Trimming Dog Nails: The Ultimate Guide to Stress-Free Nail Clipping and How to Cut Your Dog’s Nails

Trimming dog nails doesn’t have to be stressful. Learn how to hold clippers, what direction to cut, and when to stop trimming. Read more to find out.

This expert guide to trimming dog nails was written by the Petful team, with contributions from veterinarians and animal care experts. The article was last reviewed and updated on May 9, 2024

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Trimming the dog’s nails? Your pet may not love the idea. Photo: hannahkrajewski

If you’re anything like us, the thought of trimming dog nails leaves you a little uneasy.

Too many images of clipped quicks and nonstop bleeding probably have you heading to the groomer every time those nails need a trim.

The problem is your dog needs their nails trimmed every month or so. Packing up and making a trip out to your nearest groomer isn’t practical. Not only that, but also the price adds up, too.

But cutting your dog’s nails doesn’t have to be scary or nerve-racking.

With the right knowledge and tools, you can take over your groomer’s job as an expert nail clipper and keep your dog freshly trimmed all the time.

Why Trimming Dog Nails is Important

  • Prevents Injury and discomfort
  • Reduces the risk of nails splitting or breaking
  • Protects your furniture and floors
  • Helps your dog maintain better posture and mobility

Choose the Right Clippers for Trimming a Dog’s Nails

Before you can take control of nail trimming, you need the right clippers, and the options at the pet store can leave you easily confused.

Scissor clippers: These work just like a regular pair of scissors do. When shopping around, look for a pair with a safety guard, like the ones pictured below, which will help keep you from over-cutting your dog’s nails.

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Dog Scissor Clippers with Safety Guard

Guillotine clippers: These have a loop where your dog’s nail slips through and a blade slides across like a guillotine. They are not ideal for large dogs

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Dog Guillotine Clippers

Scissor clippers work well for all sizes of dog, while the guillotine style is sometimes too small for large dogs.

How to Prepare Your Dog for Nail Trimming

Your pup may be nervous when it’s time for trimming dog nails, and a jumpy dog makes the process hard on you.

To get your dog in as calm a state as possible, try trimming the nails after playtime or a long walk. When your dog is already tired, they’ll be less likely to react to the grooming session.

Another option is to try after they’ve eaten a meal or better yet after a play session and a meal. Tiring them out and getting them relaxed will give you the best opportunity to take your time while clipping the dog’s nails.

If your dog won’t calm down or you still don’t feel comfortable attempting the trim, head to your vet or groomer and have them walk you through it first.

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Ask your vet or groomer for advice on trimming dog nails safely. Photo: kitty.green66

Step-by-Step Dog Nail Clipping Guide

Throughout the entire process, have treats on hand and be prepared to give your dog lots of praise.

Nail trimming can be a stressful experience for your dog, so make sure they know they’re in safe hands. Reward them for good behavior and reassure them when they’re nervous.

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Illustration courtesy: VetBabble

To safely clip a dog’s nails, follow the steps below:

Find the Quick
If you can see the quick inside your dog’s nail, trimming will be much easier.

If your dog has clear or light-colored nails, you should be able to see the quick, which looks like a reddish line running through the center.

Quicks are hard to see in dogs with dark nails. Fortunately, if you have nail trimmers with a safety guard, avoiding the quick will be a lot easier.

Hold Firmly
If you’re new to trimming dog nails, you might automatically try holding your dog’s foot from the front, while you’re facing them (as if you were asking them to “shake” and place their paw in your hand).

You’ll have more control, though, if you and your dog are facing the same direction. While trimming, the pad of their paw should be in the palm of your hand, and your thumb should be on top of their paw, facing the same direction as their toes.

Holding your dog’s paw like that will let you move your thumb from toe to toe as you trim, holding each toe down between your thumb and fingers as you go. Imagine holding your TV remote and pressing a button with your thumb. You should hold your dog’s paws and toes in the same way.

If you feel more comfortable with your thumb underneath their paw and the rest of your hand on top, that’s OK, too. Experiment with what position gives you the most control while trimming.

Use a firm grip in case your dog jerks, but make sure not to squeeze too hard — you could cause your pet major discomfort.

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Your dog’s paw pad should be in the palm of your hand, and your thumb should be on top of their paw. Photo: Pavel Rodimov

Start Trimming
Always start by trimming small portions of their nails first. It’s better to cut too little of the nail than too much because you can always come back later for touch-ups.

Your dog’s nails have a curve to them. At the end of each nail, you’ll notice it “hooks” down — this is the part of the nail you should cut.

As you’re cutting the hook, position the trimmers so they’re under your dog’s paw and running parallel to the bottom of the pad.

What Direction to Cut Dog Nails
The cut will be horizontal on your dog’s nails, which might leave a sharp point at the top of each nail. You can go back and trim vertically to cut that small point off.

Watch this video for a great demonstration of trimming dog nails correctly:

YouTube player

Smooth the Edges
After trimming your dog’s nails, they’ll likely be rough and scratchy around the edges.

You can use a regular nail file to gently smooth them out. Doing so will keep you and your furniture scratch-free.

How to Cut Your Dog’s Nail When They Won’t Let You:

  • Ask for Help: Have someone gently hold your dog.
  • Desensitize: Gradually introduce the process by touching the clippers to their paws.
  • Rewards: Treats and praise for calm behavior.
  • Seek Professional Guidance: Consult a vet or groomer.

When to Stop Trimming Dog Nails

In most cases, it’s best to stop trimming your dog’s nails approximately 2-3 mm away from the quick to avoid causing pain or injury. Here’s how to know when to stop:

  • Light-Colored Nails: If your dog has light-colored nails, you’ll be able to see the quick, which appears as a reddish line within the nail. Cut 2-3 mm away from this line.
  • Dark-Colored Nails: For dogs with dark nails, the quick is not visible. Trim just the very tip off the nail initially. Gradually remove 1-2 mm of nail at a time until you’re near the point where the nail starts to curve.
  • Overgrown Nails: In dogs who have not received regular trims, the quick may have grown almost to the end of the nail. Make a series of small cuts to work the nail back gradually.
  • Dewclaws: Don’t forget to trim dewclaws (smaller nails on the inner side of the paw) that can become overgrown or grow into the paw pad.

Accidentally Cutting the Quick

If you accidentally cut the quick while trimming dog nails, stay calm.

Your pet may yelp or jump. Keeping a steady voice to relax them will help give you the opportunity to stop the bleeding.

Make sure you have styptic powder on hand, which is used by groomers to quickly clot blood when trimming nails.

Press the powder firmly onto the end of their nail and hold that pressure until the bleeding stops. It might take a few minutes, so keep using the styptic powder if the bleeding continues.

Treats, Praise, and Consistency

After the nail-trimming session is over, make sure you reward your dog with treats and love.

The more consistently you cut the nails (followed by lots of praise), the less your dog will associate nail trimming with stress and discomfort.

If you find trimming dog nails to be too difficult or if you can’t get your pet to cooperate, consider asking your veterinarian or groomer to walk you through the first few trimmings during your next several appointments. A little reassurance and moral support can go a long way in getting both you and your dog at ease.

Remember, trimming dog nails can be a stressful situation for your pup, so take things slowly.

The more comfortable your dog is, the easier nail trimming will be for both of you.


Trimming dog nails can be a stressful situation for your pup, so take things slowly. The more comfortable your dog is, the easier nail trimming will be for both of you.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

How to hold dog nail clippers?

Hold your dog’s paw with the pad in your palm and your thumb on top, facing the same direction as their toes. Position the clippers parallel to the bottom of the paw pad for better control.

Do I really need to trim my dog’s nails?

Yes, trimming your dog’s nails is important to prevent discomfort, injury, and overgrown nails that can affect their posture and mobility. Regular trims also protect your furniture and floors.

How far back do you cut a dog’s nails?

Cut your dog’s nails approximately 2-3 mm away from the quick to avoid causing pain or injury. For dogs with dark nails where the quick isn’t visible, trim just the very tip initially and work back gradually.