Helping Your Dog Feel More Comfortable With Nail Trims

Tuki Talks

Hello again friends – Tuki here from my perch at the Potter League. I was hanging out on perch the other day and heard one of the new animal care staff learning about how to clip a dog’s nails and thought, ‘Hmmm, I bet there are a lot of pet parents out there who would like to know how to clip their dogs’ nails too.’ So, here is what I learned. 

The process does not have to be arduous; all you have to do is make it a little fun for your dog by preparing them. Many dogs don’t particularly love having their nails trimmed so instead of going right for the clippers, we suggest to first make it a fun type of game to touch your dog’s paws and often that way they will get used to it and this will make nail clipping a lot easier. You also want to get your dog used to the clippers or grinding tool before you start clipping. Hold the clippers near your dog each day for several days and let your dog sniff them. Place a treat on the clippers and let him take it. If you are using a grinding tool, turn it on near your dog so he gets used to the sound, always giving them a treat so that they associate the sound with something yummy. If you are still not sure how your dog will react – secure them as though you are going to clip their nails, hold a small stick or piece of uncooked spaghetti near their paw and cut it with the clippers. This will help them get used to the sound of the cut before you actually start clipping and it can give you an idea of how they will react so you can be prepared too.

There are several different tools that you can use for nail clipping. You can use a grinding tool made specifically for nail trimming, which is somewhat safer and easier that clippers, but the same principles for clipping apply. There is scissor- and guillotine-type clippers available as well. The guillotine-type is often easier to use, especially for small dogs. Whatever tool you decide on, make sure you are comfortable holding and using it. You should also have some styptic powder available as well to stop any minor bleeding that may occur if you cut through the quick (the inner part of the nail that hold nerves and blood vessels). If your dog has light-colored nails, it will be easier to see the quick and avoid it while clipping. If they have dark colored nails, sometimes holding up a light source can help to see the quick.

If you haven’t clipped your dog’s nails before, you may want to ask your veterinarian or one of the technicians to you give you a lesson before you try it on your own. You can also have your dog’s nails clipped at the vet or a grooming salon if you are not comfortable doing it – or if your dog is not cooperative with the procedure. 

Once you have all your tools assembled and yummy treats handy (peanut butter does wonders to distract them), you are ready to start clipping – and hopefully your dog is too. If you have a small dog, you may be able to hold the dog on your lap while clipping his nails. If your dog is too large to hold (even if he thinks he’s a lap dog!) you will probably need someone to help you hold the dog so you can safely clip his nails.

  • Once your dog is secure, pick up one paw and hold it firmly, but gently, with your thumb on the pad of the paw and your forefinger on the top of the paw just above the nail. 
  • Press gently with your thumb and finger to extend the nail. 
  • Clip the tip of the nail straight across to just below the quick. If you are not sure how much to clip, clip a small amount to start and continue clipping until you reach the right spot.  If your dog has darker nails and you can’t see the quick, don’t clip past the curve of the nail to avoid hitting the quick.
  • Don’t forget to cut your dog’s dew claws (on the side of his paw) too. 
  • If you accidently cut into the quick, apply styptic powder, if you have it, or hold a tissue on the spot until the bleeding stops. Any bleeding should stop in about 5 minutes and if it doesn’t, call your vet.  
  • If your dog is uncertain about the process, just clip one or two nails each day rather than trying to do them all at once. This will help him get used to the process and be less stressful for you too.
  • And don’t forget to praise and reward your pet with treats throughout the process.

Keeping your dog’s nails clipped is not just cosmetic (like getting a mani-pedi). Long nails can reduce traction when your dog is walking and cause deformities or injure the tendons in his paws over time. Long dew claws can curve to the point of cutting into the dog’s leg, causing pain and putting him at risk for an infection.  

And, we didn’t forget all you cat folks out there – the process is the same for cats, including the advance preparation to prevent surprises during the clipping process.

‘Till next time, your friend,


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