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At-home nail cutting guide

The essentials

  • You can cut your dog’s nails at home — But you can also take them to a veterinarian or professional groomer to have it done for a nominal fee (usually less than $25).
  • Nail clipping is uncomfortable for dogs — It takes most dogs some time to get used to them, so it helps to be gentle and patient
  • It gets easier — Stay positive and exercise caution when trimming your dog’s nails. Before long, the process will be a lot easier for both of you. We’ll explain exactly how to cut your dog’s nails step-by-step.

While you can always get a vet or professional groomer to cut your dog’s nails, it’s a procedure that can be done safely at home if you don’t want to deal with the extra hassle or cost. Because nail trimming can be stressful for dogs, it’s best to get them used to it early. Some dogs prefer to sit on their owner’s lap or a table while you clip their nails, but other pups may not be as cooperative. Be gentle, stay patient, and offer plenty of praise and treats throughout the process.

When is it time to cut your dog’s nails?

Experts recommend trimming your dog’s nails every 3 to 4 weeks. However, a few common indicators suggest it might be time to trim your dog’s nails. Look out for signs like:

  • Loud, clacking footsteps. Overly long nails will make a dog’s footsteps significantly louder, especially on hard surfaces like concrete, wood, tile, or linoleum.
  • Excessive nail-biting. This usually indicates that a dog’s nails are bothering them.
  • Scratching. If your dog is scratching you or others every time they jump up to get some love, it’s probably time for a trim.

Tips for getting your dog comfortable

It takes most dogs some time to get comfortable with clipping and grooming, so maintain a friendly attitude and show them lots of patience while they’re still learning. We recommend giving your dog at least a few days to acclimate to the process before you actually start to trim  — but every dog is different, so only go at a pace your dog seems comfortable with. Don’t rush them through these steps.

Day 1: Get your dog used to the process

If your dog is still a puppy, it helps to frequently touch and hold their paws before trimming their nails. This makes their feet less sensitive when handled.  It also helps to let your dog sniff the nail clippers during this time. This helps them get comfortable with nail-clipping equipment and makes the whole process less scary. Offer praise and treats as you handle their paws and introduce them to the clippers; eventually, they’ll warm up to the idea.

Day 2: Touch the clippers to their paws

When your pup seems a bit more comfortable, you can begin gently touching the clippers to each paw to give them a better understanding of what the process will be like. As with the previous step, be sure to give them praise and treats while you do this to help them form a positive association with nail trimming.

Day 3: Introduce them to the sound

Continue touching the clipper to your pup’s paws, and squeeze it near each one so they can hear and get used to the sound. If you’re using a grinder, turn it on and let your dog feel the vibration and adapt to the noise. Give them a treat and praise afterward, but don’t do any trimming just yet.

Day 4 and onwards: Slowly start trimming

Once your dog seems sufficiently comfortable with the idea of the trimming process and the associated equipment, you can try trimming the tip of just one front paw nail to get started. Even if your dog seems comfortable, stop at one. And, of course, make sure to offer treats and praise afterward.

Continue working your way up from here, gently trimming additional nails as the days progress and your dog continues to get more comfortable. Even after this step, it helps to go through the motions of trimming around them even when you aren’t actually clipping any nails.

Some dogs also respond better to nail trimming in different parts of the house. Try trimming in different rooms and habitually perform the process in the room they seem most at ease in.

👉 If your dog still seems resistant to nail clipping even after you tried to make them more comfortable, you could also consider using supplements to calm their nerves. Ask a vet about medications like acepromazine, gabapentin, or trazodone if you think at-home sedation might be needed. 

How to cut your dog’s nails: step by step guide

Many different trimmers, scissors, and grinders are available for dog nail grooming. Use whichever one you and your dog are most comfortable with, and keep some styptic or clotting powder on hand in case of any nicks or cuts.

Pick up their paw — Firmly (but gently) place your thumb on the toe pad and position your forefinger on top of the toe on the skin above the nail. Make sure no fur is in the way before you start trimming.

Extend the nail — Push your thumb slightly up and back on the pad, and push your forefinger forward to extend the nail.

Clip the tips — Only clip the nail tips straight across each one. Don’t forget to clip the dewclaws, too — these nails are on the inner side of the paw.

Repeat for each nail — Avoid trimming past the curve of each nail. This will put the nail’s quick (the pink part of the nail that contains blood vessels and nerve endings) at risk of being cut. Cuts here cause bleeding and a lot of pain. If your dog has dark nails, you can find the quick by looking for a chalky white ring.

👉 If it’s your first time cutting your dog’s nails, start by removing small amounts until you get comfortable with where the quick of the nail is.

A Close-Up Shot of a Person Cutting a Dog's Nail

How to use a grinder to trim a dog’s nails

Grinders tend to be a bit louder than traditional nail clippers since they’re electrical, but they can also be more efficient if used correctly. Some dogs even prefer the feel of an electrical grinder over the jarring cuts of manual nail clippers. Most contemporary grinders are wireless; some require physical batteries while others are rechargeable.

Follow these steps and safety precautions to give your dog a professional-looking trim without causing any unwanted stress or discomfort.

Safety first

Once you’ve procured a safe grinding tool, it’s important to make sure there won’t be any hair in the way when you start grinding. If your dog has long hair, use hair ties to hold it up and prevent it from catching in the grinder’s spinning tip. If long hair is on your dog’s paws or between their foot pads, you’ll want to trim it before you grind.

Start off slow

Start by getting your dog used to the grinder just like you would a traditional pair of nail clippers. This may take some time, but remember to stay patient and offer up plenty of praise and treats throughout the process.

Once they seem sufficiently comfortable with the device, you can slowly start to grind. Make sure to hold them securely with the paw you’re working on extended, and be ready to make frequent stops to comfort or reposition them if they show any signs of struggling.

One Nail at a Time

Supporting your dog’s paw gently but firmly, begin to grind off small parts of one nail. You should only grind one nail at a time, starting at the bottom of the tip and slowly bringing it up and around to the top. When you reach the top of the nail tip, slowly work your way back to the starting point.

Repeat this process until you’ve removed the sharp nail tip, but be careful not to overdo it and grind into the quick, as this will make the nail bleed. For better control, we recommend holding the body of the grinder toward the top of the nail.

Smooth Out Rough Edges

When you’ve taken off the desired length, you can use the grinder to polish off the trimmed nail tips. You can do this by gently running it in a circular motion around the tip until sufficiently smooth.

When you’ve finished one nail, repeat the entire process for the next until every nail is trimmed and polished. Remember to take note of any sensitivities your dog exhibits during the trimming and stop grinding if they seem afraid or uncomfortable.

What happens if you avoid cutting your dog’s nails?

Nail trimming isn’t just about looks. Unhealthy nails can cause dogs a lot of pain and, in rare cases, even lead to irreversible damage. Untrimmed dog nails also tend to have longer quicks, which means there’s a bigger chance for pain and discomfort when their nails do eventually get cut.

Regular nail trimming will cause the quicks to recede, leading to easier maintenance and an all-around better experience for you and your dog. It will also help avoid complications like:

  • Broken nails. Dog nails normally wear down naturally on hard surfaces like sidewalks, but many still need trimming to avoid overgrowth. Longer nails are more likely to snag and break — just be careful not to cut them too short.
  • Nail infections. Infections are common in dogs because their paws are in constant contact with everyday surfaces and germs. Even tiny cuts can become infected if left unattended.
  • Nail biting. Dogs bite their nails for all kinds of reasons, from irritation caused by allergens to full-blown infections. Regular grooming is the best way to keep their nails healthy, clean, and feeling good.

Frequently asked questions

What do I need to cut my dog’s nails at home?

Cutting your dog’s nails at home is easier than you might think. For starters, you need a good pair of clippers, styptic or clotting powder, and plenty of treats. You also want to make sure your pet is comfortable while trimming their nails. You can do this by having them sit on your lap or a sturdy chair and giving them praise between each nail.

I’m a beginner — can I still cut my dog’s nails at home?

Even if you don’t have a ton of experience trimming your dog’s nails, you should still be able to work up to it at home. Once your dog seems comfortable with their paws being handled and has familiarized themselves with the clippers, it’s time to trim.

How do I cut my dog’s nails at home?

Firmly place your thumb on the toe pad and position your forefinger on the skin above the nail. Then push your thumb up and back on the pad while pushing your forefinger forward to extend the nail. Clip just the tip and cut straight across to avoid hitting the sensitive quick (the pink part that contains blood vessels and nerve endings). Repeat this process for each nail.

In what direction do you cut a dog’s nails?

Dog nails should be cut from underneath at a 45-degree angle.

How often do I need to cut my dog’s nails?

A dog’s nails usually need a trim every four to six weeks, depending on your dog’s activity level.

How often do I need to cut my dog’s nails?

While nail trimming is very uncomfortable for dogs, it only hurts them if the quicks of their nails are cut. Keep at-home trimmings to the tips only to avoid this.