Illustrated Guide to Dog Nail Trimming

1 July 2021

Every dog parent should know how to cut dog nails - unless you're taking your furry friend in for grooming regularly. Cutting your dog's nails is an act of love and care - and an essential part of your dog's health and hygiene. Learn about dog nail cutting here on the Tractive blog.

Person cutting dog nails white dog nail clipper white and brown dog

You have a dog – but do you know how to trim dog nails? Just like us humans, it’s important for dogs to get their nails trimmed regularly. Beyond hygiene, it’s also important for their health. Overgrown nails on dogs can be painful and could lower their overall quality of life. To give your pup the absolute best, learn all you need to know about dog nail trimming below – and don’t forget to check out our other tips for taking care of your dog’s paws.

dog nail trimming guide infographic from Tractive

Dog nail trimming: Why is cutting dog nails important?

When dog nails get too long, it can lead to pain and other serious issues. Over time, your dog might develop spine and posture problems (like sitting or standing oddly) due to frequently shifting weight because of overgrown nails. Too-long nails can even lead to difficulty walking, lameness or serious injury; especially if they’re so long that they touch the ground. In general, nails that are too long can limit your dog’s movements.

Overgrown nails significantly decrease the quality of your dog’s daily life.

As soon as your dog’s nails touch the ground and grow past the pad of your dog’s paw, it’s time to take action!

When are my dog’s nails too long?

With your furry friend standing in front of you with their front legs under their shoulders, check their nails. Are they touching the ground? If so, then they’re too long. And if you hear your dog’s nails clicking or see them turn sideways, it’s time for a trim. Ideally, you should be able to slip a piece of paper between your dog’s nails and the floor.

Now that you know that they’re too long, how do you shorten your dog’s nails?

ideal vs too long dog nails - dog nail cutting infographic

How to trim dog nails: step-by-step instructions

Step 1: Prepare the equipment

  • Dog nail clippers/scissors/grinder
  • Scissors
  • Flashlight (for dark nails)
  • Optional: Paw balsam

When everything is ready, get your dog comfortable and you’re good to go. If your dog is a bit nervous, calm them with biscuits or extra cuddles. This will give them a sense of security while you begin cutting.

Step 2: Define the cutting range

Be extra careful when deciding where to cut, as dog nails are supplied with blood. An accidental clip in the wrong spot could lead to a lot of pain. It’s easier to find the right range for dogs with clear or light colored nails, while it can be a bit trickier with dark nails. Luckily, a flashlight can help you better see the blood supply area.

where and how to cut your dogs nails - dog nail trimming infographic

Remember these 3 tips and you’ll be fine:

  • The perfect cutting range ends right before the blood supply.
  • Front paws are more likely to get overgrown nails.
  • You should always cut parallel to the bottom. 

Step 3: Dog nail trimming

Defined the cutting range? Good! Your dog is (ideally) in a relaxed position. You have your equipment ready. It’s time to start trimming your dogs nails!

Trim by taking small steps at a time, and use rewards to keep your dog comfortable if needed. If there’s no blood at the end of the whole process and your dog behaves like nothing has happened, you’ve done everything right!

how to cut dog nails without making your dog bleed - dog nail trimming infographic

Moreover, once you’re done cutting, you can soften the skin around the nails with some paw balsam. It’s optional, but can be comforting for your pup. Trim the hair between the paws for perfect results.

Step 4: Reward your good girl/boy

Finally, don’t forget to reward your dog afterward! That way, your dog will associate the “unpleasant” experience of dog nail trimming with something positive, and this can reduce their fear. After all, who says no to something if they know there’s a reward at the end of it?

How to stop a dog’s nail from bleeding

Even if you’re very cautious, it’s possible that something goes wrong. So the golden rule is: don’t panic if you see a little bit of blood on your dog’s nail. Instead, try to stop the blood flow and prevent any dirt from getting in contact with the wound. This will help avoid it from getting infected. If the blood flow doesn’t stop after 30 minutes, contact your vet.

And if you can’t contact your vet and need to act fast, use a styptic powder or pencil (on sale at most pharmacies) on the wound. If you don’t have any styptic powder or pencil, and you can’t go to the pharmacy, you can try applying some ice cubes to stop a dog’s nail from bleeding.

How often to trim dog nails?

It depends; dogs who are used to walking on soft ground (like parks or forests) can have a harder time controlling the length of their nails, compared to dogs who walk on hard ground (concrete or asphalt). Moreover, that’s not the only factor at play. Dog nail cutting requirements are also affected by:

  • Genetic factors
  • Dog breed
  • Feeding habits
  • How active your dog is

However, we’d recommend cutting your dog’s nails every 2 weeks to maintain ideal nail length. Furthermore, the more you trim their overgrown nails, the more the blood vessel will retreat back into the claw. Therefore, frequent dog nail trimming is highly essential.

More ideas to keep your dog happy

So, now that you’re an expert on how to cut dog nails, you might want to consider some other ways to ensure that your dog is always happy-go-lucky by your side. Here are our top 5 tips to best care for your dog:

  1. Train your dog to follow basic commands for safety.
  2. Keep dangerous toxins out of your dog’s reach.
  3. Ensure your dog will never get lost with a GPS tracker for dogs.
  4. Make sure your dog gets enough exercise with the help of activity monitoring.
  5. Learn how to handle your dog in heat.

For a visual tutorial and some more tips on dog nail trimming, check out the video below from our friends at McCann Dog Training:


Did you find this blog post useful? Share it with a dog-loving friend so they can learn how to cut dog nails too!

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