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Dog Nail Grooming – Made Easy

dog nail grooming.Dog Nail Grooming

Your dog is bathed, trimmed and scented, but did you remember its “pawticure”, dog nail grooming with dog nail clippers? Keeping your dog well groomed is a head-to-toe responsibility.  The condition of your dog’s coat is important to its appearance and good health and so is the condition of its nails.

Overgrown nails can create health and safety problems for your dog, too.  Let’s take a few moments to learn about dog nail clippers and how to use them for dog nail grooming.

Dog Nails Basics –

A dog nail (claw) is comprised of a hard outer shell and a blood supply housed in the cuticle, called the “quick”.  Some nails are light colored, other nails are dark colored or black; some dogs have a combination of both light and dark colored nails. (hard to see the cuticle in dark or black nails)

Most breeds of domesticated dogs have five toes and claws on each front foot, and four toes and claws on each back foot.   The dewclaw (the “fifth” toe located at the back of the front of each leg) is usually considered unnecessary for healthy movement.

It also can be prone to overgrowth and injury.  Many breeders have the nail portion of the puppies’ dewclaws removed shortly after birth.

A dog’s nails are its tools, used for digging, traction, and for protection.  Healthy nail length depends on structure of the dog’s foot, its activities/activity level, and the surfaces on which it works/runs/plays.  Some generalizations can be made about how quickly dogs’ nails wear down:

1 – Working dogs – pastoral/herding, hunter, service dogs, or dogs in competitive athletic disciplines – tend to wear their claws down more readily.

 2 – Dogs that live entirely indoors, have little or only modest levels of outdoor activity, and almost no regular exercise naturally abrasive surfaces such as asphalt, concrete or gravel, may require frequent trimming to keep nails at an appropriate length.

Nail problems –

Nails that are too long push the toes up as the paw lands on the floor or road surface.  Over time, the joints can become inflamed and the dog will experience paw and leg pain.  Long nails are also more prone to damage.  A long nail can be snagged, broken or pulled out – more pain and foot trauma for your dog.

Perfect nails –

dog nail grooming,The best nail length depends on the dog’s activities or functions.

1 – Working, hunting, coursing dogs typically need their nails to safely and successfully complete their work.

2 – Show dogs – the desired nail length may vary between breeds, breed standards, individual breeder/handler/judging preferences.  It is common see show dogs’ nails trimmed much closer to the point where the nail meets the toe.  The belief is that such a short nail better shows the overall structure of the foot for judging purposes.

3 – Companion dogs, particularly small toy breeds often have high nail maintenance needs if their activities don’t allow for the natural abrasion from rough surfaces.

4 – Determine proper nail length by having the dog stand on a flat surface.  Properly trimmed nails should just clear the surface.  People who prefer not to hear the clicking sound of their dogs’ nails choose to keep the nail length even shorter than the “just clearing” level.  But there is a big difference between this level of short nails and that which almost totally eliminates the traction ability for walking across smooth or slippery surfaces.

The right tools for the pawticure –

Many people do their own dog’s nail trimming while others prefer to pay for professional nail grooming.  If you decide to use professional grooming services, keep these things in mind:

1 – The grooming facility should be clean and the dog nail grooming equipment should always be properly maintained.

2 – The groomer should have a combination of skills, experience, and “gentle firmness”.  He or she should be willing to discuss the trimming process with you and ask if you prefer the dogs’ nails be clipped, filed/ground, and how short.

3- Your dog should always be secured on a safe surface during the grooming session.  Conditions where the dog could slip or fall are unacceptable.

4 – If you observe any harsh treatment or indications that the trimming was too excessive, find a new groomer.  Nail trimming should never be traumatic or painful for your dog.  Ask friends or your veterinarian for recommendations.

You want to be the pawticurist?  Congratulations! 

This can be an excellent way of deepening the bond between you and your dog.  Learning to trim your dog’s nails can be accomplished through several means:

Many breeders begin familiarizing their puppies about nail grooming when the puppies are very young.  If so, ask if the breeder is willing to show you proper nail trimming techniques.

Your veterinary technician is another good learning resource.

If you are part of the dog show world, someone will be ready and willing to teach you how to trim your dog’s nails.  Watch how the experienced person trims and then ask to be guided as you practice trimming a nail or two.  Your mentor wants you to be safe and confident when trimming your dog’s nails.

Prepare yourself with knowledge before you ever pick up the dog nail clippers or file.  The internet is a wonderful resource for articles and video clips on the structure of a dog’s nails as well as “how to’s” of safe and correct trimming.


Dog Nail Grooming Tools –

Different tools may be needed for different times of life and different dog personalities.  Puppies typically have small, soft nails that can be trimmed by scissor-style clippers.  Dogs with thicker nails will need either filing or clipping with anvil or guillotine-style clippers.  A web search of pet supplies or a visit to your local pet supplies store will give you a number of options to consider.

Pawticure Tools: 

1 – Dog nail clippers, a filing board (this can be metal or an “emery board” designed specifically for filing dogs’ nails), or a dremel – style grinder

2 – Cotton pads or balls

3 – Styptic powder or styptic pencil (in case of a small bleed)

 4 – Cornstarch or cayenne pepper are also acceptable substitutes for styptic; either can be poured into a small container and kept at the ready

 5 – TREATS – lots of small treats for positive reinforcement

Getting past the distrust –

Many dogs really don’t like to have their paws touched or held, even by the people they love most.  Success in dog nail grooming begins by slowly building trust and there is a lot of online information to guide you through this trust-building process.

Files for dog nails are used in the same way that you would file your own nails but the process can be very slow.  Most groomers and pet owners opt for either clippers or grinders.  Whichever method you choose, use tools designed only and specifically for dogs. Just as dogs have trimming preferences, so do their people.  It is helpful to be aware of the pros and cons of clipping vs. grinding/filing:

Clipper Pros:

1 – Dog nail clippers are usually described as anvil or guillotine style.  They can be great for dogs with light colored nails because that light-colored nail also shows the location of the quick that dark pigmentation can totally conceal.  Seeing the quick makes it easier to safely clip without cutting the quick.  If the dog has dark nails, the only way to safely use clippers is to take a very tiny amount of the tip of the nail at each grooming session.

2 – Clippers come in small, medium and large sets to accommodate nail thickness.

Clipper Cons:

1 – It can be very easy to nick or cut the quick.  This can be alarming to both dog and human because it is uncomfortable for the dog and will more than likely produce what seems like a copious amount of blood.

2 – Clippers create pressure on the nail before the cut is complete.  It is likened to a powerful pinch and can be uncomfortable for the dog.  Some dogs intensely dislike that pressure and resist the clipping process.

Scissors Pro:

1 – Scissor-type clippers are designed specifically for small breeds with thin nails.  They generally are as easy to use as clippers but with the same cautions about being careful not to cut the quick.

Scissors Cons:

1 – It can be easy to cut the quick.

Clippers and scissors should always be sharp.  It is essential to clean clippers or scissors after each use.  Pour hot water in a bowl, stir in disinfectant soap, and place the scissors or clippers in the solution to soak for 20 – 30 minutes.  Remove and dry the unit with a soft cloth.  Use a paper towel moistened with rubbing alcohol to wipe the cutting edges.  Air dry completely and then store the clippers or scissors in a plastic bag or protective container.


Grinders Pros:

Many people find that using a grinder is a safer and faster way to trim nails.  Like scissors and clippers, there is a wide range of prices and abilities.

 1 – The most effective grinders usually have two speeds, are rechargeable or electric, and have easily replaceable grinding bands.

 2 – Grinders come in several sizes and powers to accommodate nail thickness.

 3 – They can be safer to use than clippers in that it is easier to stop well before cutting the quick; use a few, quick strokes of the grinder belt against the nail tip, then stop to evaluate the nail length.

Grinder Cons:

1 – Some grinders just aren’t up to the task.  Ask for guidance when shopping for a grinder.

2 – Some grinders generate a loud humming noise that upsets dogs; other grinders are fairly powerful but quieter.  Your dog may need extended de-sensitizing to accustom it to the sound.

3 – Some dogs have ticklish toes (and some toes may be more ticklish than others!); grinding can aggravate this ticklishness.  De-sensitization and patience are needed.

4 – Grinder wheels work at high speed revolutions and the friction exerted on the nail can quickly generate a lot of heat that is very uncomfortable to the dog.  Allow the grinder to come up to speed and apply the band lightly to the tip of the nail.  Do NOT hold the grinder wheel against the nail non-stop until you reach the desired nail length:  it will cause painful overheating.

5 – Using a grinder with dogs that have long hair between the toes or long, feathery tails can be challenging.  It is essential that all care be taken to hold the long toe hair away from the revolving head of the grinder; it may be helpful to have a grooming partner who can help hold the tail out of the way, too.


Call in the pro –

Nail clipping can be a trial and error process but you will eventually find the system and tools that work well for both you and your dog.  Dog nail grooming time should be as happy, relaxed and rewarding (remember those treats?) as possible but there will be days when things just don’t go well or this just isn’t for you then call in the pro.


Hope this helps in caring for your pet, please leave a comment or a question and I will get back to you as soon as possible, Thanks

18 thoughts on “Dog Nail Grooming – Made Easy
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