Caitlin UltimoGrooming / Health

Dog Grooming Basics: A Guide to Trimming Your Dog’s Nails

It’s almost certainly not your favorite part of being a pup parent, but trimming your dog’s nails is one part of dog grooming that shouldn’t be avoided. Unless your pooch gets a lot of outdoor exercise, like climbing up hills, digging or taking long walks (namely, on concrete), you will eventually have to learn how to cut your dog’s nails.

This task will need to be tackled anywhere from once a week to once a month, depending on the size of your dog, his breed and his age. Keep in mind that even if his tootsies do see a lot of wear and tear, his dew claws (thumbs) will still need an occasional trim.

How do you know when a dog’s nails are too long? If he click-clacks along on hard flooring, that’s a telltale sign. Nails should end just off the ground when your dog is standing upright on a hard surface. If they’re allowed to grow beyond that, it’s not just an appearance issue. When a dog’s nails are too long, it can make it difficult for him to walk comfortably—plus the nails can get snagged on carpeting, towels or your own clothing. Also, the longer the nails, the more difficult it is to cut them. So, learning how to clip a dog’s nails is something best done sooner rather than later, ideally when you first bring home your new family member.

If you have let your poochie’s claws get way too long, it’s best to take him to a vet or a dog grooming professional for that major trim, then make sure you stay on top of upkeep. Here are how-tos and good-to-knows to make the job easy on both of you!

First things first. When you’re initially figuring out how to cut your dog’s nails, the most basic step is often overlooked. Buying dog nail clippers that are the right size for your breed of dog may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s easy to wind up with the wrong size if you’re not aware that they are available in different sizes. The Safari Professional Nail Trimmer, for example, comes in two sizes—one for small to medium dogs, and one for bigger dogs. Toy breeds (and the family feline, for that matter) would fare best with those like FURminator Nail Clippers. If you’re nervous about using a clipper, then an automatic grinder, such as the FURminator Nail Grinder, can get the job done quickly. If you decide to go with a grinder, just keep in mind that you’ll need to replace the bands every now and then.

Give him a lift. Armed with the tool of your choice, place your dog (if possible) on a sturdy table, as opposed to holding him on your lap or sitting on the floor with him. That will make it easier to keep him in place, says Natalie Powers, a dog groomer at Dogtopia in Omaha, NE.

Take hold gently. You can grip your dog’s paw/leg forward or backwards while trimming—but never pull it to the side, urges Powers.

Avoid the quick. When learning how to clip a dog’s nails, “It’s crucial to understand exactly where to clip on the nail,” says Powers. The pink-ish color inside the nail is known as the quick, which will bleed if clipped into. Take small snips of the white area of the nail at a 45-degree angle. Stop before you’ve reached the quick. If your dog has black nails, though, as lots of dogs do, it will be much more difficult to see the quick. “In this case, look for the spot where the nail starts to curl, which is the stopping point on how far to clip,” advises Powers.

Perfect that pedicure! Filing away rough spots is the final step. “Make sure to create a round shape while filing,” suggests Powers.

Senior dog? If your best friend is getting up in years, his nails, in similar fashion to elderly humans, can get really hard and thick. The process will be smoother (literally and figuratively) if you cut his nails after giving him a bath, during which his nails will have softened.

Finally, the fun part. When you’re all done, give your patient pup a treat and big hug!