How to Use Dog Nail Clippers – Everything You Need to Know

how to use dog nail clippers featured image

If you lack experience, trimming your dog’s nails can seem like a daunting and intimidating task. Not only can it be stressful for the dog, many dog owners worry that they will accidentally clip the nails too short and hurt their dog.

purebred puppy nail trimming by his owner

To help you overcome your hesitation and learn how to use dog nail clippers properly, we are here to explain the entire process. Whether you have never trimmed a dog’s nails before, or you had a negative experience in the past, we can help you start trimming like a pro!

Why is it Important to Trim Your Dog’s Nails Regularly?

The longer your dog’s nails grow, the more likely it is that the dog will develop a nail-related injury. This is because long and overgrown nails are far more likely to snag, chip, and break while the dog is walking. If the nails are allowed to grow long enough, it can also cause the dog a significant amount of discomfort and frustration when it tries to walk.

Regularly trimming your dog’s nails is even more important as your dog grows in age. Senior dogs are far less stable on their feet than younger dogs. If they are long enough, the overgrown nails will force the dog to put more weight on the back portion of each paw pad, which makes it much more difficult to gain adequate traction while standing up and walking. Dogs that suffer from arthritis can have a difficult time walking if their nails grow too long.

That said, regularly trimming the nails is important for dogs of all ages, as even younger dogs have a higher chance of suffering from a torn nail if they are allowed to grow too long. Torn and broken nails can be extremely painful for the dog, and the injury can leave your dog susceptible to infections.

Ingrown nails can occur if a dog’s nails grow too long or they break. Ingrown nails are not just painful, but they can also require professional medical treatment, which can be expensive and difficult for the dog.

Why Do Dog Nails Bleed if You Cut Them Too Short?

Each nail on a dog’s foot contains a small blood vessel. As the nail grows, the blood vessel inside the nail grows with it. This blood vessel and the tissue that surrounds it is known as the quick.

When you cut a dog’s nails too short, you risk also cutting the quick, which is responsible for the bleeding that puts so many dog owners off of trimming their dog’s nails. In addition to the blood vessel, each nail also contains a thin but sensitive nerve. This nerve sits near to the blood vessel, and it is also a part of the quick.

As you would expect, cutting or nicking the nerve within the quick can be very painful for your dog, which explains why some dogs will recoil during nail trimmings.

By following the appropriate steps, you will learn to avoid the quick during nail trimmings.

What Will You Need to Trim Your Dog’s Nails?

Trimming your dog’s nails is fairly straightforward. By making sure you have the following things on hand, the trimming should go by quickly and smoothly:

Nail Clippers:

As you would expect, the main thing you will need to trim your dog’s nails is a high-quality pair of dog nail clippers. While you can usually find dog nail clippers at just about any pet supply store, you will want to take the time to choose the right product. Investing in a good pair that is actually sharp enough to cut through thick dog nails will make things better for you and your dog.

Dog nail clippers are usually available in two styles – scissor-style dog nail clippers and guillotine-style dog nail clippers.

  • Scissor Clippers: As the name suggests, scissor clippers look similar to a pair of durable kitchen shears. They allow you to see the full nail as you are performing the trimming. They are also fairly large, so you can get better leverage and create more force, which is why scissor clippers are good on larger dogs. While they can be a little bit tricky to get the hang of, they make it much easier to cut through the thicker nails of large breed dogs.

boshel dog nail clipper and trimmer with safety guard

BOSHEL – Dog Nail Clippers with Safety Guard

  • Guillotine Clippers: Unsurprisingly, guillotine clippers follow the same basic mechanics as a guillotine. The tip of the nail is inserted through a hole in the clipper. Once the correct part of the nail is through the hole, the user squeezes the clipper’s handles, which lowers a blade that will gently and cleanly slice off the end of the nail.

While these types of clippers are incredibly user-friendly, they sometimes struggle to cut through thicker nails, which is why they tend to work best with small to medium-sized dogs.

coastal pet guillotine nail trimmer isolated on white background

Coastal Pet – Guillotine Dog Nail Trimmer

Treats and Other Rewards:

If you want to make sure the trimming process goes smoothly, it is always a good idea to have some dog treats on hand. Giving your dog treats and positive affirmations while trimming the nails will help the dog associate nail trimmings with rewards. No matter what you are trying to teach your dog, positive reinforcement is always a good idea.

Not only will this teach the dog to associate the trimming experience with treats, but it can also take some of the stress out of the situation for your dog. While you can always use your dog’s favorite type of treat, many dog owners find that peanut butter works exceptionally well during trimmings, as licking it off of a plate can distract the dog for much longer than other types of treats.

How to Use the Nail Clippers

As you will see, dog nail clippers are fairly easy to use. By following these steps, you should be able to trim your dog’s nails in a stress-free way:

Step 1:

Gently lift and hold one of your dog’s paws. It does not matter which foot you start with, but you will want to trim each of the nails on your foot before moving on to the next.

At this point, you may want to provide your dog with a treat. As mentioned before, smeared peanut butter works well, as it can distract the dog for much longer than other types of dog treats. If your dog is cooperating without a treat, you may want to hold off until after the trimming, as you can use it as a reward for good behavior rather than as a distraction.

If your dog is sitting relatively still, hold the first toe you plan on trimming. Take the nail clipper and hold it at a slight angle that matches the curve of the nail itself. You do not want to cut the nail at a straight 90-degree angle, as this is not how the nail will naturally grow out.

Once the nail is within the guillotine hole or between the two blades of your scissor-style clipper, you can trim a small piece of the nail off. Start by only trimming a small length of the nail as this greatly reduces the chance that you will accidentally cut the quick. You can keep clipping small portions of the nail off until you have reached a desirable length.

It is important to remember that trimming small lengths off your dog frequently is a better option than having to clip large pieces off of the nails because you wait a long time between trimmings. Not only will this help you avoid injuring the quick, but it will also improve the health and appearance of the nails themselves.

Step 2:

After trimming the first nail to a desirable length, you can simply move onto the next. We will explain later how you can trim each type of dog nail, as it can be more difficult to avoid the quick if your dog has dark-colored nails.

After you have trimmed every nail on a single foot, you can offer your dog a treat or even just a scratch and some praise. Drive home that your dog is behaving well if it is sitting still during the trimming.

Step 3:

After you have used your nail clipper to trim each nail, you can inspect them to make sure you did not accidentally miss one. Ensure all of the cuts are clean and none of the nails have a brittle or split tip.

Some dog owners will even smoothen out the dog’s nails using an emery board or dog nail grinder, but this is more of a preference thing and is not exactly necessary. When your dog walks, especially on hard surfaces, like cement, the nail will naturally grind down and smoothen out.

Trimming Different Types of Dog Nails

When you trim your dog’s nails, the goal is always to trim the upper part of the nail that has the hook or claw, as this helps you avoid cutting or nicking any part of the quick. Unfortunately, some types of dog nails are more difficult to cut than others. Some dogs have opaque nails that can be dark in color. While you can see the quick through transparent dog nails, cutting opaque and overgrown nails is far more difficult.

The following will explain how you can use a dog nail clipper to trim each type of nail:

Clear Nails:

As mentioned above, if your dog has clear or even slightly transparent nails, it is possible to see the quick through the exterior of the nail. With clear nails, the quick will most likely have the appearance of a faint pink or red line, so it is fairly easy to avoid.

To trim clear nails, use your nail clipper to trim off the white part of the nail, ideally as much of the nail that is ahead of the quick as possible. Naturally, you will want to keep some distance between your nail clipper and the tip of the quick.

Opaque Nails:

In dogs with black or dark-shaded nails, it can be extremely difficult to see quickly. If your dog has opaque nails and you cannot see the quick, try trimming just the very tips of each nail in very small increments.

If you are having a difficult time, it can help to flip the paw over and trim the nail from underneath. The bottom portion of the nail that almost looks hollow is the part of the nail you should be trimming.

Trimming the Dew Claw:

You will also have to remember that dogs have dewclaws. These are the evolutionary remnants of thumbs, which explains why they are not beside the other nails. The dewclaw nail is often overlooked and can grow quite large. Not only can a long dew claw be uncomfortable for your dog, but the dewclaw nail can also become ingrown, so it is always worth trimming and keeping an eye on.

To cut the dewclaw, you can follow the same basic principles that you use to trim the other nails. Just avoid clipping the quick and only trim a small amount of the nail at a time.

Trimming Overgrown Dog Nails:

In cases where your dog’s nails are severely overgrown, you may not be able to cut the nails short in a single sitting because the quick will have grown too long.

As mentioned previously, you should trim overgrown nails in small increments but frequently. If your dog’s nails are overgrown, try to trim them in small amounts twice per week.

Given enough trimmings, you can train the quick to recede, which will make it possible to cut down the overall length of the nails until you can regularly trim them to an acceptable level.

What Happens if You Accidentally Cut the Quick?

When you cut or nick the quick, there is a good chance the nail will bleed. While it can be somewhat traumatic seeing your pet bleeding and in pain, it is worth noting that the bleeding will stop naturally, and the quick will heal on its own.

Unfortunately, cutting a quick will happen from time to time. Most dog owners have to deal with this, and it is always worth remembering that accidentally cutting the quick at an odd time is much better than never cutting your dog’s nails.

If the bleeding does not stop within a minute or two, you can apply a coagulant. You can pick up a good quality coagulant product for relatively cheap at most pet stores, and they tend to work extremely well for this purpose. In most cases, the coagulant is applied through a liquid-filled Q-tip or dusted over the entire nail with a powder-based product.

You can apply either type directly to the tip of the bleeding nail, and they will help to clot the blood and stop the bleeding.

Final Words

While you can get your dog’s nails trimmed by a veterinarian or professional dog groomer, it can be expensive, and some dogs find the experience to be more stressful than if you trimmed them at home.

By learning how to trim your dog’s nails with a simple dog nail clipper, you can save yourself plenty of time, money, and frustration. You will also be able to trim your dog’s nails more frequently, which will help keep the nails at a healthy and safe length.

Just be sure to avoid cutting the quick and reward your dog when it cooperates. If your dog doesn’t like having its feet touched, you can build your way up to trimming by handling the feet while offering treats.

If your dog is opposed to dog nail clippers, you can use several alternatives to keep the nails at an acceptable length. You may want to take a look at an electric dog nail dremel or grinder. These small tools shave and grind the nails down rather than clip them. While using these tools is often more time-consuming, some dogs react better to grinders than clippers.

Remember, nail health is important for your dog’s overall health, so help your dog live a happy and healthy life by trimming its nails safely and regularly!