guide on how to clip dog nails when dog is scared of nail trimmers

How to Clip Dog Nails When Dog is Scared of Nail Trimmers?

A scared-looking brown pug
Image by Mylene2401 from Pixabay

If your dog is putting up a fight during nail trimming, then you would definitely want to know how to clip dog nails when your dog is scared of the nail trimmers.

We know a lot of dog parents tend to give up and leave the nail trims to the groomers, but that won’t be enough for regular maintenance.

We’re going to address how to nail trim overgrown dog nails without an aversion from your dog.

The Best Method is Prevention

introduce your pup to the nail clipper slowly
Image from guvo59 by Pixabay

If you’re lucky enough to be reading this article during the early stages of puppyhood, then there is a chance you can acclimate your dog to the nail clippers and make nail trims more enjoyable for all. If your dog knows the basic “sit” and “stay” commands, they can be incorporated into your training routine.

You should first introduce your pup to the nail clipper slowly. Let him inspect the device by sniffing it and even licking it. The process may take a few days to over a week, but it’s important to take it slow and not to spook your dog – don’t rush it. After the initial introduction, it will then be time to take it a step further.

Start taking your dog’s paw into your hands and taking the clippers to his toenails. No cutting is involved at this stage, just let your dog get used to the clipper being around his paw. You can even try tapping his nails with it just to get him familiar with the contact. Don’t forget to commend him and give him some treats!

When your dog has passed this stage, then comes the nail trim. Just start by lopping off a tiny bit of the tip. We say this because snipping off the tip won’t put too much pressure on the nail and the quick, which your dog could associate with pain. Many dogs dislike the pressure of the scissors coming down on their nail. Again, remember to reward your dog after each toe.

Once your dog has proven to accept the scissors, then you can start really trimming the nails and cutting off larger chunks. Just remember to avoid the quick, which is the assembly of nerves inside the nail. A dog’s nails can be clear or black in color. Clear nails have a very visible pink quick, while dark nails won’t have visible quicks.

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Cutting the quick will be very painful for your dog. It will also take longer to heel as your dog’s paw is a point of contact to the ground and there could even be bleeding. The quick is easily avoidable on clear nails, but dark nails will require more care during nail clipping. You would need to cut slowly little by little until you see the black dot at the center of the nail – this is the quick.

If you do manage to nick the quick, don’t panic. You would first need to stop the bleeding by using styptic powder, but cornstarch will do in a pinch. Ointment won’t be necessary but small amounts of Neosporin is safe if you keep your dog from licking it. You would then need to bandage the toe and let it heal before you attempt more nail clipping.

Is it Too Late?

What if your dog is already a year or older when you’re reading this, is it too late? No, it isn’t! You can teach old dogs new tricks and getting your dog used to the nail clippers can happen at any age. It might prove to be more difficult if your dog has been hurt before, or if he has already associated the clippers or scissors to an unpleasant time, but it can be done.

Desensitizing your dog will take time, just like with puppies, and the process is much the same. Be patient and remember to use plenty of positive reinforcement.

How to Make Your Dog Feel More Comfortable

A comfortable dog handing it's paw to a human
Image by sschurtz from Pixabay

To make your dog feel more comfortable, you need to first create a safe space. Try to remain calm as you grab him or his paws. If you make sudden movements, it will alert him and he will most likely run and hide. You can even consider spritzing some calming agents such as a lavender-scented spray or diffuser to calm your dog. Sometimes calming music can also help set the mood.

When you feel your dog enjoys the environment you have created, you can proceed to get him used to the clippers the way we mentioned above. Start by letting him inspect it, take it to his nails, and trim little by little. The key your a dog or pet’s heart is through the stomach, so always have their favorite or some special treats handy.

What Should You Use?

A sedated and sleepy-looking dog
Image by shannonmacleod from Pixabay

Dog owners know there are plenty of tools out there for trimming. There are clippers, which can then be separated into guillotine-style or scissor-style, Dremel (aka nail grinders) and nail files. As we mentioned before, there are dogs that are hesitant to accept the pressure caused by nail clippers. The pressure of the blades on their nails is what sends them running and yelping. In this case, nail grinders are preferred.

On the other hand, anxiety can set in for dogs who dislike nail grinders. Just the sound of the tiny motor humming when you turn on the device will cause your dog to hide. For pups like this, guillotine-style or scissor-style clippers are best.

Related: Dog Nail Grinder vs Clipper: Which Is Better For Trimming Dog Nails?

Then there are the dogs that scamper when you so much as reach for their paws. This is the type of dog who won’t let parents cut his nails. Luckily, there is another solution to tough dogs such as this. The answer is a nail file. We’re not talking about nail files we use, but large boards that have the same rough and textured surface.

You will need to conduct adequate training sessions for your dog to understand how to use it, but once he does, his nails will be easy to maintain and never cause him posture problems again. You will need to teach your dog to scratch the rough surface vigorously. The sandpaper-like texture will slowly grind down your dog’s nails as the Dremel would.

Taking your dog on long daily walks on asphalt or concrete will have a similar effect, but the results are not profound enough.

What About Sedation?

We wouldn’t recommend resorting to sedation right away, but it is an option for very extreme cases. If it’s absolutely necessary, we would suggest natural methods and definitely consult with your vet first. A vet is a professional that will know your dog’s medical history and make the best decision for him.

Some simple over-the-counter sedatives include Benadryl, Valium and Melatonin. Again, make sure to ask your vet before implementing these methods. There are also less extreme methods such as the use of essential oils and aromatherapy as well as pheromones.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I calm my dog to trim his nails?

There are many ways to alleviate your dog’s fear of nail cutting. You can use gentler approaches such as aromatherapy and training, but some pet parents adopt sedation methods. As long as the vet agrees, there are over-the-counter sedatives that prove to be useful. However, the best method is prevention. If you can train your dog to never fear the clippers right from the start, then the nail-cutting difficulty will be something you never have to deal with.

What is a natural sedative for dogs?

If you decide to go the natural route, there are many natural sedatives that can calm your dog when he gets his nails trimmed. You can try melatonin, L-theanine, and chamomile or lavender scents. Whatever you choose, you should always ask your vet first before you administer a sedative.


Cutting dog nails is a difficult endeavor. You need to make sure to avoid the quick and keep your dog calm. A cooperative dog is ideal, but not many dog parents are this lucky. However, we are fortunate enough to have many tools to choose from including Dremel nail grinders, types of nail trimmers, and even a nail filer to make it easier on us. You can resort to sedatives or pay the groomer to do it a couple of times a month, but make sure you have tried training first.

Did You Know?

Dogs have a fifth digit that many pet parents forget about – the dew claw. This is the extra toe that exists near your dog’s ankle. You have to make sure the dew claw toenails are cut short as well because the location of the toe makes it very easy to snag on things and rip.

Expert Tip

It’s a good idea to invest in clippers and a grinder. The clippers are excellent for cutting your dog’s nails to the desired length, but the grinder comes in handy to smooth out the surface so your dog doesn’t have sharp nails after a fresh cut.

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