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9 Expert Tips To Make Nail Trims Easier On Your Dog

Written by: Dina Fantegrossi
Dina Fantegrossi is the Assistant Editor and Head Writer for HomeLife Media. Before her career in writing, Dina was a veterinary technician for more than 15 years.Read more
| Published on August 17, 2018

During my career as a veterinary technician, clients often asked me for advice on performing successful nail trims at home. The process of trimming dog nails is actually quite simple. Most people just need help getting their pups to cooperate!

Luckily, even dogs that despise the clippers can become acclimated to the process, or at least learn to tolerate it.

Below are 9 tricks for making nail trims go smoothly – even on dogs with black nails or furry paws. If trimming dog nails is new for you, click here for a detailed how-to guide.

Home Nail Trimming Tricks:

1. Work on Body Handling.

Dogs are often uncomfortable having certain areas of their bodies handled, especially the ears, mouth, tail and paws. Acclimating them to the sensations they will experience during vet exams, bathing and grooming will make these tasks much easier for all involved. This kind of confidence does not come overnight, but with patience and consistency, you can help your dog become more comfortable with having his paws handled and his nails trimmed.

2. Invest in a quality pair of clippers.

This isn’t really a “trick,” but it is essential for ensuring safe, easy nail trims. Choosing the right tool is a matter of preference, quality and reliability. For example, I prefer large plier-style clippers because they are strong enough to cut through large, thick nails. There are also smaller plier-style trimmers, as well as guillotine- and scissor-style clippers small dog parents may find more comfortable to work with.

3. Try grinding instead of clipping.

Photo via Amazon/Dremel Pet

Many dog owners and animal professionals opt to use a dremel tool to grind the nails down quickly, safely, and with relative ease. Dogs may also prefer this method because it does not involve squeezing the nail, which can be uncomfortable if traditional trimmers are dull or of poor quality.

However, other pups are frightened by the loud noise and strange sensation of having their nails ground. If you decide to try working with a dremel, start slowly and be sure to properly desensitize your dog to the new stimulus.

4. Trim nails after a bath.


The warm water from your dog’s bath softens the toenails, making them easier to clip and less likely to splinter or crack. Bath time may also help relax your pup so he’s less likely to fuss during nail trims.

5. Resort to good old-fashioned bribery.

When it comes to your dog’s health and safety, it’s okay to resort to bribery from time to time! Some dogs are so food-motivated the rest of the world seems to fade away in the presence of a juicy chicken breast. Having a friend or family member distract your dog with bits of highly-desirable treats may be all you need for successful, drama-free nail trims.

6. Use your cellphone flashlight to avoid cutting the quick.

Screenshot via YouTube/McCann Dog Training

Just about every cellphone comes with a built-in flashlight. In addition to providing better lighting, a phone can be laid flat on the floor to illuminate your pup’s paws from below. The beam illuminates translucent toenails revealing the pink quick and how far back you can safely trim.

7. For black toenails, examine the underside of the nail.

Black nails are always more of a challenge, but this trick will help you safely avoid the quick. Lift your dog’s paw and examine the underside of the nails. The solid tubular shape begins to taper into a hollow triangular point toward the tip where you will notice two thin outer “walls” (as in the photo above). This area is always safe to trim and can be filed down further with a dremel or nail file to take care of any ragged edges.

8. Got a hairy-pawed pup? Pick up a bag of oranges!

Screenshot via YouTube/McCann Dog Training

This strange, but genius life hack allows parents of furry-pawed pups to perform nail trims quickly and with less fuss. Simply purchase a bag of delicious, healthy oranges (which you can even share with your dog in moderation). The mesh bag the fruit comes in is perfect for pulling back the hair on the paws and exposing the toenails. You will no longer have to waste time and energy searching through all that fluff for each individual toe!

9. Trim nervous dogs’ nails out of their line of sight.

This simple trick is similar to squeamish humans turning their heads or closing their eyes during blood draws. Dogs cannot anticipate a stressful event, so it is up to us to do it for them.

When most owners lift up their pooches’ front paws for nail trims, they tend to extend the limbs forward, directly into the dogs’ line of vision. This is fine for pups comfortable with having their nails trimmed. However, for dogs that despise the experience, try keeping the dirty work out of sight.

While your dog is standing, lift the leg and bend the paw back at the carpal joint (wrist) so the paw pads are facing up. You will still have a clear view of the toenails, but your pooch will not.

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