Cutting Dog’s Toenails: How To Effectively Trim Them

Cutting dog’s toenails is a task that is often avoided because of three primary reasons:

  • They’re worried about injuring their dog
  • They know their dog will protest
  • It can lead to lingering bad feelings

It’s the one task of canine ownership that fills some owners with dread and anxiety.  But, it’s an important task if your dog isn’t very active. Active dogs tend to naturally wear down their nails because of the various surfaces they expose to them.  It’s common for city dogs to have long toenails – common but not a good thing.

Why Should You Avoid Letting Your Dog’s Nails Grow Long

Long toenails can lead to aching feet for your canine. How so? When the dog walks (especially on a hard surface), their nails get pushed back into the nailbed. The resulting pressure is felt on the toe joints or causes the toe to move sideways.  Whatever happens, the pain can be excruciating that even a light touch can cause them pain.

Another, and extensively, larger problem with long nails is the inability for a dog to process information about their surroundings.  All canines – dogs included – use the nerves in their feet to process their world and adjust their gravity.

Keep in mind that wild dogs tend to run long distances when they hunted, and their nails were kept short. Their toenails only touched the ground when they would climb a hill, which allowed them to shift their body as needed. Dogs today don’t have to worry too much about hills, which means they need a secondary compensation to ensure they don’t fall face first on the ground.

Normal posture is the show dog stack with vertical legs.

However, the odd compensation posture is known as a goat on a rock, as it causes the dog to put their paws closer together underneath their body. According to the latest research, standing with camped-in limbs is difficult for dogs to maintain. They overuse their muscles and joints, making it harder for them to climb stairs, get into cars and stand up after lying down.

Therefore, cutting your dog’s toenails is vitally important to their health, especially if their hind legs have been overworked and weak.

What Do You Need To Cut Your Dog’s Toenails?

The only real tool you need is scissors, although you should also get a pedi-paws emery board to file your dog’s nails after you’ve clipped them.

Be sure only to use scissor-like clippers, as the Guillotine-style clippers have a tendency to crush the toe, which can be very painful. You also don’t want the entire nail in the clipper at one time.

Be aware that your dog’s size will dictate the size of the clippers. Most dogs will only require the use of a small scissor size, but a larger dog will need bigger scissors to cut the nail effectively.

Ensure your scissors and other tools are sharp, replacing them when they become dull.

4 Steps To Effectively Trim Your Canine’s Nails

Introduce The Clippers

You need first to introduce the clippers to your dog. Hold their paws in one hand and show them the clippers. Do not start clipping just yet.  The idea is to get them acclimated to them. Also, have treats on hand to reward them for their good behavior when you do start cutting their nails.

Firmly Hold Their Paws and Cut

When you’re ready to start cutting, firmly grasp their paws in your hand. You want to be firm but gentle at the same time here. Cut the nail at 45-degree angle below the quick, removing the nail a little bit at a time.

Stop When You See White

Cut the nails until you see the white of the nail with the black dot in the middle. If you don’t see the white, keep cutting until you do. Take a small amount at a time, or you could cut the dog’s quick. You may need to cut your dog’s nail every three weeks, but this will depend on their activity level. The more active your dog, the less often you’ll need to trim their nails.

File Their Nails 

Get a pedi-paws emery board to smooth their nails after you’ve cut them. Be sure to file the nail around the top and sides of their quick.

It’s important to use a plier-style of clippers to ensure you don’t accidentally cut the dog’s quick. And, if you do this, you can apply cornstarch to the area where you’ve nicked your dog and bleeding is.

11 Tips and Tricks To Successfully Cut Their Nails

  • Cut their nails in a brightly-lit room or outside.
  • If you need glasses to read, you should also use them to clip your dog’s toenails.
  • You can see the nail structure better on pigmented nails than on white nails.
  • An insensitive mail will have a chalky ring surrounding the quick.
  • Your clipper blades should stay parallel to the nail – don’t cut across their nail.
  • Never squeeze their toes
  • Your fingers should keep the toes separate while clipping, making sure to hold the paw gently.
  • Cut the extra toe hair using blunt-edge children’s scissors.
  • Immediately give your dog a treat if you accidentally get their quick.
  • Make the nail cutting task fun by giving them praise and treats.
  • Maintain their nails but cutting them every week to two weeks.

After you’ve thinned out the insensitive nail and is no longer supporting the quick, it will dry out and withdraw. Eventually, you can cut their nails even shorter. While all nails are not the same, long toenails eventually become cracked from drying out.  This can lead to the separation of the insensitive nail and living tissue, allowing you to eventually trim the nails back.

What Does Their Toenail Have Inside


The picture above is the interior layout of a dog’s nail. As you see, the suggestion is to remove the nail roof while not endangering the quick. It’s easy to see the space between the insensitive and sensitive nail on a black claw because it’s typically white and chalky.

The picture on the right gives you a closer view of the nail’s inside. The sensitive quick will look clear and similar to flesh.

For toenails that haven’t been cut, there is a notch under the quick’s tip. It’s safe to start the angle cut here.

Bear in mind that your dog may “overreact” to the nail cutting experience, but this behavior may be learned because they’re using to painful toes. As the nails are cut and kept short, the pain will alleviate, and their behavior may change.

In the beginning, apply all your restraint and behavior knowledge to help you out. Begin with their hind feet, as nails are generally shorter and not as sensitive as the front paws.  Be as kind as possible during this time – make it a quality time event for the both of you. The idea is to get them to trust you with their nails, so they won’t dread the task as much as you are. If they don’t like the idea of staying in place for very long, trim one or two nails a day, and that’s it.

However, if you really do not feel comfortable with the idea of trimming your dog’s nails, ask a dog trainer or groomer for assistance.

It’s important for your dog’s health to keep their toenails short, which is why you should cut them every couple of weeks. Do what you can yourself or hire the assistance of a professional to do the trimming for you.

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