Trimming Your Dog's Toenails

Dog’s have four toes on each paw. They also have a vestigial toe (dewclaw) on the front paws and some breeds have them on the rear paws too. A few breeds (St. Bernard, Anatolian Shepherd ), even have a double dewclaw on the rear paw. At a minimum your dog has 20 toenails to clip.

If you’ve ever tried to cut your dog’s toenails, you will know that it’s not an experience they enjoy. Many dogs don’t even like their paws touched or held, much less having their toenails cut.

If you are lucky and you walk/run your dog frequently, they may wear their nails down naturally on the pavement or hiking trails and you never have to worry about them. But for many dog owners, particularly if your dog is an indoor dog, with their outdoor access limited to grass at best, then you are probably going to have to deal with cutting their nails.


A first step should be to get your dog used to you holding onto their paws. Just hold them, give them a treat and let them go. Do this daily until they are comfortable with you holding their paw for several minutes. You should also introduce your dog to the clippers a few times before you actually start clipping. Just hold their paw and show them the clippers, don’t do anything, just acclimate them to the scenario.

Be sure and purchase good quality clippers. Don’t try to cut them with scissor or human nail clippers, invest in good quality clippers designed for dogs. Alternatively, you can use a dremel – kind of a power nail file that will slowly grind down their nails.

Now that you have the right tools and you’ve gotten your dog comfortable with holding their paw, take a good look at their nail from the underside. You will note the hard shell of the nail and then inside you will see what is called ‘the quick’ which contains the blood supply to the nail. There is no feeling in the nail, but the quick contains a nerve so you want to be careful not to nick it when trimming their nails.


Gauging how far to trim your dog’s nails is a challenge. You should make small incremental clips and check the nail after each cut. If your dog has white nails, you want to stop just before they begin to turn pink. If your dog has black nails, they are a little trickier, but you want to stop when the cut surface of the nail begins to show a black center.

If you happen to nick the quick and it begins to bleed, don’t freak out, even the best of dog manicurists have accidents. You can treat it with a styptic pencil to stop the blood flow. Be sure and distract your pet with some yummy treats.

Check some of the sources listed below for further tips and pictures to help guide you.


How do you know when their nails need a trim? If you can hear your dog’s nails clickety-clacking on your hardwood or linoleum floors, then it’s time for a trimming. Their nails should NOT touch the ground when they are standing upright. Nails that are too long will irritate the dog’s nail bed and paw each time they step. This can lead to painful paws and even arthritis.

If you are still uncertain or queasy about trimming your dog’s nails, your veterinarian can show you how to do it, or you can just ask them or your dog’s groomer do it for you.



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