Chihuahua showing her paw.

Learn How To Cut Dog Nails In 4 Simple Steps

Keeping your dog’s nails trimmed and tidy is a somewhat necessary evil. It’s true that, to a degree, walking your dog outside keeps your dog’s nails from getting completely out of hand. They naturally grind down a little bit against paving and gravel. But it’s good practice to maintain your dog’s nails manually too. It saves them from unnecessary pain from hanging nails and snags.

Before we get into this guide on how to cut dog nails, it’s fair to mention that this probably won’t be your favourite thing to do. I quite enjoy dog grooming. There’s such a wonderful bond that strengthens through grooming.

But clipping or grinding dog nails is always a bit of pain for both parties involved. To do this you’ll need some confidence and plenty of patience. Use this guide in conjunction with YouTube videos to feel more at ease cutting your dog’s nails.

Cavoodle having his nails clipped.

Grinding Dogs Nails vs Clipping Dogs Nails

First some definitions. A dog nail clipper will cut straight across the nail, taking a piece with it. Most clippers have a guillotine mechanism in which you place your dog’s nail and the blade cuts across it. Decapitating the nail if you will.

Nail grinders are more like industrial files. They are more abrasive than regular nail files and saw through nails with high-speed rotating drill bits. 

Both tools are important when maintaining your dog’s nails. Both have the capacity to harm your dog if you don’t use them with caution. Whether you choose to clip or grind your dog’s nails depends on their state.

Clipping is good for very overgrown nails that need cutting back. You can chop away at the nail until you get to an adequate length to file the edges down.

While you can use a dog nail grinder to shorten your dog’s nails, it’s not the most efficient way of doing it. So, grinders are best for maintaining a shorter length rather than cutting a dramatic amount of the nail off. It could take forever to file it down.

A grinder also allows for a smoother finish to the nail than clippers. When you clip the nail, the edges are probably still quite blunt and sharp. Those blunt edges can lead to snags or even injury when your dog inevitably scratches itself.

In the following sections, we’ll cover how to both clip and grind your dog’s nails depending on your aim. Though it may be worth asking a professional dog groomer to show you the ropes if you are apprehensive the first time. A vet may also be able to help you.


How To Prepare Your Dog For Nail Care

While some humans such as myself find the act of nail care a soothing ritual, it couldn’t be more opposite for some dogs.

Anyone who has a dog with sensitive paws knows this to be true. My German Shepherd would wince at the idea of you holding his hand. Some dogs even have ticklish paws! (1)

It’s tempting to paw off (get it?) a dog with sensitive feet to a professional groomer, but you won’t really fix the issue. Nor will forcing them into submission. That could end in them biting you as self-defence or you could injure them in the struggle.

“A far better solution is to use positive reinforcement to make paw handling something your dog enjoys. You can even reach a stage where your dog willingly offers a paw to you and will be so relaxed about them being handled, that you can do anything you need to.” - Sophie Jackson for Pet Helpful (2)

You can use games and training techniques to gently acclimatise your dog to handling their paws.


How To Grind A Dog’s Nails

Let’s start with the scarier tool of the two. Handling a nail dremel is not to be taken lightly. It can really hurt if you go too far. The sound of a whirring drill but is also not the most relaxing of sounds to your dog’s ears so they could also resist you during the process.

Related: Best Dog Nail Grinders.

Here’s how to grind your dog’s nails with confidence.

Step 1: How Much Are Your Filing Off?

Your dog’s cuticle can be seen through your dog’s nail. It’s a pink fleshy part called the “quick”. Though it’s harder to see with dogs with black nails, it’s usually still a little visible.

Related: How Long Should Dog Nails Be?

Avoid the quick as this is where all the sensitive nerve endings are. The free edge of the nail is the part you want to file down.

Step 2: Position Your Dog For Their Manicure

Your dog can either sit beside you as you grind their nails or in front of you. It depends on what feels most natural to you and your dog. Some find that sitting beside your dog and accessing their paws from above them gives you a more secure grip. But again, see what works best for you.

Have them sit at the same level as you and secure their paw with your weak hand. The nail dremel should be in your dominant hand. If you need more security or your dog is anxious, you can involve another friend or family member to help hold your dog in place for their manicure. 

Step 3: Start Drilling

Position the dremel at a 45-degree angle, approaching one nail at a time. Hold the nail with your weak hand as you do this. You don’t want your dog’s nail to wiggle freely as you drill. That’s a recipe for disaster.

Use short bursts of contact to shave the nail to the desired length.

Step 4: Reward Your Dog

We suggest rewarding your dog with a treat or piece of food between each nail. This reinforces the feeling that grooming nails are a good thing. Eventually, your dog may be relatively relaxed and happy for you to grind their nails which will make it much easier to do in the future.

A Brief Word On Puppy Nail Grinding

Puppy can be particularly wiggly and stubborn. The little bundles of energy can make nail grinding much more difficult. Here are some top tips for dealing with puppy nail care:

  1. Choose a low-noise nail grinder
  2. Involve another person to secure your dog
  3. Use plenty of positive training techniques to get them used to you handling their paws

How To Clip A Dog's Nails

Clipping your dog’s nails starts off the same as grinding them. You need to determine the amount of nail you’re clipping off. You also need to position your dog appropriately for clipping their nails. So we won’t labour those two points too much.

Related: Best Dog Nail Clippers.

Step 1: How Much Are Your Filing Off?

As above.

Step 2: Position Your Dog For Their Manicure

Follow the guidelines above to position your dog. Another technique for clipping in particular is to stand over your dog. Because clipping is much faster than grinding down nails, this slightly less comfortable position can give you more leverage to clip away quickly.

Step 3: Start Clipping

Place your dog’s nail within the guillotine hole or bladed edge of the nail clipper. Slide the clipper up to the part of the nail you wish to clip off. Clampdown firmly on the handle to clip the unwanted piece off.

You want to be as quick as possible as you clip to prevent your dog from moving out of place.

Step 4: Reward Your Dog

As above, reward your dog after clipping their nails.

A Brief Word On Puppy Nail Clipping

Puppies can’t stay still for long so clipping their nails is usually easier than grinding them. That said, here are some extra tips to consider:

  1. Choose a nail clipper specifically for puppies or small dogs
  2. Involve a friend or family member to hold them still
  3. Keep your nail clipping sessions as short as possible

Approach Your First Doggy Manicure With Confidence

We hope this guide helped you to learn how to trim your dog’s nails with confidence. There are plenty of YouTube videos available as a supplement to this article to show you the angles with which you need to cut the nails and how to position your dog for the best results.

Remember that maintaining your dog’s nails starts with acquiring the right tools.

Black dog nails can be a little tougher. Read our dedicated guide to cutting black dog nails below:

FAQ

How Often Should You Grind Your Dog’s Nails?

On average, you can get away with trimming your dog’s nails every 1-2 months depending on how fast they tend to grow. The pavement will do some natural filing during daily walks but generally not enough for your dog’s nails to be kept in check long term.

Your dog’s nutrition will also affect how fast your dog’s nails grow. If they are consuming plenty of good nutrients, you’ll notice that their nails and fur will flourish.

Jason Nicholas, BVetMed, of Preventive Vet, writes “A good rule of thumb (pun definitely intended!) is that you should trim your dog's nails, or have them trimmed, as often as it takes to prevent their nails from touching the ground when they're standing.” (3)

So, while 1-2 months is a good guideline, it’s quite subjective to your dog’s lifestyle and individual needs.

Is It Bad To Clip Your Dog’s Nails?

There is no evidence to suggest that clipping your dog’s nails is harmful to them. By maintaining your dog’s paws in general, you can prevent injuries. Hangnails and snags can be extremely painful and even lead to infection if not treated carefully.


References

  1. Tague, A. September 30, 2021. “Can Dogs Be Ticklish? (& Where Are Their Spots?)”. Hill’s Pet. Retrieved December 27, 2021. https://www.hillspet.com/dog-care/play-exercise/are-dogs-ticklish
  2. Jackson, S. February 14, 2020. “How to Take the Stress Out of Grooming Your Dog's Paws”. Pet Helpful. Retrieved December 27, 2021. https://pethelpful.com/dogs/How-to-Take-the-Stress-Out-of-Grooming-Your-Dogs-Paws
  3. Nicholas, J. September 21, 2020. “How Often Should You Cut Your Dog's Nails?”. Preventive Vet.  Retrieved December 27, 2021.   https://www.preventivevet.com/dogs/how-often-should-you-cut-your-dogs-nails
Olivia De Santos

Olivia is a professional writer and animal lover. She loves spending time with her Podengo and Flat Coated Retriever, and writing pieces to help people to be better dog owners

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