails. Right: The hard area of a dog's nail.

What to do if you accidentally cut the quick

Be prepared for a very unhappy dog. Trimming too close to the quick, or actually cutting it, will not only cause the nail to bleed, but it will cause your dog pain. Normally, in this situation, dogs will yelp and try to get away from you. And you can't really blame them, it hurts!

How to properly cut a dog's nails But in the unfortunate event that this happens, it's important not to freak out, as your panic will likely cause your dog even more distress and anxiety, which would signal to him that he is completely justified in distrusting you. Stay calm, give your dog a treat, and speak soothingly.

Apply clotting powder (available in any dog store or online) to the wounded nail to stop the bleeding. If you don't have any, baking soda or cornstarch works too.

Lastly, end the session right there. Try again another day and give your dog a break.

How to a cut the nails of a dog who HATES getting nails cut

Cutting a dog's nails can be really tricky business. I've had dogs that were completely relaxed around nail clippers and the entire process would take no longer than 5-10 minutes, and I've had dogs that freak out at the sight of a nail clipper. It all really boils down to what the dog has previously experienced while getting his nails cut, and personality.

If you have a dog that completely loses his mind when getting his nails cut, regardless of how much coaxing, pleading, and/or restraining you do, it's probably best to seek out a professional to do it for you. Better to spend a little money and have someone trained to do this do it right, rather than struggle through it and accidentally maim your dog!

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