Help your dog put his best paw forward and learn how to trim his nails at home. With the right tools and a bit of patience, you can make the process stress-free—for both you and your canine companion!
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While it's tempting to go to the pros whenever your dog needs his nails trimmed, this is definitely something you can learn to do at home. Especially if your dog's nails tend to grow quickly and frequent groomer visits turn into a hassle.

How long should your dog's nails be? Short enough to keep from tapping on the floor. As soon as the nails touch the ground and grow past the pad of your dog's paw, it's a sign they are too long and you should reach for the dog nail clippers. Long nails can also snag on carpet or affect the joints in your dogs' paws, making it more likely that he will slip and hurt himself. Want to keep your dog's feet in good running order? Keep the nails trimmed.

You can do it yourself with the right tools and a little patience. Dogs don't love having their paws touched; they like having their nails trimmed even less. At first, your dog may jerk his paw away or start to cry when he sees the clippers. But don't worry; you can condition him to accept a proper pedicure without stress (for him or you).

woman trimming dog's nails; how to trim your dog's nails at home
Credit: Daily Paws / Blaine Moats

Make Nail Trimming a Positive Experience

Whether it's introducing him to the trimming tool or picking the right environment, "make everything a really positive experience for your pooch," certified trainer Mikkel Becker says.

To get your dog used to having his feet handled, play with his paws regularly and give him special treats-such as small cubes of cheese.

Next, teach your dog to get comfy with clippers. "Let treats rain down from the sky" every time you pull clippers out of the drawer, Becker says. Anytime your dog approaches clippers, he should get a reward. To condition him to the sound of the clippers, clip something hard and crunchy—like pasta—in his presence. Reward him again.

Finally, make sure the environment he'll be in when his nails are trimmed is comfortable and offers a stable grip for his feet. Try a counter topped with a nonslip mat or even his dog bed. Add calming smells, like lavender or a pheromone such as Adaptil. All of that prep helps him feel secure.

When you start trimming his nails for the first time, do it slowly. Trim just one nail a day, barely cutting off the end. Your goal is to get all nails even with the corresponding paw pad and then keep them that way with regular trims. Trim every two weeks to maintain the optimal nail length. The more you trim overgrown nails, the more the blood vessels will retreat back into the claw.

How to Trim Your Dog's Nails With Clippers

dog nail trimming tools
Credit: Blaine Moats

Gather Your Gear

You'll need either guillotine-style or scissor-style clippers, styptic powder (to stop the bleeding if you cut into the quick), nail files for smoothing edges, and treats to reward your dog for his good behavior.

closeup of god toenail showing quick
Credit: Blaine Moats

Look for the Quick

Identify the quick before you start; it's the pink section running through the center of clear or light-color nails. If your dog has dark nails, it will be nearly impossible to see the quick. Consider using nail clippers with a safety guard to avoid cutting into it. Mark the edge of the quick with a permanent marker before cutting.

closeup of woman holding dog paw
Credit: Blaine Moats

Hold His Paw Firmly

To get more control while trimming, face the same direction as your dog. The pad of his paw should rest in the palm of your nondominant hand. Put your thumb on top of the paw; it should be pointed the same direction as your dog's toes (similar to how you hold the TV remote). Not all dogs are the same, however. Some of them do better if you let the foot just remain where it is; stabilize the nail you're trimming rather than holding the entire paw.

closeup of clipper trimming nail
Credit: Blaine Moats

Make the First Cut

While praising your dog, hold the clippers so they will cut the nail from top to bottom, not side to side—which will crush the nail, not cut it cleanly. Trim parallel to the bottom of the nail. Holding the clippers vertically when cutting will crush the nail. Squeeze the handles of the clippers to cut the nail. Reward your dog for his cooperation.

closeup of filing dog's toenail
Credit: Blaine Moats

Smooth Out the Edges

Your dog's nails will be rough around the edges after you have finished trimming them. Smooth them with a regular nail file.

If you cut the quick, stay calm and reassure your dog. Press stypic powder firmly onto the end of the nail until the bleeding stops, which may take a few minutes.

Once you're done for the day (one nail or all of them), reward your dog with treats and praise so he associates nail trimming with happiness, not stress and discomfort. Never force your dog to let you trim his nails, says Debbie Martin, KPA, CTP, LVT, VTS (Behavior). "Let him walk away if he' s uncomfortable."

A version of this article first appeared in Happy Paws Spring/Summer 2020.