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Clipping Your Dog’s Nails

By Janice A Jones

So you want to stop dragging your dog to the vet or pet groomer to get his nails clipped and would like to start doing it yourself. Nail Clipping is not hard and learning to do it yourself will save you time and money. Dog nails are similar to human nails in that they grow faster when dogs are provided a high quality diet. Most nails will need to be clipped about every 2 to 3 months. If you normally take your dog to a groomer, nail clipping is generally part of the groom. If you have a dog that doesn’t require a visit to the dog groomer, or if you would like to groom your dog at home, nail clipping becomes your responsibility. If you have never done it before, you might want to watch a groomer or your vet trim a dog’s nails. Once you feel comfortable doing it yourself, there are a few things that you will need to keep in mind.

Each nail has a vein running through it which can be seen if your dog’s nails are white. This vein appears as a pink line that runs part way up the nail. If the nails are black, you will not be able to see it or know where it ends. The vein is called the quick and if it is cut, it will bleed and hurt the dog. Dogs that have had numerous experiences with their nail quick clipped become very resistant to allowing someone to clip their nails.

Training your dog to enjoy grooming in general is the first step towards comfortable nail clipping. There is not anything harder than trimming nails when the dog is wiggling and uncooperative. This training starts at puppy hood where you hold the dog and get him used to having you handle his paws. It’s so much easier if the dog will lie on the table, sit, or lay on his side. Give him lots of praise when he is cooperative. Sometimes it helps if you have another person hold the dog for you, however it may not be necessary if the dog is cooperative.

There are several styles of nail trimmers, the most common being the guillotine type and the scissors type. The guillotine type is used by placing the nail between the guillotine blades and squeezing the handles together. The scissor type as the name implies is used as if it were a scissor, placing the nail between the two blades and squeezing the handle. Both are easy to use and the choice of which to use is a matter of personal preference and comfort.

To cut a white nail, hold the paw gently but firmly in one hand and locate the nail. If the dog is a long-haired breed, separate the hair from the nail. Find the pink area of the nail and clip above it. A good rule of thumb is to clip right where the nail begins to bend, also called the “nail hook.” If you are worried about clipping too deeply, just take a little off at a time and continue to clip until you get fairly close to the pink area. Another method is to take the tips off and clip the nails more frequently, approximately once per month.

Clipping a black nail is a little trickier. You will want to have some styptic powder or silver nitrate sticks available in the event that you clip a little too close. Gauze or cotton balls will work, but blood clotting takes longer and if you do not hold the gauze onto the nail, the job can get messy. To clip the black nails, start by cutting small pieces at a time. Each time you clip the nail, look at the end of the nail. You will eventually see the small pinkish, grayish area at the center of the nail. This is the quick and your signal to stop cutting.

Once you have clipped the nails, you may wish to use a metal file to gently file the cut area. A well filed nail is not likely to scratch anyone. You can now purchase grinding instruments that do the job too. These grinders work well for strong medium to large nails but do not work as well in small dogs.

Clipping Puppy Nails: Puppies are notoriously fidgety and often protest any attempts at grooming. As with all other aspects of life, puppies need to be trained to be groomed. Any grooming task on a young puppy should be done with a firm, but gentle approach. Distracting the puppy with a treat, talking to the puppy gently, or simply holding the puppy on your lap and gently caressing him will distract him and help make your job easier. From the moment you get your new puppy, spend some time each day to play with each foot so as to get him accustomed to someone touching his paws, pads of his feet and nails. When it comes time to clip his nails, he will be much more receptive to your grooming attempts. It can be easier to clip the tiny nails of a toy puppy by using a human finger nail clipper. A human toe nail clipper works well with slightly larger puppies, but a regular nail clipper will need to be used for large breed dogs. Get the tip between the blades and just take of the tip, where the nail begins to curve. Some puppies will not mind this at all and others will protest. Learn to do this quickly by holding the puppy in your lap and talk to him gently to distract him while quickly taking off the tips.

Does your dog have dew claws? These nails are similar to the human thumb on the front and back paws. At birth the dew claws are very close to the other “toes” but as the dog grows, they separate and eventually appear slightly higher on the leg. Sometimes a dog will have more than one dew claw on their foot. Many breeders will remove these extra nails when the puppy is between 3 and 4 days old and the procedure is simple, quick and poses few problems for the newborn. If the dew claws have been removed in this manner, you will not need to worry about them. If your dog has them, you will want to take as much care to trim them as they can be a source of trouble if they get caught in carpet, fabric or bedding. If neglected, dew claws tend to grow long and curl around and back into the skin. If trimmed regularly, most dew claws pose few problems in dogs. If they do become a problem, your vet will likely suggest that you have them surgically removed.

Remember these important tips:

Choose a clipper that feels comfortable in your hand

Find the nail’s quick and avoid clipping into it

Cut a small amount of nail at a time

Use a grinder or nail file to smooth over the edges of the cut nail

Praise your dog and give him a treat.

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