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DogKids 101

Before You Clip Nails, Know These 9 Things First!

“CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK” – That’s the sound of Jaymie coming down the hall. I know that sound all too well. Now that’s she’s 12, her activity is slower and she isn’t able to wear down her nails as well as she used to.  And since she has some crazy-fast growth, I find myself having to grab the Dremel on the regular.  As soon as I hear her tap dancing, I know it’s time again.  Time to get down on those nails, yal!

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Train Your Dog for Nail Trims

This will make nail trimming time easier and less stressful for your dog and you! Handling paws can sometimes be a nightmare for your dog if they aren’t used to it.  But even if you aren’t trimming nails, you still need to be able to check the paws and pads often to keep them healthy.

Start out with a touch of the paw with a finger and then giving praise or reward.  If the dog panics over this, then you’ll need to start a little bit further back by touching the leg or ankle and then move further down with praises. I reward with the best of treats, their absolute favs. You want them to associate paw handling with awesome things.  Once the paw touching is not a big deal, move on to paw holding and repeat with the same rewards.

Once paw handling is super easy, the next step is to get out the trimmer and allow the dog to smell it. Just hold it in your hand or lay it on the floor and reward your dog whenever they are completely cool with it being near them. Move the trimmer closer to their paw and start paw touches again with your hand. Next, move the trimmer to the paw and touch the paw with the trimmer.  Each time you start a new step, up the reward and praises.  Once you are golden with these, then start touching nails individually with your fingers and then with the trimmer. Once you make that first cut, you’ve gotta go all crazy with praise and tons of treats.

I know I moved through the steps kind of fast, but this may take a long time for your dog to go through. This may take several days. You will know when it’s time to take a break and try again later when your dog walks away, gets sleepy or gets interested in something else. OR, you might need to change up the treats.

Know When it’s Time to Trim Nails

Ideally, paws are to be trimmed every 2-4 weeks. This depends on how well your dog wears his nails down. Very active dogs that do a lot of outdoor activities may never need nail trimming.  However, make sure they are still used to you handing their paws regularly and even pretend to trim the nails.  You never know the day when you will need to trim them and he might not be cool with that if you’ve never done it before.
Less active dogs and more indoor dogs may need trimmings more often (like every single week). Once you hear the nails tap on the floor or snag on the carpet when they walk, then you know it’s time.  Act soon, because overgrown nails can be painful and deform the toes.
 Beagle Resting on Paw

Know Where to Cut BEFORE You CutNail Anatomy

It’s super important to know where the quick is on your dog’s nails. The quick is a sensitive area of the nail that contains a supply of blood.  If you cut too far and you hit the quick, not only will you draw blood, but this is also painful for your baby!  If your dog’s nails are clear or white, it’s the pink area that you can see in the center of the nail. If he has black nails, this will be a little more challenging because you cannot see it. You would need to make tiny cuts until you find a black center (pulp) on the edge of the cut. This tells you that you are getting close to the quick and need to stop. If it’s white and flakey at the edge of the cut, then you can cut a little further.  You will want to get within millimeters of the quick. I know some people like to cut at a 90 degree angle, but I prefer to cut at 45 degrees and then file down at 90 degrees to round and smooth the edges.


Make Sure You Have the Right Nail Trimmer/Clipper

There are a few different types of trimmers to choose from. If you are completely unsure, you may need to ask your vet which is best for you or experiment with all 3 and see which works the best.  The types are: scissors/pliers, guillotines and grinders.  I personally use and recommend both the scissors and a grinder.  Let me show you the difference between the three:
dog clippers

For the scissor/plier clippers, I recommend those by Safari or OmegaPet. Feel free to check out the high rating and reviews on Amazon. I’ve used both and they work well. Make sure which ever you get have a good grip handle, was built with good quality materials (especially the blade) and have a guard to prevent clipping too much.

I haven’t had much luck with guillotine clippers, but if they seem like the best fit for you, Amazon has a great rating on Resco’s.   I think those are a great shot to go for.

As for the grinder/rotary, I honestly just use a Dremel (I know some pet owner may gasp at this statement). They are an amazing brand, great quality, last a long time and I’ve always been satisfied with this rotary. Dremel makes one specifically for pet nails if you don’t already have one in your tool box.  If you want to try out the Dremel that you already have, make sure it has a low speed setting. You do not want medium or high.  You want to stay in control of how much nail is being filed off. Not only that, but it gets hot on the nail and dogs can feel that the closer you get to the quick. So stay to small increments. This will take some practice, but once you got it down, you won’t use anything else. My boston terrier loves the Dremel and feels like she’s at the spa. She falls asleep immediately from the hum of the motor and the vibration on her paws.

Have Styptic Powder on Hand

If you are using some clippers, please make sure you have styptic powder.  This is just if you hit the quick and it bleeds. Hopefully you’ll never have to use it.  Just place the powder on the bleeding nail to stop the bleeding fast!  If you don’t have any styptic powder on hand, you can use corn starch, but only in a pinch.

Out of Focus Dog with Paw

Keep an Eye on the Dew Claws

Fantastic if your dogs don’t have dew claws!  Some are born without them, and some have them removed when they are newborns.  These little guys can be so annoying. I can just imagine how they irritate your dog.  The nails never hit the ground, so they never get worn down naturally.  Keep an eye on these because they snag on just about anything.  If your dog’s dew claws get caught on something, he can accidentally rip them out – OUCH! And since they don’t wear down, they will grow faster.  I cut these babies down as close to the quick as I can.  This is a perfect time to use a grinder because you will get a soft and clean edge. No jagged edges to snag on anything.


Use Dog-Safe Polishes for Nails

If you want to go the full pedicure spa and paint your dog’s nails, then I praise your patience! I can’t even paint my own nails without painting half of my fingers. I know you are itching to paint with your favorite shade of OPI, but hold up!  Human polishes have chemicals that cannot be on your dog’s nails. And when your dog starts licking her paws and it starts chipping, she can get really sick from the toxins.
No worries! There are plenty of shades of polishes for dog nails that are non-toxic and water based. Warren London makes some great dog polishes that are in pens, which makes it way easier and it’s fast drying, too.


Praise Your Baby!

It doesn’t matter if your baby is great at nail trims OR if he was a bouncing off the walls and you needed the entire family to help. He will need a ton of praise and reward during and after its all over with.  Keep associating nail trimming time with good things and it will eventually get less stressful.

Dog Getting Rewarded

Call a Professional

When all else fails, take him to the professionals. If it’s just easier for the both of you and you don’t want to be seen as the “bad guy” in your baby’s eyes, then by all means, take him to the vet to get the nails trimmed. It’s quick and easy and usually very affordable (or very worth it, if it’s that bad).

English Bulldog with toy


Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Great advice! I am a professional pet groomer and everything you said is accurate. All professionals prefer the dremel because it is much easier, safer and the dogs seem to respond to it better. I LOVE how you began the article educating pet owners in desensitizing pets to working on feet. That is a major challenge that all professionals face and the more an owner helps with the process, the less stressful it is for both the pet and the groomer/handler. Look forward to reading more articles!

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