clip dog nails

How to Clip Dog Nails at Home

For over the last quarter of a century, dog nails was a task handled by my dog’s groomer. I always wanted to learn how to clip dog nails at home, but there’s that fear that the dog would squirm, I’d cut the nail and the quick would bleed, hence a veterinary emergency room visit. If you really have your heart set on learning to clip dog nails at home and are willing to put in the practice work, then this is the blog post for you.

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Grooming dogs nails at home

Coming Clean

Learning to groom my dog at home has been a longtime wish of mine, perhaps more a goal. This year, I decided to take the plunge, visit someone who knows how to groom Cocker Spaniels, take a course with an instructor, and slowly but surely practice. My Cocker is not a show dog and I prefer to keep him in what is affectionately dubbed the “puppy cut.” You can read all about my journey to learning to self-groom my dog.

Dog Nails Challenge

There was something incredibly challenging about attempting to groom my dog’s nails. In fact, it was the very last thing I learned. It is only recently that I have begun to feel more comfortable doing this. I highly recommend you ask someone to show you and practice with whatever method or methods you plan to use.

It’s very important to keep a dog’s nails trimmed to an appropriate length and not expose the quick. Long nails can cause a dog to limp, have an improper gait which can harm other body parts, and they can snag on things. Imagine trying to run around in high heels: That is partially what overgrown dog nails feel like.

I was never an expert in the dog nails topic, so I researched experts, learned from them, and now I feel comfortable in clipping my dog’s nails. If you do not want to learn the process, aren’t interested in having this skill, or otherwise find it too nerve wracking, dogs should still have their nails clipped regularly.

Dog nails grooming
Dexter’s nicely clipped nails.

Dog Nails Hacks

The word “hack” has become synonymous with a shortcut or a loophole that might not be obvious but will make life easier. In this section, we’ll share hacks, tools of the trade, videos to help guide the process, along with some products and hacks to make dog nail care easier.

(1) How Often to to Cut Dogs Nails

“On average, most dogs will need to have their nails trimmed every 1-2 months,” Dr. Julie Buzby, founder of ToeGrips says. “You can also tell that your dog’s nails need to be trimmed if they are clicking on the floor when your dog walks. Dogs’ front nails tend to grow faster than back nails, so you may not need to trim your dog’s rear nails as frequently as the front nails.”

Every dog is different, and there are many factors to consider, including his activity level and if touching down on pavement actually helps keep the nails naturally shorter. Again, every dog is different.

(2) Tips for Getting Dogs Used to Handling Their Paws/Nails

Touch Your Dog’s Paws From Time to Time: Massage your dog’s feet: the tops of the feet, pet the legs, and do so in a positive and reinforcing way. Some dogs don’t like their feet touched, and if this is the case with your dog, don’t scold him or get upset. Don’t bug him.

(3) Learning to Cut Dogs Nails

On Facebook, there is a group with well over 32,000 members, dedicated to nail maintenance for dogs.  Discussion in this group focuses on “trimming following the alternate cut line, not the traditional 45 degree cut, as well as discussions on clippers, dremels, sanding blocks, files, and self-trimming techniques.” This is the group I joined in my journey to learn.

Reputable, reliable experts with videos can help, as every dog has their own way of reacting to the process and the tools/environment used. I opted to learn to groom my dog from home by enrolling in the All About Dog Grooming home study training package developed and written by Richard and Carol Doggett. I do not want to become a professional groomer; I simply wanted to learn to groom my dog from home safely, effectively, and from someone whom I can trust. Part of her system included nail care and maintenance.

Videos That Helped Me in the Nail Clipping Process:

I practiced on wooden cuticle sticks for months with two different types of clippers. I also visited with a trusted groomer who showed me how to trim dogs nails and I was given permission to tape the process on my mobile device for personal use. I am one of those people who needs to see the process in action over and over, pause, repeat.

Dog nail trimming tools

(4) Tools of the Dog Nail Clipping Trade

Dog nail clippers come in two varieties: The scissor type and the guillotine type. The type chosen is just a matter of personal preference. Some folks prefer to use a dremel. Learning the proper technique, your dog’s amenability to it all, and having the tools that best serve you and your dog’s nails are key. Here’s what I use and one of my all-time favorite hacks. I might look like a nerd, but I embrace that and I can see clearly now! Read on for a fabulous hack.

Millers Forge Nail Clipper with Orange Handle: This is the winner for me, hands down, for control of the nail and enabling me to take slices and short bursts instead of one huge clip or cut with another type of dog nail clippers. This are comfortable in my hand and I feel more in control. This is a personal preference and also the ones Dr. Julie Buzby uses, so it makes sense for us. 

For an average Cocker Spaniel, like my dog, I prefer the medium sized ones. You might like the larger ones; they are inexpensive and worth checking out in our opinion.

Millers Forge Stainless Steel Dog Nail Clipper, Plier Style:  This style has a built-in guard can be moved into position to prevent the overcutting of the nails and there is a lock to hold the trimmers closed for storage and maintenance. My issue with them is this: I could not shave off the dog’s nail and shorten it as desired. However, if you prefer this type, this is a nice option and I own two pairs (which are collecting cobwebs).

Miracle Care Kwik Stop Styptic Powder: An absolutely must have for anyone who is attempting to clip dog nails. If you cut the dog’s quick of the nail, which supplies the blood, the sheer volume of blood makes it look like a crime scene at times. I know because I did this one time. My dog did not yelp in pain, and I stopped immediately. It looks and feels like baby powder, and you simply put the powder on the injured nail and apply pressure. It stops the bleeding stat!

Headset Magnifier:  HACK ALERT: No, I am not a stormtrooper, but I am darned proud of myself. After following this a Facebook group for months, reading suggestions, and taking a home grooming course, visiting my dog’s breeder, watching how to clip nails in person, I was still freaked out. I realized I could not really see the area on the nail in question no matter what I did. I did not want to make my dog’s nail bleed.

It dawned on me to try crafter glasses, which turned out to be the best $13 bucks I spent on Amazon in a long time. As a dog blogger, when I find something that works, I pass it on.

dog nails visor

Finding the Quick

It has been my experience that the so-called “Quick Finder” products do not really live up to their claims. If your experience with them is different, that is great. If you are just starting out or want to learn, as I have, learn to find the quick.

This presents a problem in darker and black dogs nails. One of the best tips on this topic comes from the folks at petMD, “On the dark nails where you can’t see any pink to know where the live part of the nail starts, you can check the end of the nail. The dead area usually is whitish and as you cut deeper into the end of the nail you will begin to see a dark area. This dark area is where the live part starts. Another way to find the quick is to look at the underside of your dog’s nail towards the tip. The nail should form a triangular shape with two outer “walls.” There is no quick at this point, making it safe to cut the tip.”

This is where using the magnification visor comes in handy. You are welcome to file the edges of the dog’s clipped nails or allow the pavement to smooth them out. Yes, we have a dog nail file on hand. I haven’t used it to date.

Learning to groom a dogs nails

Who Clips Dog Nails If I Don’t Want To?

Many dog parents have zero interest in learning to clip their own dog’s nails, and this is totally okay. Individuals to ask about getting your dog a nail trim include professional groomers, your dog’s vet, or a veterinary technician.

Don’t Stop Now

Learn to treat the feet, nails, and paw pads of your dog to prevent problems and ensure anything that does arise is promptly handled.

Do you check dog nails regularly and have them trimmed/do it yourself?

 Note:  This post contains affiliate links from Amazon, meaning if you click on a link above and then make a purchase, Fidose of Reality will receive a small commission with no extra cost to you. You help us keep the site up and running and in exchange, you get to shop for items you love. Wags!

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  1. For the first time in ages a vet nurse actually suggested he trim Harvey’s nails (!) I could not believe such care (it’s our new vet and our last visit was a bit stressful). Harvey, like a small dog, appreciates having good healthy nails.

    One thing I learned was pet clippers need to be SHARP if you want to do a good job. This mens investing in decent quality equipment. Even if it means saving up your precious $$ quality equipment is vital for your pet’s health.

  2. Wow Carol, you are tenacious! We tried clipping babu’s nails and he made it very obvious that he hates his paws being touched. So we now schedule vet appointments for the same. Thanks for the detailed post,I will pass it on to a few of my friends who have dogs.

  3. Good pointers. I also groom my cockers with hair shaving and nail trims. I used to think they walked on pavement enough not to need their nails trimmed, but I was wrong. Chipper has a dew claw that gets very long and he has dark nails. Plus he hates to have his nails trimmed. I have to sit on his belly while I trim the fur and then the nails. It’s a process, but I figure a few minutes of effort is a lot faster than going to the groomer. When I had a dog doing agility (my springer) my trainer had me trim her nails weekly. That really got me in practice, but the springer was a lot easier than the cockers.

  4. Those glasses might be just the thing I need to give me the confidence to start clipping Nelly’s nails. They are so tiny (but transparent.) I currently take all my dogs in to have their nails clipped because my hand-eye coordination isn’t very good, and I don’t want to hurt them!

  5. I don’t mind clipping the girls’ nails because they are white and I can see the quick. I’m hesitant to clip my mom’s dog’s nails because they are black and he does squirm. Yesterday was the first time I was able to clip all of the nails on Brulee’s front paws in one sitting since I got her 6 years ago!

  6. Confession time – I am obsessed with dog nails. This was a great post with some great tips! I love your headset magnifier! I learned all I know about clipping dog nails through my experience with my 160 lb female mastiff many years ago. She hated to have her nails cut and it would take me and my husband to hold her down to do it. I finally decided enough was enough and I was going to figure out a way to desensitize her and get her to actually enjoy getting her nails done. And that’s just what I did. After about two months of very slow progress, with patience, kindness and some treats, I was able to get her to the point where she would “bang” play dead and hand me her paws. Now with Sulley and Junior I Dremel them once a week and keep their nails very short. With a Dremel, you can shave off small amounts at a time so, even with black nails, you can see the dark of the quick before you hit it. 🙂

  7. I had no idea that they had eye wear to help with seeing the quick! Love that pic. Oh I remember those days. I never had a dog but had two cats and nails to trim. If your pet is used to being touched and cuddled it definitely is easier than those that prefer to be left alone. Similiar strategy is used for cutting cats nails too. Never an over-joyous time but necessary.

  8. Honestly, I run my dog into the groomer. I wrestle with my head strong crazy cocker/terrier cross enough that I need to take something off my list. They do it in about ten minutes and it’s yet another problem I solve by throwing money at it.

  9. This is definitely a post for pinning! So many fabulous tips and product recommendations. I must admit, the idea of clipping three lots of canine nails does intimidate me. Your suggestions make it less so – thank you.

  10. It is very helpful blog. Usually it is very tough to cut our dog nails its really hard to cut. I took my dog to docter for cutting nails they charge very high for dog nail cut. I’ve bought this tool with this i cut my dog nails easily. Thank you so much. Keep posting and help us in future.

  11. Great article!

    Making them feel comfortable and secure through the procedure is the toughest thing about it. Lots of praise and treats to ease them into it is crucial. There’s no good way to go about it if we’re forcing them.

  12. It’s so interesting that a dog’s front nails grow faster than their back nails, I never knew that. So many people dread trimming their dog’s nails. I was one of them until I realized that I had the wrong tool – the clipper I was using had completely dulled! Once I got a new one it was a million times easier. Moral of the story? Clippers don’t last forever. I just love the photo of you in that head gear, LOL! Great post.

  13. I took my pup to get her nails done twice after adopting her and then tried to cut them myself a few months later. I was so wrong with thinking I could do it even though I had read all the tutorials and watched all the videos, I didn’t prepare my pup for me doing them. Since then, I’ve decided to Dremel them, and had to start off with touching her paws every day for weeks before being able to touch them with any sort of tool. I admire you persevering learning how and doing it!! I personally wouldn’t ever go back to clippers though!

  14. i need to know how often i can trim my dogs nails she has very long nails to the point where they are turning to the side and i can’t aford to take her to the groomers or vets

  15. Dog nail clipper are like guards for cutting nails of your dog. Carefully you can cut nails with the help of such clippers. by having a sensor clipper dog nail can give you a boost for cutting nails in various shapes and can save your dog from hurting its skin.

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