Cutting your dog’s nails can be a real battle. Many dogs are resistant and get uncomfortable as soon as they see the clippers. Some whimper and whine during the entire manicure process. But as a good dog owner, you know that it’s important to cut your pup’s nails. So what can you do?
We’ve broken down the nail cutting process into four easy steps. Following our guideline, not only will the nails get done, they will get done right!
- Have the Right Tools
Don’t bring a knife to a gunfight. Don’t bring the wrong clippers for your dog’s nails! Now, we’re not trying to scare you. If done correctly, clipping your dog’s nails shouldn’t be much of a battle. And making sure there is no fight, starts with bringing the right tools.
First and foremost, you should buy quality clippers. Don’t use scissors, a knife, or even human nail clippers. Nail clippers that are designed for dogs are made to safely cut through thick nails. They also have handles that are structured for a proper grip. The AKC recommends a few options for dog owners who aren’t sure where to begin.
In addition to good clippers, you will also need something called styptic powder. This essential product is a loose powder that is specifically designed to stop excessive bleeding. Cutting a dog’s nail too close can cause bleeding, but dabbing the end of the nail with styptic powder will stop the bleeding in its tracks and prevent infection. This means less blood loss for your dog – and less mess for you.
It’s never a bad idea to bring a second pair of hands. Some dogs are very squirmy when getting their nails cut, and having another person there who can gently hold the dog steady can be very helpful. Ask a friend or family member to help you cut your dog’s nails.
Last but not least, treats! Keeping the nail cutting experience positive and gentle is essential. For dogs that are food motivated (and that’s many of them) there is no better way to encourage positivity than through food. Try using pieces of kibble if you are concerned about calorie intake.
- Make it a Positive Experience
The key to a successful nail cutting session is keeping the experience positive. Encouraging good feelings often starts before even a single nail gets cut.
It’s not uncommon for a dog to be sensitive to people touching their paws. It’s best to start slow, by simply touching and petting your dog’s paws. When your dog allows you to pet and touch their nail area, give them a treat. And don’t forget to give tons of praise. Show your dog that good things happen if they allow their nails to experience contact.
When your dog feels comfortable having their paws pet, it’s time to bring in the nail clippers – but not to trim nails yet – start by simply introducing your dog to the clippers. Let them sniff them, and give them treats when they get close to the clippers. Touch the clippers to your dog’s paws, and give treats when they remain calm. You want your dog to understand that nail clippers equal a positive experience.
During the actual nail cutting process, continue providing plenty of praise and treats. Often treats can be a great distraction if your dog feels anxious getting their nails cut. Feeding your dog slowly with your hand will keep your dog interested in the food as well as distracted.
And remember: never scold. Above all, you want to keep the nail cutting process gentle and positive. Staying patient will encourage your dog to warm up to the experience.
- Know How Far to Go
Before you cut any nail at all, it’s important to know how far to cut. Every dog’s nail has what is known as a “quick” inside of it. The quick is a blood supply that extends from the foot into the nail. If your dog’s nails are trimmed regularly, the quick won’t extend very far into the nail. Love That Pet has a great diagram of what a quick will look like in a dog’s nails.
When trimming your dog’s nails, you don’t want to cut the quick. Though the overall damage is very minor and does not require a vet visit, the quick will bleed quite a bit. It can also cause stress and minor pain in your dog if their quick is cut. So how can you know how far to cut?
If your dog has clear nails, you will be able to see a faint pinkness inside of the nail. That is the quick! You can cut the nail close to the end of that pink area. How about if your dog’s nails are black? The best method is to cut small pieces of the nail off at a time. When you’ve gotten close to the quick, you will see a small black dot in the middle of the tip of the nail. Keep checking the end of the nail for this black dot. Once you see it, you can stop cutting.
Your dog may also exhibit signs of stress. Fidgeting, whimpering, and even nipping can occur if your dog is uncomfortable with the nail cutting process. Hold the nails gently, without pulling on them to reduce your dog’s discomfort. It’s also important to never cut a nail that has grown fully into your dog’s foot pad. If the nail is lodged in the foot, you need to seek veterinary attention.
Sometimes dogs will whimper or wriggle simply because the experience is new. Stay patient, persistent, and positive. If you are being gentle, have not cut the quick, and your dog has no other injuries, they shouldn’t be feeling any pain. Continue clipping the nails normally.
- Know When to Call It Quits
Often, the dog decides when it’s time to stop for the day. If your dog is wriggling or whimpering excessively, to the point where you cannot keep them calm or still, it’s okay to stop cutting nails for the day.
When you first start to cut your dog’s nails, set a goal of cutting only the dewclaws first. Since the dewclaws grow on the side of the paw and never touch the ground, they have no chance of being filed down naturally by walking. Cut these first so they won’t pose a danger to your dog.
Next, focus on the front paws. Often the nails on the front paws are longer than the ones on the back. This is because many dogs jump up on their hind legs, causing a natural filing down of the back nails. Aim for cutting the nails on at least one paw a day. It’s okay to go slowly. But on the other hand, if your dog is calm, it’s okay to get all four paws done in one sitting.
Do as much as you can but don’t force your dog to the point of excessive stress! Above all, it’s important to keep the experience positive. Nail cutting becomes a part of a dog’s life no matter what. If it can be stress-free, it should be!
Have you successfully been able to cut your dog’s nails? Maybe you use a different method than the one described above? Let us know!