Dog Nail Trimming — Tips for Clipping a Frightened Pet’s Nails

Dogs can get extremely frightened by nail clippers. In fact, many pets get very dramatic during the nail trimming process, with lots of yelping, whining and sometimes, screaming! The vocalizations can be the result of pain, but more often, they’re the result of fear and nervous anticipation of pain. It’s not uncommon for a dog to start yelping before you’ve even placed the clippers against the nail!

This dramatic show can be extremely unnerving for the pet owner, especially if it’s paired with squirming and struggling, which increases the chances that you’ll cut the dog’s nail too short, resulting in an exposed quick (the live, nerve-filled portion at the core of the nail.)

There are a few simple tricks that can be utilized if you need to give a pedicure to a frightened, resistant dog.

Firstly, don’t let the dog watch as you clip his or her nails. Fear is a natural, instinctual response when you believe that a body part (even a nail) is about to be amputated! Furthermore, watching makes the dog nervous with anticipation, particularly if they’ve been “quicked” in the past (“quicking” refers to cutting a pet’s nails too short, exposing the nerve and resulting in bleeding).

To prevent the dog from watching, place a T-shirt over the pet’s head. The fabric portion of the shirt will hang down, serving as a visual barrier. Alternatively, a large piece of fabric can be tied around the dog’s neck like a backwards cape. You may need to have a second person who can hold up the fabric and keep the dog in place during the pedicure. The second person can also serve to distract the dog with praise and treats.

For large pets, stand the dog on the floor. For the front feet, lift the foot off the ground and bend it at the ankle so the foot is under the pet’s body as you’re clipping. For the rear legs, just lift the foot off the ground and clip.

The same method is suitable for small dogs, though some find it easier to have a second person hold the dog. Crouch down and place the T-shirt fabric on top of your head to prevent the pet from watching while you clip.

I recommend wearing a head lamp, as this provides the best, brightest lighting. Examine the nails carefully before clipping. It’s important to identify the quick; clip slightly in front of the quick to avoid pain or bleeding.

For pets with black opaque nails, you’ll have to make an educated guess as to where the quick ends. This can be difficult, so you may opt to get the pet’s nails trimmed at the groomer. Alternatively, nail filing tools like the Peticure or PediPaws can be useful for dogs with opaque nails.

Another tip: desensitize the dog to the feeling of the nail clippers. He will also need to be comfortable with having his feet handled. This is especially important for pets who struggle and squirm.

While you’re relaxing with the pet, you can “hold hands” — hold the dog’s paw and gently manipulate the toes. Similarly, when you’re relaxing together, simply tap the clippers against his nails. Don’t attempt to clip the nails, just touch the tool to the pet’s foot.

Once the dog is comfortable with “hand holding” and tapping, mimic a nail clipping experience. Stand the dog where you’ll perform the pedicure (or ask a friend to hold the pet just as you would do for a pedicure), place the T-shirt or backwards cape on the dog, then proceed to place the clippers over each nail. Gently close the clippers around the nail, but do not cut the nail. This is intended to get the dog accustomed to the sensation of the feeling of the clippers. The experience will not be painful, so over time, the dog will learn that it’s not something to be feared. Perform this faux pedicure on a daily basis until the dog is completely comfortable with the exercise, then you can start clipping. Continue to perform this exercise every few days thereafter.

Always keep styptic powder on-hand to treat a bleeding nail that has been cut too short. Corn starch is the second-best alternative; flour can also work. Dip the nail in the powder; this will help form a clot, which will slow and ultimately stop the bleeding. Keep dipping the nail in the powder until the blood stops flowing. After it has been stopped for approximately 15 minutes, disinfect the nail by dipping it in hydrogen peroxide.

Nails that have been cut extremely short can be very painful and they’re prone to infection; this is one of the few instances when bandaging may be required. We’ll discuss this in tomorrow’s article on!

Stop by the PetLvr archives for more pet tips.

Photo Source: Lidija Macej on

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Mia Carter is a professional journalist and animal lover. Her furry family members include 6 dogs and 12 cats. She is also a feral cat colony caretaker. Carter specializes in pet training and special needs pet care. All of her animals have special needs such as paralysis, blindness, deafness and FIV, just to name a few. She also serves as a pet foster parent and she actively rehabilitates and rescues local strays and feral kittens.

2 Responses

  1. Karen Stromm
    | Reply

    This’ll really help when we do our own DIY grooming with our dog. He’s a little squirmy!

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