If you groom your dog yourself, learning how to cut dog’s nails may not seem like a very important part of his grooming regiment, but in fact, it is. Without proper nail care your pet could experience a lot of pain and discomfort. Learning how to trim dog nails will make you feel more comfortable and ensure that you won’t cut the quick by accident.

How To Cut Dog Nails SafelyWhat is “the quick”? This is the first question that most pet owners ask me when we’re discussing how to cut dog’s nails.

Basically, the quick is a part of dog’s nail. It is very sensitive, as it contains blood vessels and nerves. If you happen to clip the quick by accident, it will be painful for your dog, and it will bleed. Compare it to the way that you feel if your fingernail breaks or you clip it too short; it’s not unbearable, but it is bothersome.

When you ask any professional groomer or veterinarian if they’ve accidentally cut the quick of a dog’s nail before, they’ll say yes. It happens to everyone, no matter how experienced you might be. In light colored toenails, it’s easier to see the quick. However, in black or brown toenails it’s almost impossible to see through the nail and tell where the quick ends.

Worst case scenario, you clip the quick and it bleeds. This article (and the accompanying video above) will not only show you how to cut dog’s nails, but also what to do in the event that this happens. I am often asked how to clip dog nails, and I wanted to share this information to help pet parents understand that it isn’t as difficult as they may think.

How To Cut Dog’s Nails 101: A Step by Step Guide

1. Find the right dog clippers or use the Dremel

The first thing you’ll need to do is find the tool you want to use to clip your dog’s nails. As you’ll see in my video, I like to use traditional dog nail clippers. They’re fast and easy to use. Some people prefer a guillotine style clipper, which you’ll see in the photo further along in this article.

Both of these dog clippers are typically made with stainless steel blades. Traditional clippers are like scissors. You squeeze the handles together and the blades clip the nail by coming together horizontally.

With guillotine style clippers, the blades clip the nail vertically when you squeeze the handles together. There really isn’t much a difference, it just depends on your personal preference.

You will also see a Dremel dog nail grinder (full Dremel review here). These are electric devices that file the nail down instead of clipping the tip off. I don’t prefer these simply because it takes a lot longer to trim your dog’s nails with a Dremel than with regular dog clippers. Also, dogs may be timid around a Dremel tool due to the noise that it makes.


2. Ease your dog into it

How to trip dog nails step 2

It’s best to start learning how to cut dog’s nails when you first adopt your puppy. If you start from the beginning, he’ll get used to this regular grooming practice quickly.

If you adopt an adult dog that is not used to having his nails clipped, it’s certainly possible to get him comfortable with the practice, but it will take more time and patience on your part.

You’ll want to begin by just getting your dog used to you touching his paws.

See the way that I hold Saddie’s paw in my video? Just hold your dog’s paw like this and practice separating his toes. When he’s comfortable with this, you can begin touching his toenails. Rub them and squeeze them so that he gets used to the feeling of pressure on his nails.

When he seems comfortable with you touching his paw in different ways, you can bring out the nail clippers. Whichever type of clipper or Dremel that you choose, show it to your pet and allow him to sniff it. When he’s finished, just move the pet clipper or Dremel around near his toenails and touch the end of his nails with the device.

By now your dog should be used to you touching his paws and comfortable with the trimming device that you’ve chosen. Congratulations! You’re done with the hard part!


3. How to cut dog’s nails safely and quick

How To Cut Dog's NailsNow you’ve got the tools. Your dog is comfortable… Well, as comfortable as he can be. You’re ready to move on. It’s time to learn how to cut dog’s nails.

My first piece of advice is don’t be nervous. If you’re nervous, your dog will sense that, and it will make him nervous too.

Just relax and understand that if you trim your dog’s nails too closely you may cause him a bit of pain. It’s not great, but certainly not the worst thing in the world. Your dog will forgive you. In fact, he probably won’t be mad at you at all.

Start out by holding your dog’s paw firmly and separating the toe that you’ll be working with. If using a Dremel, turn it on and press it gently against the tip of your dog’s nail. Shave off the tip until the nail is flat.

If you chose to use dog clippers, whether traditional clippers or guillotine style pet clippers, it’s a bit more complicated. If your dog has white or light-colored nails, you should be able to easily see through to the quick. Clip off the end of the nail the sticks out past the end of the quick.

If your dog has dark nails and you can’t see the quick, I recommend just taking off the pointed end of the nail for now. As you continue to clip your dog’s nails on a regular basis, the quick will recede. If you clip just the tip now, you can cut your pet’s nails again in 5-7 days and take off just a bit more. Continue with this pattern until the nails are short enough.

So how short should your dog’s nails be?

In terms of length, a good rule of thumb is this: when your dog walks on hard surfaces, you should not be able to hear his nails clicking.

If you still hear clicking after you’ve trimmed your pet’s nails, just wait about a week and cut a little more off the end of each nail. As the quick recedes you’ll be able to continue cutting his nails shorter and shorter.

It may take time, but you’ll get there. This is particularly important to remember if you have adopted an adult dog that hasn’t had their nails cut regularly in the past.

Further reading on grooming your dogs that you may find useful:

  • Important Safety Tips for Dog Grooming At Home
  • Dog Grooming Supplies 101: The Ultimate Buyers’ Guide
  • 7 Best Dog Grooming Blogs
  • Interview on How To Choose Dog Grooming Products

4. Additional tips on clipping your dog’s nails

How To Cut Dog's NailsIn my video above, you’ll hear me mention styptic powder. This is a common product used by vets and professional groomers. It helps to clot the blood if you clip the quick of your pet’s nail. You’ll also hear me talk about the home remedies that I use.

I typically use corn starch, because I have it right in my kitchen cupboard and don’t have to buy any additional products. Corn starch works great to stop the bleeding and so does flour. Any of these products will be fine, just make sure to have something on hand in the event that you nick the quick.

It may also help to have a second person assist you in the beginning.

Having assistance will make things easier for you and your dog. If you are too nervous or don’t trust yourself to properly know how to cut dog’s nails, contact your local groomer or speak with your vet. They may be available to help and walk you through the process until you’re comfortable enough to do it on your own.