On the way home from adopting Banjo, I noticed that one of his toenails had split and looked like it might painfully break off if it wasn’t trimmed. I was apprehensive about trimming it myself since I knew that if I cut in the wrong place, it would hurt Banjo and his nail might bleed a lot. I wanted to cut it myself. I knew that learning how to clip dog nails was important. But I was scared.
So I called the woman from the rescue agency who had matched our family with Banjo and asked her what I should do. She could tell from my voice that I was nervous about trying to trim Banjo’s nail myself. I vividly remember her saying…
“If you can raise three children, you can learn how to clip dog nails!”
Her vote of confidence was kind and encouraging. I was almost ready to attempt it. But I ended up driving Banjo to the veterinarian’s office that day to have his nail trimmed by a professional. I knew it was important to keep my dog’s nails clipped for his well-being. And, in theory, I knew that I could do it. But the task just seemed so daunting. I was afraid of hurting my dog.
From fearful to fear-free: Fast forward 18 months
Eighteen months later my sister (Dr. Julie Buzby) and she noticed my dog’s nails and complimented me on how good they looked. I took great pleasure in her praise. For the past year, I had been my dog’s sole nail groomer!
So how did I go from a place of fearful inaction to dedicated action when it comes to my dog’s nail care?
I took these three steps to learn how to clip dog nails
1. Educate yourself!
Learning how to clip dog nails requires a little knowledge and the right tools for the job.
- Use your resources. I knew it was important to my dog’s overall health, posture, and well-being to keep his nails trimmed. But I didn’t know where to begin learning how to clip dog nails. I needed the knowledge and training to get to the point where I was willing to attempt the task myself. I sat down and thought about the resources at my fingertips. If Julie had lived nearby, she would have been my hands-on advisor. But too many miles separated us. That was just not an option. However, I did have two friends in town who might be able to demonstrate share some training: a veterinarian and a dog groomer.
- Watch a pro. I asked the dog groomer to demonstrate how to clip dog nails. This was extremely helpful. She gave me tips on what tools to use, showed me nail trimming techniques, and encouraged me as I tried it myself. By practicing with her guidance, I learned that I was using clippers that were too big! So I immediately ordered a smaller pair.
- Use the right tools. I have used the same plier-style nail clippers ever since that time. Also, I learned from my friend that an Andis EasyClip nail grinder was an affordable addition to my dog grooming toolkit. The nail grinder smoothed my dog’s nails without having to worry as much about cutting the quick.
Learning how to clip dog nails comes with repetition.
Once I had the right tools (clippers that I felt comfortable wielding), I was ready to begin trimming my dog’s nails. I put into practice what I had learned! While still hesitant, I began to clip my dog’s nails about once a month.
Banjo loves the outdoors, so I trimmed his nails on the front porch where he could lie in the sun on a towel. It’s a small thing, but it made the nail clipping experience more pleasant for him, and it made the cleanup easier for me.
I practiced taking it slow and making small cuts. At first, when I was beginning to build my confidence, I clipped just the nails on one of Banjo’s front paws. Then I wrote down on my calendar which nails I had trimmed. I came away with a sense of accomplishment, and the length of the ordeal wasn’t very stressful for Banjo.
As I built my skill and gained confidence, I learned to trim all four paws at once. I still made small cuts as I trimmed Banjo’s nails. This allowed me to see when I was getting close to the quick. I never made one big clip and called it good.
The more I clipped Banjo’s nails, the more enjoyable it became for both of us. I’m more relaxed now that I am comfortable clipping his nails. Plus, Banjo is very pleased when I reward him with treats and a neck massage after his nail trim is over.
Now I trim Banjo’s nails with confidence weekly. Do I ever cut the quick? Yes, I do. That’s why I keep a small container of flour in my grooming kit for such occasions. But, since I make very small cuts to the nail, it’s a very rare occurrence that results in a minimal droplet of blood. I quickly cover the nail with flour to stop the bleeding. (Styptic powder or cornstarch are two other alternatives to stop the bleeding if you accidentally cut the quick. (Or you can buy Dr. Buzby’s nail trimming kit here. It includes nail clippers, styptic powder, and a step-by-step nail trimming guide.)
3. Connect the small task to the big picture.
Learning how to clip dog nails is easier when you have a goal in mind.
How did I go from hesitantly trimming my dog’s nails each month to confidently trimming them each week? I connected the small task of nail trimming to the big picture of seeing my dog bring comfort to others.
In a little less than a year from the day I brought Banjo home, he became a registered therapy dog. I am his handler, and we volunteer as a therapy team with a local animal-assisted therapy organization called Hand in Paw. As one of the requirements before each therapy visit, Banjo must have his nails trimmed. Weekly therapy visits meant weekly nail trims. Initially, this forced me out of my comfort zone. Ultimately, it broadened my comfort zone.
I still take my time and go slowly when I trim Banjo’s nails, but I am comfortable doing so. Banjo picks up on this as well. He can sense that I am relaxed as I set out to trim his nails. Although he still doesn’t enjoy the process, I am no longer feeding his anxiety with my own.
While your big picture may or may not be volunteering as a therapy team, you can connect the small task of learning how to trim dog nails to your own big picture or goals. Keeping your dog’s nails properly groomed:
- Keeps him out of pain (no more painful split nails)
- Promotes natural and healthy posture
- Helps him grip the ground when he walks
- Makes it less likely that he will experience the pain of a nail breaking off.
I hope you’ll connect the small task of trimming your dog’s nails to the bigger goal of your dog’s well-being and longevity. With the right tools, practice, and goals, learning how to cut dog nails will be a nail-biter no more!
A note from Dr. Julie Buzby:
What questions do you have about how clip dog nails? Please comment below.
Keri Adams had wanted a dog her whole life. She is thankful for the kind people at Two by Two Rescue, who found Banjo running along the highway, fostered him, and matched him with her family. Keri loves spending time with her family, reading, supporting the work of International Justice Mission, and volunteering with Hand in Paw in Birmingham, Alabama.