How to Trim Dog Nails Without Anxiety

Four Minutes
Oct 17, 2022

Learning how to trim dog nails properly is a key skill for every pet parent, yet many feel anxious about the routine dog grooming task. That’s because it’s easy to cut the nail too short and nick the blood vessels. Nail care can cause anxiety for dogs, too, but leaving nails to grow unchecked isn’t an option because it can actually hurt your dog.

To cut down on everyone’s jitters, follow these steps to confidently trim your dog’s nails.

Nail Trimming Tools

  • Dog nail trimmer or dog nail grinder
  • Styptic powder or other clotting powder (optional, but good for stopping the bleeding with accidental nicks)

How to Trim or Grind Dog Nails: Step-by-Step Instructions

Exactly how you trim your dog’s nails will depend on whether or not you have a nail trimmer or a grinder, but here is a rough idea of the steps to take:

  1. Gather your tools and treats. Make sure you have your dog nail trimmer/grinder, clotting powder, and treats. You’ll want to make this process as fast and painless as possible for your pup.
  2. Trim off any excess fur from their paws. This helps keep their paws tidy and helps you clearly see your dog’s nails.
  3. Push the nail out of the pad. Hold your dog’s paw firmly, but gently. Use your thumb to push the nail out of the pad so the nail is extended.
  4. Clip or grind only the tip of the nail. If you take off too much of the nail, you can accidentally nick the soft tissue within your dog’s nail that contains blood vessels and nerves (known as the dog’s “quick”).

If you do happen to go too far, dip your dog’s nail in styptic powder to help stop the bleeding. Pour some powder into a bowl first to keep the original package blood-free.

Trimming just the tip is especially important for dark nails because you may not be able to see the pink quick hidden underneath.

Why Should I Trim My Dog’s Nails?

Why trim your dog’s nails in the first place? If your dog’s nails are long enough to touch the ground when they walk, it could damage their paws. It may cause pain when they walk by creating pressure on the nail bed and your dog’s toe joints.³ Over time, this can realign the joints of the dog’s foreleg, causing your canine companion to be more susceptible to injury.

Keep in mind that a dog’s nails provide traction while they’re running or standing on an incline. Long, unmaintained nails can alter their natural sense of balance, making falls and injury more likely. Long nails are also prone to tearing or cracking, which is very painful and can lead to infection.

How Often Should I Trim My Dog’s Nails?

You should trim your dog’s nails every 3–4 weeks, or as often as you need to keep their nails from touching the ground when they stand.

A woman using a dog nail clipper on a brown Labrador Retriever.

Dog Nail Trimming Tips

Still nervous about a DIY dog nail trim? Keep these tips in your back pocket.

Get comfy and take it slow

You’ll need to get your dog comfortable with having their paws handled. The younger you start this process with your dog, the better, but be patient. Older dogs can be desensitized to having their paws touched eventually.⁴

A pocket full of treats will help your buddy trust you during the process. Take a few days to introduce your clippers or grinders to the dog as well; getting them familiar with the sound and praising them will make grooming easier.³

Only trim one nail at first

Start with the tip of one nail, adding on a nail or two over the next few days so your dog gets used to the sensation.

Keep your tools in good condition

Cheap tools give cheap results, so don’t skimp on those nail trimmers! Nail clipper blades should be replaced regularly — otherwise, you’ll have to throw the whole tool away. On the other hand, grinders will need the grinding bands replaced. The tool you buy will come with instructions on how to replace them and will likely have extra replacement bands for you. Be sure you stock up on replacement clipper blades or grinding bands from the pet store.

Should I Clip or Grind My Dog’s Nails?

There are two nail cutters on the market for dogs: nail trimmers/clippers and grinders. Whether you opt for clipping or grinding depends on your dog’s personality.

Clippers come in two styles: guillotine and scissor. Their function is similar to human toenail clippers but built for a dog’s nails.

A dog nail grinder is an electric rotary tool that shortens the dog’s nails with a spinning section of material similar to sandpaper. Sometimes they’re marketed as dremels. Think of a grinder as a motorized nail file that whittles down a dog’s nail.

 If you’re trying to decide which might be best for your furry friend, consider the following:

Type of Nail Tool




✔️Good for large and thick nails that are hard to clip


✔️Smooths and rounds nails


✔️Excellent for sharp nails


✔️Better for a small dog


✖️Noise can scare anxious dogs


✖️Can cause dust and distinct odors



✔️Quiet, less likely to scare a dog


✔️Fast and easier on anxious dogs


✔️Doesn’t require cords or batteries.

✖️Higher risk of cutting the quick


✖️Blades must be replaced regularly

Dog Insurance May Cover Nail Trimming

Sometimes, you have an anxious pup on your hands. Trimming your dog’s nails should be a simple procedure when performed correctly, but you can ask your vet or vet tech to cut their nails for you — but it’ll cost you.

A dog insurance policy with MetLife Pet Insurance may be able to reimburse you for this charge when the service is performed during vet appointments.¹,² If it's been a while since their nails have been cut, there may be surprise expenses that a wellness check may reveal, like nail bed injuries. Consider getting a free quote today to find out how we can help you save on surprise veterinary expenses.

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¹ Pet Insurance offered by MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC is underwritten by Independence American Insurance Company (“IAIC”), a Delaware insurance company, headquartered at 485 Madison Avenue, NY, NY 10022, and Metropolitan General Insurance Company (“MetGen”), a Rhode Island insurance company, headquartered at 700 Quaker Lane, Warwick, RI 02886, in those states where MetGen’s policies are available. MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC is the policy administrator authorized by IAIC and MetGen to offer and administer pet insurance policies. MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC was previously known as PetFirst Healthcare, LLC and in some states continues to operate under that name pending approval of its application for a name change. The entity may operate under an alternate, assumed, and/or fictitious name in certain jurisdictions as approved, including MetLife Pet Insurance Services LLC (New York and Minnesota), MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions Agency LLC (Illinois), and such other alternate, assumed, or fictitious names approved by certain jurisdictions.

² Provided all terms of the policy are met. Application is subject to underwriting review and approval. Like most insurance policies, insurance policies issued by IAIC and MetGen contain certain deductibles, co-insurance, exclusions, exceptions, reductions, limitations, and terms for keeping them in force. For costs, complete details of coverage and exclusions, and a listing of approved states, please contact MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC.

³ “How to Trim Your Dog’s Nails Safely,” American Kennel Club

⁴ “Counter conditioning and desensitization,” Animal Humane Society

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