Holistic Tails

Holistic Tails

Thursday, February 25, 2016

A Dog's Worst Nightmare

From a dog’s perspective, nail trimming is his worst grooming nightmare. As a groomer, I have found that this is what dog's dread most. Dogs are naturally very protective over their feet.  It’s like a knee jerk reaction; touch a dog’s feet and they will pull it back.  So when you try to clip a dog’s nails, they will naturally fight you, unless they have been trained as a puppy.
If you are working with a new puppy, clip the nails weekly. This will get them used to it.  And spend a few minutes every day rubbing and touching your puppy’s feet.  This will condition her to accept having the feet touched.  Brush your puppy for a few minutes each day.  The point is to start at a young age so that your puppy can learn to accept nail trimming and grooming without fighting it.
If you have an older dog, you can attempt to trim the nails yourself.  I say attempt, because a lot of owners can’t trim their dog’s nails.  That’s usually because the dog has not been trained to allow dog trimming or because the dog has learned to intimidate the owner. And I have seen many large, adult owners intimidated by 10 pound dogs! But that’s a subject for another blog!
It’s important when attempting nail trimming to have a calm, alpha dog demeanor.  That means that by your body language and the way you handle the dog, it’s apparent to him or her that you are in control.  If the dog cries or snaps and you back away, you are teaching your dog that he is in control of the situation.
You will need two supplies to trim your pet’s nails.  The first is of course a nail trimmer. There are several different kinds of trimmers.  Personally, I like this one:
Generally, the small sized one will be appropriate for small and medium breeds.  If you have a large dog, get the bigger sized nail trimmer.
It’s absolutely essential to have a container of styptic powder.  This will stop any bleeding immediately. DO NOT attempt to trim the nails without this!
It’s easiest to have an assistant hold the dog as you clip the nails, especially if you are dealing with a larger dog.  Small dogs tend to wiggly, so they can be just as hard to restrain as the big ones. The dog must be restrained in some way.  If you have to do it yourself, put your arm around the dog’s belly  from it’s back, holding it down and work from there.
Here is an image that shows just how much to cut, and the location of the quick (the dark area inside the nail).
Dog nails
The quick is a vein that supplies the dog’s nail with blood. The quick is easy to see if your dog has white nails, but if the nails are dark colored or black, it will be hard to know where the quick is.  If you cut into the quick, the dog will bleed.  It will also cause the dog some pain, so it will probably yelp!  If you do cut the quick, take a small amount of styptic powder on your finger and press into the cut for several seconds.  Hold it there and the bleeding will stop instantly. Do not panic!  This is a very fleeting experience for a dog.  However, if you do “quick” them, they will always remember it!

Most groomer use a dremel type device to grind the nails down. This is best if the nails are trimmed regularly.  If they are very long, they will need to be cut with a nail clipper first.  Then grind them down.  The grinder will eliminate the sharp edges that come from nail clipping.  If you have floors that scratch easily, or are elderly with thin skin, grinding will keep the nails smooth.  Some dogs are very afraid of the noise that grinders make, so again, start young.  Do not grind past the quick.  

As you can see in the illustration, nails that are not regularly done will form a point.  It is this point that should be removed.  If the nails are trimmed regularly, just take a very small amount off at a time until you see a black spot in the cut area.  This will indicate that you are near the quick and should not trim any further.
Regular nail trimming will cause the quick to receded and you will find your dog’s nails stay shorter in time.
Neglecting the nails will cause damage to the foot.  I have seen several cases where the nails were allowed to grow and actually curled around and grew into the pad of the foot. This is very painful for the dog. Overly long nails will also ruin the feet.
Some dogs naturally keep their nails trimmed if they are housed or exercised regularly on concrete. The exception to this is the dew claw, a nail that grows above the pads of the front feet. This nail will not touch the ground, and must be trimmed as it too will grow into the pad. Dew claws in many purebred dogs have been removed at birth, but many dogs will have a dew claw. A small percentage of dogs also have rear leg dew claws.  These must also be trimmed.
The best example of a rear dew claws are shown in the illustration of the Great Pyrenees. These dogs have at least two dew claws on each of the back feet. All must be kept trim.
If your pet becomes very upset, or if you can’t handle him or her, it will be necessary to have them trimmed by a professional.  Most groomers offer nail trimming as a stand-alone service, or you can have your veterinarian do it.  Costs will vary as to the size and temperament of the dog. A very few dogs will require sedation from a vet.  This is usually because they have experienced trauma in nail trimming or with their feet in the past. 
Here’s a good image demonstrating what a nail trim will do for a dog:
If you have any questions about nail trimming, please send them via the comment section of this blog.

Love, Georgia


  1. Hi Georgia - I really like what you wrote about massaging the paws and brushing a little every day. I have an Alaskan Klee Kai & I'm wondering how often he should be washed. I think 1x a week but my husband seems to think every 2 weeks or once a month is fine. I don't want a stinky dog - what do I do?

    1. It's not necessary to wash that type of coat weekly. I would go with every 2-3 weeks unless the pet gets into mud or dirt. Doggy odors are usually indicative of a skin issue or infection, an ear infection, or low quality food. Feed your dog the best food you can afford (adding some home cooked), brush regularly and you should be fine. Bathing too much will sometimes dry out the skin. It's also important to use a mild, natural dog shampoo (no human shampoos). Uh oh, I see another blog post coming. LOL Love & Light, Georgia

  2. I actually have the first product that you've mentioned. I'm just too scared sometimes that I might trim the nails too short. I understand that I can hit tiny blood vessels and nerves if I do. I've been looking for good instructional videos and I found this: http://dogsaholic.com/care/how-to-trim-dog-nails.html