Clipping Your Dogs’ Nails Without Pain or Resistance

If you’ve heard your dog’s nails scraping on your hardwood floor or noticed that they seem to pick at their paws more often than not, then it might be time to clip your dog's nails. And if that thought concerns you, it would be completely understandable.

We’ll speak more about this in a moment—but many new pet owners are shocked to uncover that dog nails have very little, if anything, in common with their human counterparts. Without the proper knowledge and understanding of your dog’s anatomy, you could be in for a nasty time for both yourself and your pet.

That why we’re going to be going over how to properly use dog nail clippers to clip nails without forcing your dog to endure any unnecessary pain. Likewise, we’ll also go over how to make sure your pet doesn’t resist their clipping and accidentally cause you to clip too high.

Dog Nail Anatomy

labrador puppy

Before we get into the actual job itself, we’ll need first to review exactly what’s inside of your dog’s nails.

The easiest way to look at nails not to consider them nails at all—but rather, living extensions of your dog’s toes. We know that in humans, clipping nails anywhere past the nail bed is generally a painless experience since there’s nothing within the nail itself that could send a pain signal. The same is not true in dogs.

Within the dog nail itself, there are three major structures—the bone of the toe, the quick, and the nail itself. Two of these you may already be familiar with, but the quick is another thing entirely.

According to most pet experts, the quick is a section of a dog’s nail that connects the nail itself to the toe bone. This section of cartilage is also filled with nerve endings and lots of blood that supplies the necessary ingredients for nail growth.

If you’ve ever trimmed your dog’s nails and noticed blood seeping from the nail, you probably accidentally “quicked” your dog, or otherwise cut into this section.

Although it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison, quicking a dog is often compared to cutting off a good section of the top of a finger or toe on a human. While drastic, this imagery is often used to illustrate just how much pain a dog can suffer if they are quicked.

Learning how and how not to quick your dog is a vital part of managing to use dog nail clippers without causing bleeding or other problems.

Spotting the quick can range from simple to impossible based on the type of nails your dog has. Like hair, dog’s nails change due to genetics and are generally classified into two types—white and black.

White nails are easier for first-time pet owners since their translucent quality makes them easy to see through. You’ll notice a pink inner core within your dog’s nails, and will know not to cut into it to avoid quicking your dog. When trimming the nails of dogs with black nails, you’ll need to be a bit more preparation.

Guillotines & Dew Claws

dog's nails

As you begin preparing yourself and your dog for the task at hand, you’ll need to make sure you’ve chosen the right tools for the job. In this case, that means picking out dog nail clippers that are best suited for your experience with your dog.

There are two major types of dog nail clippers—the guillotine and the scissors. While the scissors are self-explanatory, most people are unaware of the intimidating guillotine, and how it might just be the easiest way to get the job done.

Drawing its name from the famous French execution device, guillotine dog clippers (or just guillotines within the community) are used to wield greater control over the nails while clipping them. The nail is placed within the mouth of the guillotine and is completely encompassed by the device.

Once you’ve lined up your cut, squeezing the guillotine shut will force the nail to be cut by the pressures of the sharpened blade. While using guillotine clippers is somewhat controversial for some pet owners, the truth is, these make it easy for inexperienced owners to ensure they’re cutting nails without cutting quicks.

Likewise, you’ll also need to remember that not every nail or claw will be on your dog’s paw. For most breeds, you’ll find a hanging, separate claw a small portion above the paw on the lower leg. This is referred to as the dew claw and has a varied level of usage depending upon the breed.

Regardless, you’ll need to clip the dew claw as well as the other nails to prevent the dew claw from latching onto furniture and causing an injury.

Clipping Nails

person holding a dog's paw

Now, onto the task itself.

While the vet’s offices are usually willing to clip your dog’s nails for you, the best way to get this job done is to do it in a location that your pet is familiar with. Living rooms, bedrooms, and other comfortable places throughout the home will help your dog feel more at ease as you work around them and with their paws.

Next, pull out your dog nail clippers and make sure you have enough styptic powder at hand to correct any mistakes immediately. If you’re unfamiliar with the substance, styptic powder works as an antihemorrhagic that will stop bleeding quick in its tracks.

Next, examine your dog’s nails and determine whether or not you can see the quick. Regardless, you’ll also want to look for a smaller notch on the bottom of the nail. This tends to separate the extra growth on the end of the nail from the thicker part of the nail that contains the quick.

Once you’ve located the area you’re looking for, it is time to get started. If you’ve never clipped nails before, be sure to cut off far less than you were expecting to, and give your dog lots of love during the entire procedure. Chances are, your dog will be frightened at the new experience and why you’re holding them down.

This first clipping session needs to be as gentle as possible. Also, try using a nail filer to gently round off jagged edges, and always cut at an upward angle to reflect the natural growth of the nail.

This first session might not be as calming as possible, but the more you get your dog used to regular nail clippings, the more comfortable they will be with the process. Likewise, the more comfortable you will be with locating the quick and cutting in a way that works around this section of the nail.

dog's paws

Practice makes perfect, but when in doubt, cut less—not more. Even quicking your dog once will be an incredibly painful experience for them, and they often do not forget the feeling. Even after using your styptic powder, you might find your dog less than enthused the next time you need to hold them down for a clipping.

Finally, be gracious to your dog before and after the procedure. Instead of using brute force to hold them down, try to use positive reinforcement and reward your dog with a treat for their good behavior. This will further incentivize them to remain still as you focus on the task at han

For quick reference, make sure to do the following when clipping your dog’s nails:

  • Keep styptic powder close by
  • Clip the thinner part of the nail
  • Use guillotine clippers if you have not clipped nails before
  • Clip with an upward angle
  • Immediately use styptic powder if you cut the quick
  • Reward good behavior

Final Thoughts

It’s never easy to willingly put your dog into a situation that you know they’ll hate. But unfortunately, unless your dog spends enough time running around to wear down their nails naturally, you’ll need to take control of the situation and cut their nails before they become a liability to their health.

For most sedentary, indoor dogs, this can mean going through the process about once a week. If you’re not sure of when it’s time, keep an ear out for any clicking or clunking on the floor. If you can hear your dog’s nails your hardwood floors, it’s time to pull out the dog nail clippers and get to work.

We wish we could give more specific advice, but unfortunately, trial and error are one of the only ways to learn how far up your dog’s nail is too far. However, remember to start with smaller cuts and earn your dog’s trust, as well as file their nails to round off their sharp edges.

When in doubt, purchase a guillotine clipper for easier grip and always remember to get the dew claws cut periodically as well.

We hope we’ve given you a starting place to begin cutting your dog’s nails with confidence. As always, seen out a licensed veterinarian about specific information concerning breeds, and cut confidently to ensure you and your dog never fear clipping day.

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