All Things Doodles

How to Trim Dog Nails: Ultimate Guide!

But First, Pin It!

From dealing with a fidgety pup to worrying about hitting his quick, trimming your Doodle’s nails is definitely not the most pleasant of tasks. Our goal with this article is to give you the knowledge and confidence on how to trim dog nails effectively and efficiently. Follow this ultimate guide so that the anxiety surrounding this necessary grooming activity is lessened for the both of you.

What Happens When Dog Nails Get Too Long?

What happens if you don’t cut your dog’s nails? It’s a common question that every dog owner needs to know the answer to. Let’s discuss.

Can Long Nails Hurt My Dog?

First and foremost, long, overgrown nails can cause a significant level of pain and agony. When a dog has long nails, the simple act of walking can cause a lot of uncomfortable pressure on his toes, which results in very sore feet.

This is especially relevant when a dog’s long toenails contact hard ground, like hardwood floors or sidewalks. These hard surfaces only add to the amount of stress on the foot by putting pressure on all the toe joints. As a result, the toes can be forced to twist to the side.

In more severe cases, overgrown, curling nails can result in the nail growing back into the paw pad. Not only would this be terribly painful, but any tearing in the paw pad from the nail growth could quickly incite an infection that will need to be medically treated by a veterinarian.

As the dewclaws are more prone to this kind of overgrowth, be especially mindful of dog dew claw curling.

how to trim dog nails, dog dew claw curling
A very curled dew claw. Hard to see in this picture, but we discovered during trimming that the quick is also very long, so we could only shorten the nail just a little bit. We will continue to work on this nail every few days as the quick recedes.

Long dog nails also affect posture alignment. Where normal posture is when the dog has vertical legs like a table, the constant pressure and distress can also lead to a “goats on a rock” stance where his paws are positioned closer together under his body.

“These goat-on-a-rock dogs get over-used muscles and eventually over-used joints, especially in their hind limbs, making it difficult to jump in cars, climb stairs and even hard to get up from lying down. Sounds like a lot of older dogs we know!” (Source)

Moreover, prolonged negligence of overgrown nails can lead to chronic inflammation, thus causing arthritis of the foot. (Source)

Luckily, as Doodle owners who basically have our groomers on speed-dial, these severe side effects of long nails are very unlikely to happen. However, in between visits, knowing how to trim dog nails properly is a useful skill to have so that you can keep your Dood as comfortable as possible. In fact, here’s what one groomer had to say about nail care:

How Do I Know If My Dogs Nails Are Too Long?

Your Doodle’s nails are too long as soon as their nails touch the ground. It’s especially obvious if you can hear the clickety-clack of their nails on a hardwood floor or sidewalk. At this point, you need to take action and trim those babies. If his nails have started to turn sideways, they should’ve been trimmed yesterday.

How Long Should Dog Nails Be?

To piggy back off the answer above, healthy length dog nails should not touch ground when they are standing in an upright position. You should not be able to hear the nails clicking when your Doodle is walking on a hard floor, and they definitely should not be so long that they turn sideways.
Here are some images to demonstrate dog nails that are both too long, and at a proper length.

how to trim dog nails - too long vs ideal length
Left: the nails are too long because they are touching the ground.
Right: the nails are no longer touching the ground. This is a good and ideal length.

How Can I Cut My Dog’s Nails at Home?

If your Doodle has a while until his next visit to the groomer, or if you’ve committed to DIY grooming, you might be asking “How can I cut my dog’s nails at home?” 

With ease…and patience! 

In this section, we’ll talk about the various tools to use and other items you’ll need to effectively cut your Doodle’s nails at home.

But First, Some FAQs on How to Trim Dog Nails

Let’s answer some common questions on how to trim dog nails and about each dog nail trimming tool.

How Often Should My Dog’s Nails Get Trimmed?

How frequently you trim your dog’s nails depends on what the overall goal is. If his nails are overgrown and the quick is very long, then you will be working to recede the quick and trimming every 2-3 days. If you are simply maintaining the current ideal length, once a week is sufficient.

Can You Grind Long Dog Nails?

Yes. For long dog nails, you can use just the nail grinder, or you can use the grinder in conjunction with dog nail clippers, which are good for taking length off the nail initially. Either way, just as you would take precautions to avoid cutting into the quick with dog nail clippers, the same precautions should be taken when using a dog nail grinder.

Is It Better to Grind or Clip Dog Nails?

To someone who is seasoned at dog nail trimming, clipping dog nails is probably faster and more efficient. However, grinding is becoming the preferred method for professional groomers and DIY groomers alike. This is because there’s not a crushing sensation or as much of a “shock” factor with grinding as there is with nail clippers.

As such, the grinder can help to lessen any anxiety associated with the nail trimming process. In addition, dogs are able to quickly acclimate to the noise and vibrating sensation of a dog nail grinder, which makes them easier to use for everyone involved. You can watch a great video on acclimating your dog to the nail grinder in the section “How to Trim Dog Nails, Step-by-Step Guide” below.

Can You File Dog’s Nails Instead of Clipping?

Assuming we’re talking about a manual nail file, then yes. Between dog nail clippers, nail grinders, and using a manual nail file, this option is the least intimidating of the three. Keep in mind, however, that manual filing is quite time-consuming and may need to be done regularly to maintain appropriate nail length.

Can You Cut Dog Nails With Human Clippers?

Aside from the fact that most human nail clippers aren’t big enough for a large dog nail to fit through, they are also not heavy-duty enough to cut through the thickness of a dog’s nail. How to trim dog nails? Not with your personal nail clippers. 🙂

Does Walking Your Dog Trim Their Nails?

Yes, if your dog frequently walks on concrete, asphalt, or other hard rocky surfaces, it can help to trim their nails naturally. However, if he has overgrown nails to begin with, a few walks around the city aren’t going to magically shorten the nails to an appropriate and healthy length.

Dog Nail Trimming Tools You’ll Need

  1. Dog nail clippers, dog nail grinder, or dog nail file
  2. ALTERNATIVELY: Dog nail scratchboard
  3. Mesh bag (like the kind the little oranges come in)
  4. Flashlight (for dark nails)
  5. Cornstarch or styptic powder/pencil
  6. Treats!

1a) Dog Nail Clippers

Dog nail clippers are one of three nail trimming tools you can use. 
There are two styles of dog nail clippers: scissors and guillotine. It is said that the guillotine type is the easiest to use on dogs, but they also crush the toe if they are not sharp enough or not used properly. As such, only “scissor” type clippers are recommended.

dog nail clippers

Here are some highly-rated scissor-style dog nail clippers that professional groomers recommend:

1b) Dog Nail Grinder

A dog nail grinder is the second type of nail trimming tool you can use. A dog nail grinder is essentially an electric, motorized nail file. 

Apparently the only dog nail grinder tool that professional groomers recommend…is not even a dog nail grinder, but is actually a Dremel-brand Dremel.

Consider the following aspects when purchasing a Dremel on how to trim dog nails:

  1. It must have variable speed settings, with the lowest speed at 5000 RPMs and the highest speed in the range of 20,000-30,000 RPMs. You will be grinding the nails anywhere between 5000-12,000 RPMs, but Dremels that aren’t capable of higher speeds are often low quality.
  2. Avoid nail grinders that are branded “for pets”. Get a good Dremel and use the lowest setting (5000 RPM). Low quality “dog nail grinders” vibrate, are loud, lose power over time, and what you can get done with 12,000 RPM on a good Dremel is noticeably different than what gets done at that same RPM on a poor quality nail grinder.
  3. If you want to practice first, use a Dremel sanding band with 240 grit. With 240 grit you will simply polish the nail and not quick your dog.
  4. For real nail trimming, use a 120 grit sanding band.

As one groomer put it: “I am not at all a fan of the 7300 [Dremel model]. It’s used an awful lot on dogs because it’s cheap and the RPM range is within what you would normally be dremelling. Once you spend an extra $20 and use a good Dremel, it’s a very different experience for the dog: less vibration and more power, so you get nails done faster using the same RPMs.” (Source)

If you want to make this easy for yourself, here is a top-rated Dremel that fits the above characteristics by both groomers and dog owners alike.

1c) Dog Nail File

Not to be confused with a motorized dog nail grinder, a dog nail file is simply a manual nail file for dogs. These specialized nail files are typically made out of metal, ceramic, or glass, and are available at veterinary clinics and pet supply stores.

Here is a highly-rated dog nail file that professional groomers recommend:

1d) Dog Nail Scratchboard

A dog nail scratchboard is device that dogs can use to essentially trim their own nails. It consists of a top layer of sandpaper that dogs can dig or scratch at. These devices tend to be much easier for dogs that have a very hard time with nail trimming. This is because they allow the nails to be sanded down in a more natural manner at the dog’s own pace and leisure.

When first introducing a scratchboard to your dog, choose one with a finer grit. A good range of “fine” grit is between 100-120. Start there and adjust over time based on your dog’s enthusiasm and what seems to work best for his nails. The goal is to file down the nails, so if they’re merely being polished, then the grit is too fine. If the nails are being torn up, the grit is too course (between 60-80 grit).

Tip: Enthusiastic self-trimmers will quick themselves! So if your dog is enthusiastic about the scratchboard, stop and check his nails very frequently to make sure too much nail isn’t being removed.

That said, the closer you get to the quick, the more sensitive the nails become. If your dog understands what’s happening and suddenly stops scratching, check the nails as they may be getting sensitive. Again, check the nails frequently even if your dog does not appear to be sore.

Happy scratchers may require a finer grit to prevent getting too close to the quick, whereas dogs who are not as enthusiastic may require coarser grit in order to make progress.

2) Mesh Bag/Netting

When other sites say to cut the hair around the nails with scissors to get better access to the nails, we say to use a mesh bag!

The use of a mesh bag is a really cool trick and is especially great for Doodles since many owners like to keep their hair long. This way, you don’t have to cut any hair and can have clear access to the nails.

how to trim dog nails - mesh bag trick

We like to use the mesh bag that Cutie oranges come in, for example. But you can use any kind of mesh bag or netting that has small holes that are just large enough for your dog’s nails to poke through. The mesh we’re using in these pictures was from Babybel Cheese!

how to trim dog nails - mesh bag

3) Flashlight (For Dark Nails)

Optional unless your Doodle has dark nails – a flashlight. A flashlight is used to shine light through each dark nail to help you avoid cutting the quick.

how to trim dog nails - where is the quick

4) Cornstarch or Styptic Powder

To help stop bleeding from nails, professional groomers and veterinarians use a substance called styptic powder. Styptic powder not only stops bleeding, but also serves as an antiseptic, which helps to prevent infections. Additionally, some styptic powders may contain benzocaine, which helps to reduce pain. This may be helpful especially since cutting into the quick not only causes bleeding, but also a significant amount of pain. Styptic powder can be purchased at most major pet stores and pharmacies.

Cornstarch (optionally mixed with baking soda) can also be used as a blood clotting agent, but without the added antiseptic and anesthetic benefits.

5) Treats!

Treats make a wonderful bribe for dogs to get through the nail cutting process. If you make nail trimming fun by always associating nail cutting with treats and praise, your Doodle will become less and less afraid of it.

how to trim dog nails
A handful of cashews (her favorite rare treat) nearby to bribe the kid.

For dogs that are especially anxious or aggressive during nail cutting, please see the section “How to Clip Dog Nails When They’re Scared of It” below for CBD/hemp treat recommendations.

How to Trim Dog Nails, Step-by-Step Guide

No matter which tool you are using, you can follow this step-by-step guide on how to trim dog nails. Here’s an overview:

  1. Make Sure Pup is Calm
  2. Pick Up His Paw and Put Inside the Mesh Bag
  3. Trim the Nails

Be sure to use your flashlight for darker nails, and that your cornstarch or styptic powder is nearby and ready to be used.

Step 1: Make Sure Pup is Calm 

Often overlooked by other websites, this is probably the most important step of all in regards to how to trim dog nails. You really have to make sure your dog is calm and aware of what’s about to happen.

Let him see all the tools, let him smell them, and let him acclimate to the sound of the dog nail grinder if you’re using one of those. You can start giving treats now to reinforce calm behavior. Here’s a great video on Dremel acclimation and reinforcement.

Also, use this time to practice handling your dog’s paws. Be gentle yet firm to simulate real life handling during nail trimming. We do this to help him become increasingly comfortable with his paws being touched and handled before the actual nail trimming begins.

Tip: If your dog is particularly anxious about nail trimming, you may want to look into CCDS (Counter Conditioning and Desensitization) training. Here is a wonderfully informative self-study Facebook group on the topic.

Step 2: Pick Up His Paw and Put Inside the Mesh Bag

According to professional groomers, nail trimming is easiest when the paw pads are facing upward. 

Each dog has his own limit of comfort when it comes to nail trimming. Some dogs are fine to sit or stand, while others prefer to be laying down, or even laying upside down in the comfort of their owner’s lap. Any which way is fine, as long as it’s comfortable and effective for the both of you. 

how to trim dog nails
Chloe laying on my lap during nail trimming, snug and comfy.

Take your mesh bag and slip pup’s paw all the way into it. Align his nails comfortably into the holes of the mesh. What this does is keeps the paw hairs free and clear of the nails so that you have clear access for trimming them. A wonderful trick for Doodle owners, indeed!

The mesh bag can be somewhat cumbersome to handle at first. Alternatively, use grooming scissors to cut the paw hairs surrounding the nails to gain clear access to the nails.

Step 3: Trim the Nails

How to trim dog nails…the actual step where you take action! Hold each paw and press gently at the base of the toe with your thumb and index finger to spread the toe outward and access the nail. Begin to trim each nail with your chosen tool. 

How Short Can I Grind My Dog’s Nails?

Aim first for your dog’s nails to be off the floor when standing upright. Then, aim for no clickety-clacking when he is walking. Of course, these goals depend first on whether your dog’s quicks are receded enough to allow shorter trims.

Keep a close eye on the nail and check it frequently as you grind it down. Once you see a “bullseye” in the center of the nail, stop grinding! This means you are getting close to the quick.

how to trim dog nails
In the top nail, the little ‘bullseye’ section outlined in white (in the center of the nail) means that the quick is close. Once you see this, stop trimming!

What is the Correct Angle to Cut a Dog’s Nails?

A 45-degree angle is the correct angle to cut a dog’s nails in order to take length off the nail. 

How Can I Shorten My Dog’s Quick?

This is good knowledge to have when you’re learning how to trim dog nails. If your dog always seems to be ailed by long nails, it’s important to get them trimmed frequently. However, this is easier said than done if your dog’s quicks never seem to recede.

The good news is you can shorten your dog’s quicks slowly, consistently, and over time. To do this, professional groomers recommend the alternate cut line (ACL), which is a 90 degree cut, in addition to the standard 45-degree cut. The purpose of the 90-degree cut is to remove the extra nail hood casing, which helps the quick believe that it needs to recede to protect itself.

how to trim dog nails

Now you’re probably wondering “How long does it take for the quick in a dog’s nail to recede?” Unfortunately, it can take months, or even years – depending on the nail’s starting length – to recede quicks to the goal length.

This is why nail maintenance on puppies is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT. Learn how to trim dog nails and you can forever avoid the issue of overgrown quicks by properly maintaining their nails from an early age.

If you want to get on a schedule to get your dog’s quicks shortened faster, be sure to start doing both the 45-degree cut AND the 90-degree cut (ACL). Within 3 days, there will be new growth around the quick, allowing you to repeat the process.

How to Cut Dog Nails That Are Black

Similar to the “bullseye” image above, here’s a wonderful step-by-step image on how to cut dog nails that are black.

how to trim dog nails black dog nails
Image Credit: Oxford County Veterinary Clinic

There will be a ‘bullseye’ as you get closer to the quick. This changes in a single millimeter, so be careful. Once you see the darker middle you are very close.

How to Trim Dog Nails If Using Dog Nail Clippers

If using dog nail clippers, please note that you should never cut the nail off in chunks. Instead, you should be chiseling off tiny fragments, bit by bit.

Chisel the nail, bit by bit, until the nail has a 45-degree angle and stops just in front of the end of the quick. 

Here’s a great video demonstrating the chiseling method:

How to Trim Dog Nails If Using a Dog Nail Grinder

If using a dog nail grinder, apply it to the nail with a quick swiping motion. Never tap the Dremel to the nail. The Dremel bit can heat up and burn the dog if kept in place for more than 1-2 seconds, so be sure to lift it off the nail very frequently.

Hold the base of the nail to minimize vibration. This is the most effective way to provide comfort for your dog.

Safety notes: hair can get caught and tangled very quickly in a Dremel, so tie your hair back. Also, use hair guards (like a mesh bag) for long-haired Doodles.

How to Trim Dog Nails If Using a Dog Nail File

Using a nail file with the proper grit will help shorten your sessions.

Go in one direction while filing, and hold the base of the nail to minimize any discomfort.

How to Stop Dog Nails From Bleeding

If you trim too far in and the dog’s nail quick is exposed, you will know by the instant bleeding and the likely “yelp!” from your dog. (Does it hurt a dog when you cut the quick? You bet it does!) A scary experience for us as owners and a painful experience for the dog indeed. You will need to act quick and know how to stop a dog nail from bleeding. 

This is where your styptic powder or cornstarch will come into play.

Note that styptic powder will provide an initial sting, so be prepared to hold onto the dog firmly while applying.

  1. Immediately compress the wound for at least two minutes with a clean cloth or paper towel. If the bleeding continues, wrap ice within the cloth to help lessen the blood flow.
  2. Next, cup your hand and pour some styptic powder or cornstarch (with or without baking soda) into your palm. Gently dip the dog’s bleeding nail into the powder, and repeat if the bleeding doesn’t come to an immediate stop.
  3. Don’t wipe away the blood before dipping as this aids in coagulation.
  4. Once the bleeding stops, continue to compress the wound with a cloth, while being cautious not to squeeze the paw. Then, wash the affected nail with lukewarm water and apply a bandage to prevent licking and infection.
  5. Try to keep the dog off his feet for at least 30 minutes.
  6. If the bleeding cannot be controlled after 20 minutes, a veterinarian should be consulted immediately. Also consult a vet if the dog’s toe later becomes red, swollen, or does not improve after a few days. (Source)

How to Trim Dog Nails When They’re Scared of It

Do dogs feel pain when cutting nails? Not when it’s done correctly. Just like humans, clipping the nail itself doesn’t produce any pain. So if you’ve ever wondered why dogs hate getting their nails cut, it’s not because they feel pain. 

If a dog is afraid of getting his nails clipped, there was probably just one unpleasant experience that traumatized him. And without proper training and positive reinforcement surrounding that unpleasant experience, he was probably conditioned into being afraid of getting his nails clipped forevermore.

As mentioned above, a dog nail scratchboard is a great answer on how to trim dog nails for pups that are particularly afraid of nail trimming. There is also a great Facebook group for owners of dogs with nail trimming anxiety. They provide detailed information on CCDS (Counter Conditioning and Desensitization) training to re-condition dogs to enjoy getting their nails trimmed. Be sure to join that group if you think it could help you.

If you are interested in products to help calm your pup before the nail trimming, CBD/hemp treats may work wonders. Here are some highly-rated hemp treats:


Have you mastered how to trim dog nails yourself? What other tips could you share with us? Leave your comments below!

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The information on this page is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for qualified professional veterinary advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian or other qualified animal health provider with any questions you may have.

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