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6 Easy Tricks to Cut Dog Nails

Jack Russell Terrier puppy getting it's nails trimmed

There are 6 tricks to cut dog nails that actually work to help keep you and your dog calm during the process.

  1. Touch your dog’s paws often
  2. Desensitize your dog to the nail clippers
  3. Holding your dog properly for nail clipping
  4. Choose the right nail cutting tools
  5. Clip your dog’s nails frequently
  6. File your dog’s nails to remove rough edges

I’ll go into each of these tricks to trimming dogs nails in detail below.

Dog won’t sit still for you to clip it’s nails? Check out our post “How to Restrain a Dog to Clip it’s Nails.”

The 6 Tricks to Cutting Dog’s Nails

Step 1. Touch Your Dog’s Paws Often

Many dogs are very sensitive around their paws, which can make nail clipping difficult. Sometimes a dog will bite or growl when their paw is touched.

If that’s the case you’ll want to build up to touching their paws gradually. Some people find that betting their upper legs and then continuing the pet down to their paws works well.

This helps them get used to you handling them, and they’re less likely to stress if you suddenly hold them to do their nails. And it’s honestly one of the most important tricks for trimming dog nails successfully.

As your dog gets more used to you touching their paws you can hold your dog on your lap and just hold their paw.  Rub the pads of each foot and pet your dog.

NOTE: You should not be clipping your dog’s nails during these paw touching sessions. You want them to associate touching their paws with a pleasant experience.

The big key here is staying CALM. Your dog will take their emotional cues from you. And if you stay calm they are MUCH more likely to stay calm.

You can also apply a homemade paw wax while you are getting your dog used to paw touching. This wax will help to keep their paws in good shape and help protect against heat and cold.

They’ll learn to love the time with you. This technique can take some patients, but is one of the great tricks for cutting dog nails.

Need to know how to calm a dog to cut its nails? Click here to learn more.

Step 2. Desensitizing Your Dog to the Clippers

Person holding dog paws together in their hands

You can even set your clippers nearby once your dog is used to you playing with their paws (but not for the first couple of sessions). This helps to break negative associations with the clippers and put your dog’s mind more at ease. If your dog really hates clippers here is How to Trim Dog Nails Without Clippers.

Getting your dog used to the clippers is one of the ideal tricks to trim dog nails.

Step 3. Choosing the Right Dog Nail Cutting Tools

Hand wearing blue gloves holding a dog's paw while clipping its nails

The clipper choice matters far more than you think it will. Some styles of nail clippers are simply more traumatic for both dogs and humans. And some are just easier to use.

Which Nail Clippers are Best for Dogs?

There are a lot of choices on the market when it comes to grooming your dog’s nails. And while they’re are many, many brands of dog clippers, there are 6 main types. I’m also including claw grinders in this list, because most people use them to replace clippers to clip dog nails.

Types of Dog Clippers to Choose From:

  1. Standard dog nail clippers with guard
  2. Guillotine dog nail clippers
  3. Dog nail clippers with sensor
  4. Dog nail clippers with LED light
  5. Dog nail scissors
  6. Dog nail grinder

Some of that answer to this question of which clipper to choose depends on your dog and you. Some dogs have a preference for one type of clipper over another.

However, there are some styles of dog nail clippers that are just better than others. I’ll go over these main 5 types and the pros and cons of each.

The most common types of nail clippers are guillotine nail clippers or standard nail clippers. I’ll look at these two first and then I’ll also go over nail clippers with sensors, ones with lights, nail scissors and nail grinders. That way you can choose the one that’s best for YOUR dog.

NOTE: No matter what kind of clipper you use, the big key to cutting your dog’s nails correctly is to take off just a little each time. I talk more about that in the “how often to clip your dogs’ nails section.

Standard Dog Nail Clippers with Guard

Pair of scissor style clippers with red and black handles

When I say scissor style nail clippers, I’m referring to the “action” of the mechanism that actually clips the dogs nails. There are two styles of these on the market.

This style, with a pliers type grip and the style with a scissors grip (I’ll go over that one in a bit).

If you have dogs, you probably have these in your drawer right now (I have 2 pair).

These are effective for many people, but not my personal favorite.

It’s hard to see where you’re clipping and it’s WAY too easy to over clip and start your dog bleeding because you’ve clipped into the quick.

Most of these types of clippers come with a guard that is supposed to keep you from clipping too deep, but I find that the lack of being able to see what I’m doing makes the guard not work very well.

I also find that The pliers grip on these clippers makes nail clipping more dangerous, because it’s harder to control than some of the other varieties of nail clippers.

It can easily result in a clipped quick, some blood, and the look of utter betrayal from your darling dog.

With all of that being said, many people love this type of clipper. If you are going to go with one of these make sure what you buy is high quality, like this dog nail clipper found on Amazon that comes with a file, (paid link) because it will be easier to use.

Guillotine Dog Nail Clippers

Guillotine Dog Nail Clippers isolated on a white background

This is the type of nail clipper that I used to use on my dogs and I still highly recommend it for larger breeds or dogs with thick toenails.

(I now use the dog nail scissors listed below, but they only work well on small breeds)

The big advantage is that you can see exactly where you’re ready to clip while you clip… so you avoid clipping a quick!

There is far less fuss, and less chance of a bleeder!

The bottom line is that you’ll have much more control with guillotine clippers (found on Amazon), (paid link) and being able to see let’s it go so much faster!

You’ll be done fast, easy, and happy.

Both you and your dog will be happier with the results, and they won’t be more fearful the next time you pull those clippers out.

If you are having trouble clipping your dog’s nails, check out our post “Help! My Dog is Terrified of Nail Clippers”.

Dog Nail Clippers with Sensor

Close up of a dog's paws

I’ve looked and looked for one of these clippers with a sensor that has good reviews and I haven’t found one anywhere.

The idea behind these clippers is that they sense where your dog’s quick is and let you know with an indicator light so that you don’t clip the quick and make your puppy bleed.

Unfortunately, they don’t seem to work as advertised, and they are two to three times more expensive than other clippers on the market.

I would say to save your money and buy one of the other clippers on this list instead.

Dog Nail Clippers with LED Light

close up of a corgi getting its nails clipped

This is another case where the concept is better than the execution.

The idea of these LED lighted nail clippers is great. You CAN see the dog’s quick with the clippers and the magnifying glass, but the blades and overall construction on all of these that I’ve checked out are cheap.

There are a lot of reports (and I mean A LOT) of the clipper not actually working because of shoddy materials and construction.

I’m hoping at some point that a good manufacturer brings these to market, because I love the concept. I just haven’t found one yet.

For now though, I really think you are better off not buying either the sensor or lighted clippers and sticking with better quality traditional models.

Dog Nail Scissors

Black chihuahua getting its nails clipped by a person in medical scrubs and wearing blue gloves

If you have a small dog (think Corgi or smaller) these are an excellent choice. If you have bigger dog consider a guillotine cutter like these found on Amazon (paid link) , or a nail grinder.

UPDATE: I used to use the guillotine cutters exclusively, but mine happened to break while I was writing this article, so I decided to give these scissors a whirl. I’m really glad I did. They work SO well.

These dog nail scissors are what I personally use on my two old Rat Terriers. I love them and my dogs don’t hate them – which is a REALLY big deal.

The blades have an angle that makes it easy to see what you are doing and they are maneuverable to get into even the curviest dew claw.

The scissor handles also are much easier to control than the pliers type handle.

This model by Shiny Pet (found on Amazon) (paid link) currently has 4.5 stars (out of 874 reviews). That’s IMPRESSIVE for a pet product.

I recommend this type of scissors style clipper for small dogs – especially if they are afraid of other types of clippers. Unfortunately, they won’t work for larger breeds with thicker nails. They just aren’t meant to handle bigger dog nails.

Dog nail grinder

Close up a person using grinder to smooth dog nails

This isn’t exactly a dog nail clipper, but it does a similar job and is a good alternative – especially for dogs that are TERRIFIED of clippers.

Like most dog grooming products there are a lot of dog nail grinder brands on the market.

I like this Dremel version found on Amazon (paid link), because it’s highly rated and works well.

The most important thing to note about grinders is you only want to take a bit of the nail off at a time – just like with clippers.

IMPORTANT: Unfortunately this unit doesn’t come with very good assembly instructions. If you decide to get it please check out the assembly instructions here. #ad

If you or your dog doesn’t like clippers, a grinder is a good choice.

The bottom line on choosing the right dog nail cutting tools for your specific situation.

Close up of hands holding scissor type dog nail clippers while trimming a dog's nails

Generally speaking you want to stay away from the gimmicky stuff – like sensors and lights. The products just don’t seem to be made well enough to justify the extra cost.

My top choice for most dogs is the guillotine clipper found on Amazon. (paid link) It works quickly, and you can see what you’re doing. But some dogs find the “snap” of the nail cutter scary.

If you have a dog that finds that sound scary, then I recommend the grinder (found on Amazon) (paid link). Many dogs will tolerate a grinder when they won’t tolerate anything else.

Finally, if you have a small dog under about 40 pounds, then consider the dog nail scissors like these I found on Amazon. (paid link) These work really well for most smaller animals.

Step 4. How To Hold a Dog for Nail Clipping

Tan dog laying on a counter, having its nails clipped

Most people hold their dog down securely, restraining them to keep them from “fidgeting.” I used to do this myself.

But this type of hold stresses your dog out even more!

The best thing to do is to hold your dog in your lap loosely, the way you would if you were just petting them. This makes clipping your dog’s nails SO MUCH easier.

Your dog won’t stress about being restrained and won’t flinch when you pick up his paw! This works especially well if you follow the desensitizing tip in the “touch your dog’s paws often section”.

Step 5: Know how often to clip dog’s nails

close up of a calendar with a pencil pointed at the number 31

You want to clip your dog’s nails way more often than you would think.

Most people put it off as long as possible because they don’t want to traumatize their dogs, pay for the pro, or just want to avoid the drama.

But if you follow our other tips, this whole process is drama free.

And there’s a HUGE benefit to clipping more often!!

The idea is to clip more often, but clip less nail at each session. I can’t emphasize this enough – it’s one of the most important tricks to trim dog’s nails effectively and with the least amount of trauma.

It seems like you’re making more work for yourself, but there are a couple of perks to this frequent clipping.

First, your dog will become even more accustomed to the clipping process.

And that makes clipping easier each time you do it.

But the really great thing is that you practically chase the quick back from the edge of the nail!

The quick recedes as the nail gets shorter and shorter… but it only works if you take a little each time.

Clipping a little each time causes the quick to keep moving out of the way of the clippers, making it even less likely that you’ll clip it next time!

I think this is my favorite step of all.

But I have one more tip!

Step 6: File Dog’s Nails to Remove Rough Edges

Close up of human hands filing a dog's nails with a fingernail file

I don’t know about you, but the rough edges after a nail clipping are a real problem.

I’m always getting scratched.

But if you use a nail grinder, you can smooth those rough edges, just like using an emery board!

You can even think of it as a rotary emery board.

Some make a bit of noise, which can be upsetting to your dog until they get used to it.

The great part is that you just turn it on, touch the nail to the rotating pad for a moment, remove, and voila!

All smooth!

No more scratches and scars from rough, too-long nails.

If you don’t have a nail grinder or don’t want to purchase one, then you can use a human emery board to file the rough edges off as well.

Follow these tips for a happier dog with healthier nails.

And you’ll save a ton of money since you won’t be paying the pros to cut them for you anymore!

Puppy Nail Clipping – How Is it Different?

person wearing lab coat, stethoscope and blue gloves trimming a puppy's nails

You can use the exact same five steps to clip a puppies nails. It works just as well – especially if you follow step 1 first and handle their paws.

I recommend the dog nail scissors or nail grinder for most puppies.

What to Do if You Clip the Quick

Close up of a dog's paw getting nails trimmed

If you’ve ever clipped your dog’s nails and had them bleed then you’ve clipped the quick.

The quick is the part of the nail that contains the blood vessels and if you clip it, then it will hurt.

If you do clip the quick then leave the blood there to coagulate and apply a styptic pencil or styptic powder. You should always stock these in your DIY dog first aid kit.

You can also put pressure on the nail with an absorbent cloth or bandage for 2 minutes or so.

Once the bleeding has stopped make sure that you wash the affected area and bandage it to prevent your dog from licking it and from them getting an infection.

DIY Dog Nail Clipping – The Summary

German Shepherd holding a pair of nail clippers in it's mouth

Most people can successfully clip their dog’s nails at home following these five “tricks”.

  1. Touch your dog’s paws often
  2. Choose the right dog nail cutting tools for your situtation
  3. Hold your dog correctly for nail trimming
  4. Clip your dog’s nails often
  5. File your dog’s nails to remove rough edges

I used to hate clipping my dog’s nails, but using these techniques I now find it pretty easy. I don’t think it’s something I’ll ever love doing, but learning how to do it myself has saved me time and money.

The legal stuff 🙂

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