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Trimming Your Dog's Nails

In a previous article I covered brushing your dog's teeth. This week I want to talk about nail trimming.  As with other hygiene and husbandry training, the sooner you start the better.  

Whether you want to cut your dog's nails at home or have someone else do it, putting in the time to train them to be comfortable with having it done is important. 

To begin, you need to be able to hold your dog’s foot firmly while they stay still in a comfortable position.  I suggest starting this slowly and calmly so the process goes smoothly, rather than trying to grab and hold your dog's paw as they are pulling away and trying to move. The dog should be comfortable each step of the way so they choose to stay and allow us to do what we need to.

I suggest starting by touching the dog at their shoulder or hip and slowly, firmly move your hand down their leg and towards their paw while feeding a few treats. If they move away, start again but do not go as far down the leg.  At the beginning each training session should only be 10-15 seconds and slowly increase the time as they get more comfortable.


Once you are able to hold the paw for 10 seconds, start touching and separating toes as well as touching the pads underneath the paw.  Then begin to touch the nails with the nail trimmers while you hold the paw and feed a treat.  Then you start to trim one nail at a time.  As you and your dog get more comfortable you can trim more nails at a time.

There are different types of nail trimmers.  The two main styles are scissor style (they cut side to side like scissors) or guillotine style (the blade slides up and down). For most of us, scissor-style trimmers are easier and safer to use. For small dogs I recommend using cat nail trimmers as they are smaller and able to get into the small space of the dog’s nail.


Before you actually cut your dog’s nails make sure someone with experience has assisted you with your first few times to ensure you don't cut too far back. The colour of your dog’s nails makes a difference in how challenging it can be to find the right length. Some dog's nails are black, brown, white, or a combination.  I find that white nails are the easiest for beginners as you can see the pink blood supply in the nail, which is an indicator as to how far you can cut.

Whether you are new or experienced at trimming dog nails you always want to do a few small cuts rather than one big chop to avoid mistakes. Trim little bits until you see a horseshoe of fleshy material, this is when you want to stop. If you are unsure, it is better to trim too little than too much.  Always have some styptic powder on hand (like kwik-stop) which is a cauterizing agent in case you trim the nail too short and it starts to bleed.


An alternative option to nail trimmers is a dremel or grinder.  A dremel has a rotating abrasive  wheel that rotates, filing the nail.  This tool can be used to maintain the length of nail or to grind sharp edges.  This tool still needs desensitization before using. I find that it does take more time than using trimmers but I suggest using the tool that makes you most comfortable.


Remember that any type of hygiene care that we do with our dogs should be introduced and trained.  If you put the time in the beginning then your dog will be more comfortable and the trimming will take less time overall.

A person holding a dog's paw while showing an untrimmed nail
Holly's black nail before being trimed

A person holding a dog's paw to show a newly trimmed nail
Holly's nail after being trimmed. Can you see the difference?

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