Cutting Your Dog’s Nails: How Important Is it Really?

Posted on 08/19/13 183 Comments

Today I have a guest blogger by way of an impromptu video. Dr. Leslie Woodcock DVM, is a long time friend of mine (for more than 20 years). She has been our Team Canada veterinarian at most of our international events (WAO, IFCS, FCI) for the past five years.  Dr. Leslie is also the owner of Woodcock Veterinary  Services, a clinic that specializes in rehabilitation for dogs post surgery or post injury or to help us dog owners with injury prevention.  Leslie has also been there every step of the way during Encore’s recent health problems. Her assistance and support has been nothing short of amazing.

Last year Dr. Leslie was at our place evaluating dogs at a workshop when I asked her to give a little lecture on nail trimming for performance dogs. It was a fascinating presentation. In summary; short nails are a key to our dogs rebalancing around an agility course and are critical in our geriatric dog’s long term health. This presentation is a part of a three part series I am currently running in my newsletter. If you are not yet a member of my newsletter sign up with the form on the top right of this page and you will be!

Can you name which set of paws belong to which of my dogs? From left to right . . .

Dr. Leslie suggests that our goal should be to cut our dog’s nails short enough that you can not hear them on your tile floor (when I can hear my guys I know it is time to cut nails!). In order to get the nails this short without hurting the dog (or making their nails bleed) your goal should be to get the “quick” (or soft bit that supplies blood to the nail) to recede.

Most people when cutting nails try to cut directly across the dog’s nail (as in the diagram below).

However as Dr. Leslie recommends the best way to cut your dog’s nails without hurting them AND get that quick to recede is to cut the sides of the nails on angling back.

Cutting nails this way it becomes easier to get your dog’s nails shorter without hurting them as it isn’t YOU the takes off the bottom bit of the nail it is your dog’s normal every day wear and tear. I don’t know if my diagrams are perfect but Dr. Leslie’s 14 minute lecture sure is, so make sure you listen to it!

Take a look at these before and after pictures of nearly 17 year old Buzzy. On the left is Buzz before a nail trim, on the right is him after.

Now I never let me dog’s nails get long (as evident in the picture above of four of my dog’s standing at the top of the stairs (Buzz opted out of that picture)). So the differences in these two pictures will be not be as dramatic as they could be if Buzz was more of a “typical” 17 year old dog with claws so long they are starting to curl under the pads (poor dog).  But if you look closely you can see the length or angle of Buzz’s paws appears to change slightly from the picture on the left (before his nail trim) to that on the right (after his nail trim). It could just be the way he is standing (both of these pictures I just “caught” Buzz standing) but to me it appears he is also distributing his weight differently between these two pictures.

Buzz before nail trim                                                                  Buzz after nail trim  

Dr. Leslie’s talk is a real eye-opener, be sure to leave her a comment and let her know your thoughts!


Today I am grateful to my friend Leslie Woodcock whose commitment to learning more about how to help dogs is surpassed only by her love of them.

40 Comments

  1. Peter Denies says:
    Thursday, September 15, 2016 at 6:53am

    Writing a good blog is an art. You’re doing some great work here. Keep it up.

    Reply

  2. Jenny says:
    Wednesday, June 29, 2016 at 4:13pm

    Such an informative article and still as applicable today as it was when it was written 3 years ago! Can’t stop sharing 🙂

    Reply

  3. Bobbiejos says:
    Tuesday, June 28, 2016 at 5:57pm

    Thank you very much for your knowledge and the time to share. I am working on my older cockapoo. I let his nails get too long. I feel better now that I know what to do. I have a small drimmel tool that I am going to have to get out, and keep out if I remember correctly.

    Reply

  4. Christie says:
    Monday, March 28, 2016 at 6:34am

    I never thought I’d see my old dogs nails off the ground again but after following your instructions they are! Thanks so much for sharing this knowledge.
    Christie and the old boy Rocky

    Reply

  5. Pat says:
    Saturday, March 19, 2016 at 8:19am

    Thank you for such helpful information!

    Reply

  6. Alex John says:
    Thursday, March 17, 2016 at 6:35am

    its really amazing info about dog grooming. i will keep in my mind.

    Reply

  7. Stanford Lynx says:
    Wednesday, March 9, 2016 at 5:57pm

    My female pitbull service dog Rio Risa Roja often pulls me on a mountain bike, we frequently use the paved city streets, the highway and riverwalk, they are mostly surfaced with asphalt and/or concrete.

    And voilà — they are usually worn down naturally to just above the ‘quick’, I check/inspect her nails before, during, and after, walking, running, bike and/or cart pulling. I usually only need to trim, to clean up slightly jagged edges on the claws of her feet. seriously she seems to trim them naturally with our runs on paved and concrete surfaces.

    She instinctively knows if and when she wears the nail too close to the quick, when the surface makes contact with the quick, it ‘quickly’* comes to my attention as her gait tempo will have changed, she will have begun to favor a particular foot. I always carry a first-aid kit, that includes disinfectant, bandages, and emergency ‘dog-booties’ in the event any of her feet need extra protection.

    She uses her two front Dew Claws to help grasp and manipulate… DOGipulate** objects, and I leave them untrimmed for the most part, occasionally give them a slight trim, but Rio does use them when she uses her front legs to hold and handle things… like driftwood, tennis balls et cetera. They really are functional claws.

    *
    **
    ‘Foot’-notes: (pardon the puns, I started to put ‘side-notes’ but could not resist).

    Nearly ALL of the dog anatomy charts, and references spell the word “quick” and not the kwik shown on the OP referenced chart.

    Reply

    • Lynda Orton-Hill says:
      Wednesday, March 9, 2016 at 6:57pm

      Really great Stanford that you check Rio’s nails regularly as paved / concrete surfaces can be hard on dogs pads and nails!

      Reply

  8. jay says:
    Thursday, November 19, 2015 at 5:15pm

    My 12 yr old Girl pup has those large very black nails with no quick showing through, only one on all feet are clear. I don’t trust manual trimmers.

    I use my common Dremel tool to make it quick and fast and she doesn’t fuss. You have to be careful however, trim only in the direction of the rotation of the tool, never back and forth over the nail from side to side, it heats up and that hurts them.

    A little at a time. I take them down probably not enough, but enough to not hear the clicking on pavement, that will hurt after a long walk. She rather dreads “spa” day, nails, bath, teeth…she’s in a funk for about an hour until she dries and realizes she feels wonderful.

    Reply

    • Linda says:
      Friday, March 18, 2016 at 7:57am

      My shepherd is 5 years old & we have an extreme problem trimming her nails. My husband has a dremmel. You think this would work gently?

      Reply

  9. mel says:
    Sunday, November 8, 2015 at 2:36am

    Thanks for the very clear insight into why, when and how to trim dog nails. We have been getting them done at groomers and or vets and both dogs, Porties Encore and Anchor, seem to be growing their claws longer. We live in a rural setting and lack the sanding affecr of running or walking on concrete. Your vetrinary friend has given me the confidence to give the grinder/dremel approach a try.

    Using those clippers was always a tense time for me and for our dogs. Hope we can figure out this new approach together. Cheers Mel and Enc ‘n Anch.

    Reply

    • sarah says:
      Sunday, November 15, 2015 at 4:16pm

      lol good luck! what she fails to mention is that 90% of dogs out there have total meltdowns for the dremels. it’s very uncomfortable, loud, and terrifying for them. most dogs can’t handle it. they usually have more of a chance of being ok with it if they’ve been trained to be ok with it since they were puppies. simply put – dogs are MUCH more likely to be ok with a 1second clip with nail clippers than 30 second grinding with the nail clipper. i’m sure you’ll figure this out though lol, good luck!

      Reply

      • Elaine Boman says:
        Tuesday, December 15, 2015 at 12:53am

        Most dogs does NOT have meltdowns for the dremel. If you introduce it right it won’t take long before the dog is completely comfortable with it and age doesn’t really have any bearing on it.

      • Zoe Lynn says:
        Saturday, January 2, 2016 at 5:47pm

        I’ve used the dremel on dogs that are scared of clippers and not a single one has had a meltdown. As long as you introduce them in a positive way they accept them just fine. I’ve used them on dogs from the ages of 1 to 10 and age has made no difference.

      • Todd says:
        Tuesday, February 16, 2016 at 4:03pm

        My Boxer has very thick nails and even the guillotine trimmers dont work without applying extreme force which freaks her out.
        Going to try the Dremel and if it doesnt work I can use it in the garage and keep taking het to the vet.

      • Laura says:
        Wednesday, March 9, 2016 at 3:50pm

        I can’t use the trimmers on our big ( 70 pounds) boy dog, I can however the cordless dremel for dogs I ordered off Amazon. It took a while, but now he lays down for “spa day” and gets string cheese while I grind them down–so much easier than wrestling him and stressing both of us out 🙂

  10. Paula says:
    Friday, November 6, 2015 at 4:22am

    My dog has a black line down her claw and it seems to be sore ?any idea what it could be

    Reply

    • sarah says:
      Sunday, November 15, 2015 at 4:20pm

      many dogs out there have multi-colored nails, a different color in the nail shouldn’t be alarming. if the dog is sensitive and is in pain upon touching it though – then i would look into taking him to the vet. could be many different things, only a vet doing testing can tell you for sure.

      Reply

  11. Good dog training tips says:
    Wednesday, October 7, 2015 at 10:17pm

    Good and useful article about how to cut our dog nails. Thank you! 🙂

    Reply

  12. Kelsey Ross says:
    Saturday, October 3, 2015 at 11:40am

    Does this method have a name? How do I find someone who does this? Is there someonev in Austin, TX?

    Reply

  13. Deb Ingham says:
    Friday, September 11, 2015 at 6:52pm

    My Rescue, a 3 yr old Nova Scotia Duck Toller presents with very aggressive behavior when attempts to clip his nails. The only way I have found to work is to have him sedated and nails quick-cut but I don’t like to do this. Not only is it extremely expensive to do 3-4 times a year but it can’t be healthy for my dog. His nails get so long and sharp they slice like razors even though he goes on walks several times a day and has run of a large wooded yard In your opinion, is it better to put him under the sedation or to let his nails get long?

    Reply

  14. Claire says:
    Tuesday, August 11, 2015 at 10:14am

    Urgh. Am really struggling here. I’ve been trimming my lurcher’s long nails like this for a few months. At first it was so easy, the nails cut very easily and he didn’t mind at all. I could do all four feet and take off a good amount top and sides. But over time I’ve occasionally got a bit close to the quick for his liking and he’s pulled away, and now he’s very worried when the clippers come out. I was confident at first but now I’m worried too, because the cutting has become harder – his nails seem harder, it’s very difficult to get anything off the sides and they have a strong curve so I don’t seem to be able to cut without touching the quick. If I could be confident in my own ability he wouldn’t have so much of a problem with it, but every time I try now I struggle. I quicked him really badly this morning and am kicking myself. I can’t work out how to get the shallow top cut because of the downward curve of the top of the nail. Do I cut just the curve off, because if I try to cut the end of the nail and curve at the same time, I’m slicing into the top of the quick, and if I just go at the end of the nail I end up cutting more perpendicular to the end of the nail, rather than at an angle? I hope that makes sense. I just don’t understand why it’s become so difficult. I’ll try to sharpen my clippers in case that’s part of the problem. I also can’t work out how to get at the right angle to cut them – doing it with him standing doesn’t work at all, and I’ve been doing it with him lying on his side but that’s hard too unless I can get him to lie at the top of the stairs! I thought his nails were getting shorter and the quicks receding but now I’m not so sure. After only a week of not cutting they look as long as ever. 🙁

    Reply

    • Karen says:
      Tuesday, September 1, 2015 at 5:41pm

      You should try dremeling, it is nearly impossible to quick the nail and you can get them shorter than clippers. You can round the nail right to the quick without causing any bleeding.

      Reply

  15. Jennifer D says:
    Monday, August 10, 2015 at 12:04pm

    I have teacup poodle and to be perfectly honest mever knew the importance of nail trimming. What if their nails are already too long? Or shpuld i say that is what i was told the quick has grown out? I feel terrible when i hear this

    Reply

    • Kim says:
      Monday, August 10, 2015 at 9:40pm

      You can definitely get the quick shorter by trimming the nails this way. You want to cut the nail on the angle described so you ALMOST hit the quick. Over a few session of trimming nails this way the quick will recede.

      Reply

    • jay says:
      Thursday, November 19, 2015 at 5:18pm

      In that event, you have to trim less but more often to walk the quick back. It will walk back into the nail as the nail gets shorter.

      Reply

  16. Alice Zammit-Maempel says:
    Tuesday, August 4, 2015 at 8:01pm

    Thank you for this extremely useful information. Now I know why my GSP never looks as though her nails have been trimmed and her quick never recedes.

    Do you by any chance know of any dog groomer/ vet who would trim dogs’ nails like this? I live in Niagara Falls and I would be willing to travel if there was someone in the region.

    Many thanks.

    Regards.

    Alice Zammit-Maempel

    Reply

  17. Barb K says:
    Tuesday, July 28, 2015 at 6:15pm

    Who knew a nail lecture could be so interesting and educational?!! I am a canine massage therapist, now I can send clients to this site for a great explanation of why short nails really does matter . Thanks so much for filming and posting! Just the kick in the pants I needed to keep up the “nails war” on my own old greyhound. Thank You!

    Reply

  18. julie quarles says:
    Saturday, June 6, 2015 at 12:32am

    my dog refused to let his nails trimmed, after several failed attempts i discovered i could roll a ball down the sidewalk and he caharges full speed after it! im now concerned his nails are too short!!!

    Reply

    • Warren says:
      Sunday, October 4, 2015 at 1:33am

      What in the world does rolling a ball down the sidewalk have to do with trimming nails? Am I missing something?

      Reply

      • John says:
        Wednesday, November 11, 2015 at 12:10am

        Warren,

        The sidewalk acts like a file which wears the nails down; hence there is no need to trim it’s nails if your dog is getting sufficient exercise walking or running on pavement.

  19. Beverly says:
    Thursday, June 4, 2015 at 12:50pm

    What is the best way to tell where the quick is on black nails?

    Reply

    • mission thomas says:
      Sunday, June 14, 2015 at 1:51pm

      My dogs nail are black so I have to look at the underside of the nail to see exactly where the quick ends. I actually do that with my dog that has white nails too because you can actually see what you’re doing. If you try to look through the nail, even on white nails, you still can’t clearly see the quick.

      Reply

  20. Karen Dayberry says:
    Wednesday, May 20, 2015 at 3:36pm

    I have more of a question. The nail trimming technique is great help, but I know I saw an article about how to train the puppy for stress free, struggle free nail trimming but I cannot find that. Can you please post that information again? Thank you.

    Reply

    • Susan says:
      Sunday, May 24, 2015 at 7:01am

      Morning Karen, Here in this blog I show a game I play with Swagger to help him find the joy in the task of nail trimming.
      http://dogagilityblog.wpengine.com/2012/04/does-your-dog-training-need-a-shot-of-joy/

      Reply

    • Barb's Dog Logic says:
      Wednesday, June 10, 2015 at 7:28am

      Hi There! I use a Dremel re-chargeable variable speed tool, with fine grit sanding drum. ONCE a dog’s nails are trimmed, I then send the dog’s owner home with a nail file, purchased at a beauty supply open to the public, 100 grit nail file for ‘Acrylic Nails” its a human’s nail file, with the right texture, and I post videos showing dog owners how to do nails this way…… for free.
      Enjoy!
      ~ Barbara in Ohio.
      APDT, HTAP Professional Dog Trainer
      since 1989

      Reply

  21. Laura Tomaszewski says:
    Sunday, May 17, 2015 at 11:18pm

    Thanks for sharing. Great information. I have always had trouble with nails, now I know why!

    Reply

  22. Diana Hauser says:
    Sunday, May 17, 2015 at 7:24am

    Great information – definitely an important aspect of dog care.

    Reply

  23. Jacklyne Tesoro says:
    Monday, May 4, 2015 at 5:57pm

    Thank you for sharing about this topic. I always tell my pet clients about the importance of cutting your pet’s nails. I will share this article on my social media. I run a dog walking & pet sitting business in the San Gabriel Valley, Los Angeles area.

    http://www.sgv-petcare.com

    Reply

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