How to Trim Your Dog’s Nails

Man’s best friend – until the nail clippers come out! Trimming your dog’s nails can produce anxiety and tension for both of you.  You’re worried you’ll cut the quick and hurt him; he’s wondering why his Frisbee-throwing pal is coming at him with a pair of shiny, scary things. Fortunately, with some preparation and easy guidelines, you can turn nail trimming into a painless part of your grooming routine.

Before You Start

One of the biggest challenges of canine nail trimming is simply holding your dog’s feet without causing worry – or excessive wiggling. The first step to overcoming this obstacle: put the clippers down! A few days before you plan to trim his nails, practice by picking up one of his paws. Touch the nails gently for a few seconds and put his paw down.

Immediately give your dog his favorite treat. Repeat this process for a few minutes so he learns to associate nail trimming with pleasure. It may take your pet a day or two to feel comfortable having his paws and nails handled. Remember, move at his pace.

When he does appear comfortable, get out your nail clippers – but don’t trim yet! Pick up a paw and simply touch a nail with the clippers. Give him a treat, and then repeat.

It seems like a lot of work, but taking it slow and steady now will set you up for a smoother trimming process and a much happier pooch.

Choosing Your Nail Clippers

You need to have the right tools for the job. The two most common types of clippers are:

  • Scissor-style. These work just like regular scissors. Place the trimmer at a right angle to the nail and close down to clip. These are effective for nails that are so long they curve in (this is common in the dew claw, which is on the inner side of the paw). A downside, though, is that they can be difficult to use if you have arthritis or other weakness in the hand.


  • Guillotine. Guillotine trimmers have a stationary ring into which you insert the nail. Make sure you hold them perpendicular to the nail and that the cutting blade is facing towards you. This allows you to see exactly where you’re cutting.When you squeeze the handles, the blade moves up and trims the nail. Guillotines are generally easier to use than scissor-type trimmers; but check out your pet supply store and see which works better for you.

Now It’s Time to Start Trimming

Assemble all of the supplies you’ll need:

  • Clippers.
  • Treats.
  • Clotting powder (styptic powder). In case you cut the quick (blood vessels and nerves in the nail), have a product like Kwik Stop or Cardinal Laboratories Remedy and Recovery Professional Groomer’s Styptic Powder for Pet on hand to safely stop the bleeding.
  • More treats!

If it’s your first time trimming your dog’s nails, try to aim for two or three nails in one sitting. It may take a few days to finish completely. That’s ok: with time, practice, and treats, you’ll be able to finish all of them at once. For now, remember the mantra: keep it slow and steady!

  1. Identify the quick. If your dog has white nails, you’ll be able to see the pinkish area easily. What if he has black nails? If you have an assistant, have them shine a flashlight to backlight the nail and illuminate the quick. If not, just trim a little piece of nail at a time. When you see the beginning of a grey or pink oval, stop cutting.
  2. Hold your dog’s nail firmly.
  3. If your dog tries to stand, gently lean over his shoulders. If that doesn’t do the trick, position him on his side. Use your arm (if you’re right-handed, use your right arm and hold the clippers in your right hand) and upper body to hold him in place.
  4. Use your clippers as described above and cut two to three nails.
  5. Give your dog a treat after each nail.
  6. Restock your treat supply and do two to three nails a day until you’ve finished.

By familiarizing your dog with the process, moving slowly, and providing ample treats and praise, your dog may even start to like having his nails trimmed. Well, maybe not! But he will tolerate it, especially if you promise him a game of Frisbee after.