Introduction: How to Trim Your Dog's Toenails

Picture of How to Trim Your Dog's Toenails

A lot of people have trouble trimming their dog's toenails. The key to making this less of a chore for you is to make it a positive experience for your dog. Learn how positive reinforcement can help your dog and you!

Step 1: Supplies You'll Need

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Toenail clippers-There are two main kinds of clippers:scissor style and guillotine style. I prefer guillotine because I think they are easier to use and give a cleaner cut. No matter which style you choose, the sharper the clipper, the cleaner the cut and the faster the job gets done.

Styptic powder or pencil-Powder form is easier to use than to try and apply a pencil to your squirming dog's foot.

Nail file-same kind you use on your own nails.

dog treats-commercial treats, string cheese, hot dog bits, whatever your dog likes and you can dole out in small portions.

Step 2: Acclimate Dog to Having His Feet Touched

Picture of Acclimate Dog to Having His Feet Touched

For your dog to be calm, you need to be calm. So relax, grab your dog and some treats and have some fun!

The first thing we do is acclimate the dog to having his feet touched. With your dog sitting next to you (easiest to do if you are sitting on the floor), touch one of his feet lightly and praise him in a calm voice. Give him a treat.

If your dog doesn't mind this touch, pick up his foot as you praise him and give him a treat. If your dog does mind, stick with lightly touching each foot until you can touch them without him even noticing. Continue to treat after each touch. This first session, end on a happy note before your dog gets tired of you touching his feet, probably 10-20 treats-worth.

After a few session (the number will vary depending on your dog), you should be able to pick up and handle each of your dogs feet. When you can do this, you are ready for the next step.

Step 3: Acclimate Your Dog to Clippers

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Sitting next to your dog, let him sniff the clippers and give him a treat.

Pick up a foot and place the clippers near the the nails. (Do not place trimmers around he nail or make any noise with the clippers.) Praise and give your dog a treat.

Do this several (10-15) times and end the session. It is important that the clippers become a good thing to the dog, not a scary or intimidating thing. Most people grab the clippers, try to wrestle the dog and clip its nails. From this the dog learns that the clippers in your hand mean you turn into a scary, mean monster who is trying to cut his feet off. We want him to learn that the clippers in your hand mean he gets praised and he gets to eat lots of treats.

During the next session, you can start squeezing the clippers so that they make a noise. Guillotine clippers have a spring action that makes a certain noise and we want the dog used to this noise. We aren't clippings nails yet, just squeezing the handle while the clippers are near the dog's feet. Remember to praise and treat the dog after each squeeze.

Step 4: Trim Your First Nail!

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Now that your dog is acclimated to the motions of clipping (this process should probably take about a week but could take longer if he has had bad toenail-trimming experiences before) we can start to trim his nails.

Pick up a paw and examine the nails. If your dog has light nails, you should be able to see the quick or the pink fleshy part that is inside the toenail. This is what we will try to avoid cutting into as it can be painful and will bleed quite a bit. If your dog has dark toenails, it will be harder to determine the proper length to cut but you can examine the underside of the nail. There should be a groove the runs parallel to nail growth. If you cut beyond this groove,closer to the tip of the nail, you should be safe.

Place the cutter around the tip of the nail with the solid plate of the guillotine cutter facing your dog. Your cut will be just past the quick at an angle away from the paw. (See diagram.) With one quick movement, close the clipper around the nail for a smooth cut.

Continue until you have trimmed all the nails. After each toe or couple of toes, praise your dog and give him a treat. Don't forget the dew claws, which are farther up on the legs, near the ankle. If left long, these can catch on things and actually injure your dog.

Step 5: File Those Things!

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To reduce the sharp edges, file the nails from the topside of the nail down and around to the end of the nail tip. This will help avoid splitting, which freshly trimmed nails are prone to. Filing the nails will also help save your furniture and floors but is not absolutely necessary if your dog is being squirmy at this point. Better to end on a positive note rather than both of you getting frustrated.

Step 6: Oh No, He's Bleeding!

Picture of Oh No, He's Bleeding!

If you cut too close to the quick and the nail starts to bleed, apply the styptic powder to the nail tip and keep applying until the bleeding stops. A toenail will bleed for about 5 minutes if left unattended and while it may seem like a lot of blood all over your floor, it is very rarely harmful. However, a dog may be frightened by this and you may have to start from square one, acclimating him to the process again.


jaimelicious (author)2016-03-10

This is fab, thank you. I have a rescued Staffy-cross who *loathes* having his feet handled. We've finally got to the point where, for a decent (i.e. not part of his normal food) treat, he will put a front paw on your leg as you sit on the floor. I don't yet get to pick which paw, or to keep it for more than a couple of seconds, or to have him put the paw in my hand, but we're working on it. It's taken four months to get this far! This is a great guide to follow along as I keep working with him.

Do you find the guillotine style clippers take less force than the scissor style ones? My hands are rubbish due to Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, and I find the scissor ones I have impossible to get a quick, clean cut with.

crafty_crayons (author)2008-12-16

what?? do dogs even got toenails? lol



smokehill (author)2008-12-26

We had a 50-dog kennel and trained dogs for 30-odd years, but have just been doing dog rescue for about ten years now, with usually about 30 dogs in the house (20 loose, 10 crated when not in one of the 3 yards). My wife used clippers for decades, but is sold on the Dremel. For the dogs that will tolerate the clippers, she'll usually start with that and finish with the Dremel --especially our Great Danes, who have claws like a T-Rex and will wear out a Dremel belt on each dog otherwise. For most people the Dremel is fine, and far fewer dogs have a problem with it compared to the clippers. Some dogs simply will not tolerate the clippers and do have to be held by someone else, or occasionally even muzzled. The positive reinforcement approach does work, though to varying degrees, depending on the dog -- and its history. The ones we get often have unknown histories, but usually have been abandoned and/or abused, so trust is an issue -- and nails just can't wait until a good bond is established since most of the ones that come in are months (or years) overdue for the trim. If you have lots of dogs, or large dogs with big, tough nails (some nails are harder than others), it's worth checking out some of the carbide-coated blades and drums for rotary tools. They aren't cheap, and take some experimentation as to proper abrasiveness, but will last ... maybe forever. We've had one that has lasted through about twenty trims and is still going strong. Also, make sure you buy the Dremel (or other brand) sanding belts that are COARSE. They usually have two different grits, both the same price, but the coarse will do twice as much trimming. Those "advertised on TV" clones supposedly made especially for trimming pet nails have gotten really bad ratings from most users -- lots of breakage, tool didn't arrive, parts & service nonexistent, etc. Maybe they'll fix that eventually if it gets sold locally, but so far it looks like just a bad Dremel at a high price. Only the little plastic "hood" is an advantage, but hardly worth putting up with a bad tool.

saosport (author)smokehill2013-03-15

Have you made an istructable showing how to do this? I have a weim who needs his nails trimmed at least every two weeks. They grow fast but do not hit the ground when he walks like most dogs they stick almost straight out. and they get sharp.

smokehill (author)smokehill2008-12-26

I should add one more thing -- using the optional flex-shaft on the Dremel is a great idea -- much better control over the tool, and it keeps the buzzing sound of the tool away from the dog, which makes them much less nervous. Overheating the nails, with the Dremel, can be a problem on large dogs, or several dogs in a row. Just pay attention to how warm that drum is getting, or the heat will cause as much discomfort to the dog as a badly-cut nail clip.

manichols (author)2012-11-23

This is great! thank you for such a great instruct able!

HarveyH44 (author)2009-06-01

My two year old Lab pup hates getting his nails trimmed. Fortunately, only have to cut two, the rest stay short from walking on paved sidewalks twice a day. I still expect about another year of him being a wild-child. He sees the nail clippers, or any tool resembling them, and he bolts. He was 7 months old when I got him, guess he has bad memories. My last dog was a larger breed, Rottweiler mix, also not a big fan of being groomed or bathed, but tolerated it, barely. Usually put up a good chase and fight, but settled down when it came down to business. At 140 lbs, he could have done some serious damage, but he was reasonable well behaved. My brother was the only one who got seriously bitten (his fault, I don't handle animals roughly, he did...). Walked without a leash most of the 12 years I had him, right in the middle of town. I did have to restrain him around other larger dogs, have to answer the challenge, since his testicles were intact... If the dog is comfortable in his position, and well taken care of, you won't get many challenges (after they grow up), and they don't intend to do damage. You do provide food and shelter, why would it make sense to mess up a good thing? Never seen a need to beat a dog, tempted a few times, but who pays the vet bills, and they know when you are upset. Mostly, it takes a lot of patience, they aren't people, they have a different way of view the world.

mrtentaclenun (author)2009-05-17

I really wish this would work on my corgi, Winston, When he was a puppy he got his nails trimmed and they cut the quick, to the point of having to be cauterized. He has been horribly traumatized (as have I, I can still hear his cries from the cauterizing) so he is very against nail trimming. Only way I can do it is one at a time when he is asleep :( Vet even has a hard time with it, having to pin him down, etc... He pees everywhere

whiteoakart (author)2008-12-12

First of all, I love your shirt. Where the Wild Things Are was my favorite book as a kid, and it is still my favorite kid's book.

Second, I don't know why I never thought of doing it this way. It is how we do everything else with our dogs and horses. Maybe, because I hate cutting the dog's nails and I just want it over with.

Anyway, I'll be starting over and using your Instructable as a guide. Thanks.

ve_ness (author)2008-12-12

No more $12 mani-pedis for my doggies! Thanks for the Instructable!

Gnome (author)2008-12-12

What breed is that dog? Nice Instructable by the way!

beastbunny (author)Gnome2008-12-12

Sully is a Pembroke Welsh Corgi. Thanks, glad you like it!

Parakeet Crazzzy (author)2008-12-10

Sully Kinda Looks Like Meh Dog Odie.

Sunny124613 (author)2008-07-19

a lot of people say that the dog will "hate" you if you cut the quick, but when I read this I felt much safer, for me and my dog!

atscenter (author)2008-03-20

this was an excellent tutorial--I'm going to start the process tonight . Thanks very much.

AncientWays (author)2007-10-01

Loved this instructable. One thing that works for my dog is for him to lie down. He's much more comfy and less squirmy. He lies on his side with his legs sticking out. I pet him a lot while he's lying down. I'm sure my German shepard would have appreciated this post when he was little. I literally straddled him in a very "comprimising" way while clipping his nails as a puppy (remember that GS puppies are like 30-40 pouds...basically, small to medium size dogs). Now, as a 90lb beast, he just submits to it (while laying down) and gets treats afterwards!

RomeoTheCotonDeTulear (author)2007-08-12

I'm making a copy of this and leaving it on the coffee table for my human Mommy and Daddy to see. They usually just grab me and hack away! I like your method better with all the cookies and hugs. Also, you are so right about filing my nails afterwards as my brother and I scratched our new wood laminate floors with freshly cut nails once. Now we get the full manicure treatment. Helpful instructable. Thanks from Romeo and Rocky!

NachoMahma (author)2007-07-08

. Superb! It may not be within the scope of your iBle, but being the alpha dog helps. . I have two dogs - one that bites her nails! Over three years old and never had her nails clipped. Wish I could train the other dog to do that.

beastbunny (author)NachoMahma2007-07-08

Glad you like both of my dog care Instructables! That is crazy that your dog bites her nails! I hope she doesn't do it out of boredom or stress. I've trained dogs for many years and while I'm not big on the whole 'alpha dog' idea, if you have a dog that challenges you (snarls, snaps) then definitely muzzle them for this entire process. A basket muzzle allows you to treat the dog for acceptable behavior while keeping your arms and face intact.

NachoMahma (author)beastbunny2007-07-08

. It doesn't appear to be stress related - she'll do it while we're laying on the bed and I'm petting her. I've never had a dog that did that and it was a bit unnerving when I first heard it - pop ... pop ... pop. I was worried that the repetitive impact might affect her teeth, but the vet says it doesn't appear to be doing any damage.
. I have a Pit-mix and an AU Cattle Dog (the nail biter) and any time I'm challenged (even subtly) it's an immediate alpha roll. Of course, after the second one (sometimes just the first), I'm seldom challenged again. At least once a month, I'll stick my hand in their food bowls, while they're eating, just to make sure I'm still the alpha. Because I'm the alpha, I don't have to use a muzzle - the worst my dogs will do is pull away. Of course, if I were going to "manhandle" someone else's dog, I'd prefer the muzzle.
. You seem to be doing a great job handling dogs, but from what I've read and learned over 40+ years of raising dogs, they need to have a hierarchy with an alpha - that's just the way they are wired.
. But anyway ... It's like raising kids - everybody does it different. Being Alpha works best for me. YMMV.

beastbunny (author)NachoMahma2007-07-08

It's an interesting topic, for sure, and I'm happy to have someone intelligent like you to discuss with. I am not opposed the the theory behind "alpha dog" style training. In fact, I agree that all dogs need discipline and a strong leader. But I am opposed to alpha rolls and any theory which has at its premise that dogs see us "another one of the pack". Dogs are smart. They know we smell different, look different, sound different. We are human, not dog. I think all dogs can and should distinguish ALL humans, not only their "pack leader", as authority figures. When we alpha roll dogs, they do not generalize this "leader role" to all humans but only to the one doing the dominating. Hence some families have a dog that is subordinate to the mother but can corner the father or snaps at the teenager daughter. I am also opposed to so-called guard dogs that are expected to distinguish between intruders and friends on their own. If you wish to train a dog in Shutzhund or guard behavior, they should do so only after a human has established someone as suspect and not be expected to make that decision on their own. Until told otherwise, they should respect ALL humans.

I've veered off track a bit! A challenge from your dog such as a snarl or growl is a warning, your dog's communication that it is not comfortable and that it could bite you. An alpha roll at every challenge from your dog risks extermination of these warnings. Without this communication ahead of time, a dog bites and asks questions later. A very dangerous thing and the reason many dogs are put to sleep. (Not that I'm saying your dog will bite you and be put to sleep. As you said, everyone approaches things differently.)

Instead of alpha rolls or other physical corrections, I recommend the NILF (Nothing In Life is Free) program. This puts you and all humans in the leader's role without confrontation. Everyone who visits your house or comes in contact with your dog can practice this. Simply put, to get anything he wants (food, petted, on the sofa) he has to do something you ask first (sit, shake, lie down). At every meal, the dog must sit while you fill the bowl and place it on the floor and only eat after released. To get petted, the dog must sit and shake first. For a belly rub, the dog must down and roll over on command. And a million other variations. This stops "pushy" dogs that insist on everything when they want it and also establishes humans as the clear leader, no matter who it is.

Whatever training method people use, I'm happy to see people training at all. There are so many dogs out there that are labeled as crazy, neurotic, stupid or problem animals that simply have not been given a chance. Dogs aren't born knowing not to pee on the sofa or jump up on the counter to get tasty treats but a lot of people just expect a well-behaved dog with no work!

NachoMahma (author)beastbunny2007-07-08

PS: And there's a LOT more to Shutzhund than just being aggressive.

beastbunny (author)NachoMahma2007-07-08

Oh, definitely! But a lot of people say "my dog is a guard dog, my dog knows Shutzhund" and what they really mean is "my dog is leery of strangers/human aggressive and will attack if I let go of the leash". We are dealing with a dog in a class I teach right now that is "trained" in this manner and it's a complete nightmare. I suppose I was speaking more of the ignorant owners that know it as a buzzword rather than the actual Shutzhund trainers/competitors.

NachoMahma (author)beastbunny2007-07-08


NachoMahma (author)beastbunny2007-07-08

> a dog that is subordinate to the mother but can corner the father . That's why my daughter will also do an alpha roll when challenged. She may not be The Alpha, but she out-ranks both dogs. . My Mother did have a Boston Terrier that would let me know how much she disliked me and Mom horseplaying. :) The dog never bit me, but would grab a shoe or pants leg and tug like there was no tomorrow. Didn't seem to bother the dog when my sister and I would fight. heehee . > I am also opposed to so-called guard dogs that are expected to distinguish between intruders and friends on their own. ... they should respect ALL humans. . I definitely agree on the first point. If my girls don't look to me for direction when meeting a stranger, then I'm not a very good alpha. . As for the second point, I guess it depends on how you define respect. I don't expect my girls to take down a burglar on their own, but they better be barking like they will. :) . > If you wish to train a dog in Shutzhund or guard behavior, they should do so only after a human has established someone as suspect and not be expected to make that decision on their own. . That's exactly what Shutzhund is all about. Shutzhund trained dogs are not autonomous killers. Quite the contrary - a properly trained Shutzhund will not "attack" except on command. And most "attacks" are just take-downs. The police dogs that you see on TV, lunging at the leash to get at the bad guy, have already been put in a state of agitation by the handler. I'll take a Shutzhund-trained dog over ANY untrained dog to watch the baby. . > An alpha roll at every challenge from your dog risks extermination of these warnings . I haven't seen that in any of my dogs. As a matter of fact, if I am agitated around someone, they will definitely give the I'm-thinking-about-biting warnings. Not to say that it can't happen, especially with a mistreated rescue. . > I recommend the NILF . As do I. My girls have to, at the very least, do a sit/stay before they get to go outside or get a treat. Bellyrubs are gratis. :) And sofas are a big no-no. The bed is OK, but not the sofa. LOL . > There are so many dogs out there that are labeled as crazy, neurotic, stupid or problem animals that simply have not been given a chance. . Exactamundo! There are no bad dogs (well, not many, anyway), just bad owners. . A well socialized Pit Bull is one of the gentlest dogs you can find, but look at all the bad press they get because of bad owners. I have a friend with an 80 lb Pit bitch that thinks she's a lap dog and grooms cats. ROFL . . I'm not trying to say your way is wrong or anything - if your dogs are happy and well-behaved, that's all that matters. I've adopted/fostered a lot of dogs and it just seems to work better for me if I establish myself as The Boss right off the bat.

beastbunny (author)NachoMahma2007-07-08

Thank you for the wonderful discourse! All very good points and I am certain we both have very happy, healthy dogs! re:Pits-I agree completely that they've gotten a terrible reputation from the press when they are actually very seldomly aggressive toward people. However, they are very often dog aggressive which is not a problem if you keep them at home, it's when people try and take them out in public and people see the way some of them act toward dogs and think it applies to people as well. Also, the sad fact that they are often kept by unsavory characters and walked on giant bullchains doesn't help. Any breed can be aggressive, totally dependent on how they are treated and handled.

NachoMahma (author)beastbunny2007-07-08

> re:Pits- ... they are very often dog aggressive
. That's the truth! What most ppl don't realize is that most dog "fights" are all-show-and-no-go (you may run into more exceptions with the rescues). My Pit-mix and a friend's Pit will have to establish territory almost every time they come to visit - usually when Betty checks out the food bowl. :) It lasts about four seconds and then they go back to playing nice. To someone who doesn't know a little bit about dogs, it looks and sounds like they are trying to kill each other. There have been a few very small scratches, but they are usually from a misguided claw, not a tooth. It's a good chance to inspect their teeth and gums. :) And the dog that inflicted the scratch will sometimes tend the "wound!" Kinda funny to see.
> if you keep them at home, it's when people try and take them out in public
. Ohhhh noooo! My girls LOVE to go visiting. The alpha will (or should) have enough control to keep an on-leash dog from causing too much trouble. And a good alpha will have socialized their subordinates anyway. Guess that's not always easy to do in your case.
> they are often kept by unsavory characters
. Some of my best friends are unsavory characters and they make great pet owners. LOL
> Any breed can be aggressive, totally dependent on how they are treated and handled.
. There's another one we agree on totally. ;) Same with ppl. Although there do appear to be more "bad seeds" amongst ppl than dogs.

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