How to Trim Dog Nails In 3 Easy Steps

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As a dog owner, you know that it’s important that grooming should be part of your dog’s routine – that includes trimming your dog’s nails. Keeping a good nail care regimen for your four-legged friend can help ensure healthy paws and improved posture. In this blog post, I’ll give you all the necessary information—from product recommendations to proper clipping techniques—to have your dog looking (and feeling) their best with trimmed nails.

Understanding Dog Nails

A diagram on how to trim dog nails by showing the anatomy of the paw, such as the wing tip and quick. It also shows where to cut or file.

A dog’s nail is composed of a hard, keratinized protein that protects the underlying blood vessels, referred to as the “quick”. While it’s important for dog owners to keep their nails trimmed, they should also take care not to cut too close to the quick and cause pain or bleeding.

A dog with light-colored nails will be easier to trim because you can see the quick and avoid it. Dark nails can be difficult, especially if they are thick.

By allowing the nails to grow long over a long period, the quick will gradually extend further into the nail. If this happens, you will only be able to trim a small amount before finding the quick. You can combat the quick and make it recede by trimming the nail back as close to the quick as possible without cutting into it.

Methods to Trim Your Dog’s Nails

There are three methods you can choose when trimming your dog’s nails:

Option 1: Only trim the nails with clippers. This option is the quickest method to trim your dog’s nails but the nails may be sharp before they naturally smooth out over time.

Option 2: Skip the clippers and go straight to grinding the nails. If your dog’s nails are relatively short and regularly maintained, this is the quickest way to achieve a smooth finish.

Option 3: Trim the nails with clippers and use the grinder for a closer and smoother finish. If your dog has long nails and you want to get as close to the quick as possible without cutting your dog, this is the option for you.

Gather Your Materials

You will need:

Check here for my product recommendations on nail clippers, grinders, and styptic powder.

Get Accustomed to the Nail Clippers

Whether you are using nail clippers or a grinder, your dog needs to grow accustomed to the tools to avoid a potentially stressful situation. You can do this by building a positive association through the use of food rewards before, during, and after the process.

This is an important part of the process, whether you are just starting with a puppy or have an adult who already hates nail trims.

How to Trim Dog Nails

  1. Gently lift your dog’s paw and locate the nail tip. Refer to the diagram above if you are not sure where to cut. This is the part of the nail that doesn’t have any thickness and looks like a hook. Cut the wing/nail tip off.
    • Gradually continue to shave the nail off sliver by sliver. Do not cut large chunks off, as you risk cutting deep into the quick if you are not careful. Continue to cut until you see the “pulp” of the nail, which is close to the quick. This looks like a black dot that appears in the center of the nail.
      • If you have anxiety about this step and are planning on grinding the nails, you can skip this step and follow the instructions below on how to file dog nails.
    • Follow up with lots of treats and praise. Remember – you want your dog to form a positive association with having their nails trimmed. I like to give my dogs a treat after each nail is done.

    If you want to take more of the nail off and smooth your dog’s nails by grinding them down, follow the steps below.

    How to File Dog Nails

    1. Hold your dog’s paw and gently press on a toe to extend the nail out. This will also keep the nail steady while being filed.
    2. Lightly run the grinder over the end of the nail to round it out until the nail is smooth and there are no sharp edges. Do not hold the grinder in the same spot for longer than 3 seconds to prevent the nail from overheating. Repeat this process for each nail.
    3. Follow up with food rewards after each nail – your pup deserves it!

    Additional Grinding Tips

    If you are trying to make the quick recede, be sure to lightly grind over the top of the nail.

    If the nails are long and you skipped trimming with clippers, grinding the nails back may take a bit longer. To prevent overheating of the nail, you can rotate the nails on each paw to give them a chance to cool down between rotations.

    The texture of the nail will change as you near the quick and this will be your sign to stop.

    If you do hit the quick, it will be sensitive to your dog but not painful and there will be a very small (if any) amount of blood.


    Dog nail trimming doesn’t have to be a complicated or anxiety-inducing process. By taking it slow, rewarding your dog, and doing one nail at a time, you can make the experience relatively stress-free for both of you. If you’re struggling, you may need a groomer or veterinarian to help you out.


    Ashley is a professional dog trainer with 10+ years of industry experience, working with a wide variety of dog breeds, temperaments and behaviors. Her goal is to bridge the gap between dog owners and trainers to build a better life for dogs and their humans.