How I Met My Dog

Easy Does It: How to Easily Trim your Dogs Nails

Trimming your dog’s nails may feel like a daunting duty to take on, but learning how to master this quick task will not only be good for your dog’s well-being, it will also save you both time and money.

Why Do I Need to Cut My Dog’s Nails?

So why do you need to cut your dog’s nails in the first place?

Surprisingly, it’s not for cosmetic reasons. One of the biggest reasons a dog needs regular nail trimmings is that long nails can not only be painful for dogs, they can also cause posture problems and potentially lead to injury.

Unless your dog is incredibly active and takes daily long walks on sidewalks or hard surfaces that fill the role of a nail file, it’s likely that their nails will need trimming a few times a month.

When left unattended, increasingly long nails will start to cause pain in a dog’s toe joints. Walking on surfaces such as a hardwood floor can become difficult and painful. If you can hear your dog’s nails clicking on the hardwood floors, your floors are at risk for scratching and your dog might be in pain. This pain is caused by the reverberating force of each step that comes up from the floor and into the toe joint.

The ancestors of our domestic dogs would naturally wear down their nails in the wild. When they would walk on even surfaces, their nails would not make contact with the ground. When they were running uphill, their paw position would shift and their nails would act as a grip mechanism on their ascent. From years of running, hunting and climbing in the wild, dog’s brains have evolved to associate nails pushing into the ground as a cue for being on an uphill surface.

If your dogs nails are long and pushing into the flat ground like the floors in your house, the result is a shift in the dog’s posture as the forelimbs lean forward, the weight distribution causes the hindlimbs move closer together. This change in posture can result in overstressed joints which can prematurely cause arthritis or lead to injury.

Lastly, in extreme cases when your dog’s nails are left untrimmed for an extended period they can become very painful in-grown nails.

Tools You’ll Need

So now that you know why your dog needs that mani-pedi every week or two, what will you need to pull this off? Here are the tools you should have by your side:

If your dog can get used to the electronic nail file you may prefer that option as it eliminates any chance of cutting the dog’s quick (more on this later).

Once you’re used to trimming your dog’s nails, nicking the quick won’t be a worry. But for beginners you’ll want to take extra care. If you cut too far down and the nail starts bleeding, having clotting powder nearby will turn a panic moment into a manageable moment, and a quick healing process.

While the dremel style trimmer does eliminate any chance of a bad cut, it’s not as quick as using scissor or guillotine style trimmers, and it may just tickle your dog too much to be a reliable option. If you end up choosing between the guillotine or scissor style, we recommend the scissor style as the guillotine trimmers can pull on the dog’s nails.

How to Get Your Dog Used to Trimmers

Dogs have a variety of receptors and nerves at the end of their paws, which makes them unlikely to willingly hand over each paw as if they were in a salon. You are already fighting an uphill battle when you approach your dog with a fistful of scissors and what they perceive to be bad intentions.

To prevent your dog from freaking out every time the trimmers come out, try acting out different motions and giving a treat to your dog after each one. Eg. You can bring the trimmers towards your dog’s paws while not actually cutting anything, and then give a treat. You can also try making the trimming motion along with the clicking sound, and then hand out another treat. If you do this enough your dog will start to think, “treat time!” every time the trimmers come out.

Take the first week with your new trimmers to periodically reinforce positive outcomes with your dog before taking the next step and actually trimming nails.

How to Use Trimmers

Pro Tip from our team member Kyle:

“A technique I’ve found helpful when trimming my dog Ava’s nails is getting on a bed or a couch and having Ava lie on her back between my legs, with her head at my feet. In this position she can feel secure between my legs and it allows me to easily handle both the trimmer and her claws.

This position also has the advantage of having a view of the undersides of her paws. Being able to see her paws from this point of view allows me to easily see and avoid cutting her quick. Taking her paw into one hand for stability I’m able to easily trim right above the quick with the other hand and move on to the next nail quickly.”

If your dog doesn’t like rolling over on their back like Ava, try having your dog sit or lie down somewhere comfortable like their dog bed. Either sit next to them, or, if they are small enough, pick them up in a position that gives you the freedom to manage their paws and their body. Finding the perfect nail trimming set up and positioning may take some trial and error but once you find the sweet spot, the whole process gets much easier.

Remember, taking a break between paws or when your dog starts to squirm is not a bad thing! Especially when first starting out, taking a treat break to reinforce a positive outcome can help keep your dog calm, and lead to future successful trimming sessions.

Of course, there are a variety of techniques you can use to trim your dog’s nails. The key is finding a method that works for you and your dog.

How to Get the Quick to Recede

 The main enemy of the nail-trimming process is the soft, spongy “quick” that looks a lot like a vein underneath the nail. If nicked with trimmers, the quick will start bleeding and without clotting powder it can be hard to stop.

If you’ve let your dog’s nails grow out a little too long, the quick has grown with it. This means that there’s only so much of the nail that you can trim off before you get to the quick.

The only way to get the quick to recede is to trim little bits of your dog’s nails more often. The nerve endings at the end of the quick naturally look to recede further beneath the nail for protection, so the more often you trim the nails, the faster the quick will recede.

Save Time and Money While Keeping Your Dog Happy and Healthy!

 We’ve told you about the advantages to consistently trimming your dog’s nails and given you some tips to feel more confident in taking on this task. If you’re still on the fence, try it! If you don’t want to try trimming your dogs nails, that’s ok too! Just remember that nail trimming is about more than just pretty toenails, it’s about your dogs everyday comfort and long-term health. Bringing your dog to the vet to have their nails trimmed monthly is a safe and smart alternative to nail trimming at home. 

Keep Calm and Carry On

Dogs are highly intuitive creatures that quickly pick up on the energy of their humans. If you want your dog to remain calm in stressful situations, remember to lead by example.

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