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Cutting Puppy Nails

Cutting puppy nails is not as difficult as you might think, but it gets a little tricky if your puppy, squirms, or just plain hates the idea.  

If you have a new puppy and they are resisting your pampering attempts to provide that fancy pedicure, relax, you are not alone.  Many puppies may either have no experience with a nail clipper or have had a bad experience long before you set eyes on him.  

Puppy's nails grow very fast and many puppies are even ready for their first nail clipping on the day they are born!  Luckily you won’t need to worry about that if your breeder is doing a good job of raising your puppy.  

But you will need to take over the job when you puppy comes home to you.  Unless you want to take your puppy to the vets or the groomers to have their nails trimmed, you should learn how to do it yourself and save your money.

A puppy will need to have his nails cut about every 2 to 3 weeks, at least initially during that rapid growth spurt.

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Supplies for Cutting Puppy Nails

There are several nail clippers available that do an excellent job of cutting puppy nails:

  • Human manicure or toenail clippers
  • Cat nail clippers:  The perfect size for little nails and will work great on tiny breeds throughout their lifespan.
  • Dog nail clippers either the scissor  or guillotine types.  In my opinion, Guillotine Clippers work great on larger dogs, but scissor type clippers work better with smaller dogs. However, it is really a matter of how well they feel in your hands.

Other useful supplies to have available

  • Metal nail file or nail grinder
  • Blood stop powder
  • Cotton balls and/or cotton tipped applicators
  • Yummy treats

Ideas to Consider When Cutting Puppy Nails

Puppies are notoriously fidgety and often protest any efforts at grooming.

Patience is often the key to a well-trained puppy, whether it is training for agility or training for grooming.  Adjust to the puppy’s pace and abandon your attempts if you feel you or the puppy is getting agitated. Nails can always wait until tomorrow.

Distracting the puppy with a treat, softly talking, or holding the puppy on your lap and gently caressing him will distract him and help make your job easier. 

From the moment you get your new puppy, spend some time each day to play with each foot so as to get him accustomed to someone touching his paws, pads of his feet and nails.
Pat each paw, squeeze a little but not to the point of causing pain, stroke the pads of the feet and touch the nails. 

If you think you will be using a nail grinder later on, allow the puppy to feel the vibrations and hear the sounds it makes before you actually use it on the nails.

When it’s time to clip his nails, he’ll likely be more cooperative. Remember, even the most resistant puppy will eventually come around if you go very slowly.

Does Your Puppy Have Dewclaws?

Does your Small breed puppy have dewclaws?  Dewclaws are similar to our thumb on the front and back paws.  At birth, the dewclaws are very close to the other “toes” but as the Small breed puppy grows, the dewclaws separate and eventually appear slightly higher on the leg. 

Sometimes a small breed puppy will have more than one dewclaw on their foot.  Some puppies are born with only dewclaws on the front paws and others are born with dewclaws on all four paws.

Many breeders will remove dewclaws when the puppy is a couple of 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 small breed puppy has dewclaws, you will want to take as much care to trim them as any other nails.  Dewclaws continue to grow if untrimmed usually in a circular manner eventually growing back into the skin and causing pain and wounds to form.

A Quick Anatomy Lesson

Each nail has a vein running through it which can be seen if your small breed puppy’s nails are white. This vein appears as a pink line that runs part way up the nail leaving the tip of the nail without a blood supply. This vein is called the Quick.

Quick anatomy lesson, Oh that was bad, let's move on...

Black nails can be challenging because you won’t see where the vein or quick ends. Cutting into the quick will bring on a stream of blood.

AND when I say bleed, I mean bleed. 

Depending on how deeply you cut into the quick, bleeding can be profuse and is nearly impossible to stop with pressure alone.  You will need a special type of powder to stop the blood flow. 

Dogs that have had frequent experiences with their nails cut too short become very resistant to permitting someone to cut their nails. Keep this in mind when cutting puppy nails so that each experience is positive for your small breed puppy.

Procedure for Cutting Puppy Nails

  • Place the puppy on your lap or sturdy table/counter-top.  Hold the paw firmly but not pinching in one hand.  Locate the top of the nail—that apex where the nail begins to curve downward.  That is usually where the blood supply ends.  A puppy with white nails will be much easier as you will be able to see where the vein stops.
  • Clip the nail past the quick using one of the clippers described above.
  • Do a fast filing or grinding of the nails after all have been cut.  This will prevent anyone (children to adult) from being scratched by ragged nails.

Uh oh,  You Cut Through the Quick

Yes, this happens to the best of us.  To stop the bleeding, you will need a blood-clotting powder.  The easiest way to do this is to plan ahead and sprinkle a little of the powder onto the cap of the bottle or into a small container. 

Be ready with cotton balls or cotton tipped applicator.  If you do cut too close, dab a little powder onto the end of the nail, holding the paw with your other hand.  Hold the paw until the bleeding has stopped.  You may need to apply a little more if necessary to make sure the blood has a clot.


  • Pick a period when your puppy is sleepy, usually in the evening when he is most relaxed.  You can even do this while watching television.

  • Do a quick filing after cutting puppy nails to protect the humans in the house.

  • Provide several great treats during and after the procedure.

  • Tell the puppy what a good boy he is and shower him with cuddles and hugs.

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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