How to trim your dog's nails

  • Dagwood, a 36-pound, 2-year-old, male Lab mix, is looking for a forever home. Could it be yours?

    Dagwood, a 36-pound, 2-year-old, male Lab mix, is looking for a forever home. Could it be yours? Courtesy of The Buddy Foundation

  • Sam is a male Schnauzer who weighs in at 11 pounds. He is about 8 months old and is seeking a place to call home.

    Sam is a male Schnauzer who weighs in at 11 pounds. He is about 8 months old and is seeking a place to call home. Courtesy of The Buddy Foundation

By Ellaine Kiriluk
The Buddy Foundation
Posted5/27/2015 4:19 PM

If you share your life with a dog, chances are you've heard the "click click" sound of too long nails on the kitchen or living room floor. I've had dogs who would wait patiently while a groomer trimmed their nails amid the noise of barking dogs and hair dryers during a quick drop in visit to the groomer. I've had dogs who sat quietly and cooperatively, while the veterinarian trimmed their nails. These days, my four legged companion looks at me suspiciously when I hold a nail file to do my own nails -- nail trimming not being high on his list of favorite things to do with me.

Nail trimming, and pawcare, is important for the health of our dogs. According to the ASPCA, pawcare is important because the pads on a dog's foot provide extra cushioning to help protect bones and joints from shock, provide insulation against extreme weather and walking on rough ground and help to protect tissue deep in the paw.

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Both the ASPC and HSUS suggest health care tips for your dog's paws and nails. Your dog's nails should be trimmed when they touch the ground. If your dog's nails are "clicking on the floor" or getting snagged, it's time for a nail trim. Some dogs, who walk on rough sidewalks may never need a trim. (Except for their dewclaws, if they have them.)

There are two basic types of nail clippers for dogs -- a guillotine type and a scissor type. Purchase the size that is correct for your dog. If a nail clipper is intolerable for your dog, an alternative is a nail grinder, and electronic tool that sands nails down. Although, some dogs may find the sound and vibrations the nail grinder produces unpleasant. There are also nail files for dogs which don't make noise, but may still produce an unpleasant feeling.

If your dog is touchy, it may make take a few weeks of paw massaging before he is comfortable and can tolerate the sensations to allow you to work on his nails. If you decide to trim your dog's nails, clip only the sharp tips of his nails. If your dog does allow you to trim his nails, start by gathering treats, the nail trimmer or nail grinder and styptic powder. Hold his toe firmly, but gently. While lavishing your dog with treats and calm praise, hold the trimmer so you're cutting the nail from top to bottom, not side to side. Insert a very small length of nail through the trimmer's opening.

Avoid nipping the quick, which is the pink area within each nail that contains nerves and blood vessels. Don't trim at a blunt angle. Try to maintain the existing curvature of the nail. Cut a little bit of nail with each pass until you see the beginning of a circle-still nail colored-appear on the cut surface. The circle indicates you are nearing the quick-so stop cutting that nail and move on to the next.


If you do cut the quick, your dog will probably yelp and may struggle. (There are nerves in there.) End the nail-cutting session. And give first aid. Apply styptic powder to the bleeding nail with a little bit of pressure as you press the powder into the wound to make sure it sticks. If bleeding continues for more than a few minutes, consult your veterinarian.

The ASPCA notes some dogs show aggressive or fearful behavior when you attempt to trim their nails. Signs of distress include panting, trembling, whining, freezing, cowering, tail tucking, growling, snarling or snapping. There are some dogs who are unable to get over their terror, even with the most patient and gradual of introductions. Never force your dog to submit. A veterinarian or professional groomer may have better luck.

Don't stress your dog. Make the nail trimming as easy as possible for him. Maybe walking on rough sidewalk surfaces would help keep his nail length in check. Walking your dog-exercise, nail trimming and some time together during a busy day -- all good reasons to get the leash and head on out.

• The Buddy Foundation, 65 W. Seegers Road, Arlington Heights, is a nonprofit (501c3), all volunteer, no-kill animal shelter dedicated to the welfare of stray, abused and abandoned cats and dogs. For information, call The Buddy Foundation at (847) 290-5806 or visit

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