Clipping Dog Nails: Comprehensive step-by-step Tutorial

Clipping Dog Nails: Not as Hard as You Think

Last Updated 05-26-2023

Clipping Dog Nails is easier than you think.  So, stop dragging your dog to the vet or groomer to get his nails clipped, do it yourself. 

You will find that this is a simple grooming task and learning to do it yourself will save you time and money.  Dog nails are similar to human nails in that they grow faster when dogs are provided a high quality diet. 

Clipping your dog’s nails should be done about every two months.  

Clipping Dog Nails

If you normally take your dog to a groomer, nail clipping is generally part of the groom.  If you have a dog that doesn’t require a visit to the groomer, or if you would like to groom your dog at home, nail clipping becomes your responsibility. 

If you have never done it before, you might want to watch a groomer or your vet trim a dog’s nails.  Once you feel comfortable doing it yourself, there are a few things that you will need to keep in mind.

Nail Anatomy

Anatomy of a Dog Nail

If you are going to be clipping dog nails, you should know a little about a dog’s nail.  Each nail has a vein running through it which can be seen if your dog’s nails are white. This vein appears as a pink line that runs part way up the nail. 

If the nails are black, you will not be able to see it or know where it ends. The vein is called the quick and if it is cut, it will bleed and hurt the dog.  Dogs that have had numerous experiences with their nail quick clipped become very resistant to allowing someone to clip their nails. Keep this in mind when clipping dog nails so that each experience is positive for your dog.

Training Your Dog to Allow Dog Nail Clipping

Training your dog to enjoy grooming in general is the first step towards comfortable nail clipping. There is not anything harder than clipping dog nails when the dog is wiggling and uncooperative. This training starts at puppy hood where you hold the dog and get him used to having you handle his paws.

It’s so much easier if the dog will lie on the table, sit, or lay on his side.   Give him lots of praise when he is cooperative.  Sometimes it helps if you have another person hold the dog for you, however it may not be necessary if the dog is cooperative.

AND, here’s another hint I have learned about clipping dog nails:  Do it when the dog is tired and right before bed.  You will get less resistance!

Types of Nail Trimmers

There are several styles of nail trimmers that can be used for dog nail clipping.  The most common ones are the and the scissors type.  The guillotine type is used by placing the nail between the guillotine blades and squeezing the handles together.

The scissor type as the name implies is used as if it were a scissor, placing the nail between the two blades and squeezing the handle.  Both are easy to use and the choice of which to use is a matter of personal preference and comfort.

The clippers below are available and can be purchased on Amazon directly from this site.  We get a tiny commission when someone purchases from this site which helps keep the site up and running.  We appreciate you. These are my recommendations.

Guillotine Type Nail Clipper
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Trimming a white nail is relatively easy.  Look for the pink in the center of the nail.  This pink is the Quick.  To cut a white nail, hold the paw gently but firmly in one hand and locate the nail.  If the dog is a long haired breed, separate the hair from the nail.

Find the pink area of the nail and clip above it.  A good rule of thumb is to clip right where the nail begins to bend, also called the “nail hook.” 

If you are worried about clipping too deeply, just take a little off at a time and continue to clip until you get fairly close to the pink area.  Another method is to take the tips off and clip the nails more frequently, approximately once per month.

Dogs with Black Nails

Clipping a black nail is a little trickier.  You will want to have some styptic powder or silver nitrate sticks available in the event that you clip a little too close.  Gauze or cotton balls will work, but blood clotting takes longer and if you do not hold the gauze onto the nail, the job can get messy.

To clip the black nails, start by cutting small pieces at a time. Each time you clip the nail, look at the end of the nail.  You will eventually see the small pinkish, grayish area at the center of the nail.  This is the quick and your signal to stop cutting. 

Filing & Grinding Dog Nails

Once you have clipped the nails, you may wish to use a metal file to gently file the cut area.  A well filed nail is not likely to scratch anyone. 

You can now purchase grinding instruments that do the job too.  These grinders work well for strong medium to large nails but do not work as well in tiny or small dogs and don’t work well at all on puppy nails.

Nail File
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Nail Grinder
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Oops! You Clipped too Short

Kwik Stop – 1/2 oz

It happens to the best of us at one time or another–the dog moves, or we underestimate where the “quick” ends and accidentally trim the nail too short. 

Dog nails can bleed and bleed and bleed!  Forget about what you learned in an elementary first aid class.  You won’t be able to stop the bleeding with pressure.

You won’t be able to stop the steady stream of blood with a bandage.  You need to have something on hand that will stop the bleeding:

Styptic Powder:  Sprinkle some of the powder on a cotton ball, gauzepad, or tissue.  Wipe away the blood on the nail with a clean gauze pador tissue. Place the cut nail on the gauze pad covered in powder for afew seconds.  Release and watch for any additional bleeding.  Repeat ifnecessary.  All bleeding should be stopped before releasing the dog.

HINT: When clipping dog nails, to remove blood stains from dog hair, dab with Hydrogen Peroxide.

A Word About Dewclaws

Does your dog have dewclaws?  Dewclaws are similar to the thumb on the front and back paws.  At birth the dewclaws are very close to the other “toes” but as the dog grows, the dewclaws separate and eventually appear slightly higher on the leg.  Sometimes a dog will have more than one dewclaw on their foot.

Many breeders will remove dewclaws when the puppy is between 3 and 4 days old and the procedure is simple, quick and poses few problems for the newborn.  If the dewclaws have been removed in this manner, you will not need to worry about them. 

If your dog has dewclaws, you want to take as much care to trim them as they can be a source of trouble if they get caught in carpet, fabric or bedding. If neglected, dewclaws tend to grow long and curl around and back into the skin. 

If trimmed regularly, most dewclaws pose few problems in dogs.  If they do become a problem, your vet will likely suggest that you have them surgically removed.   So, my advice when clipping dog nails is not to forget the dewclaws.

Important Tips

Remember these important tips clipping dog nails:

  • Choose a clipper that feels comfortable in your hand
  • Find the nail’s quick and avoid clipping into it
  • Cut a small amount of nail at a time
  • Use a grinder or nail file to smooth over the edges of the cut nail
  • Praise your dog and give him a treat

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