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How to Cut Dog Nails: A Step-by-Step Guide

You'll want to remember these pointers if you're taking grooming into your own hands.

Taking care of your dog is a responsibility that begins when they're puppies and continues through their senior years. In addition to being mindful about what you feed them and looking out for any potential health issues, you'll also want to master basic grooming, such as how to cut your dog's nails. Whether you're a hands-on pet owner who likes to be able to help out their canine when they need it most or simply notice your dog's paws need some attention between grooming visits, doing this important task the right way isn't as hard as it looks. Read on for a step-by-step guide on how to trim dog nails safely, according to pet experts.

RELATED: Ticks on Dogs: How to Find Them and Safely Remove Them.

Do You Have to Cut Your Dog's Nails?

A woman trimming a dog's nails in the bathrom

Keeping your dog's nails trimmed is part of a regular grooming cycle. While it's a seemingly simple task, experts warn that the health of their nails can have a major impact on your dog's health.

"Not all dogs need their nails trimming, but it is important to check them regularly and be prepared to trim them if they get overlong," Kathryn Dench, DVM, veterinary surgeon and chief scientific advisor to Paw Origins, tells Best Life. "Long nails can lead to discomfort, affect their walking and posture, and even cause long-term joint problems."

She points out that dogs who do a lot of walking, running, or digging on relatively hard ground or surfaces are typically less likely to need a nail trim, as their nails grind down naturally during their daily activities.

How Do You Know When It's Time to Trim Your Dog's Nails?

A close up of a dog's paw

To the untrained eye, it may be hard to tell when dog nails have gotten too long. That's where your ears can come into play.

"If you hear clicking on the floor as they walk, if the nails start to curl, or if they snag on fabric or carpet, it's definitely time to trim your dog's nails," says Nita Vasudevan, DVM, veterinary consultant for Embrace Pet Insurance. "Regularly checking your dog's nails every couple of weeks can help you maintain an appropriate length."

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How to Cut Dog Nails Safely

A close up of a woman cutting a dog's nails

While no two animals are the same, it's still important to approach nail trimming the right way to help ensure success. Just follow the following steps.

Have the Right Tools Ready

Trimming dog nails safely at home can be tricky. That's why Vasudevan says you have to ensure you are using the right tools.

"Investing in good-quality nail clippers or a nail grinding tool for dogs is crucial," she suggests.

Make Sure Your Dog Is Prepared

Regular nail trimming requires your dog to be comfortable with the process beforehand. Fortunately, there's a way to prepare them.

"Get the pup accustomed to having paws touched," says Steve Dale, certified animal behavior consultant. "Offer treats as you watch Netflix shows, or whatever you do as you relax and your dog is relaxed and just simply massage [their] paws while offering treats. Make it all positive and fun."

Get Your Pet Accustomed to the Sight of Clippers

Anxious dogs can sometimes react to the mere sight of an object they're apprehensive of—especially if they've had a bad experience. Because of this, Dale says you might have to reassure them that your tools aren't going to hurt them.

"Take out the clipper from a new location than where you usually keep it and place it a few feet from their food dish. Then, just leave it there, as if it's a piece of furniture," he suggests. "Randomly drop treats around it, so the clipper is a kind of treat dispenser. Over time, move it closer and closer to the food dish, so the pup associates the clipper with something very nice like a meal: When the clipper comes out, so does the meal. Now your dog is excited to see the clipper!"

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Take It Slowly

Once you're ready to start clipping dog nails, it's important not to rush things.

"Cut just one dog's nail or maybe two…but quit while you're ahead. And give the dog treats," Dale recommends. "The next day—assuming all went well—cut a few more nails."

He says clipping dog nails is something that should be done with confidence but nonchalantly.

"Don't act as if you expect there to be a problem. And simultaneously, ideally, with another pair of hands offering something such as moist food or great treats," he says. "The preparation for a positive experience combined with the distraction should do the trick."

Learn From the Pros

If you are having trouble mastering the process, you can learn from the pros. Consider going in for a brief demo from a pet expert.

"A smart thing to do is bring [your dog] in to have [their nails] cut by a professional groomer, licensed vet tech, or your veterinarian and have them teach you," says Marty Goldstein, DVM, veterinarian and educational contributor at Pet Supplies Plus.

How to Avoid Cutting Your Dog's Nails Too Short

A close up of a dog's paw having the nails clipped
Victoria Sharratt/Shutterstock

"The most important thing when trimming nails is not cutting them too short in the area known as the quick, which contains blood vessels," says Goldstein. "This will cause pain and bleeding."

To avoid cutting the quick, Dench says to trim just a small amount of the nail at a time. "If your dog has light-colored or clear nails, you can probably easily see a pink area. That's the quick: Stop cutting at least 2 millimeters before it."

Vasudevan says in the event you accidentally cut the quick, use flour or styptic powder to help stop bleeding and contact your veterinarian.

How to Find a Dog's Nail Quick

Never assume you know exactly where the quick is on your pet as it can grow out longer over time, Goldstein says. However, there are some tricks to finding it.

"For dark nails, look at the underside of the nail and stop where it starts to hollow out," says Dench. "Using a flashlight can also help highlight the quick within the inner side nail where the blood vessel is, and some nail clippers even come with built-in lights."

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How to Cut a Dew Claw

Close up of a dog's dew claw

Not all nails that require maintenance are located on your dog's paw. One higher up on their leg, known as a dew claw, might be of particular concern.

"Dew claws require careful attention as they do not wear down naturally," Dench says. "Hold it gently, isolate it from the fur, and trim it as you would with the other nails, being cautious of the quick, which may be closer to the tip than in other nails."


If you're planning on grooming your pet at home, learning how to cut dog nails the right way is absolutely essential to their health. Owners should make their dog comfortable with the act before beginning the process by offering treats as they get accustomed to the tools and having their paws touched. Once you get started, go slowly, trimming your dog's nails a little bit at a time or even over the course of a few days.

The most important thing to remember is to avoid cutting the quick located in dog nails, which can cause pain and bleeding. Getting instruction from a professional groomer can make it even easier to start regular nail trimming at home.

Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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