Nail clipping—the mere mention of this task can strike terror in the hearts of many dog owners! Fighting a dog while wielding a sharp instrument is no one’s idea of fun, but it does not have to be this way. With some practice nail clipping can be a quick and painless operation!
The best way to ensure that your dog will accept nail clipping gracefully is to start desensitizing him when he is young. Dogs tend to dislike having their feet touched, especially if they are not used to it. As soon as your new little fella moves in, start handling his feet. Your job is to get him used to it, and if not like it, at least tolerate it.
When you are playing with or petting your puppy, handle his feet. Hold the paw, touch the nails and feel in between the toes and pads. Make the pup sit quietly while you do this, but keep the session short, as pups have short attention spans. Praise the pup as you are handling him and give him a little treat when you are finished for a job well done.
If your dog is older, you can still work to desensitize him to having his feet touched. Just as you would with a puppy, hold his paws, touch the nails, and feel in between the pads. If he fights this, keep the session very short, just touching each paw briefly and giving lots of praise and a treat afterwards. With a very difficult dog, ask someone to help you by holding the dog still. Keep the session calm—a big fuss will only serve to reinforce the dog’s notion that paw touching is taboo. Build up the time that you can touch his paws over time. Eventually, he will not mind having you do it.
Do not underestimate the importance of getting your dog used to having his feet touched. Even if you choose to have your vet or groomer clip your dog’s nails, your dog will experience much less stress if he is used to being handled. Also, if your dog ever has a foot injury, it will be easier for you both if you are able to examine his foot.
Do not use scissors or human nail clippers on your dog. They are not designed for the task and can crush the nail causing your dog some pain. Your vet or local pet store carries several types of clippers designed for the dog nail. Make sure you have the right size for your size dog and keep the blade sharp. The guillotine type has a replaceable blade that can be discarded when it is no longer up to snuff and are the easiest to use for most dog owners. Some owners like to use a small grinding-tool to keep the nails short. These work well, but the dog must be used to them as the sound of the motor can be frightening.
In case of bleeding, have on hand a styptic pencil or Kwik-Stop powder. These will immediately stop the bleeding when applied to the nail. A nail file designed for dog nails will put on the finishing touch.
If left to grow too long, the dog’s nail will cause the toe to turn up and the dog will not walk on the foot properly. If you hear the nail clicking on the floor, it is time to clip. Nails that are too long can catch on things such as fabric and the struggling dog can hurt himself. Additionally, dogs with long nails can scratch their human companions.
Many dogs have a dew claw, that is, an extra toe and nail, higher up on the leg on the inner side. These claws do not touch the ground and therefore do not get worn down at all. They can grow quickly and if left unclipped can catch on things causing harm. The nail can grow completely around if left unchecked.
The dog nail has a blood vessel, or "quick" that extends part way down. If you inadvertently cut the nail, the dog will feel pain and will bleed. If you are lucky enough to have a dog with white nails you can easily see the quick, but if your dog has dark nails you will have to gauge how far down the quick goes.
How to Clip the Nails
Before you call the dog over, ensure you have your clippers, file and styptic powder ready. If your dog is unruly for the clipping, ask someone to hold him for you. If you have a small dog, use a table or counter with surface that will not allow the dog to slide. If you have a large dog, you may choose to clip on the floor. It may be easier to work on some less than cooperative canines by having them roll over on their backs for you.
Holding the clippers in your right hand (or left if you are left-handed), firmly grasp one foot and place the clippers over the nail. Make your cut at a 90-degree angle, about 2 millimeters from the end of the quick. If you cannot see the quick, try to gauge how far it will go down the nail and cut there. Usually, the quick will extend about ¾’s of the way down the nail, so you can safely cut about ¼, or up to where the nail starts curving. It may be easier to make two cuts if you are not sure how far up to go.
If the dog’s nails are very long, do not be tempted to cut back too far. Cut just the end off and then cut them about every 5-7 days until they are back to where they should be. This will give the quick time to recede so that you are not cutting into it. If you do cut too far and the nail bleeds, don’t panic. It may be uncomfortable for the dog, but it is not life-threatening. Apply the styptic pencil or powder to the nail and wait a moment until the bleeding stops before letting the dog walk.
Remember to clip the dew claws back as well and file each nail gently when you are done to smooth the rough edges. Reassure your dog as you progress. Use a calm voice and let him know that you are proud of him. When you have finished, give him a treat.
With practice, you will be cutting your dog’s nails like a pro—saving you and your dog a trip to the vet’s or groomer’s!