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How to Trim Your Dog's Nails

Trimming a dog’s nails takes calmness and positivity.

Trimming your dog's nails can help reduce the incidence of nail injuries, prepare them for the application of Soft Paws, and generally help keep your dog well-groomed and healthy.

However, trimming a dog's nails doesn't always come naturally for people, and not all dogs particularly like having it done. Here, we've compiled a step-by-step guide for trimming your dog's claws.

Steps for Trimming a Dog's Claws

If your dog is just learning to have her claws trimmed, you may have to get her used to it slowly and patiently. That might mean that you need to trim a few nails one day, then take it up again another day. The main goal is to keep things calm and make sure it's a positive experience for your dog, so she learns to tolerate it well.

  • It can help to exercise your dog before the claw trimming. If she is full of energy, sitting still and having her paws handled may be difficult for your dog. A game of fetch or a nice walk prior to trimming the claws, or doing so when your dog is naturally getting tired just prior to bedtime, can help her stay relaxed and more still for you.
  • Trimming the nails of a slightly hungry dog might go better. If you trim your dog's claws when her tummy is a bit rumbly, things might be easier. Your dog will be even more eager to cooperate for the yummy treats you have waiting to be doled out.
  • Many dogs require two people for a successful claw trim. Having a helper available who can steady your dog, hold a paw up for you, distract her with encouraging words or treats, or just keep her from getting up and walking away can make the process smoother.
  • A small dog may do better on a table. Being up on a table can help a small dog understand that she needs to be still for a procedure. It can also help you maintain better comfort so you can trim the claws more easily. Use a mat or towel under her to reduce slipping.
  • Have your dog sit, and gently lift one paw at a time. It helps to be on the same side of the dog as the paw you are working on. Move to the other side or have your dog turn around when it's time to do the opposite paws.
  • Push back any fur that keeps you from seeing the claw well. Some dogs may not have this issue, but others may have quite a bit of fur obscuring your view.
  • Use the appropriate nail trimmers for your dog's size. Small dogs and puppies may have claws that can be trimmed with human clippers, but nail clippers made for dogs are usually the best way to go. Ask your groomer or veterinarian which clippers they recommend for your dog's size and claw thickness. For most dogs, we like guillotine type clippers.
  • Be prepared. Before you start the claw trimming, make sure you have everything you might need close by. Succulent treats to give periodically, along with praise, your clippers, and something to handle bleeding if a nail is clipped too short should all be gathered. If a claw is trimmed too short and it bleeds, don't panic. Simply apply a pinch styptic powder, flour, or cornstarch firmly to the nail with your thumb until the bleeding stops.
  • Trim the tips from your dog's claws. There are a blood vessel and nerve that travel down each of your dog's claws. If the claw is white, you can see the pink blood vessel and avoid it. A black claw can be trickier. In general, it's safest to trim your dog's claws once a week or so, removing only the tip. That keeps the blood vessel from growing out too long, making it less likely that you will hit it while trimming.

Further Tips and Things to Keep in Mind During Canine Nail Trims

Remember to keep yourself calm and your voice peaceful. Your dog will get worked up if you do. Use lots of praise whenever your dog is still and allows you to trim. Never use punishment or yell if your dog doesn't cooperate; this will only make her more afraid and uncooperative. If your dog is struggling, go more slowly. Even trimming one claw a day at first is a success.

If your dog is aggressive toward you at all, stop immediately. Your veterinarian or groomer may need to handle nail trims for your dog.

If you have a puppy, start with gentle paw handling routinely multiple times a day, then progress to holding the paw for a moment, and eventually to trimming claws.

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