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How to Clip a Dog’s Nails

Whether you call them nails or claws, those things at the end of your dog’s paws can become unruly and dangerous if not maintained properly. Untrimmed nails can push into a dog’s paws, hurt the feet, and affect the ankle joints–not to mention the damage they can do to your furniture, clothing, and skin.

Your veterinarian can take care of them for you, and some pet supply stores offer clipping services. Chances are your dog would rather go to the store than the vet, but considering how fast they grow, paying somebody else to clip your dog’s nails can become quite the expense.

The easiest solution, of course, is to do it yourself. That may sound like an arduous task, particularly if your dog doesn’t like having his or her nails trimmed. If your dog associates a trimming with the vet, you may have your hands full with a nervous, resistant dog. But if your dog trusts you, and you follow these steps, clipping nails can become a stress-free routine, for you as well as your dog.

Nail clippers come in two varieties -

  • Scissor-style clippers are the most simple-looking.
  • Guillotine-style clippers have a hole where you place the nail, and a blade slides up when you squeeze the handles together–kind of like a cigar cutter.

The one you use will depend on your comfort level, but start with the scissor style, so you can better see where the blade makes contact.

It’s best to have another person around to help hold the dog and give soothing encouragement. Choose a time of day when your dog is more likely to be relaxed, or less likely to get excited. Unless your dog is extremely docile and not tense at all about the process, you should expect your first attempts to cut the nails to be time-consuming, and certainly incomplete. Give your dog time to sniff the clippers before going in for your first cut, and have some treats handy for extra encouragement.

  • Start in the front.
  • Hold the foot gently yet firmly, like you’re “shaking hands.
  • Use your fingers to separate the dog’s toes, and don’t squeeze them.
  • Start by clipping just the very tip, so you’ll get used to using the clippers, and your dog will (hopefully) get used to the sensation. By starting slowly and carefully, the dog will likely not feel trapped, and you’ll be able to use commands like “stay.&
  • Cut perpendicularly across the bottom of the nail, from top to bottom, to keep it from splitting.
  • For the back feet, it’s best to lie your dog down on his or her side, rather than have him or her stand and kick or jerk the legs.

Again, you want to be careful, and be prepared for sudden movements. If you clip too far down the nail, you could hit a blood vessel or a nerve, which will not only hurt and scare your dog, but be bloody and messy. Keep towels and styptic powder handy in case of any bleeding; do your best to reassure your dog, and leave the trimming for another day.

If necessary, trim the hairs between the toes with child or safety scissors. You can use a canine pedi-trimmer to file any rough edges, but only after you’ve managed the above steps. Once you’ve got into a routine, you should only have to trim them as general maintenance every couple of weeks.

Remember: if you stay calm and don’t panic, your dog will be more likely to follow your lead. With time, patience, and practice, clipping the nails will be just another activity where treats are involved.

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