Animky is reader-supported. When you buy through our links we may earn an affiliate commission.
Why nail trimming is essential:
Trimming your dogs’ nails is an essential part of their grooming routine, it keeps them from getting snagged on things like carpet or furniture which could cause injury. If you don’t trim your dogs’ nails regularly then eventually the overgrown nails can grow into the paw pad – this can be painful and lead to an infection and lameness. I used to see this occur a lot in veterinary practice and particularly with small dogs which seldom walk on hard services (or the ground at all).
TIP 1: Start early and cut often
The best way to get your dog used to having their nails trimmed is to start at an early age and do it often and make it a positive experience. This will help young dogs get comfortable with the process and make it less stressful for both of you. If you have a puppy or young dog that is already proving difficult then nip it in the but and follow the suggested tips below.
TIP 2: Use the right nail clippers
Choosing the right nail clippers for your dog can make all the difference when trimming your dogs nails. Please only use nail trimmers that are designed for dogs – not humans as they will tend to splinter the nail and cause pain. Small dogs need a smaller pair of clippers and large dogs need bigger ones! There are different types of nail trimmers: scissor-style (like scissors) with handles that open up wide so you have more control over how much pressure you’re putting on the nail and guillotine type (look like a big pair of scissors) which has a small opening at one end so you have to be more precise.
I highly recommend if you have a large dog you purchase the Safari Professional Nail Trimmer for Dogs or a Dremel tool (see below). They come in two sizes and they are so easy to use with a nice clean cut on the dogs’ nails. However, make sure the nail clippers are the right size for your hands and the clipper is the appropriate size for your dog. If they aren’t right or they have a dull blade, get a new pair – especially when cutting uncooperative dogs’ nails.
TIP 3: Start with Regular Paw Handling and desensitization
If you’re having trouble clipping your dog’s nails, it might be because they aren’t used to their paws being handled. Their paws (like our feet) are sensitive! Dogs can get nervous when their feet are touched and this can lead to them becoming uncooperative when it comes time for their nails to be trimmed.
The first step is to start to gently and firmly touch their paws while they are relaxed and happy. Give them lots of praise while you are doing this and give them a reward when they let you hold it for 2-3 seconds. When they are comfortable with this start to play around more with their paws and gently squeeze their toes to start to get them prepped for nail clipping (which can feel a bit like a squeeze)
The same goes for desensitizing your dog to the nail clippers. Many dogs are fearful of the sound of the clippers. Once they are comfortable with you handling their paws re-introduce nail clippers to them. At first (like one of my dog’s Axl) they may jump up and escape but persist with showing them the nail clippers. Give them plenty of praise, and make the clipping motion near their paws. Only attempt to cut their nails when they are comfortable at this stage.
TIP 4: Distract, distract, distract! Lots of positive praise
One of the best ways to get your uncooperative dog to let you trim their nails is by distracting them! This has worked very well for me in veterinary practice where we tend to get a lot of people bringing in their uncooperative dogs for nail clips. I find a bit of peanut butter smeared over a spoon or a dish works well as they get very distracted trying to lick it off.
You can try lightly tapping them on the head or using their favorite toy (although it is hard to keep them still doing this). Use plenty of small treats to keep them distracted and don’t forget to shower them with praise
It is extremely important not to appear frustrated, yell or shout at your dog if it is not working out. This will create a negative association and bad experiences can put you all the way back at square one.
TIP 5: Try cutting their nails while they are standing
This has worked well for me in very fearful, large dogs. It does put you in an awkward position but some dogs just hate having their feet handled (I am incredibly ticklish so I get it). This way if they are standing you can often cut the tips off without having to hold the paw. Don’t forget to give them lots of praise and keep working on handling your dog’s paws and desensitization. You can also try different positions such as lying down or sitting.
TIP 6: Try grinding your dog’s nails
If trimming your dog’s nails with clippers proves too difficult or stressful, you can try using a nail grinder such as a pet-specific Dremel tool. This is a handheld rotary tool that files the nails down instead of clipping them and is often less stressful for your dog. Please don’t go into your tool shed and use a Dremel from there. You could severely damage your dog’s toes with one of those! Some dogs just hate the pinching feeling of their nails being clipped and much prefer them to be ground. For dogs with dark nails, you are also much less likely to hit the quick.
TIP 7: Don’t overcut!
This is probably the most important tip! When cutting your dog’s toenails, make sure you don’t overcut and cut the quick. Cut little bits at a time at a 45-degree angle. You can easily do this if their nails are black or they are moving around a lot or trying to escape (go back to desensitization and paw handling). It really hurts if you cut the quick of the nail and, can lead you back to square one. So take your time and only cut small amounts off rather than trying to cut a large chunk.
TIP 8: Know what you are doing BEFORE you cut
Learn the anatomy of the dog’s nail as it is a bit different from ours. A dog’s nail is divided into two parts. The hard outer shell and the pink area of the nail are known as the quick. You’re supposed to cut the shell of the nail and not the quick. The quick is connected to a dog’s nerves and blood vessels, so it can be quite painful if cut. Make sure you cut using sharp nail trimmers and cut at a 45-degree angle.
Here is a great video that explains what to do:
TIP 9: Cut them after a bath
A trick I learned from one of our nurses is to trim your dog’s toenails straight after a bath. The water softens the nail and, for white nails – whitens the part of the nail that is the shell while the part that contains the quick remains dark. This also seems to work for dark toenails too as you will see a faint color difference between the two sections.
TIP 10: Be prepared if you cut the quick and don’t panic!
If you do unfortunately cut the quick, don’t panic! Apply some styptic powder to the end of the nail (this can be bought from most pet stores) with a cotton bud and apply pressure and wait for it to stop bleeding.
TIP 11: There is always the vets or groomers
Sometimes, there are some pets for whom none of these tips and tricks work. I should know because I have seen many pets like this for nail trims! Veterinarians are the last resort for pet owners who need to trim their pets’ nails. For some dogs, this is an especially difficult task because they may be aggressive or highly fearful. The may require sedation in order to get it done without danger to the veterinarian. Or the dog so that you can enjoy spending time with your dog without them resenting you.
Ask around some professional groomers as well that trim nails of anxious dogs. There are some that specialize in difficult dogs (make sure they are using positive reinforcement and no strong physical restraint) and try to make it a pleasant experience.
Every dog is different, so how you approach cutting your uncooperative dog’s nails will vary for each one. If your dog struggles with the nail trimming process due to how nervous or fearful it makes them, ask a professional (vet or dog groomer) how they can help. Untrimmed nails can lead to ingrown nails, pain, and infection down the line, so it is important to make sure you take the time to properly trim your dog’s nails – even if they are uncooperative!
I hope these tips on how to cut uncooperative dogs’ nails give you some ideas on how you can help your dog feel more comfortable.
Please contact me if you have any questions or feedback!
Dr. Elly has always loved animals, and she knew from a young age that she wanted to be a veterinarian. After studying hard in veterinary school, she practiced in several different countries before moving to North Carolina with her husband and young family. She currently works part time as a veterinarian while caring for her 4 busy children and writing this blog. Dr. Elly genuinely cares about the welfare of her patients. She currently has three dogs, two cats, 5 chickens and 2 rabbits (yes a bit of a zoo!)