How to Trim Dog Nails: A Guide for Dog Owners Everywhere

trimming dog nails

Many people are skittish about the idea of trimming their dog's nails. They're afraid of hurting the dog, and they'd rather just leave it to the professionals. However, it can be really helpful to learn how to trim dog nails yourself.

It's just like anything else. Learning how to do it yourself can save you a lot of money in the long run, and it can be very convenient.

It's not that hard to learn how to trim dog nails. It helps to learn a little bit about your dog's nails and why you should be keeping them trimmed. At the end of the day, it's all about your dog and his comfort.

Why Trim Your Dog's Nails?

woman trimming dog nails

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You might wonder why it's so important to learn how to trim dog nails. Why not just leave them alone? After all, you've gotten used to hearing that clicking sound that he makes every time you come home and he runs up to see you.

Pain in his paws

What a lot of people don't know is that when a dog's toenails get too long, they actually start to cause him pain. When these nails contact the hard ground, like your kitchen floor, the hard surface will push the nail back up into the nail bed.

When this happens, it puts unnecessary pressure on the joints of his toes. It could even force his toes to twist to the side. Neither of these is good because they can cause his toes to become sore and even arthritic.

It can actually make it so even the slightest touch is painful. If that is true, it could actually be why he doesn't even want you to pick up his paw to start to clip his nails.

dog legs

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Bad posture

However, this isn't even the worst of it. One thing you should know is that every animal relies on the nerves in their feet to give them information that helps them move around in the world.

Your dog may be your furry friend, but he's also the descendant of generations of wolves. For more generations than you can count, wild dogs have been running long distances while they were hunting. Because they were outside, the ground would naturally wear down their nails.

As a result, the nails of these wild dogs would be short. The only times their toenails would end up touching the ground was when they were climbing a hill. Because of this, a dog's brain is evolutionarily programmed to associate his nails touching the ground with being on a hill.

woman holding dog

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"Goat on a rock"

And because of this, when his nails touch the ground, he'll shift his body posture as if he was actually walking on a hill. He'll lean forward over his forelimbs because this is what the nerves in his toes are telling him to do.

And because he's not actually on a hill, his hind limbs will have to shift to compensate for the way his forelimbs are moving, in order for him to not fall onto the ground.

Many professionals would call this posture "goat on a rock," since it brings your dog's paws closer together underneath his body.

This posture actually takes a toll on your dog's body and is very hard to maintain. When your dog's walking like that constantly, his muscles and joints become overused, particularly in his hind limbs.

That can make it hard for your dog to climb stairs, jump up into a car, or even get up from lying down. It can actually be responsible for a lot of arthritis that you see in older dogs.

If you learn how to trim dog nails, it can be a source of real relief for your dog.

How to Trim Dog Nails

dog nails

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There are a few things you need to know when you're learning how to trim dog nails. Basically, you just need to know that the dog's toenail is made up of the nail itself and the quick. If your dog has white nails, the quick is the pink part, which provides the nail with its blood supply.

If your dog has black nails, the process is going to be a little bit more challenging. With black nails, it's a lot harder to see the quick.

The main thing you want to avoid when you're learning how to trim dog nails is cutting into the quick. It can bleed quite a bit and is very sensitive. That can actually cause your dog quite a bit of pain as well.


The process

The process of trimming dog nails isn't terribly long or complex, but you do need to make sure to do it the right way.

You definitely need to try to avoid cutting the quick, since this could cause your dog to stop trusting you. If he thinks you're going to cause him pain every time he sees the nail clippers, it's going to make the process a lot more difficult in the future.

1. Prep work

If you have a particularly skittish dog, it's a good idea to handle his paws often. Introduce the nail clippers on a frequent basis, without cutting, just to get him used to them. While you have the clippers in front of him, give him praise and treats, so that he learns to associate them with positive things.

2. Hold it...

Now, it's time to actually learn how to trim dog nails. Start off by holding your dog's foot. You need to hold it so that it's steady, but be as gentle as possible.

3. Bit by bit...

Cut just a little bit of your dog's nail below the quick at a 45-degree angle. Just take off small amounts at a time. If the nail feels spongy while you're trying to cut it, stop right away; this probably means you're going to cut into the quick, which will hurt your dog.

dog

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What if you can't see the quick?

If your dog has white nails, the process is relatively easy. After all, what you're trying to do is cut his nails as short as possible without actually cutting the quick. If the quick is visible (it usually is visible and pink on dogs with white nails), this is relatively easy to do.

However, a lot of dogs have black nails with black quicks. In these cases, the process becomes a little bit more challenging. However, it's not that different from trimming white dog nails.

Basically, you still want to hold your dog's paw firmly and gently, and cut a very small part of the nail to begin. After you've made one trim, look head-on at your dog's black nail. If the edge is whitish, you're still in the dead area, and it's safe to trim just a little bit more.

What you can do is continue making tiny cuts into your dog's nail. You should look at the end of your dog's nail after each of these cuts. As you approach the quick, the center of the nail is going to look black, not white; it may even look pink right before you get to the quick.

What you need to do is make very small cuts and stop as soon as you see a black or pink center on the nail's surface.

What to do if you cut the quick

Unfortunately, it's almost inevitable that you'll cut the quick at some point. Even practiced dog nail trimmers do this from time to time.

If you happen to nick your dog's quick, what you should do is apply styptic powder in order to stop the bleeding. If you don't have styptic powder, you can use cornstarch or perhaps flour.

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Even though your dog might scream out in pain, cutting the quick usually isn't an emergency situation. You probably don't need to go to the vet.

All you need to do is apply something to stop the bleeding. Also, give him a lot of praise and treats.

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In some cases, the dog will act normal and won't mind you handling his paws even after you cut the quick. However, if he's nervous, fearful, or screaming, you should stop for the day.

If he reacts badly to you cutting into the quick, you should keep in mind that he's probably not going to want to see that nail clipper again.

In this case, you'll want to do what you can to get him comfortable with it again by exposing him to it without actually using it. Give lots of praise and treats to create a positive association.

When to get help

Every dog is different. Like it or not, you may have a dog who just can't handle you trimming his nails. In this case, while it's still a good idea to know how to trim dog nails, you might want to enlist the help of a professional.

Dog groomers have dealt with all sorts of dogs, so they'll likely be able to do it. If you want someone even more reliable, you can go to the vet and have a vet tech do it.

Biting Your Nails in Anticipation for the Event...

woman trimming dogs nails

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As you can see, it's important to learn how to trim dog nails. However, there are things that you need to keep in mind.

Most dogs are not going to actually enjoy having their nails clipped, so you definitely want to do your best not to cut the quick. That could end up putting him off from letting you come near him with the nail clippers again.

If you want to leave it to the professionals, it's your decision. But it's definitely a good idea to learn how to trim dog nails. You just want to make the experience as positive as possible for your furry friend.

What do you think of everything we've told you about how to trim dog nails? Let us know by leaving us a comment below!

Featured image by: Freepik

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