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5 steps to trim your puppy’s nails without a fuss

In the adventures of puppyhood, everything is an experience in itself. Nail trimming can seem daunting to the pup who’s never seen a clipper or had her paws touched before, but if you plan just right, it will be a walk in the park.

It will take some time before both you and your fur baby feel comfortable with nail clipping, which is why it’s so important to take it one step at a time. Of course, once you learn how to cut puppy nails, your confidence will lead the way for your pup, so she’ll know she has nothing to fear.

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Get the right tools

The tools you choose to trim your puppy’s nails matter as much as the attitude you approach the process with. The wrong tools can injure your pup or even yourself, and most pet nail tools won’t make a huge dent in your wallet anyway. So it’s no stretch to get the right ones.

A nail clipper that’s meant especially for pets will let you trim your pup’s nails without worrying about injury. Although they look a bit like garden shears, these clippers are designed with two blades for a swift, straight cut — no rough edges here! If grinding your puppy’s nails is more your style, Dremel’s 7300-PT Dog & Cat Nail Grinder Kit will have everything you need to get started. Grinding puppy nails can give you more accuracy and control, so you don’t risk cutting too close to the quick — the pink tissue in the center of the dog’s nails that contains all the nerve endings in the digit. Grinding is also a great option for filing sharp nails when you don’t want to give them a full trim.

Although pet nail tools are safe and effective, nicks can still happen. If you accidentally cut too close to the quick, or if your dog moves during trimming, styptic powder will stop any bleeding before it becomes an issue.

a brown and black dog's short legs and paws in front of a white background
Erda Estremera/Unsplash

Handle your puppy’s paws regularly

If you can get your puppy used to having her paws touched and handled, nail trimming will be much less of an issue later on. Even if she’s too young yet to need a trim, spend some time focused on her paws specifically, whether you give them a little massage or play with their tiny toe beans (aka paw pads). This will help your dog stay relaxed when it’s time to trim her nails for real, or even when it’s time to introduce the grinding or clipping tool.

Introduce your puppy to her nail trimmer

Once your little pooch is comfortable having her paws touched and loved on, she’s ready to meet the clipper. The American Kennel Club has a seven-day plan to help introduce your dog to her nail tool, though feel free to work at a pace that you and your pup both feel comfortable with.

On day one, allow your dog to sniff the clipper — that’s it! When she does this, make sure to reward her; if you continue this, she’ll soon associate the clipper with getting a treat. Spend a few days getting your pup used to having the clipper touch her paws but don’t trim just yet. If you’re working with an electric grinder, wait a day or so to turn it on, then let your dog get accustomed to the sound and vibration. The idea in each of these steps is to get your puppy comfortable enough not to pull her paw away when being handled.

a black puppy sleeps on a tile floor with paws stretched out and in focus on camera
Dan Gold/Stocksnap

Find the quick

The nail quick is where your dog’s nerve endings and flesh meet the nail portion. If your dog has light-colored nails, it’s easy to see where the quick begins as a darker portion of the nail. If your dog has dark nails, the rule of thumb is that the quick starts just below where the nail begins to curve.

It’s essential to find the quick because if you cut your dog’s nails too short, it can be painful. Your vet can also be an excellent resource for identifying where the quick is on your dog’s nails.

How to trim puppy nails

When you feel like you’re ready to give it a shot for real, remember to start slow so as not to overwhelm your pup. Continue praising and rewarding her for behaving well around the clipper, even if you don’t get as much done as you’d like.

To begin, trim or grind just the tip of one nail. Choosing a front paw is often the most comfortable for both the dog and owner, especially when you’re just beginning. You’ll want to hold her paw in your hand, supporting the nail you’re trimming with your thumb and forefinger. A gentle squeeze will help extend her nail, though you’ll still need to be careful to keep her fur out of the way of the trimmer as well. As a guideline, clip just beneath where the nail curves (for pups with darker nails) or beneath the quick (the pink tissue, for dogs with lighter nails).

Even if your puppy does great, begin by cutting just one nail on the first day. You can continue doing one nail per day until they’re all trimmed or work your way up a little day by day. It may help to keep your puppy distracted with a spoonful of peanut butter if she’s especially squirmy, though many pups will be content with regular treats and praise.

Some more tips for the best results

When you cut puppy nails there are a few best practices. Use these tips for best results.

  • Everything starts with you. Your calm mindset can ensure that your puppy feels calm, too. Go slow and try to avoid getting upset.
  • Stick with the positive. You should ignore negative behaviors and give your puppy only praise to reinforce the good things.
  • Start as soon as possible. The younger your dog is, the more likely he will accept nail trimming long term.
  • Take your time. Your dog will need to learn good habits, and it’s essential that you take the time to reinforce those habits. This is the time for patience and consistency.

Just like any puppy milestone, trimming her nails for the first time probably won’t be perfect! With lots of love and some time to adjust, though, even the timidest of puppies will get used to having her nails filed, ground, or trimmed. You can find plenty of tips and tricks online to help make this process a little easier, though your vet undoubtedly has the most helpful advice. They’re a professional, after all!

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