Nail clipping and dremeling a brown dog
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How to Dremel Dog Nails

Dremel is a brand that produces rotary tools, such as saws. They first specialized in home improvement equipment, but have now pushed the boundaries into dog grooming accessories. When you hear the word “Dremel”, you automatically associate it with a dog nail grinder. They are one of the leading brands for producing these dog grooming products. The brand is so successful that its name is now synonymous with the item, much like Band-Aid and Kleenex.

How exactly do we use this handy item? Are they better than nail cutters? How do we choose the right one? We will answer this and a lot more in today’s discussion.

Is the Dremel Grinder Better than Nail Clippers?

There is an assortment of nail grooming tools out there for your dog’s nails, is a Dremel really the right way to go? Let’s take a look at the various products we can use to trim your dog’s nails and the pros and cons of each.

Dog Nail Clippers

Clipping a white dog's nail

Dog nail clippers are perhaps the oldest tool on the market to trim a dog’s nails. They can either resemble scissors or bear more similarities to a plier. The ones that resemble scissors are very appropriately named and are called scissor clippers while the ones with a lever are guillotine nail cutters.

They both operate the same way – by cutting off excess nails. One works with the user applying pressure on both blades as they would a scissor to snip off the tip of your dog’s nail. The guillotine-style sees users press down on the lever and a little blade will come down and chop off the end of the nail – similar to a guillotine, the medieval form of beheading.

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What benefits do these nail trimmers have over the Dremel tool and nail file? They are easy to use and very intuitive. The clippers are also quick, as they can cut off a large chunk of the nail in one go. Also, scissor and guillotine-style clippers are quiet. You won’t find yourself chasing your pooch around the house when you take them out of the cabinet, unlike with the Dremel grinder.

Dog nail clippers have drawbacks as well. First of all, they require more accuracy and precision to not cut the dog’s quick, which we will cover how to do a little bit later. The cut from some of these dog nail cutters is not smooth. You would ideally need to take a grinder or nail file to your dog’s nails after each cut just to smooth them out.

Related: Five Mistakes When Trimming Dog Nails

Dog Nail Grinder/Dremel

The Dremel or nail grinder is a small power tool with a rotating head with a rough texture. The tool is designed to wear down your dog’s nails slowly, the way a nail file would but with much more speed.

One of the benefits of a nail grinder is the slow and gradual operation. There is less margin for error and less of a risk to your dog’s quick. Using the grinder directly will also give you a smooth finish, you won’t need to go over your dog’s nails again after Dremeling. A Dremel is also the preferred option for dogs that are resistant to clippers.

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The clippers will press down on your dog’s nails during the cut, applying significant pressure to the nail. Your dog can feel this, and it’s not the most pleasant feeling in the world. The pressure can cause dogs to be resistant to nail clippers, which is when the Dremel comes in.

Dremeling brown dog's nail

There are also downsides to Dremeling, and one is the vibration and sound. There is no way to prevent the tiny motor from making any sound, and the humming of Dremel can act as an alert for your dog that it’s time to run. You could end up chasing your dog around the house more often than you’d like, so a dog owner would need to break the Dremel out strategically.

Alongside the sound, the vibrations your dog feels through his toes when you start Dremeling can be unpleasant for them as well. It will take some trial and error to see which tool your dog accepts. Another issue with Dremels is they will need replacing when the rotary heads are sanded down. After a few months, you should notice the sanding bands will become smoother and be less effective for shortening your dog’s nails.

The Dremel requires replacements and different rotary heads with varying grits to do the job right. Adding and replacing these components could cost you more money in the long run.

Related:  How To Sand Dog Nails?

Dog Nail File

Dog beside nail files and nail clippers

The dog nail file is a relatively newer invention compared to its predecessors and we consider it a last resort option for dogs that are resistant to the previous two models. If your dog hates the pressure of the clippers and dislikes the vibrations and sound of the Dremel, then you can try the dog nail file.

The dog nail file is similar to a nail file we use, which features a roughly textured surface that can grind down our nails to the desired length or shape. The difference between the dog nail file we are referring to and the ones humans use is the size. The version for dogs is a lot bigger, in fact, it’s a board rather than a small tool.

The dog nail file will vary in size for different breeds but they all have the same rough surface. Dog owners will need to train their dogs how to use the grinder. The key is to get the dog to scratch vigorously at the surface to grind down his nails. As you can probably imagine, it will take a lot of time and scratching, so the dog nail file is a less efficient option.

We did find that the dog nail file made a great finishing tool, especially after clipping your dog’s nails to smooth the surface.

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How to Choose a Dremel Grinder

If you’re here with us, then you have most likely chosen to trim your dog’s nails with a Dremel. The next step is to understand how to choose the right one. There are two main things to consider when you pick a Dremel tool – the speed and the design. The texture and roughness of the rotary heads aren’t a big concern because they are interchangeable components.

Let’s start by addressing the speed of the tool. As with any rotary tool, the speed of a Dremel nail grinder is measured in RPM, or rotations per minute. The average speed should be between 10,000 to 15,000 RPM. Anything below that range will either be too slow or too fast and create more friction than necessary.

What’s the harm of going for Dremels outside of that range? A Dremel that’s too slow will take much too long when trimming your dog’s nails. It can also produce a much more uneven surface and a Dremel that isn’t fast enough could cause your dog to become impatient and squirmy, giving room for more accidents to happen.

If your Dremel tool exceeds 15,000 RPM, then you will have a different set of troubles. The tool will spin at very fast speeds and create too much friction and heat. It could increase the chances of you cutting too close to the quick and the heat could also feel painful for your dog. If this is your first time choosing a Dremeling tool, we would suggest going for the slower speeds. Many of the sanders will have speed settings to choose from as well.

A dog and dremel

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If you have a dog that has thick and coarse nails, then the 15,000 RPM is more ideal even if you are new to the scene. It’s not just a matter of picking the right speed, you also have to make sure the speed is compatible with the type of nail your dog has. For example, smaller breeds won’t need a powerful 15,000 RPM Dremel for their tiny nails, but a large German Shepherd will.

The next consideration is the design, and whether the tool is corded or cordless. We prefer cordless models because they give you more range of motion. You don’t want to have to worry about keeping your dog still and avoid him getting tangled up in the cable. However, there is a downside to cordless models, and that is the battery life.

Cordless Dremel tools will require constant charging, or at least a full charge before you trim your dog’s nails. You will have to closely monitor the battery life as you wouldn’t want the Dremel tool to run out of juice halfway through trimming your dog’s nails.

The corded models can generally provide more power and more stability. You won’t need to worry about the power source, but you will have to keep the cable in mind. The length of the cable will restrict your range of motion, so we suggest looking for a Dremel with a long power cord or using an extension cord.

You will then need to consider the attachments and other tools needed in tandem with your Dremel. As we said, the rotary heads are interchangeable, so make sure you have a model with suitable attachments. The heads will have various grits, geared towards different types of nails. We would recommend a coarser grit for length shortening, and one with a smoother grit for finishing the nail.

Preparing Your Dog for the Dremel

If you have the correct Dremel and are ready to go, there are a few things you need to do to prepare your dog for nail trimming.

The Environment

The first step to successful nail Dremeling is to prep the space. You want your dog to remain as calm as possible. If you have an overly hyper or scared dog, he will do everything in his power to get away from his potential “doom”. This could include scratching up a storm, crying, and maybe even some aggression. Creating a calming environment can greatly reduce the risk of your pet acting up.

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Try what works for your dog. Some dogs respond to aromatherapy and calming oils, while others may like music or their favorite blanket or toy nearby. You can try more than one method. For example, lavender is known to be a calming scent. There are diffusers sold at pet shops for the precise purpose of calming your dog. You can then incorporate a thunder shirt and some calming melodies to complete the space.

A man preparing his dog for a nail gremeling
Image by Myriams-Fotos from Pixabay

It’s also all about your attitude. If you are frantically trying to prepare the area before your dog gets suspicious, it will draw his attention even more. Dogs are sensitive creatures and they can sense if something is amiss. Make sure you get the space ready in a calm manner, grabbing the tools nonchalantly with no sudden movements. When you finally go and grab your dog, make sure you don’t loom over him and bend down suddenly to grab him.

You can pick him up whilst talking to him, as you would for any other normal circumstance and gently lay him down. Keep petting and stroking your dog and saying encouraging words that he recognizes such as “good boy”.

Don’t forget to get yourself ready for the Dremel. Small dog nails won’t produce as much dust and debris as larger and harder nails on bigger breeds, but it’s still safer to don the proper PPE (personal protective equipment). A face mask will prevent dust inhalation and other potential health issues, and if necessary, a pair of goggles can help keep the debris out of your eyes.

Make sure that the area you choose to do the nail Dremeling is adequately lit during the day and the night. We also recommend having a duster or a wet cloth handy to clean up the space after trimming your dog’s nails.

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The Training

Before you can use the Dremel on your dog’s nails, there is a step in between that will take some time. For some dogs, it will only be a couple of days for some and for others it could drag on for a week or two. We are talking about the training that comes before the nail Dremeling. The best time to start is before your dog has made any association with the Dremel. The very first time you purchase the Dremel is also when you should start the familiarization.

A man dremeling a white dog

Does this mean that dogs who already fear the Dremel can’t be helped? No, you can start training at any age, and at any stage in the game, the only difference is it will be a bit more difficult.

The Dremel will be a staple in most dog households, so it’s critical to get this stage right without the use of force.

Start by letting your dog inspect this new contraption he has never seen before. Let your dog sniff it and examine it thoroughly. He may even lick it a bit as dogs explore the world with their mouths. It’s all okay, the key is to allow your dog to understand that the nail grinders mean him no harm. You should repeat this a couple of times until you are sure your pooch is not threatened by the drum sander.

The next step is to get your dog used to the feeling and the sound of the grinder. Start by taking it and touching your dog’s nails with the grinder. Get him used to the fact that that’s where the grinder will be used. If he accepts the grinder touching his nails, make sure to give him a treat! Keep plenty of treats handy during training and during the Dremeling to distract your dog and to keep him calm. Some healthy treats to have include peanut butter, and freeze-dried snacks.

The next step is to turn on the Dremel and allow your dog to get acquainted with the sound. Remember to do every step of the training slowly to give your dog ample time to accept the tool. When your dog is okay with the sound, this is when you bring it closer to his nails but don’t sand them quite yet. This is to get your pooch used to the fact that everything from the sound to the point of contact is something that will happen regularly in the future.

Encourage your dog and reward him every step of the way! Positive reinforcement is a key motivator for many dogs.

The Position

You can’t simply expect your dog to sit still and offer you his paw for nail grinding every time. It isn’t safe to Dremel your dog’s nails if he isn’t securely held either. You have to learn how to properly position your pet for the most stable application, and to also make sure he is comfortable and used to how nail Dremeling will be done in the future.

Toy to some smaller medium breeds are easier to handle. We would suggest placing them on their side either on your lap, on a comfortable surface such as a doggy bed meant for nail Dremeling or blankets. Choose whichever works best in the space you have prepared. A larger breed shouldn’t be on your lap. Try to lay him on his side as well on a comfortable surface.

If your dogs do struggle, then you will have to try a more secure position and enlist the help of a family member or friend your dog trusts. Have the person hold your dog close to their body with one arm between the back legs and under your dog’s belly with a hand placed on the underside. The other hand will wrap around his chest just under his neck with a hand resting on the side of your dog, holding him close to their own bodies.

This is a secure position that is also comfortable for both parties. It also allows the helper to exert some pressure just in case some control is needed. If your dog doesn’t struggle, remember to reward him handsomely with his favorite treats.

The Tools

Tools for dog nail cutting and gremeling

We are going to list out important tools to have at the ready in order to complete the nail Dremeling space. You can pick and choose what’s necessary for you from this list depending on your dog’s preference.

  • Dremel
  • Aromatherapy equipment such as a diffuser or essential oils
  • Calming music
  • Thunder shirt
  • A favorite toy
  • Favorite treats
  • Tissue and styptic powder just in case

If you can think of anything else pertinent to add to the nail trimming kit, you can customize the item list above on your own.

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How to Use a Dremel

Now comes the actual Dremeling of your dog’s nails. You want to set the Dremel to the right speed, as well said, the speed is usually adjustable. We would recommend 10,000 RPM at the slowest, even for small dogs. Do not exceed 15,000 RPM for even large breeds to avoid unnecessary heat.

Take your dog’s toe in your other hand and press gently down to protrude the nail. Place the sander gently on the surface of the nail in 1 to 2-second intervals. Do not leave the Dremel for longer on the nail as it will produce too much friction or trim too much of the nail. Do it slowly in a repeated motion on various points of the nail until you reach the desired length.

You may have to go through some trial and error to find the right motion and flow based on the RPM and the grit. If you choose a very coarse grit for shortening, you should balance that out by lowering the RPM.

When is it Enough?

When to stop when you are looking at how to Dremel a dog’s nails is similar to nail clippers, you have to stop at the quick. The quick will be very obvious on dogs with clear nails. If you examine your pooch’s paws, you will see a pink thing encased inside each nail – this is the quick. It is a congregation of nerves similar to our nail bed. If you cut the quick, your dog will feel immense pain and even bleed.

It’s easy to know when to stop Dremeling if your dog has clear nails. We recommended stopping around 2-4 mm before the quick. Many dogs have pigmented nails that are black in appearance. This makes it next to impossible to identify the quick, so how do you Dremel black nails?

The key is the look at the nail laterally as you’re Dremeling and to always examine it after each interval. You should stop when you see a dark dot in the center of the nail, because that is the quick.

What if I Dremel the Quick?

Accidents happen, so don’t be too quick to blame yourself. It’s okay if you accidentally sand the quick during your first few trial runs. It might deter your dog from the nail clipper and cause you to start training from scratch, but you can get to the same spot eventually.

When you Dremel or cut the quick, there could be a chance your dog will bleed. Styptic powder will cause the blood to clot quickly, but cornstarch will do the trick in a pinch. Even if you’re fairly certain of your skills to handle the Dremel tool, we would still suggest having these items at the ready because dog behavior can be unpredictable.

If you nick the quick, apply cornstarch or styptic powder immediately to prevent bleeding and to apply gentle pressure to the toe with tissues if the bleeding is more serious. Do not attempt to complete the nail trimming if an accident occurs. You don’t want to instill more fear into your dog than necessary. Take a break for a few days or even a few weeks before you try to get your dog reacquainted with the tool.

Finishing off the Nails

You should complete the job by smoothing out the nail. You can do that by switching to a sanding band with a smoother grit. Take it to the underside of the nails and it should quickly get rid of the extra bits.

You can also take it a step further and lubricate the nails when you are done. If you have ever gotten a manicure or a pedicure, then you will most likely have seen this done to you at the salon. If you do so with your dog, it will not only oil his cuticles but seal the nail as well. This way, there will be less cracking and less flaky bits when you cut your dog’s nails routinely.

Because your dog may be curious as to what this oily substance is, he will most likely lick it to test it out. For this reason, we would not suggest using the same cuticle oils used on humans, but to use something natural such as coconut oil.

Frequently Asked Questions

How often should I Dremel my dog’s nails?

You should ideally Dremel your dog’s nails once to twice a week. Aside from maintenance and health issues, another big reason to Dremel your dog’s nails is to help the quick recede to an appropriate length. Without regular maintenance, the quick on your dog will grow with the nail. This will mean you won’t be able to trim the nail as short as you would like, and it could cause mobility issues for your dog.

If you trim a dog’s nails regularly, the quick will also recede with the nail and can have more room to grow before it obstructs your dog’s movement.

What are the advantages to Dremeling my dog’s nails?

There are many advantages to Dremeling your dog’s nails. For one thing, it’s not painful and grinding your dog’s nails is preferred by more dogs. It’s also much more difficult for you to accidentally cut the quick, and it gives most people more control and a steady handle on the tool. Dremeling will also prevent rough and freshly trimmed nails from scuffing up your floors or hurting your skin.

Dremeling is also an alternative to nail trimmers for fearful dogs and they can be used in tandem to get the job done quickly but also smooth down the nails.

What happens if you don’t cut your dog’s nails?

Some dog owners may leave nail trimming up to the groomers, which can happen only once a month or longer. Some other people may think taking your dog for daily walks on the concrete is enough to keep the nails at an optimal length. While there is nothing wrong with doing either, they are not enough for nail maintenance.

Trimming dog nails once a month is not enough to keep the quick at bay, and walking them on concrete or asphalt is sufficient to smooth down the nails, but not necessarily enough to keep them short. Not only that, but simply walking won’t result in even nails on all paws. You may maintain the back legs at best, but the front paws will still need a trim.

Not trimming your dog nails routinely will result in health issues such as a splayed foot and other mobility issues alongside of tendon and musculature problems.

Can I sedate my dog for nail trimming?

A sedated dog before nail grinding or gremeling

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Yes, you can sedate your dog for nail trimming, but we would only advise this as a last resort and to make sure you have consulted with your vet first. There is usually a way to curb unwanted dog behavior during nail trimming whether it’s with training or treats. Dremeling dog nails is usually simpler than clipping, so you most likely won’t need sedation.

If you do decide to use sedatives, make sure to ask your vet first and to go with their recommendation of sedatives. Natural is always better than chemical, and some good natural calming agents are chamomile and valerian, and some people also turn to CBD oil.

Can I restrain my dog for nail cutting?

Yes, you can restrain your dog for nail cutting, but we would always advise training first. Some very large dogs are hard to control, and it is safer to use a nail trimming harness than to try and forcefully hold down your dog. There are plenty of nail cutting tools available, including the harness to stabilize your dog. However, some of these products include the entire nail trimming table.

Conclusion

Dremeling dog nails doesn’t have to be an arduous task. Commence with the training as soon as possible once you have selected the right tool. Remember that plenty of treats, encouragement and other forms of positive reinforcement is ideal to create a harmonious relationship with your dog during this seemingly traumatic process. Remember to stay within the recommended speed range, trim regularly, and to do everything from the training to the Dremeling slowly.

Did You Know?

Dog nails are not claws. They are similar to ours in the sense that they do not retract and they grow in length. This is why they require constant maintenance – unlike cats.

Expert Tip

Dog nails are tools, and dogs rely on their nails to get a grip terrains and to dig. This is why it is okay to allow the nails to grow, but they should never touch the ground when your dog is in a standing position.

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