The best dog nail clippers are easy to use, last a long time and help to reduce the chances of cutting the quick.
But even the best nail clippers need to be used in the right way.
So scroll down for a simple guide to getting your dog’s claws cut efficiently, effectively and safely too.
Dog paws are surprisingly sophisticated.
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.
However, dewclaw or no dewclaw, each paw has five basic components with specific functions.
Dogs don’t have paw prints in the way that people have fingerprints.
However, they do have a nose print that is the equivalent of a human fingerprint – no two dog nose prints are exactly alike!
Understanding Dog Paw Anatomy
Dogs can walk bare-pawed on surfaces with temperatures that would make their owners run for socks and protective gloves!
They 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.
They include 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 heel).
Besides providing natural insulation, this network of pads also offers acceleration, braking, and shock absorption.
It makes for sure-footed navigation, terrain intel, and protection from rough surfaces.
Each paw also comes with an 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 movement. 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 (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.
Dog nails, often called dog claws, are very similar to human 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 with dewclaws, the small claws located higher up on the paw, this can bring the total toenail count to five on each paw.
And of course, for dogs with 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 all your dog’s nails, totaled them 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.
This is a controversial procedure (similar to declawing cats – more on this later).
However, 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, you may never need to learn how to trim dog nails.
All that running and chasing over rough terrain probably keeps them naturally well trimmed.
But most canines today don’t have to work nearly as 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.
The target length is as close to the “quick” — the vessel supplying blood to the nail for growth purposes — as possible without actually cutting the quick itself.
Why this length?
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 specifics of how to trim dog nails, let’s talk about the quick.
If you have never tried dog nail trimming before now and are feeling nervous, don’t be.
Remember that you can always ask your vet or dog’s groomer to clip your dog’s nails the first time so you can 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 they are not used to having their nails clipped.
They might be a bit nervous too! If you want specific help for settling a nervous dog for nail clipping, check out this post.
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.
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 them to the vet right away!
Why Cut Your Dog’s Nails?
One common question 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 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 they will have walking comfortably and safely.
First off, overgrown nails increase the risk of your dog suffering from a broken nail. As you know, nails breaking traumatically are far more dangerous than clipping them.
A broken nail could result in damage to the quick — in your absence — and cause pain for your dog.
More importantly, it could cause a whole lot of bleeding.
Even more, overgrown claws will throw off your dog’s gait. This sets off a painful chain reaction as the long nail pushes into the nail bed.
This 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 their DNA tells them to.
This is because in their wild history, contact between their 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, leg and foot muscles, tendons and joints will become overworked, sore, and arthritic.
They may not want to walk, even to do them business, which can set into motion other concerning health issues.
Dog Nail Clippers
The next order of business is to select the best dog nail 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 trimming, know this: 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.
In the case of 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.
GoPets Nail Clippers
GoPets Nail Clippers are rated 4.5 stars on Amazon.
These clippers are designed to cut small and large dog nails with equal precision.
They come with a special angled head and inbuilt sensor to help you avoid cutting the quick.
Pet Magasin Grooming Scissors Kit
The Pet Magasin Grooming Scissors Kit is a great choice for many dogs.
Do these clippers remind you of your infant nail clippers?
It might be the way they look!
With rounded tips and colorful handles, you already understand why these clippers have a solid 5-star rating.
They also come in a pair – one clipper for nails and the other for grooming fur.
Best Dog Nail Clippers With Sensor
The great thing about dog nail clippers with sensors is that they prevent you from cutting the quick.
Here are two options for the best dog nail clippers with sensors.
PetSpy Best Dog Nail Clippers
PetSpy Best Dog Nail Clippers are rated 4.1 stars on Amazon.
These clippers are recommended by vets and come with 3.5 mm stainless steel blades.
They also have easy grip handles and an inbuilt sensor to help you avoid cutting the quick.
Fur Goodness Sake Dog Nail Clippers (Large Breed)
Fur Goodness Sake Dog Nail Clippers are rated 4.5 stars on Amazon.
These clippers are specially designed to cut small and large breed dog nails with equal precision.
They come with extra long, non-slip handles — you can hold them easily with large or small hands.
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.
For this tool, the only issue is that your dog may not like the sound of the nail grinder.
If you want to try this kind of dog nail clipper, you can work around this.
One great way to get your dog familiar with the sound is to turn the grinder on while giving your dog a paw massage.
This way, when they hears the sound during an actual claw clipping session, it will sound familiar and they won’t react in fear.
Best Dog Nail Grinder
Here are two options for dog nail grinders with high ratings.
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 contact with your dog’s paw skin or fur. Plus, it only takes two AA batteries to power the grinder.
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!
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 excellent 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.
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.
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, 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 not so expensive. Especially considering its diamond file surface and stainless steel material.
How to Cut Dog Nails
After reading the information in the previous section, we hope you’re itching to trim those toenails!
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 paw massage. 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.
It’ll also 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 familiar you having extended contact with his feet.
How to Cut Dog Nails: Steps
Once your dog seems more at ease, here are the steps for cutting dogs’ nails:
- Locate yourself and your pup in a quiet, well-lit room. If possible, choose one with monochrome or white walls (this will help your vision).
- If your dog has very long hair, consider trimming the hair on their feet before you begin trimming their nails. That way, you’ll 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. Some dog owners find this very irritating to the respiratory passages.
- Leash your dog before you start if you think they 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 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 the Best Dog Nail Clippers
In summary, as a dog owner, you have a full to-do list to ensure your furry best friend is in the best of health.
We want them to be pain-free and able to live the most enjoyable, productive life.
For this reason, it is important to know how to use dog nail clippers. The good news is, every nail clipping session is a chance to make your bond even closer.
Cutting dogs’ nails also gives you a great opportunity to regularly examine your dog’s paws, toes, nails, pads and legs thoroughly.
Dog nail trimming can be challenging as dogs seem to want to wriggle away, but there are some ways to make it easier.
Help your furbaby adjust to clippers and grinders by using them in relaxing conditions.
Then, do your best to be careful while you cut. Be sure to avoid cutting the quick!
Finally, follow up each nail trimming session with a treat (food or non-food). This will ensure your pooch never protests too much 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.
References and Further Reading
Sports Vet. Gillette, R. L., DVM, MSE, DACVSMR. Dog Toes: MusculoSkeletal Basics and Joint Sprains in Athletic Dogs.
- VCA Hospitals. Buzhardt, L. DVM. First Aid for Broken Nails in Dogs.
The Labrador Site Founder
Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.
She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program
Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website