Dog owner trimming his dog's nails with Wahl clippers

How to Trim Dog Nails

Keeping your dog’s nails trimmed is a critical part of the grooming routine. If your dog’s nails get too long, it can be painful for them and cause health problems down the road. However, many dog owners dread trimming their dog’s nails themselves because it is often associated with anxiety and pain.

Cut and trim your dog’s nails the easy way

The truth is, with a little guidance and patience, pet nail trimming can be simple and stress-free for you and your dog. So, how do you trim dog nails? Here’s a step-by-step guide:

  • 1

    Gather your supplies

    Here are the things you’ll need to make trimming your dog’s nails a success:

    • Dog Nail Grinder or Dog Nail Clippers
    • Emery board or file
    • Styptic powder and dry cloth, in case of bleeding
    • Dog treats
  • 2

    Distract your dog with treats

    Unless your dog has been through the nail trimming process multiple times, chances are they’re going to give you some resistance or try to squirm away. That’s where the treats come in. We recommend a lick mat with peanut butter. While your dog is busy licking, you can be trimming.

  • 3

    Get ready to trim

    Carefully pick up the first paw and isolate one of the nails. Separate the fur around the nail so it is out of the way. To identify how far up the nail you need to cut, look at the bottom of the nail.

    For white nails, you can safely cut up to the pink center. For dogs with black nails, you can cut up to the black center. It’s important not to trim any farther because you will cut into the quick, which is the soft cuticle within a dog’s nail. Cutting into the quick will hurt your dog and cause them to bleed.

  • 4

    Start with one nail

    It’s time to grab your nail-cutting tool of choice. We recommend the Wahl Grind & Smooth Cordless Pet Nail Grinder. It allows you to safely grind and smooth the nail and comes with a protective cap that protects your dog’s paws from rubbing against the grinder. You can also stop and inspect as you go.

    If you prefer to clip your dog’s nails, the Wahl Dog Nail Clipper will do the trick. Just cut a little at a time, stopping to make sure you’re not cutting into the quick.

    For either tool, start at the bottom on a 45-degree angle to the nail and work your way up. If you do cut into the quick, not to worry. Grab a cloth to wipe the blood and put a dab of Styptic powder on the wound.

  • 5

    Move onto the other nails

    After you cut the first nail, it’s time to move on to the other nails. And since you’ve mastered one nail and know how far up you need to cut, the rest of the nails will go much smoother and faster. Just be sure to continue isolating one nail at a time and moving the fur out of the way so it doesn’t contact the grinder or nail cutter.

  • 6

    Smooth things out

    Once you’ve cut all the nails, inspect them to see if there are any rough edges. If you find some, grab your emery board or file and gently file the rough spots back and forth until they’re smooth.

  • 7

    Reward your dog

    It’s treat time! Or, in this case, more treats. And hey, your dog deserves it for being so cooperative. Even if they were a little wiggly, rewarding them now will make the next time easier for them—and you.

Your Questions About Nail Trimming:

How often should you cut or trim your dog’s nails?
In general, your dog should have their nails trimmed about once a month. However, it depends on how often your dog runs or walks on pavement or another hard surface. For dogs that get routine walks, the pavement helps to do much of this work for you because each time they step, their nails rub and wear down.

How do you know if your dog’s nails are too long?
The easiest way to tell if your dog needs their nails trimmed is when you hear them clicking against the hard floor when they walk. You can also visually inspect the nails and if they naturally touch the ground as your dog is standing, then they need to be trimmed.

Can long nails affect my dog’s health?
Yes, long nails that are not naturally worn down or trimmed can cause your dog pain in the short term and potential joint and toe problems in the long-term. As the nails become longer, your dog’s toes must adjust to reduce the pain, which could lead to deformities if the issue is not dealt with.

How do you hold and use a dog nail clipper?
Most dog nail clippers feature a spring-action, two-handled design in which you hold one handle with your thumb and the other with your four fingers. When clipping nails, you simply position the part of the nail you want to cut between the two blades and squeeze your hand to cut. The best way to ensure you’re cutting only the part of the nail you want to cut is to use the bottom blade as your guide, holding that to the nail and pulling the top blade down to cut.

What happens if you cut the quick?
If you cut into the quick, you’re likely to cause your dog’s nail to bleed. If this happens, don’t panic. Simply grab your dry cloth to wipe away the blood and hold it on the affected area. Then remove the cloth and dab a small amount of Styptic powder on the wound to stop the bleeding. Make sure to reassure your dog that everything is okay, so they don’t become too stressed out. Reward them with a treat to help take their mind off the incident.

Find more tips on how to stop dog nail bleeding.

How far should you cut your dog’s nails?
A dog’s nail is made of two parts—the hard outer shell and soft inner part, which is where the quick is. This area is very sensitive and contains blood vessels. When cutting your dog’s nails, it is important to cut a little at a time and inspect the bottom of the nail to see how close you are to the quick. You want to cut close to the quick but not into it.

How do you cut dark nails?
It is more difficult to identify the quick in dogs with black or dark nails, at first. However, once you begin trimming, you’ll notice that the hard outer shell of the nail where you were cutting will be chalky white. You’ll know where the quick is when you start to see a black center inside the chalky shell. If you can barely see the black center, you can continue cutting. Once it gets wider and more prominent, it’s time to stop trimming. If you see some pink inside the black center, you don’t want to trim anymore because cutting into that will result in bleeding.

What to use

Need help deciding what you need?

Wahl has a full line of pet-grooming products that will let you handle brushing to bathing in the comfort of your own home.

Product Selector

More Dog Grooming Tips

Related Videos

Wahl Oatmeal Formula Pet Shampoo

Wahl Dog Grooming Clipper