Dogs need their toenails clipped regularly. Here are some tips to make the process easier—for you and your pet.

By Doug Jimerson

Like people, dogs require their toenails to be clipped at regular intervals. If left untrimmed, a dog's nails can grow too long and cause damage when the pet scratches itself. If your pet has long toenails, it might also leave scratch marks on your wood floors or furniture. Sadly, for some dogs, nail trimming is a frightening experience. Here are some easy-to-follow tips on how to give your dog a relaxing and enjoyable pedicure.

  1. Start early. As soon as you bring a new puppy into your home, practice holding each of your puppy's paws for just a few seconds. Reward and praise your puppy if it stays calm. If it struggles, don't force the issue, but try again every day until your dog realizes you aren't trying to hurt it.
  2. Initiate older pets. If you have adopted an older pet that might not be used to regular pedicures, follow the same procedure as you would for a puppy. Some dogs can be very particular about anyone touching their feet, so go slow and don't turn the process into a rodeo. Remember, always praise, praise, and praise again if your pet lets you handle its feet.
  3. Know when to trim. It's time to trim your pet's nails when you hear its nails clicking on the floor as it walks through the house. Or, if your dog's claws are snagging in the carpet. Also, keep an eye on the dewclaws. Oftentimes, these are removed when your pet is young, but if your pet still has its dewclaws, make sure to trim these, also. Because dewclaws are located above the pads, they don't get worn down naturally and can grow back into the toe itself.
  4. Find a buddy. Nail trimming is a lot easier if you have a helper. Your assistant can steady the dog, leaving your hands free to work the nail clippers. Keep in mind that small dogs are easier to trim if you put them up on a skidproof table, but with large breeds, it often works best to get down on the floor before you start clipping. 
  5. Know the nails. Before you begin trimming your pet's nails, learn a little about nail anatomy. Each nail is made up of the nail itself and the quick. The quick is the dark base that supplies blood to the nail. Avoid clipping into the quick or you'll cause excessive bleeding and pain to the dog. With white nails, the quick is easy to spot. If your dog has black nails, the quick might not be visible at all so be extra careful as you trim.
  6. Assemble your tools. Nail trimmers come in three basic types: scissor, guillotine, and grinder. You'll also need to have some styptic powder to stop any unexpected bleeding and a nail file to smooth any nails that might shatter when clipped. The most commonly used nail clipper is the guillotine. Ask your veterinarian for a recommendation on the best type of nail clipper to use on your dog.
  7. Start the process. To trim your dog's nails, it's often easier to get your pet in a down position. Stand on the opposite side of the claws you are trimming and drape your arm over the dog's back to help restrain it. If you are right-handed, hold the dog's paw in your left hand and the clipper in your right hand. To keep your dog from standing, lean gently on its shoulders.
  8. Take small cuts. It's best not to try to cut the entire nail in one shot. Clip a series of small pieces until you get to within about 2 millimeters of the quick. With dark-color nails where you can't see the quick, it's especially important to take small cuts. Always cut the nail at a 45-degree angle and don't forget to clip your dog's dewclaws at the same time.
  9. Stop any bleeding. If you accidentally cut too deeply, you can cause a small amount of bleeding. Use styptic powder to stop bleeding. Cutting the quick hurts your dog so make sure to be extra careful or the next time you clip your dog's nails, it might be less willing to participate.
  10. Congratulate your pet. When all your pet's nails are nicely trimmed, praise your dog enthusiastically and reward it with a special treat. You want nail trimming to be something your pet looks forward to (or at least doesn't mind) instead of a stressful episode.


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