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Cutting Dog Nails at Home

on July 8, 2015
Posted in Dogs

How to Prepare your Dog Before Trimming

Before you start trimming your dog’s nails, let your dog get used to you handling his paws. A few days before you start cutting dog nails, practice holding your dog on your lap — or on a table if the dog is bigger than average — and gently hold each paw in your hands, pressing gently. Make it a gentle, loving activity, and you should reward your dog with a little treat each time he lets you handle his paws without trying to resist you. The next step is to simply pick up the nail clippers, show them to your dog and then automatically reward the dog with a treat. This way, the dog first sees the clippers as a positive thing that results in a reward. Half an hour before trimming dog nails, take him outside to relieve himself, offer some water to drink and a little doggie treat. Keep extra treats aside to reward them after you’re done trimming. Sometimes the activity of trimming dog nails can make a high-strung pet feel more anxious, so you can help calm your pet by giving him a dose of a relaxing, herbal product like Stress Gold, made for situations your dog normally finds stressful or anxiety-provoking. Your dog only needs to take it about 30 minutes before you start trimming to feel more calm. You’ll need to be in a quiet room where you can focus and where you have good lighting to see the nails clearly. If your dog is small, then trimming your dog’s nails is often easiest and more relaxing for them when you hold your dog on your lap. Remember that if you act cool about the whole process, your dog is much more likely to remain at ease.

What Clippers Should You Use for Cutting Dog Nails?

Guillotine-style clippers work better than the scissor-type cutters, which are really only meant for excessively long nails that are curling far back in toward your dog’s foot. You’ll recognize the traditional guillotine clippers by the way they allow the cutting edge to easily slide across the round hole where you’ll insert the tip of your pet’s nails. The scissor-style cutters are generally larger and look just like a pair of scissors, except they’ll have a rounded area in the side of each cutting edge to accommodate the tip of your dog’s nails.

Try This Technique for Cutting Dog Nails

  • Just before trimming dog nails, look closely at each nail. You’ll want to begin with white or light-colored nails because that’s where the “quick” is most clearly visible. The quick is the pinkish area of blood vessels at the top of the claw that’s closest to the foot, and you don’t want to risk accidentally cutting into the quick and hurting your dog. The easiest way to trim nails on larger dogs is by hugging and gently leaning over them on a table so that your arms can firmly press the dog down if needed. This way, they have less room to move while you cut.
  • You may want to feed your dog a tasty treat during the trimming to keep him happy!
  • Always hold the clippers (guillotine-style) so that your hand is positioned vertically to the dog’s foot. The side of the cutters where you can see the top of the screws should face you every time that you trim dog nails. Make sure not to cut any closer than two millimeters from the pink-colored quick. You’ll get a smoother cut by cutting quickly.
  • When the dog’s claws are black, you can’t see the quick at all. In that case, you must cautiously make smaller cuts and check the appearance of the dog’s claw after each cut you make. When the claw’s surface turns more than half white, stop cutting. This is how you know you’re getting close to the highly sensitive quick area.
  • If you do accidentally make a mistake and cut into the quick while trimming pet nails, you can apply a product like Kwik Stop brand styptic powder to stop the bleeding like many professional groomers and veterinarians do. However, you can also just apply pressure to the nail and use cornstarch to help the bleeding stop as well.

How to Trim Dog Nails if Your Pet Begins to Struggle

If your dog has any fearful reactions, it may be that your dog has not become fully adjusted to the clippers yet. Don’t force your pet to remain still when they show signs of extreme fright. Simply spend another week training them by bringing out the nail cutters once or twice a day; giving him a treat as soon as he sees the cutters. Let your dog sit next to you and just gently touch the cutters to his paw for a few seconds without trying to cut. Immediately reward the dog with another treat for letting you touch him with the cutters. In this way, your dog will associate the cutters with positive experiences and lose fear. Once you can bring out the cutters and simply handle the paws in a soothing way while your dog stays relaxed, then your pet is ready for you to try trimming the nails once more. If all else fails, take your pet to a veterinarian or professional dog groomer for a nail trim.

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Our Expert

Dr. Janice Huntingford
Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan

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