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

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

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

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!

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!

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!

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.



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    28 Discussions


    3 years ago

    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.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    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.

    2 replies

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    6 years ago on Step 6

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


    9 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    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


    10 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    10 years ago on Step 6

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


    10 years ago on Introduction

    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!


    11 years ago on Step 6

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


    11 years ago on Introduction

    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!

    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!


    11 years ago on Introduction

    . 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.

    1 reply

    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    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.