6 Steps to Trim Your Dog’s Nails at Home Like a Pro

Make trimming your dog's nails something you both enjoy (or at least tolerate).

Updated May 5, 2023
Dog groomer cutting nails on a poodle

If you dread nail trimming day as much as your dog does, we hear you. But keeping your dog's nails trimmed is essential for their health (and, let's face it, your floors and furniture), so it has to be done. Make it a positive experience for everyone by learning how to trim your dog's nails the safe and easy way. Oh, and did we mention we have tricks for finding the quick on black nails? Nailed it!

Nail Trimming Step-by-Step

Take the stress out of trimming your dog's nails with this detailed how-to guide.

  1. Before you even get the clippers out, speak soothingly to your dog. This will help them remain calm and get them into a comfortable position.
  2. Hold your dog's paw in one hand so you can see the nails. If they have long hair on their feet, you may need to push the hair up to reveal the nails.
  3. With the same hand, gently press the top of one toe and the corresponding pad to extend the nail.
  4. With the clippers in your other hand, position the tool around the nail. You'll want to avoid the sensitive quick portion, so only trim a small amount at first, and cut at a 45-degree angle.
  5. Repeat this with all the nails, including the dewclaws (which are essentially their thumbnails), if your dog has them.
  6. Be sure to praise your dog throughout and stop if they become stressed, panicked, or aggressive.
Quick Tip

Usually, it's best to have two people involved: one to stay at the dog's head and distract them, and one to do the trimming.

Why Is It Essential to Trim Dog Nails?

Nail trimming might be one of your dog's least favorite activities, but it's really important for their health. Overgrown nails put pressure on your dog's nail bed, which is incredibly painful and will eventually lead to arthritis. They can affect the way your dog walks, get caught on things, and damage their toes; plus, nails can grow into the pad and cause an infection.

Best Tools for Trimming

Labrador retriever getting nail cutting treatment

There are so many different types of trimmers you can use; it can get a little overwhelming. But the best and arguably the safest kind are scissor-style clippers. They put less pressure on the nail as it's trimmed, which makes the task easier and more comfortable for your pup. Plus, there's a small, flat guide you can position over the opening between the blades, so you can avoid over-cutting.

How to Find the Quick and Avoid It

You've probably heard people say "Be careful of the quick!" but what is the quick, and how do you find it? Your dog's nail quick is the innermost portion of their nail that contains nerve and blood vessels. If you accidentally trim the quick, it will bleed and hurt, so it's best to identify the quick and avoid it.

Clear Nails

Trimming pink dog nails.

If your dog has clear nails, identifying their quick is easy. Simply hold their paw in your hand and look closely at the nail; the pink portion in the center is the quick.

Black Nails

Dog Paw of a Chocolate Labrador

For dogs with black nails, finding the quick can be more challenging, but not impossible. There are a few approaches you can take.

  • Use light: Shine a light on the underside of the nail, so you can differentiate between the translucent nail and the opaque quick portion. This will give you a better idea of how long the quick is, so you can avoid cutting it.
  • Trim a bit at a time: Even if you're not entirely sure where the quick is, you can start trimming off a bit until you get close to the quick. Take a look at the nail after each little trim and stop as soon as you see the black "meaty" portion, which is the pulp right before the quick.

How to Grind Your Dog's Nails

One drawback to freshly trimmed dog nails is the fact that they can be incredibly sharp. If your dog paws at your arm or jumps into your lap, it hurts! Don't worry because we have a remedy for this problem: filing the edges to make them smoother.

Using a nail file can be tedious, and your dog might not want to sit still for it, especially after tolerating the trimming part. That's why we love the Dremel grinder instead. The rotating stone on the grinder gently presses against the tip of the nail to smooth the sharp edges. You can even use this tool with clippers to grind your dog's nails down.


How often should I cut my dog's nails?

Most dogs should have their nails trimmed every four to six weeks, but every dog is different. Dogs who have long quicks might need it done more frequently because you can only trim a little bit off each time. So every two to three weeks might be better for them. On the other hand, dogs who go for walks often might not need it done as often because they naturally wear their nails down on concrete or rough surfaces. Your vet can give you a better idea of how frequently to do it, so ask at your next appointment.

What should I do if I quick my dog's nail?

If you accidentally quick your dog while trimming their nails, don't panic. First, apply pressure with a clean paper towel or cotton gauze. If you have styptic powder, you can apply that to the nail to stop the bleeding, but cornstarch will work in a pinch. The bleeding should halt right away, but keep an eye on the nail and report any continued bleeding or signs of infection to your vet.

Quick Tip

Don't have styptic powder to stop the bleeding? Cornstarch will work just as well!

Nail Trimming Doesn't Have to Be a Battle

Even if you have an older dog, it's not too late to desensitize them to nail trimming. Make handling their feet part of your daily routine, and reward them with treats and praise as you do it. In no time, your dog will accept having their nails trimmed, and with practice, you'll feel confident doing it. Who knows, your friends might even ask you to trim their dog's nails!

6 Steps to Trim Your Dog’s Nails at Home Like a Pro