How to Cut Your Puppy's Nails

Equipment, When to Trim, and Easing Fear

Puppy getting its nails clipped at the groomers

Copr. Sarah M. Golonka / Stockbyte / Getty Images

Essential dog grooming includes clipping the nails, and it should start when your dog is a puppy. Active dogs that run outside naturally wear the nails to a manageable length, and may not need frequent trimming. But those that spend much of their time inside require monthly or more frequent nail attention. The toenails of some breeds, like the Chihuahua, seem to grow quickly. Don’t wait until your dog gets big and turns nail trims into wrestling matches. Teach puppies while small that nail trims are a normal part of life and nothing to fear.

Why Nail Care Matters

Overgrown nails can become caught in bedding and carpets. They may curl as they grow, and embed into the tender flesh of the paw pad. Claws can split or tear as in the picture and need surgical repair that’s pricey and painful. Overgrown nails cause the foot to spread or splay, and can change your puppy’s gait. Dewclaws on the inside of the lower leg need particular attention since they never contact the ground. Keeping the toenails trimmed also helps reduce inappropriate digging and risk of ringworm.

When to Trim

Nails at their longest should just clear the ground when the puppy stands in place. If you hear "clicking" over the linoleum like a tap-dancer, the nails need a trim. Your groomer or veterinarian can trim your dog’s nails at routine visits, but it’s easy enough to do yourself.

Nail Care Equipment

Commercial nail trimmers are scissor-action or guillotine style. For tiny puppies, you can start with human nail clippers, but eventually will need clippers designed to cut the dog's toenails at the proper angle without splitting or crushing the nail. Dremel-type nail grinder products work well for some dogs. They grind off a small amount of the nail at a time and so may take longer to use.

Choose a style that you feel comfortable using. Dog nails may also need to be filed after trimming. Use an emery board or a nail file available from a pet supply store to smooth the edges, and keep them from getting caught in the carpet.~

Paw Handling Socialization

Many puppies hate having their paws touched. Handle your pup’s feet routinely during play and petting, and reward your pet with petting and treats when it puts up with it. That helps socialize it to being handled by you and future handling by the vet. Begin simply by touching each paw, one after the other. When the puppy allows this without pulling away, gently hold a paw for five seconds and releasing—again with the reward for tolerance.

Next, hold a paw and touch the nail clipper to a nail—but don't clip it. Do this several times, and reward the dog for not struggling or pulling away. Stop before the dog gets fussy so you leave it with a good memory of the experience.

Clipping a dog's toenails
skynesher / E+ / Getty Images

How to Clip Your Dog's Toenails

Once your dog is used to the idea of you holding a paw and touching the nail, trim just the tip of the nails.

You need to avoid the quick the nails, where there are living blood vessels that feed the nail bed. Cutting into those results in pain and bleeding. When the nails are white or clear, the pink quick is visible and makes it easy to avoid the danger zone. If your pup’s nails are dark or opaque, clip off only the hook-like tip that turns down. Tipping the nails will prompt the quick to draw back up, so you can trim a little each week until reaching the proper length.

If you do happen to quick a nail, stop. Use a styptic pencil or corn starch and direct pressure to stop the bleeding, or rake the claw through a bar of soap. Give the pup extra attention or treats to show that even if something uncomfortable happens, there is compensation.

After the nail is trimmed, throw a puppy party. Tell your dog what a good dog it is, and play a favorite game to show how pleased you are. Reserve a special treat that the dog gets only after a successful nail trim, and soon you’ll have your pooch begging for a pedicure


  • Trim a single nail every evening for two weeks rather than trimming all of the nails in one session. It gets the job done without scaring the dog.
  • Have someone else steady the paw while you handle the clippers. This will help prevent catching hair in the trimmer or cutting into the quick of the nails.