Welcome to our complete guide to choosing and using dog nail clippers! Helping you to find the right tool for the job, and giving you an easy guide to the best way to use it.
As a dog lover, when you spy a dog’s paw, with its soft fur and spongy paw pads, your first thought is probably, “Awwww – doggy paws – so CUTE!”
But dog paws are actually surprisingly sophisticated. Even better, an individual dog paw is specifically designed to best serve that specific breed’s historical needs.
For example, some dogs have no dewclaw, while others have only one and some breeds have two. (If you’re wondering what a dewclaw is, stay tuned!) However, dewclaw or no dewclaw, each paw has five basic components with specific jobs to do.
While dogs don’t have paw prints in the way that people have fingerprints, they do have a nose print that is the equivalent of a human fingerprint – no two dog nose prints are exactly alike!
In this post, we explore the anatomy of dog paws, how to clip dog nails and the best dog nail clippers to use.
Dog paw anatomy 101
Before we get too far into learning how to cut a dog’s nails or choosing dog clippers, let’s pause for a brief anatomy lesson.
In many ways, dog paws are like people hands and feet, only better.
For instance, dogs can walk bare-pawed on surfaces with temperatures that would make their owners run for socks and protective gloves! Dogs can do this because they have a series of paw pads well stocked with fatty tissue. Not unlike the blubber deep sea whales rely on to keep from freezing.
The average dog paw has six pads per paw: the four digital pads (one per toe), the metacarpal pad (in the area that would be similar to the ball of your foot) and the carpal pad (in the area that would be similar to your heal).
In addition to providing natural insulation, this network of pads offers acceleration, braking, shock absorption, sure-footed navigation, terrain intel and protection from rough surfaces.
Each paw also comes with its own inbuilt temperature control system, courtesy of sweat glands positioned just beneath the outermost layer of skin. These sweat glands work constantly to keep the paw pads moist and temperature-balanced.
Dog toes do not “wiggle” the way yours do, but they serve the same basic function for balance and moving about. Their most important job is walking.
Dogs, contrary to popular belief, don’t actually walk on their paw pads OR on their nails. They walk on their toes.
Dog paw nails, too, have their own important job to do – they help with gripping.
Many dogs have what is called a “dewclaw.”
In most canines, this dewclaw (which is thought to be the remnant of a thumb!) only grows on the front paws. But some dogs have dewclaws on both front and back paws, and some breeds even have double dewclaws on their back paws.
How many nails does a dog have?
So now that you have a basic working knowledge of the major parts of your dog’s paws, let’s talk dog nails specifically. Dog nails, often called dog claws, are very similar to your own fingernails and toenails.
They are made of cartilage just like your nails. The ends are dead, but a blood supply comes from a small blood vessel called the “dog nail quick.” This blood supply is what keeps your dog’s nails growing continually.
Nearly all dogs have four toes, each with its corresponding nail, on each paw.
For dogs that also have dewclaws, the small claws located higher up on the paw (approximately where your ankle would fall between the end of your foot and the start of your leg), this can bring the total toenail count to five on each paw.
And of course, for dogs that have double dewclaws on their rear paws, this would mean those two paws have six nails each.
Dog Nails and Dewclaws
Here is the basic breakdown:
Most dogs: 16 major toenails plus 2 dewclaws (front paws) = 18 nails.
Some breeds: 16 major toenails plus 4 dewclaws (front and back paws) = 20 nails.
Rarer breeds: 20 nails plus 2 extra dewclaws (back paws) = 22 nails.
If you just counted up all your dog’s nails and totaled them up and didn’t get 18, 20 or 22 nails, don’t worry! The most likely explanation is that your dog’s dewclaws were removed when he was still a puppy.
While this is a controversial procedure (similar to declawing cats – more on this later), some dog lovers whose canines have noticeably loose or floppy dewclaws remove them for safety reasons.
A loose or floppy dewclaw can catch on uneven terrain and rip or tear, causing the dog great pain and distress.
How long should dog nails be?
If your dog lives his life outdoors and “works” at a job (an example would be a working sheep dog that helps with the herding chores daily), you may never need to learn how to trim dog nails.
All that running and chasing over rough terrain probably keeps them trimmed quite well naturally.
But most canines today don’t have to work nearly so hard for their supper – one glance from their soft liquid eyes and dinner appears as if by magic!
Here, the ultimate goal (and challenge) for you as a dog owner is to keep your dog’s nails trimmed as close to the “quick,” the vessel supplying blood to the nail for growth purposes, as possible without actually cutting the quick itself.
The reason for this is simple: the colorless, clear nail tip is “dead” and your dog won’t feel anything if you clip it off. It will just grow back again.
For inside dogs, this may mean you do dog nail trimming once per month. For more active inside-outside dogs, you may find yourself trimming dog nails less frequently.
Dog nail quick
But before we dive in to the how-to specifics of how to trim a dog’s nails, let’s take a minute to talk about the quick.
If you have never tried dog nail clipping before now and you are feeling nervous, remember that you can always ask your vet or your dog’s groomer to clip your dog’s nails the first time so you can watch up close to see how it is done.
For some dog owners, having this visual example and the chance to ask questions really allays fears.
This can also be a good approach if your dog’s nails are quite long and she is not used to having her nails clipped. She might be a bit nervous too!
But once you have your dog’s nails under control, the key point to remember is this: always look for the quick and aim to cut safely above it.
Also know that even the most experienced dog groomers and veterinarians sometimes cut the quick in error. Often this is because your dog decides to wriggle at the worst possible moment, and cutting the quick becomes unavoidable.
When this occurs, your dog’s toe nail will bleed. It may bleed a lot. So you will want to be prepared just in case with some cornstarch, flour or styptic powder if you have it (all three will work). Just dab the powder onto the quick to induce clotting.
SAFETY NOTE: If for ANY reason your dog’s toe is still bleeding after 10 minutes of using powder, bring her to the vet right away!
Why cut your dogs nails?
One question that is particularly common with new dog owners is: do I need to cut my dog’s nails at all? After all, longer nails should offer more protection, right?
Actually, the exact opposite is the case. If you remember back to our dog anatomy lesson, dogs walk on their toes, not on their pads or their nails. So the longer your dog’s nails grow, the more trouble she will have walking comfortably and safely.
Overgrown claws will throw off her gait and set off a painful chain reaction as the long nail pushes into the nail bed, which in turn pushes the toe joint off-center, which turns the toes sideways while your dog walks.
Even more concerning, long toenails can cause your dog to crouch into a doubly uncomfortable posture vets have nicknamed “goat on a hill.”
Your dog does this because her DNA tells her to, because in her wild history, contact between her toenails and the earth most likely meant “you’re climbing a hill; please adjust your posture accordingly.”
After enough time spent in this awkward position, your dog’s hind quarters and hind leg and foot muscles, tendons and joints will become over-worked, sore and arthritic. She may not want to walk, even to do her business, which can set into motion other concerning health issues.
Dog nail clippers
The next order of business is to select the right dog toenail clippers for the job.
Even the most casual internet search will alert you to the many different nail clippers for dogs you can choose from.
If you are new to dog nail clipping, this is what you need to know: scissor-clippers are your friend.
There is a particular type of clipper called a “guillotine clipper” (yikes, right?!). It gets its name from how it works. You stick your dog’s nail inside a hole in the center of the clipper and squeeze the handles together.
This activates the blade to emerge and chop off the nail tip.
For many dogs, the squeezing motion of the guillotine clipper is painful and scary. Unless your dog is already used to this style of dog nail clippers, it may be better to select a more traditional scissor-tip clippers.
Certain dog breeds have very large paws (the Newfoundland breed probably wins the prize here). For these breeds, a “large” pair of dog nail clippers will probably work best.
For all other breeds, a “small” pair of clippers to trim dog nails will probably do just fine.
Best Dog Nail Clippers
Here are two options for highly rated dog nail clippers.
Wagglies Proefessional Dog Nail Clippers
Wagglies Professional Dog Nail Clippers are rated 4.5 stars on Amazon.
They come with a special angled head and inbuilt sensor to help you avoid cutting the quick.
These clippers are designed to cut small and large dog nails with equal precision.
Pet Magazin Grooming Scissors Kit
The Pet Magasin Grooming Scissors Kit is a great choice for many dogs.
If these clippers remind you of your infant nail clippers, with their rounded tips and colorful handles, you already understand why these clippers have a solid 5-star rating across the board.
They also come in a pair – one clipper for nails and the other for grooming fur.
Dog nail grinder
A nail grinder is an electronic option to clip dog nails. You can think of it like the dog nail clipper version of your electric toothbrush.
The nail grinder has a small rotating emery wheel that spins rapidly to grind or file down your dog’s nail tips.
Here, it is the sound of the nail grinder that your dog may object to.
If you want to try this kind of dog nail clipper, a great way to get your dog used to the sound is to turn the grinder on while you are giving your dog a paw massage.
This way, when he hears the sound during an actual claw clipping session, it will sound familiar and he won’t react in fear.
Best Dog Nail Grinder
Here are two options for highly rated dog nail grinders.
Innopaw Dog Nail Grinder.
The Innopaw Dog Nail Grinder has a 4.5 stars rating on Amazon.
It comes with three different port sizes to accommodate different dog paw sizes. The grinder is protected so it will never come in contract with your dog’s paw skin or fur.
And it only takes two AA batteries to power the grinder.
Buy your Innopaw Dog Nail Grinder here.
Amir Pet Nail Grinder
The Amir Pet Nail Grinder has a 4 star rating on Amazon.
It uses a diamond grinder head for gentle nail grinding and features a quiet operation and ergonomic design.
Best of all, you can use it on the family cats too!
Buy your Amir Pet Nail Grinder here.
Dog nail trimmer
A dog nail trimmer is like a pair of heavy-duty dog nail scissors or pliers.
The “scissors” part is shorter, thicker and shaped more like pliers to both hold and then trim dog nail claws.
Here are two options for highly rated dog nail trimmers.
Safari Professional Stainless Steel Nail Trimmer
The Safari Professional Stainless Steel Nail Trimmer is rated 4.5 stars on Amazon.
This dog nail trimmer comes in two sizes: small/medium and large. Large will be best for most adult Labs.
It also has an inbuilt safety stop so your risk of cutting into the quick is greatly reduced.
Buy your Safari Professional Stainless Steel Nail Trimmer here.
Boshel Dog Nail Clippers and Trimmers
The Boshel Dog Nail Clippers and Trimmers are rated 4.5 stars on Amazon and comes with a free in-handle mini nail file and a third safety stop blade.
This dog nail trimmer features sharp, sturdy, powerful trimmer blades to handle even the thickest nails in a single clip.
Buy your Boshel Dog Nail Clippers and Trimmers here.
Dog nail file
No dog nail clipping session is complete with a dog nail file for a smooth, snag-free finish. As you have probably noticed here, some dog nail trimmer or clipper kits come with their own emery board.
But you might also want to choose your own dog nail file that is better suited for your dog’s needs. Many dog owners prefer to dremel dog nails with a special dremel nail file as well. While slightly pricier than your average nail file, a dremel file delivers an amazingly smooth and reliable finish.
Here are two options for highly rated dog nail files.
Dremel Pet Nail Grooming Tool
The Dremel 7300-PT 4.8V Pet Nail Grooming Tool is rated 4.5 stars on Amazon.
It comes with two filing speeds, cordless operation, a 3-hour battery charger and a variety of file heads.
Coastal Pet Products Diamond Dog Nail File
This tool is rated a solid 4 stars and is economically priced.
Especially considering its diamond file surface and stainless steel material.
How to cut dogs nails
After reading the information in the previous section, you are likely chomping at the bit to get those toenails trimmed, already!
This is great! So now, let’s do some preparation so both you and your dog will have the best possible experience of cutting dogs nails.
Unless the situation is urgent, the first step should actually be a foot (paw) massage rather than clipping dogs nails. Most dogs, like most people, thoroughly enjoy a nice foot massage.
As a side benefit, this will help your dog feel comfortable with you handling his feet and help him associate nail clipping with a positive experience. You may want to do this a few times over the course of a week or so to get your dog used to you having extended contact with his feet.
Dog Nail Cutting Steps
Once your dog seems more at ease, here are the steps to take to cut dogs nails:
- Locate yourself and your pup in a quiet, well-lit room, preferably one with mono-color or white walls (this will help your vision).
- If your dog has very long hair, consider trimming the hair on her feet before you begin trimming her nails so you have unobstructed vision and there is no risk of entangling your dog’s fur in the trimmer.
- You may want to wear a surgical nose/mouth mask to avoid inhaling nail dust, which some dog owners find very irritating to the respiratory passages.
- Leash your dog before you start if you think she might try to escape mid-trim.
- Make sure both you and your dog are in a comfortable position.
- If your dog’s nails are white or clear colored, you will actually be able to see the quick – it will look like a fine pink line running up the dog’s nails. Just above where the quick stops is where you should make your cut on each nail.
- If your dog’s nails are dark-colored or black, you won’t be able to see the quick. Here, start with VERY small trims and look after each trim for a dark dot to start to appear at the tip of your dog’s nail. When you see that dark dot, STOP trimming – this is the quick coming into view.
- You can use a dremel nail grinder or filer for the whole process or just for the final smoothing. Always keep the dremel head moving to avoid heat build-up on the nail that will cause your dog discomfort.
Choosing and using dog nail clippers
In summary, as a dog owner, you have a very full to-do list to ensure your furry best friend is in the best of health, pain-free and able to live the most enjoyable, productive life.
The good news is, every time your pooch is due for another nail clipping session, this also means you have a chance to spend additional one-to-one time together that will make your bond even closer.
Dog nail clipping also gives you a great regular opportunity to thoroughly examine your dog’s paws, toes, nails, pads and legs to make sure all is well.
Finally, following up each nail trimming session with a treat (food or non-food) will ensure your pooch never protests overmuch the next time those nails need clipping!
Caring For Your Labrador
If you love your Lab, you’ll love The Labrador Handbook.
This complete guide to your favorite breed of dog, tells you everything you will need to know about him.
From care to feeding, health to exercise, behavior and much more.