Sharing your home with pets means lots of paws around, and lots of paws mean lots of claws. Lots of claws mean that you have to make sure they get trimmed. No worries! Not only are we going to teach you how to trim dog nails that are overgrown, but also how to turn each session into quality time for both of you.

First, though: Do dogs have claws or nails? Technically they’re claws because they’re curved hooks instead of flattened shields, but either term is acceptable. They’re made mostly of keratin, the same protein in hooves, horns, and hair. Because claws play a role in mobility, traction, and speed, providing foot care can prevent permanent damage to your pooch’s hips, spine, and general well-being.
Let’s take a look at handling overgrown dog nails.

Learn to Trim Your Own Dog’s Nails

Learning to do it yourself will strengthen the canine/human bond of trust. Nobody on Earth knows your pet as well as you. Your dog will appreciate your growing skill as you learn together at your own pace. Best of all, you’ll feel pride instead of guilt when you interact with your buddy.

Establishing Leadership Through a Nail Trim

Beginning training early helps build your relationship with each other. As you establish yourself as the top dog looking out for the pack, you lead the way by letting your dog know when to stand, sit, or lie down during the procedure. Through your guidance, your pooch learns to stay still while you complete each paw.

Understand the Psychology of Your Dog

In the wild, canines have been predators hunting in packs for a long time. They were successful because of their intelligence, endurance, and teamwork. To survive, they supplemented their raw meat diet with fruits, vegetables, and grasses. “Raw meat” meant organs, stomach contents, whole eggs, and raw bones. They ate the small bones, gnawing on the large bones to clean their teeth. Exercise and play kept them healthy.

Partnering with humans didn’t change their need for physical and mental stimulation, but it brought mutual benefits to each species. Since you expect them to learn your language, you need to learn basic canine communication as well. Canines offered their guarding and hunting skills as well as companionship. Humans offered shelter, food, companionship, and care. Including nail trimming!

Long, Overgrown Nails Create Discomfort and Limitations

Overgrown animal claws are not the same as overgrown human nails. We don’t walk on our fingers and toes. Long dog nails force the toes to bend sideways and the entire foot to lean in abnormal directions. Over time this affects muscle attachments and even bone growth. If you’ve ever injured your foot, remember how your hips and back felt “off” — your entire body alignment warped.

That in turn altered your ability to move. Did you discover that pain resulted in depression, frustration, and even isolation? Disability to animals in the wild often means starvation or violent death. When you learn how to trim dog nails that are overgrown you prevent triggering all those feelings.

The Timing of the Trim: A Key to Success

There are two times to trim: one is when the nails begin to need it. Nails need trimming if they nearly touch the ground when your dog is in a standing position. Although a common trimming schedule cycles every 3-5 weeks, both of you might feel more comfortable if you nip off only the tips more often. Not only will weekly nail care help your pet get used to the routine, but it will also trigger the quick to recede.

The other time to trim long nails is when you’re both feeling comfortable, calm, unhurried, and unstressed. Grabbing your dog in the middle of zoomies is not good timing! A better opportunity is when he’s tired after zoomies or a long walk. You’ll be able to concentrate best in a quiet environment without interruptions. Humans and animals experience normal variations in their moods and energy cycles, so sync yours with your pet’s.

Finally, keep in mind The Teachable Moment when any sentient being is best able to learn.

Handle Your Dog’s Paws Frequently

From the first day you bring your pup home, start getting her accustomed to having her paws, toes, and nails handled. While you’re at it, include her ears and teeth in the process. Do it casually and frequently. Make it a positive moment by linking the action with other pleasant actions such as a feel-good brushing or a good tummy rub. Offering small nutritious treats not only distracts her but rewards her. Frequent handling in the presence of nearby grooming tools teaches your pet that touching doesn’t always mean trimming.

If your dog’s nails have grown long, don’t avoid touching them. Gentle handling lets your pet know that you’re aware of the discomfort and intend to deal with it.

Conditioning Works!

Why do so many pets immediately go on full alert when they hear the sound of cellophane or plastic crackling? Because they’re conditioned to expect food after you unwrap it! Repeated events create expectations. Here you go:

1. Start by hiding the nail trimmers and treats out of sight. Then take out the clippers and immediately follow with a treat. Repeat. Frequent repetitions instruct your dog to associate trimmers with treats.

2. The next step, depending on your fur buddy’s comfort level, is to present the clippers, gently take hold of one paw, and then give a treat. Your dog will link the clippers and “handholding” with treats. Continue to practice this exercise until your dog welcomes it. If your dog pulls away, you can lay your fingers on the paw instead and work up to grasping it.

3. At some point, you want to introduce the sound of trimming. Dogs have sensitive ears so this is a major step. Some experts suggest letting your pet see and hear you trim a piece of uncooked pasta. The sound of clipping a dry spaghetti noodle will signal your dog that a treat follows!

4. When your pet is ready to advance to the next level, begin touching the trimmer to one nail for a moment. As you did with the other steps, repeat in short sessions daily.

5. As you might guess, the next step in the process means touching more than one toe before giving the treat.

6. Now you’re in the home stretch! As before, continue slowly with baby steps. Trim the tip of one nail and reward your pooch with a treat as well as lots of praise and affection. Let her know what a great pup she is!

7. This training method works for grinding-type nail trimmers as well. Slowly proceed step-by-step. Be mindful of long hair on the paws and around the toes so it won’t get pulled into the rotary motion of the grinder.

Sensitive Paws Require Sensitive Handling

Most American nurses are familiar with the phrase “pain is whatever the patient says it is.” The same goes for your pets. If they show signs of experiencing discomfort, you need to believe them and respect that. Your role in your partnership with your canine companion is to build trust early. Before anything ever happens, your pet knows in advance that you’ll always be gentle no matter what.

How to Avoid the Quick!

It’s easy to see the quick in light-colored nails: the pink pulp is clearly visible. You can still see the quick in dark nails but in a different way. Look on the underside for a gray oval with the black keratin hook over it. The gray oval indicates the quick. Do not cut into it! Trim a couple of millimeters above it — a millimeter is a bit less than the thickness of a dime. If your dog suddenly shows nervousness or sensitivity, it might mean that you’re close to the quick. (It also might mean that you’re squeezing his paw too hard.)

Trimming the Trimming Sessions

Pooches may prefer trimming sessions most while lying on their sides, sitting, or standing. Explore a variety of positions to discover which are easiest for you and most comfortable for your dog. Short sessions lasting only a couple of minutes prove to your pet that treatments are fast. Fitting in a couple of daily sessions will quickly make a noticeable difference in your pet’s attitude once they’re convinced of how easy and painless it is to get treats.

Your furbaby’s comfort and health are more important than productivity! Nail trims are not like employment at a high-output factory! It’s perfectly acceptable to do one nail a day if that’s what works.

ANGLE of the Trim

Does the angle to cut dog’s nails matter? Does your haircut matter? It grows out depending on how it’s cut. A 45-degree angle is best, the same as a right angle like the corner in a square. A sharp angle puts the nail at risk to break off while a blunt angle exposes the quick to damage from coarse surfaces.

Create a Calming Atmosphere

These suggestions will make a difference:

  • A welcoming environment: A safe haven without interruptions, loud noises, disruptive housemates, nervous friends, etc. — you get the idea. Ensure gentle lighting so you can see what you’re doing without putting your dog in the glaring spotlight.
  • Your mellowest vibes: Your pet senses your feelings. If either of you feels unsure about nail trimming, just attend to a few nails each session.
  • Music: Studies indicate that music affects dogs.  Certain classical music calms anxiety in many dogs. Since each pooch is an individual, experiment with changing the playlist to see what your pet prefers.
  • Massage: A pre-trim or post-trim massage will make you both feel good.

Tools Needed for Trimming

Gather your supplies in advance:

  • Clippers: Quality stainless steel clippers won’t quickly dent, chip, rust, or grow dull. You may prefer the scissors type, often easier with wiggly puppies, or the guillotine type. Choose the size appropriate for your dog’s nails. Refurbish or replace them as needed so dull blades won’t crush or tear the nails.
  • Grinder: Because of the sandpaper-like surface on a rotating cylinder, some people call these “Dremels” even though many good brands exist. Most are battery-powered rather than electric. They’re gentle and easy to control, but most pets need to get used to the sensation of vibration as well as the dental drill sound. The heads or head covers are usually replaceable although many newer models are made with diamond chips. Because the heads heat up, they may stop accidental bleeding by cauterizing the quick. Try a grinder on yourself to become familiar with the experience. You can also use emery boards or metal files for small jobs.
  • Scratchboard: Many dogs love to dig, so you can take advantage of this natural behavior by buying or making a scratchboard. Your dog can learn to use it like an emery board. If you decide to make your own, choose a non-toxic eco-friendly glue that won’t harm the environment.
  • Anti-slip surface: To reduce your pooch’s anxiety, always work on a carpet or firm floor-gripping mat. You can also do trimming outside on dry concrete.
  • Styptic pencil or powder: In case bleeding occurs, using styptic powder or cornstarch will quickly control it. Alternatively, dab the injured claw on a bar of soap.
  • Paper towels: Why? If you have a dog, you know that a few paper towels always come in handy.
  • Treats: Small, dry, natural, nutritious treats are best. Many dogs will enjoy bits of their usual food.
  • A buddy: Another familiar (and calm) human or canine lends emotional support while you concentrate on the task itself.

Only Reward Good Behavior

Be selective with food rewards because that’s how you highlight desired behaviors. You love your pooch 24/7 but you only want to promote specific changes in what he does. Many trainers recommend substituting ignoring your dog immediately following an unwanted behavior. Our pets want to belong in our pack so they crave your approval. Punishment only disrupts the bond of trust that you’re working to maintain.

Pre-Plan for Traumatized or Anxious Dogs

Shaping redirects and reinforces desired behaviors, helping a pet relearn how to feel safe. You can use the same principles to ease a pet’s anxiety. Traumatized individuals have survived painful experiences but avoid situations triggering the fear of repeated pain.

The principles we’re showing you all apply to traumatized or anxious dogs: establishing trust, ensuring a calm environment, and proceeding slowly in short sessions to help your furbaby realize that the present is not the past. Understanding canine feelings will give you the patience to go at their pace.

Nutrition for a Calm Mind

You know that what we eat and drink affects our minds. Think of coffee … sweets for kids … white turkey meat … chocolate … herbal teas … alcohol. The list goes on and on. Dogs are the same. What you feed your pet affects training results. Scientific research increasingly demonstrates the positive effects of a varied, fresh, nutrient-dense unprocessed diet on mental functioning as well as mood. In fact, certain foods help lessen anxiety and promote calmness. Rather than simply doling out chunks of raw turkey, check out our Happy Tails post on the The Raw Food Diet ~ Essential For Sustainable Health and Well-Being  . Adopting daily healthful nutritional practices will improve learning ability because your dog feels more self-confident about adapting to change.

Another diet-related step to ease your furbaby’s pent-up energy is to ensure opportunities to chew. Chewing is a natural activity for canines in the wild that not only exercises jaw muscles but also relieves stress and delivers pleasure. Our Happy Tails post on raw bones explains more.

Make Trimming a Bonding Time

Think back on challenging times you’ve shared with a special friend or family member. The way you connected during the stressful events brought you closer together because it reinforced your trust. Instead of thinking of nail trimming as a chore, consider it an opportunity to work together with your pet.

It’s a special shared time unique to you both working as a team. By creating an environment with mutual comfort in mind, you make nail trimming something to look forward to. You include conversation, physical affection, and rewards such as treats or play activities, so you always end on a positive note.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

▢ Every dog wants and needs pain-free foot care, especially from you because you’re special.
▢ The timing of the trim is one of the keys to success. Take advantage of the Teachable Moments. Trim when your pooch is tired. Keep sessions short.
▢ Sharing a regular routine builds trust. Dogs like to know what to expect, so regular nail trims reinforce your bond.
▢ Prepare in advance.
▢ Make it fun.
▢ Stop if you’re feeling frustrated.
▢ Breathe.
▢ Hug your dog at the end.
▢ You’ve got this!

See Our Post On Clipping Cat Nails

Glossary

Conditioning: A process in psychology for teaching an association between a particular signal and a certain behavior
Keratin: The protein composing hair, claws, nails, hooves, and horns
Linking: A memory process in psychology connecting memories
Quick: The blood vessels and nerves inside animal claws
Sentient: Consciously aware of oneself and one’s surroundings, able to comprehend actions and consequences
Shaping: The process in psychology of changing behaviors by reinforcing certain stimuli and decreasing others
Styptic: A powder or stick often made with alum, an aluminum salt that constricts the surface blood vessels of small wounds and halts bleeding
The Teachable Moment: An absence of stress allowing a person or animal to be most receptive to new learning because of a heightened ability to concentrate, comprehend, and create new memory pathways