Clipping Dog Nails:  Not as Hard as You Think

Clipping Dog Nails, by Janice Jones Last Updated 03-24-2024

Clipping Dog Nails is easier than you think.  So, stop dragging your dog to the vet or groomer to get his nails clipped, do it yourself. 

You will find that this is a simple grooming task and learning to do it yourself will save you time and money.  Dog nails are similar to human nails in that they grow faster when dogs are provided a high quality diet. 

Clipping your dog's nails should be done about every two months.  

Clipping Dog NailsClipping Dog Nails

If you normally take your dog to a groomer, nail clipping is generally part of the groom.  If you have a dog that doesn’t require a visit to the groomer, or if you would like to groom your dog at home, nail clipping becomes your responsibility. 

If you have never done it before, you might want to watch a groomer or your vet trim a dog’s nails.  Once you feel comfortable doing it yourself, there are a few things that you will need to keep in mind.

Nail Anatomy

An infographic showing the anatomy of a dog nailAnatomy of a Dog Nail

If you are going to be clipping dog nails, you should know a little about a dog's nail.  Each nail has a vein running through it which can be seen if your dog’s nails are white. This vein appears as a pink line that runs part way up the nail. 

If the nails are black, you will not be able to see it or know where it ends. The vein is called the quick and if it is cut, it will bleed and hurt the dog. 

Dogs that have had numerous experiences with their nail quick clipped become very resistant to allowing someone to clip their nails. Keep this in mind when clipping dog nails so that each experience is positive for your dog.

How to Tell if My Dog's Nails are Too Long and Need to be Clipped?

There are several ways you will know:

Clicking Sound: One of the most common signs is if you hear a clicking sound when your dog walks on hard surfaces. This sound is caused by the dog's nails hitting the floor, indicating that the nails are too long.

Posture and Gait Alteration: If your dog's nails are too long, they may alter the way they walk or stand, causing awkward or uncomfortable poses. This occurs because long nails force dogs to put weight on the backs of their feet, instead of evenly spreading their weight across the entire paw.

Visual Examination: You can look at your dog's paws when they are standing. If the nails touch the floor, they are likely too long. The nails should not touch the ground when your dog is standing in a neutral position.

Discomfort: If your dog frequently chews or nibbles at its nails or shows signs of discomfort when walking or running.

Curling Nails: In extreme cases, dog nails can curl under and begin to grow into the paw pad. This is incredibly painful for your dog and requires immediate attention.

Training Your Dog to Allow Dog Nail Clipping

A person is holding a dog's paw

Training your dog to enjoy grooming in general is the first step towards comfortable nail clipping. There is not anything harder than clipping dog nails when the dog is wiggling and uncooperative. This training starts at puppy hood where you hold the dog and get him used to having you handle his paws.

It’s so much easier if the dog will lie on the table, sit, or lay on his side.   Give him lots of praise when he is cooperative.  Sometimes it helps if you have another person hold the dog for you, however it may not be necessary if the dog is cooperative.

AND, here's another hint I have learned about clipping dog nails:  Do it when the dog is tired and right before bed.  You will get less resistance!

Types of Nail Trimmers

Three dog nail clippers

There are several styles of nail trimmers that can be used for dog nail clipping.  The most common ones are the and the scissors type.  The guillotine type is used by placing the nail between the guillotine blades and squeezing the handles together.

The scissor type as the name implies is used as if it were a scissor, placing the nail between the two blades and squeezing the handle.  Both are easy to use and the choice of which to use is a matter of personal preference and comfort.

The clippers below are available and can be purchased on Amazon directly from this site.  We get a tiny commission when someone purchases from this site which helps keep the site up and running.  We appreciate you. These are my recommendations.

Guillotine Type Nail Clipper

Scissor Like Nail Clipper

Dogs with White Nails

A puppy paw showing white dog nails

Trimming a white nail is relatively easy.  Look for the pink in the center of the nail.  This pink is the Quick.  To cut a white nail, hold the paw gently but firmly in one hand and locate the nail.  If the dog is a long haired breed, separate the hair from the nail.

Find the pink area of the nail and clip above it.  A good rule of thumb is to clip right where the nail begins to bend, also called the “nail hook.” 

If you are worried about clipping too deeply, just take a little off at a time and continue to clip until you get fairly close to the pink area.  Another method is to take the tips off and clip the nails more frequently, approximately once per month.

Dogs with Black Nails

A dog's paw showing long black nails

Clipping a black nail is a little trickier.  You will want to have some styptic powder or silver nitrate sticks available in the event that you clip a little too close.  Gauze or cotton balls will work, but blood clotting takes longer and if you do not hold the gauze onto the nail, the job can get messy.

To clip the black nails, start by cutting small pieces at a time. Each time you clip the nail, look at the end of the nail.  You will eventually see the small pinkish, grayish area at the center of the nail.  This is the quick and your signal to stop cutting. 

Filing & Grinding Dog Nails

nail grinding

Once you have clipped the nails, you may wish to use a metal file to gently file the cut area.  A well filed nail is not likely to scratch anyone. 

You can now purchase grinding instruments that do the job too.  These grinders work well for strong medium to large nails but do not work as well in tiny or small dogs and don't work well at all on puppy nails.

Dog Nail Grinder

Which Nail Clipper is Best for Your Dog?

Choosing the right type of nail clippers for your dog often depends on its size and what you feel most comfortable handling.

As mentioned above, there are two main types of dog nail clippers: the guillotine style and the scissor type.

Guillotine-style clippers may be easier, but they don’t work well if the nails are longer. They also may not clip the nail cleaning requiring you to use a metal nail file to smooth off the edge.

Scissor styles may be good for larger dogs or those with thick nails. They can clip through nails more easily and may be a good choice if you have both a small and a large dog.

A rotary or grinder that grinds down the nails rather than cutting them may be a good choice for those who don’t like to use a clipper. They provide a clean, smooth edge and can be used for any size dog. The downside is that some have motors that are loud and vibrate, and some dogs can’t tolerate the noise or vibrations.

In the end, choose one that feels best to your hand. It might also be helpful to ask your vet or a professional groomer for a demonstration on how to use them properly before attempting it yourself.

Oops! You Clipped too Short

It happens to the best of us at one time or another--the dog moves, or we underestimate where the "quick" ends and accidentally trim the nail too short. 

Dog nails can bleed and bleed and bleed!  Forget about what you learned in an elementary first aid class.  You won't be able to stop the bleeding with pressure.

You won't be able to stop the steady stream of blood with a bandage.  You need to have something on hand that will stop the bleeding:

Styptic Powder:  Sprinkle some of the powder on a cotton ball, gauze pad, or tissue.  Wipe away the blood on the nail with a clean gauze pad or tissue. Place the cut nail on the gauze pad covered in powder for a few seconds.  Release and watch for any additional bleeding.  Repeat if necessary.  All bleeding should be stopped before releasing the dog.

Styptic Powder (on Amazon)

Cornstarch or Flour: If you don't have styptic powder or a pencil, press the dog's nail into a bar of soap or use a small amount of cornstarch or flour. Apply the mixture to the wound, packing it onto the nail and applying gentle pressure until the bleeding stops.

HINT: When clipping dog nails, to remove blood stains from dog hair, dab with Hydrogen Peroxide.

A Word About Dewclaws

Does your dog have dewclaws?  Dewclaws are similar to the thumb on the front and back paws.  At birth the dewclaws are very close to the other “toes” but as the dog grows, the dewclaws separate and eventually appear slightly higher on the leg.  Sometimes a dog will have more than one dewclaw on their foot.

Many breeders will remove dewclaws when the puppy is between 3 and 4 days old and the procedure is simple, quick and poses few problems for the newborn.  If the dewclaws have been removed in this manner, you will not need to worry about them. 

If your dog has dewclaws, you want to take as much care to trim them as they can be a source of trouble if they get caught in carpet, fabric or bedding. If neglected, dewclaws tend to grow long and curl around and back into the skin. 

If trimmed regularly, most dewclaws pose few problems in dogs.  If they do become a problem, your vet will likely suggest that you have them surgically removed.   So, my advice when clipping dog nails is not to forget the dewclaws.

Dealing with Anxious Dogs

It's common for dogs to feel nervous or anxious during nail clipping, especially if they have had negative experiences in the past.

Dogs seem to have an excellent memory when it comes to nail clipping, and even if you tried your best, a cut into the quick is very painful, and your dog will remember. Here are some tips to make the process less stressful:

  1. Very gentle handling. Hold the paws frequently, stroke them, and speak quietly at times when you are not clipping.

  2. Treats: Save the best treats for nail clipping (Fresh cooked chicken, beef, pork, etc.) if your dog is not allergic to these foods.

  3. Frequently clips: Take the tips of the nails or just do one or two nails at a time.

  4. Distraction: Have someone treat, talk to, or scratch behind his ears while you clip.

  5. Try a grinder.

  6. Ask a vet or professional groomer to clip the nails.

Important Tips

Remember these important tips clipping dog nails:

  • Choose a clipper that feels comfortable in your hand
  • Find the nail’s quick and avoid clipping into it
  • Cut a small amount of nail at a time
  • Use a grinder or nail file to smooth over the edges of the cut nail
  • Praise your dog and give him a treat


Think of clipping your dog's nails as a manacure or pedicure and perhaps the process becomes easier.  It's so important to keep those nails short for the health and comfort of your dog.  

Since there are options for clippers and grinders, find the one that works best for you.  Sometimes it requires a little experimentations.

Always remember to keep the task positive, even if it may take a little bit longer.  In the long run, it will be easier in the future.

Clipping Dog Nails: Pin for Future Reference

How to clip dogs nails pin image

About Janice (author and voice behind this site)

Having lived with dogs and cats most of her life, Janice served as a veterinary technician for ten years in Maryland and twelve years as a Shih Tzu dog breeder in Ohio.

Her education includes undergraduate degrees in Psychology with a minor in biology, Early Childhood Education, and Nursing, and a master's in Mental Health Counseling.

She is a lifelong learner, a dog lover, and passionate about the welfare of animals. Her favorite breed for over 50 years has been the Shih Tzu, but she has also lived with Poodles, Maltese, Yorkshire Terriers, Beagles, English Bulldogs, Carin Terriers, and a Cocker Spaniel.

When not writing, reading, and researching dog-related topics, she likes to spend time with her eight Shih Tzu dogs, husband, and family, as well as knitting and crocheting. She is also the voice behind Miracle Shih Tzu and Smart-Knit-Crocheting

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