How To Safely Cut Your Dog’s Nails

by | Feb 19, 2021

dog holding nail clippers

Cutting Your Dog’s Nails Safely

We’ve all heard the impending sound of “click, click, click” from our dog scampering around on the hardwood floor and know that the time has finally come. It is time to cut their nails. For many, it can be daunting to cut their dog’s nails, and it’s important to know how to do so safely.

To safely cut your dog’s nails, place their paw in your hand and examine the length of their nails. Begin trimming each nail by cutting a quarter-inch off per session to reduce the chance of harming the dog’s “quick.” The “quick” is located at the hook or curved part of the nail, so be sure to trim below this portion only.

The actual act of clipping your dog’s nails is easy, and with an acclimated dog, this process can take less than five minutes. However, understanding the anatomy of the nail and the proper steps to take to get your dog used to the trimming process is critical to achieving a successful nail trim. Below, I will go over how to trim a nail successfully, how to avoid injury, and what to do if you cut too far. I’ll also touch on some helpful tips to keep your dog calm and relaxed during their nail trim.

How To Cut Your Dog’s Nails – It’s Not Always Black And White 

As you may know, dogs have either clear nails or black nails, depending on their breed. Or, some may have a combination of both. It’s important to understand the anatomy of your dog’s nails so that you do not accidentally cut the quick, which will cause them to bleed. With clear nails, the quick looks like a small vein and is pink in color. Use this as a guide as the quick usually stops at the top curve of the nail.

With black nails, you need to use more caution and look for the hook of the nail itself. You can also look for a “bullseye” on the bottom of the nail as you cut more off. When you hit the “bullseye” area, stop trimming the nail. Going any further would cause pain to your dog and would cause them to bleed by cutting the quick. Always cut the nail at a 45-degree angle and go slowly as you can always take more off, but you can’t put any back on!

For dogs with longer nails that are not regularly trimmed, the quick will grow with the length of the nail. This will require more patience on your part to get the dog’s nail to an acceptable length. Take a small amount off each nail until you reach the “bullseye” or the end of the quick. Repeat this process for four to five weeks, and the quick will naturally recede with the routine nail trims. As long as you keep up with it, you can get your dog’s nails back in shape in no time. 

Best Nail Clippers & Alternatives

Whether you’ve been cutting your dog’s nails for years or are just getting started, having a reliable and sharp pair of clippers is key to preventing headaches for you and injuries for your dog. My favorite pair that I own are the gonicc clippers, as they come with a guard to keep you from cutting off too much at a time. I use this as a guide rather than a rule of thumb as my dog’s nails often need more to be cut off than the guard allows, but it is still a useful tool.

If your dog is not too keen on the clippers, you can also opt to use a nail grinder that slowly grinds the nail down. This is a great way to reduce the chance of cutting too far with traditional clippers and allows you to get close to the quick more slowly. Some dogs may not like the noise that it makes or the sensation, so be sure to introduce it by giving them treats and continue to reward them when you use it.

The easier and cheapest way to keep your dog’s nails short is by walking them! For dogs that love to go on runs or long walks, you may never have to trim their nails as the environment wears them down naturally. If your dog has dewclaws (the little thumb nail farther up their leg), you will still need to trim those occasionally as they don’t make contact with the ground during walks.

What If I Cut Too Far?

If you accidentally cut too far or your dog moves suddenly while you are trimming, remember that this happens more than you can imagine. Not a day went by at the vet’s office where someone didn’t trim just a bit too far on a black nail as every dog is different.

If you’re going to be trimming your dog’s nails for now or in the future, I highly highly recommend getting some Kwik-Stop. To use Kwik-Stop, you simply place a small amount of the powder on your finger and place the powder onto your dog’s bleeding nail. The powder will adhere to the nail and stop the bleeding, allowing the nail to heal quickly. Usually, quicks will only bleed for about five or so minutes, but the Kwik-Stop will stop the bleeding immediately. If you’re in an absolute pinch, you can use a small amount of flour to obtain similar results. It does not bind as well but will work if you don’t have anything else available.

If you’re unsure about nail trimming or if your dog is very sensitive, you can always take your dog into their veterinarian’s office or a grooming salon. Each of these places offers nail trims aside from their other services, and pricing may differ based on your location. Mobile groomers are also a viable option. It is so important for your dogs to have their nails regularly cut as if they get too long, they can grow into the paw pads, which causes extreme discomfort and

Tips For Nail Trims

If you have a dog who just won’t sit still to have its nails trimmed, there are several ways you can get them used to the idea of the trim. This will take time and patience but, in the end, it will save you trips to the vet to have them cut. If your dog is a fan of peanut butter, I like to smear a bunch of it on a Lick Mat and let them go to town while I trim. You can also give them a stuffed Kong or chew that they like. If you have someone else in your home, try to have them be close enough to give the dog treats for standing still.

For dogs that are just terrified of nail trims or the clippers, the best way to get them used to the concept is to reintroduce them very slowly. Let them sniff the clippers and immediately give them a treat. Try this several times a day for the first day. Handle their paws and give them treats for you just touching their nails. Try trimming one nail in the morning and another at night, all while rewarding for success. And success can look like your dog simply allowing the nail clippers to be out and around while they chew on a toy. Just go slow. Rushing your dog into something like this, especially if they have an intense fear, will take you ten steps back rather than forward. Remember, be patient and generous with rewards!


Cutting your dog’s nails safely requires the right tools and a little bit of know-how but is quite easy once you master it. Always reward your dog for small strides if nail trims have been challenging for them in the past. Keeping your dog’s nails at an appropriate length is necessary for their health and can become a simple task when the proper steps are taken.

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