Dog nail clippers sit next to treats with a dog paw close by.

Learning how to trim dog nails at home can be an overwhelming task for you and your pup. However, we’ve got some tips and tricks to help make the experience a little less stressful for both you and your dog.

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Before You Start

What You Need

How To Trim Nails

Things To Keep In Mind

Before You Start

Before you begin trimming your dog’s nails, there are a few things you can do to make the process a little bit easier.

Acclimate Your Dog

If possible, it’s best to get your dog comfortable with nail clipping and their paws being handled from a young age. However, it’s not too late to start now! The American Kennel Club has an excellent step-by-step guide on helping your dog get comfortable with the clipper or grinder. They suggest doing each of the steps in their guide on separate days (so as not to overwhelm your dog), while ensuring you’re frequently touching and holding your dog’s paws on a regular basis and giving them plenty of treats. Here’s the breakdown, day-by day:

First Day

Let your dog sniff the clipper or grinder you plan to use. Give them a treat and praise them afterward.

Second Day

Gently touch each of their paws with the clipper or grinder (without turning it on). Once again, reward them with a treat and praise.

Third Day

Again, gently touch each of their paws with the clipper or grinder, but this time, squeeze the clipper (so your dog hears the sound) or turn the grinder on (so they hear it and feel the vibrations). Don’t actually trim the nail. End the session with a treat and praise.

Fourth Day

Do the same thing you did on day three

Fifth Day

You can try trimming a tiny tip off one front paw nail. If your dog allows this, offer plenty of praise and treats. Do not do more than one nail. Repeat this step every day until your dog seems comfortable with the process.

Sixth Day & On

Once your dog seems comfortable, you can try trimming two nails per day. Keep trimming additional nails each day until you’ve trimmed them all and your dog does not mind the process. Even when you don’t need to clip their nails, it’s good to go through the motions so your pup stays comfortable.

Familiarize Yourself With Dog Nail Anatomy

Have you ever broken, clipped, or bitten a nail down to the quick? It can be a very painful experience. Dogs are similar to people in that they have a quick that will bleed if you cut too far back. In dogs with light-colored nails, it’s usually fairly easy to see the pink quick under the white nail, but in dogs with dark-colored nails the quick is not visible, so you’ll need to be extra careful to cut or grind very small sections so as not to hurt them.

Over time, when a dog’s nails grow long, the quick will grow to bring a greater blood supply to the longer nail. As you slowly trim your dog’s nails back, the quick will become smaller and smaller, eventually allowing for you to keep their nails short. However, it’s important not to rush this process.

What You Need to Trim Your Dog’s Nails

  • Dog nail clippers or a dog nail grinder
  • Styptic powder (to stop bleeding)
  • Treats to reward your dog
  • Good lighting and a comfortable space for both you and your pup

How to Trim Your Dog’s Nails

  • Most owners find it easiest to trim their dog’s nails with their dog facing away from them.
  • Pick up your dog’s paw and firmly, but gently, squeeze the top and bottom of one of their toes to extend the nail. Make sure all fur is out of the way.
  • Clip only the very tip of the nail, at the angle shown in the graphic below. Don’t forget to clip the dewclaw, which is located on the inner side of the dog’s paw like a thumb.
  • Keep an eye out for the quick—on dogs with light-colored nails, it looks like a pink area toward the base of the nail, on dogs with dark nails, look for a chalky white ring, and stop clipping there.

Diagram of correct spot to trim dog nails

Things to Keep in Mind:

  • You’ll want to choose the right tools for the job. Most pet owners opt for guillotine-style clippers, scissor-style clippers, or a nail grinder.
  • If you accidentally cut the dog’s nail too short and they begin to bleed, don’t panic: use a little bit of styptic powder or cornstarch to stop the bleeding. You can also apply pressure to the nail with a clean cotton round.
  • Try to keep yourself calm and in good spirits. Dogs can sense when we are anxious or stressed, which can cause them to become anxious as well.
  • If your dog gets anxious or restless, take a break and come back to it when they’ve calmed down.
  • Using incentives, such as peanut butter on a bathtub wall, can help in keeping your dog occupied while you clip their nails.
  • Make sure to reward your dog with plenty of treats and praise so they make a positive association with getting their nails trimmed.
  • Try to make a habit of trimming your dog’s nails every few weeks to prevent too-long growth and other issues.

Trimming your dog’s nails doesn’t have to be a stressful experience! If you’re patient, gentle, and willing to give plenty of treats, you’ll have your pup’s paws in tip-top shape in no time. However, if you’re still a little wary, keep an eye on the Benson’s Pet Center events page—we often have nail trimming events at our stores.

Want your pet items delivered to your Capital Region or Western Mass home? Shop local with Benson’s Pet Center!

Sources:

WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital: How to Clip a Dog’s Nails
American Kennel Club: How to Trim Your Dog’s Nails Safely
Bechewy: How to Cut a Dog’s Nails: Step-By-Step Tips From a Pro Groomer
Goddard Veterinary Group: How to cut your dog’s nails safely at home
Shasta Lake Veterinary: HELP! My pet hates nail trims
Rossmore Veterinary Hospital: The Dos & Don’ts of Clipping Dog Nails