How to clip your dog's nails

Many dog owners believe that it is not necessary to clip their dog’s nails. It is true that dogs' nails are mostly self-trimming; when you take your dog out on a walk, the friction between the pavement and their feet automatically files their nails. But most dogs do need their nails clipped every once and a while. Clipping your dog’s nails is an essential part of the grooming process and should not be ignored.

In this article, we’ll offer a step-by-step guide on how to clip your dog’s nails and make the process fun for you and your dog!

Why is it important to clip dog nails?

If not trimmed, dog nails can grow to an uncomfortable length. When your dog’s nails are too long, they tend to break. This break can sometimes affect the part of the nail that has the blood vessels; this leads to bleeding. If this bleeding is not treated and the open wound not covered, it can sometimes lead to infection.

Sometimes, if dog nail cutting is ignored and the nails are allowed to grow unchecked, they grow into your dog’s paw. This can be painful for your dog.

happy dog out for a walk with owner

Getting your dog ready for the nail clipping process

Many owners try and avoid clipping their dog’s nails simply because the process is difficult. Trimming your dog’s nails is a little trickier than, say, brushing their coat or even giving them a bath. However, the process does not have to be arduous; all you have to do is make it a little fun for your dog by preparing them.

- The first step when considering ‘how to clip dog nails’ is getting your dog used to the equipment. Hold the nail clippers near your dog’s paws. Do not cut the nail; simply let your dog get used to the instrument and seeing it there. When they do not fidget and seem comfortable, reward them with treats and lots of praises.

- You can also focus on getting your dog prepared for the sound of the nail clippers. Take a strand of uncooked spaghetti and place it in the nail clippers. Hold the clippers near your dog’s paw (not on the nail) and press the clippers shut. The noise the spaghetti makes when the clippers cut it is the same noise that the nail will make. Praise your dog if they do not startle. Try this a few times so that they are very comfortable with the noise.

- Also practise holding your dog in the right position – i.e. with their paw in your hand. When cutting a puppy’s nails, it may be necessary to hold them in between your legs so that they cannot escape, as puppies are naturally very distracted. Older dogs who are used to the process will be calmer, so should be able to sit still if they have been taught to remain in one position.

- If you are not confident that you can safely clip your dog’s nails, ask a vet or a groomer to do them for you.

Excited beagle out for a walk

Equipment you may need

- Nail clippers for dogs (do not use human nail clippers)

- A towel for your dog to stand on

- Plenty of treats

Dog paw with nails being clipped

Step-by-step process

1. When considering how to cut dogs’ nails, choose a time when your dog is relaxed, such as after a walk/playtime or after a meal. Do not choose a time when they are very excitable, such as before a meal or before they have had any exercise.

2. Lay your towel out under or in front of your dog so it is positioned to catch any falling nails.

3. Lift your dog’s paw and gently press the pad. This will release your dog’s nails.

4. Gently position the nail clipper around a nail. Take your time with this. A dog’s nail has a white part (which is the ‘dead’ nail) and then a slightly pinkish part that has all the nerves and blood vessels. It is important to not cut this tender part, so make sure you have positioned the nail clipper properly. It may be harder to judge the tender part and the dead nail on dogs with black nails when cutting dogs’ nails. In this case, only clip as little of the nail as possible.

5. Gently press down on the clipper and cut the nail. Reward your dog with a treat if they have been good and not moved or flinched during the process.

6. Move onto the next nail, treating your dog each time you clip a nail and offering them plenty of praise.

7. If you accidently cut the live part of the nail with all the blood vessels, the nail may bleed. Do not panic. Simply wipe off the blood and cover the nail. If the bleeding does not stop, take your dog to the vet.

German shepherd lying down looking at camera

Making it fun for your dog

Cutting dogs’ nails can be a boring activity for your dog, but with plenty of treats and enthusiasm, your dog will grow to love it. Getting them used to the nail clippers and the sound of nails being cut is half the battle won. Once they know what to expect and are not scared, they can relax and enjoy the attention.

To make it even more enticing, play your dog’s favourite game with them once you have finished cutting their nails. This is a good reward for them having sat still for so long. Choose an activity that involves running – perhaps Frisbee or catch in the garden or park? This is guaranteed to make them even more excited every time you bring out the nail clippers!

Golden retriever looking at treat in hand

Going to professionals

If the thought of cutting your dog’s nails scares you or if your dog has black nails and you cannot tell how much of the nail to cut, simply take them to a professional. If your dog is excited by the trip to the groomers, then this will just be an added treat for them. Regardless, always make sure you bring them home and spend some quality time with them as a reward.

Small dog having nails cut at vet
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