How to Trim Dog Nails: A Detailed Guide

Most people are scared of cutting their dog’s nails. However, with our guide, you’re unlikely to hurt your dog.

It’s easy to learn, and you’ll get used to it in no time. And you can save a lot of money on dog grooming. So, let’s learn how to trim dog nails by ourselves!

Intro to Dog Nails

To cut the dog’s nails effectively without any mess, you first need to understand the dog nail anatomy.

The Structure of a Dog Nail

Dogs’ nails have three parts — the outside shell, the quick, and the bone. What you want to do is cut the shell and not the quick inside, since it’s a very sensitive collection of blood vessels and nerves.

In dogs that have lighter-colored nails, the quick is much easier to see. If you’re trimming black dog nails, you have to cut them bit by bit, since you cannot see the quick.

Why Should You Cut Your Dog’s Nails?

Cutting nails is one of the basics of dog grooming. Dog nails that are not cut regularly can break and hurt your dog. They can also become ingrown. 

Additionally, unkempt nails can become plagued by nail bed infections. You’ll notice them when the nail beds turn red or the nails become too brittle.

Moreover, since dogs chew or bite nails that are too long, they can ingest the bacteria and viruses from them and become sick.

A Detailed Guide to Trimming Dog Nails

Now that we know how the nails look and why we should cut them, let’s see what exactly we should do.

A Step by Step Guide to Nail Grooming

  1. Pick up the dog’s paw from the ground and place your thumb on the pad and your index finger on the top of the paw.
  2. Move out of the way as much fur as you can.
  3. Try to move your thumb and massage the pad to make the nail ‘grow.’
  4. Cut just the tip off, and then keep cutting or filing bit by bit.
  5. Try not to hurt the quick. 
  6. Don’t forget the dewclaw!

Cutting Range

At What Angle to Cut Dog Nails?

The ideal angle for cutting your dog’s nails is 45°. The angle should be parallel to the ground.

The experts recommend it be done this way, because the nail looks best from the front side. Plus, it reduces the chances of injury.

How Short to Cut Dog Nails?

Dog’s nails should be kept 1/16–1/8 of an inch (2–4 mm) away from the quick of the nail. 

If your dog has overgrown nails, it’s not advisable to cut them short at once, because the quick grows with the nail. You should cut it a bit every day to make the quick recede.

Safety Measures

In light-colored dogs, you’ll see the quick on the upper nail side. But in dogs with black nails, it’s not that easy. So, how to find the quick on dog nails that are black? When cutting, if you see a white ring/ball with darker in the center, it means you should stop

If you do hurt the quick, don’t worry — your dog won’t bleed out. However, you should try stopping the blood. The top option is styptic powder. This powder stops bleeding immediately and lowers pain.

Just keep in mind that the powder stings at first, so hold your dog when you apply it. There are a few more home remedies that can help in an emergency, like cornstarch or a wet tea bag.

So, no matter how careful you are, when cutting nails, you should have some near you. After all, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Tools for Trimming Nails 

There are a few tools you can use while cutting dog nails. Check them out and see which one fits you the most.


The most standard way of cutting the dog’s nails is with clippers. They come in guillotine and scissor-like form. Guillotine clippers are preferred by professional groomers since they are easier to control.

While clippers are quick and ideal for lighter-colored nails, they are not a good tool for black nails.

Also, avoid regular scissors, since they are not good for dog nails.


A metal file is a good choice for all those who want to trim dog nails without clippers. Filing nails is especially useful for dogs with darker nails, since it’s easier to notice when you should stop. 

But, using a file to trim nails can be tiring and time-consuming. So, they are more often used for the final pieces rather than for trimming an entire nail.


Grinders (also known as Dremel, after a brand) are the newest but probably the best choice. Grinders are essentially electric files like the one salons use on human nails. 

With them, it’s almost impossible to hurt your dog. At the same time, the job is done quickly. They also work better on thicker dog nails that can easily crack with clippers.

To trim dog nails with a grinder, you should take the dog paw the same as you would do for clippers, and grind them bit by bit. In the beginning, use the lower speed to be in better control of the situation.

And, if you’re worried about the noise of the grinder, there is a variety of low noise nail grinders specifically made for pets.

Uncooperative Dogs and Nail Trimming

It’s all easy with dogs that don’t mind the process, but how to cut an uncooperative dog’s nails?

Training the Dog

For an uncooperative dog, the best way to cut their nails is by first teaching them to ‘like’ the grinder/clippers. First, let them sniff the tool, then touch it with their paws, trim just a small part of one nail, trim one nail, and so on. 

Reward them with a treat every time they react well. 

If you need some help calming your dog, or you want to be sure the dog won’t be anxious when cutting nails, you can try some natural solutions. For example, there’s a wide choice of quality CBD oils that can help your dog. 


If nothing works, and your dog is still afraid of cutting nails, you can try immobilizing them while cutting. Keep in mind that this is a two-person job. 

The best way to do this is for one person to hold them in their arms while petting them at the same time. The other person can slowly take care of the nails.

Or, you can turn them on one side and hold them by their lower tummy and the upper neck area, immobilizing the legs. Be careful not to put too much pressure, though.  

Sedating a Dog

Sedating your dog should be done only if nothing else works. Needless to say, you should consult your veterinarian first.


What is the easiest way to trim dog nails?

The easiest way to trim dog nails is by using a grinder. It’s fast, and there’s a very low chance of hurting your dog. 

How do you cut a dog’s nails that are black?

For black dog nails, it’s important to go slowly and cut/grind a bit at a time. Once you reach the white ring with a black center, you should stop. 

The best tool for black dog nails is a grinder, as it allows you to cut very little at a time.

How can I cut my dog’s nails at home?

To cut your dog’s nails at home, you’ll need a clipper or grinder and some patience. You can follow our step-by-step guide above.

How short can you cut a dog’s nails without hurting them?

To know how short the nails should be and to avoid hurting your dog, you should look for their quick — blood supply. Cutting about 1/16 inches longer than that is fine. If you cut into their quick, they’ll bleed. 

The size of the quick depends on each dog and how often you groom their nails.

How often to trim dog nails?

Trimming once a month is a good idea for almost every dog. But not all dogs are the same. So, when you hear the dog’s nails on the floor, it’s time to cut them.

If you neglect their nails, the quick inside will grow too, and you won’t be able to cut them short. This is why it’s important to know how to trim dog nails before they get too long.

Dogs that go for walks on the concrete don’t need trimming as often, as their nails get worn down naturally. 

Also, the best time for trimming is after bathing your dog, when the nails are softer. 

Final Thoughts

Now that you know how to trim dog nails, you have no reasons not to try. 

Hopefully, we’ve helped you see just how easy it is, and you will follow our guide. Don’t be scared, do it slowly, and you’re sure to succeed.

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