If you’ve ever wondered how to trim a dog’s nails, today is your lucky day.

Learning the proper way to trim dog nails is essential if you are planning on trimming your own dog’s nails. Dog nail trims can be very intimidating for a dog guardian, but having short nails is important to your dog’s physical health. When a dog’s nails are too long, he cannot walk properly, and even worse, the nails can circle around and embed into your dog’s foot bed. Ouch.

The very first step in giving your dog a nail trim is to teach him to be comfortable with the handling and hold process. You don’t want to have to manhandle your dog to the ground, muzzle him and sit on him while you roughly grab his foot and start cutting. Instead, you want to gradually teach him that this process, which will likely occur every 2 weeks, is enjoyable –or at least tolerable.

Start by teaching your dog that when you pick up his foot, he will earn a treat. As he gets comfortable with this step, start to increase the time you are holding his foot prior to his treat delivery. For example, in the beginning you may pick up his foot, say “YES” then treat. As you increase the time, you pick up his foot, hold for 3 seconds, then say “YES” and treat. Shoot for a 10 second firm but gentle hold before treating.

Finally, it’s time to introduce your dog to a nail trim. Just like you practiced, gently but firmly pick up your dog’s foot and place your nail clippers at a vertical angle, allowing you to trim a bit more from the top of a dog’s nail. A dog’s quick (the blood supply) runs lower inside the nail. By trimming at an upward angle, you will be able to remove more of the dog’s nails.

Make small cuts to remove the excess toenail vs one large cut. By making smaller cuts, you will be able to monitor your progress to help ensure you do not cut into your dog’s blood supply. As you start to make your cuts, you will eventually start to see the quick in the center. Stop once you start to see the quick appearing. That’s it! One nail down, and time to give your dog a treat. If you and your dog are doing well, go to the next toe. If either of you are starting to get stressed, take a break and come back to the next toe later. Repeat until all your dog’s nails are trimmed.

Final note. If you are uncomfortable about trimming your dog’s nails, take him to a professional dog groomer. Your dog’s nails need to be short for optimal gait and health. Not having them done is not an option. But please, still help your dog by practicing the feet handling techniques above so his nail trim appointment is less stressful.

Dog Nail Trimming Checklist

  • Dog nail trimmer (scissor style, kept sharp)
  • Dremel or nail file (optional, for smoothing nails at the end)
  • Styptic powder or corn starch (to stop bleeding if you cut the quick)
  • Brightly lit room or headlamp
  • Healthy dog treats