Clipping Your Dog's Nails
By Honor Tarpenning, NextDayPets.com Staff
Just like people, dog’s nails grow constantly, and need regular clipping. If you don’t keep up with your dog’s nails, they will continue to grow and eventually curl around and grow into the pads of their feet, which is extremely painful. The trick to successfully clipping your dog’s nails is conditioning and desensitization. You need to make your dog comfortable with the experience and associate it with positive feelings.
First of all, do not use human clippers. They are made for the flat, thin nails of humans, not the cylindrical, thick nails of dogs. They will crush, split, and splinter your dog’s nails. The best clippers for most sizes of dog are guillotine style, like a cigar cutter.
Start by making your dog comfortable with having his paws handled. When he is calm and relaxed, stroke his paws and give him a small, easy to eat treat. If your dog is uncomfortable with having his paws touched at all, continue softly stroking them from time to time when he is relaxed, several times a day, always giving him a treat at the same time. Once he is ok with stroking, take his paw in your hand and give him a treat. Do this frequently until he readily allows you to hold his paw for a few seconds at a time. Then move on to lightly squeezing the paw to push the nails out, again giving him a treat every time. Eventually, your dog should associate having his paws handled with yummy snacks, and shouldn’t mind it at all.
Now it’s time to begin gently introducing your dog to the clipper. Give your dog a treat when you show him the clipper. Then, touch the clipper to your dog’s paw and give him a treat. Do this several times. Then, gently tap your dog’s nails with the clipper and give him a treat. Do this once a day for a few days before you try to clip any nails. The idea is that your dog gets completely used to being in contact with the clippers, so it is not a new or surprising thing when the time comes to actually clip.
When you and your dog are ready to actually clip his nails, take it slow and don’t push things. If your dog acts frightful or uncomfortable, stop. Do not hold him down or force him to let you hold his paws. A dog’s nails are not going to grow out of control in one day, so take your time and keep the experience pleasant. The first time you clip your dog’s nails, give him a treat, just clip one nail, give him another treat and leave him alone. Later that day, clip another nail, give him a treat, and leave him alone. Once he is comfortable and not at all fearful, you can start clipping every nail on a paw, giving him a treat after each nail is clipped; and eventually you’ll be able to trim all his paws in the same session.
Take your dog’s paw in your non dominant hand, and hold the clippers in your dominant hand. Squeeze the paw to push out the claw, and if it is a clear nail, find the quick. The quick is a vein that runs through your dog’s claw. If you cut the quick, it will result in considerable pain and bleeding, so be extremely careful. In dogs with clear or pink nails, you can see the quick. It is a little trickier if your dog has black nails.
Hold the clipper at a 45 degree angle to the nail. To avoid cutting the quick or splintering the nail, you are just going to take tiny nips off the end of the nail at a time. In dogs with black claws, every time you take a nip, look at the nail head-on for a small oval in the center. This is the quick; once you see the quick, stop clipping. There are also clippers like the Quick Finder Clipper which can sense where the quick is in the nail, and cue you to how far you can cut.
Ideally, your dog’s nails should not extend past the pads, and should not click on the ground when he walks around. However, if your dog’s nails have not been clipped regularly, the quick, which continues to grow with the nail, might be very near the end of the nail. This will restrict how short you can clip your dog’s nails. Regular clipping causes the quick to recede into the nail, so eventually you will be able to clip them to the proper length.
If you accidentally cut the quick, don’t panic. It looks a little dramatic due to the bleeding that results, but it will heal quickly and is not a big deal. It will hurt your dog, but if you remain calm, as if nothing out of the ordinary has happened, he will feel that you are not reacting with fear or worry and this will help him relax. Apply a styptic pen or powder to the end of the bleeding nail and give your dog a treat. Do not attempt to clip any more nails that day. Go back to the beginning of conditioning the next day, starting with just gently stroking his paws. Do not attempt to clip any more nails until you have gone through the whole conditioning process again. Dogs who have had their quick cut have extremely negative associations with nail clipping because of the considerable pain. If you do not take it slow and condition him gently, he might develop a clipper phobia, making the whole process a frightening, and stressful ordeal.
If you are not comfortable clipping your dog’s nails, it is best to take him to a professional groomer or have your vet give you a demonstration of the right way to clip. Running your dog regularly on concrete will help keep his claws short too. You can also try products like the Pedi Paws, which is a nail grinder with a rotating emery head and a safety guard to prevent injury to the dog or yourself.