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How to Trim Your Dog’s Nails

Nail trims. Words that strike fear into many owners (and dogs)! Why does it have to be so hard? It doesn’t.  In this article, we will go over how to trim your dog’s nails, and some other helpful hints for getting this chore taken care of.

Nail trims may not be fun, but they don’t have to be hard. With the right preparation and some training, most dogs can have their nails trimmed at home!

Quick Lesson in Nail Anatomy

Your dog’s nails may be clear, white, black or a combination of colors. If your dog’s nails are clear or white, you should be able to see a pinkish core that goes partway down the nail towards the tip. This is the “quick,” the living part of the nail that can be accidentally cut when doing nail trims.

The quick is a blood vessel. If you hit the quick, your dog may get upset (it hurts a bit) and may start to bleed. This is probably one of the primary reasons why people pay groomers and vets to do nail trims!

If your dog has black nails, avoiding the quick is harder, but not impossible. You just want to cut less at a time and go slower.

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For all nails, if you look at the nail as you cut it, you should see a circle impression in the tip of the nail as you get closer to the quick. Stop when you see it!

What Equipment is Needed to Trim Dog Nails

You don’t need a lot of fancy gear to do a nail trim. Find a pair of nail clippers that fit comfortably in your hands. There are many different kinds, like guillotine style and scissor types. I find that it is easiest to use smaller standard clippers, since I have small hands, but just pick a pair that you like.

Make sure you have some styptic powder handy, like QuikStop. Just in case you trim too closely to the quick, you can use this powder to stop the bleeding quickly. You can also use cornstarch, if you don’t have any styptic powder handy, but it can take a lot of it to stop bleeding.

You will also need some treats to give your dog while you are doing the trim! You can even spread peanut butter on a toy to distract then while you trim!

In summary, you will need:

  • Pair of comfortable dog nail clippers
  • Styptic powder
  • Treat or other distraction/reward for your dog

Nail Trim Basics

The easiest way to learn how to do a nail trim is to have your groomer or vet do a demonstration. A groomer or vet can point out any special challenges your dog’s nails may present.

Puppy Nail Trims

It is much easier to start teaching your dog when they are a puppy that nail trims are no big deal.

The best way to start is to give your puppy a weekly nail trim. Make it fun! Give lots of treats, take a break after each paw, and make sure your puppy is having a good time. This positive experience will help you when they need proper nail trims as adults.

Puppy nails grow quickly, and have sharp little tips on them that can really hurt! All you have to do is lift the paw and carefully snip that sharp tip off. You are not actually trying to cut back the whole nail, just the tip.

Do this weekly, and your puppy will have a solid start in learning to accept nail trims!

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Adult Dog Nail Trims

You can position your dog in any way that they are comfortable and that gives you access to their nails. This is much easier if you can see the paw too! I like to trim my dog’s nails when they are sleepy.  If they are lying on their side, it is very easy to see the nails, but do whatever works for your dog.

Start by seeing if you can locate the quick. If you can see it, make a note in your mind so you don’t cut too closely.

Take the clippers and begin by taking a little off the end of the nail. You can do this at an angle, so the center of the nail is getting trimmed a bit less. This will look uneven, but on your next cut angle in from a different side. If you keep doing this all around the edges, taking a little more nail off each time, you will be left with a fairly rounded nail end.

How Far to Trim a Dog’s Nails

When you start to see a circle impression in the center of the cut nail, you are close to the quick. This is a good place to stop. It is always better to leave the nails a little longer than risk cutting the quick. That could scare your dog and make the next nail trim harder.

What if You Cut the Quick?

This happens to everyone at some point. Most of the time, you just nick the quick and you start to see some bleeding. Break out the styptic powder and the bleeding will be finished in no time!

I use a moist cotton tipped applicator to do this. Just dip it in the powder and apply the applicator to the bleeding bit of nail with some pressure. Hold it there for a minute, and be sure the powder gets packed into the bleeding area.

Let up the pressure and take a look. If it is still bleeding, apply some more powder and pressure. Do this until the bleeding has stopped. Leave the powder on the nail, and it shouldn’t start back up.

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How Often Should a Dog’s Nails Be Trimmed?

It depends. Dogs who are active or walk a lot on concrete may only need a few nail trims a year, while other dogs may need them every month. I would say every 3 to 6 weeks is average.

It is better to do frequent, easy nail trims. If you allow your dog’s nails to get really long, they could end up getting a nail caught on something and tear it off. Also, the quick can grow very long, making it hard to do nail trims.

I hope this article has explained the basics of doing a doggy nail trim for you! You can also use a dremel to file the nail down, or even just on the edges after a clipped nail trim. Just go slow, take a little off at a time, and stop before you hit the quick. It is that easy!


Jen Clifford has a B.A. in Biology from Reed College. She was a field biologist for several years, and then spent 10 years working in veterinary medicine as a receptionist and technician.  Jen is currently a freelance writer living in the Pacific Northwest with her tribe of pets. She is a passionate animal lover who is dedicated to helping people find solutions to their pet-related challenges.

You can find more of her work at her website

Thank you for taking the time to read this post!  I hope you were able to get some useful insight into how to trim your dog’s nails.  Make sure to come back when you need more dog health information.

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