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

Posted on 08/19/13 205 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.

72 Comments

  1. Ginny says:
    Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 9:55am

    I loved your blog and I am doing my dogs nails right now. Thanks so much!

    Reply

  2. Thyre says:
    Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 5:13am

    Thank you, Dr Leslie, and Susan for such an informative “lesson”.
    Love it 🙂
    I have a very different perspective on my girls paws now 🙂

    Reply

  3. Gale says:
    Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 12:52am

    I was going to cut my dogs’s nails today, so this came at just the right time. I did what the video said, and it was amazing. I will see how long the cut lasts.

    Thank you so much for this.

    Reply

  4. Charlotte says:
    Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 12:47am

    Oh I posted earlier but it didn’t show up.
    Decaf, Swagger, Feature and then Encore furthest away 🙂

    Reply

    • Susan says:
      Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 7:19am

      Yes Charlotte you got it!

      Reply

  5. Charlotte says:
    Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 12:46am

    Excellent information, thank you Dr Leslie and Susan for sharing.

    Reply

  6. Charlotte says:
    Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 12:17am

    Decaf, Swagger, Feature and Encore furthest away

    Reply

  7. Kathy Seube says:
    Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 7:28pm

    A quick clarification….on the question about a quick touch of the grinder, this is assuming the nail has already been trimmed back close to the quick!! And then the vibration of the grinder will encourage the quick to recede.

    Reply

  8. Kathy Seube says:
    Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 7:26pm

    I was told that by using a Dremel, even a quick “touch” will encourage the quick to recede by the vibration of the grinder. I was also told that when a dogs nails are too long, instead of grinding just the ends off, take the grinder and make a small nick in each side of the nail up behind the end of the quick. Nick should be noticeable, not not deep enough to cut into the quick and then the quick will eventually recede back behind those nick areas. Any truth to either of these ideas?

    Reply

  9. Barb Bristol says:
    Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 5:55pm

    This is an AWESOME video! Over-long nails are such a pet peeve of mine, and something that too many pet owners let go.

    Reply

  10. Athena says:
    Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 5:02pm

    My dog has black nails, how do I know where the quick is?

    Reply

  11. Dianne Traphagen says:
    Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 4:58pm

    I thought Dr. Leslie’s presentation was very informative. I use the Dremel with the small sandpaper tube on it. I was wondering if there is another attachment that may be more accurate. My 3 dogs are small breeds but not tiny.

    I find that the back nails need less trim than the front nails. I do keep them quite short.

    I am also interested to know Dr. Leslie’s take on dew claws.

    Reply

  12. Kate says:
    Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 3:51pm

    Great info! Thanks for sharing.

    In case it helps anyone with dark nails – it is often easier to *feel* when you are getting close to the quick (that soft smooth tissue) than it is to see it.

    Reply

  13. Christine says:
    Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 1:37pm

    How do you feel about using a metal file for the nails? Emory boards just aren’t enough, and my dogs won’t let me near them with a dremel, they hate the vibrations. Clippers they are fine, but not the dremel, I think it tickles them :). But I was thinking about using a larger file to finish off the nails after I clip, just so I can get to the quick without cutting it. Thanks and great article.

    Reply

  14. Anne says:
    Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 1:05pm

    Great info on nail trimmimg!!!!
    As a groomer and dog lover this is so helpful!!!

    Reply

  15. Pamela Leland says:
    Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 12:57pm

    I use a Dremmel and love it. I trim all around the quick – top bottom and sides -to slightly expose the quick. This removes all the rough edges and recedes the quick.

    My older dog has thicker nails and it takes a little longer to make progress on her nails.

    All my dogs accept the Dremmel easily.

    The true test of success is silent paws on the tile floors.

    Reply

  16. Laura W. says:
    Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 12:02pm

    A subject near and dear to my heart! I do nails once a week without fail and yes, if I can’t hear a ‘click, click’ on the floor afterwards, I know I’ve done a good job.

    I’ve just returned from a 10 day camping trip (with the dog – yes, I brought the nail clippers!), but just before I left, I finished making a video that I hope can help dog owners to make nail-trimming more enjoyable for both parties involved. It bothers me when people put little effort into making nail trimming a positive experience right from puppy-hood.

    So here’s the video, which I hadn’t gotten around to telling anyone about – now would be as good a time as ever I guess!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q_wFOt5KJu4

    It’s 9 minutes long, but throughout, it contains commentary on how I trained my dog to accept the procedure (yes, you’ll recognize a lot of Say Yes principles!) and how I trim with clippers. I haven’t heard of the method Dr. Leslie talked about – I’ll have to give it a try!

    Reply

    • JanV says:
      Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 9:42pm

      Thanks Laura. Is that couch loaded with nail trimmings? 😉

      Reply

      • Laura W. says:
        Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 8:54am

        I time my nail trimming so that it’s always just before my vacuuming! 🙂

  17. Jane says:
    Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 11:46am

    Thank you so much Dr. Leslie. And Susan, you just keep pushing things to a new level. I love this new newsletter series.

    Reply

  18. Mary Ellen says:
    Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 11:12am

    I would appreciate a specific list of the equipment Dr. Leslie uses: type of trimmer, which tips for the dremmel and name/supplier of the quickstop. Thank you.

    Reply

  19. Victoria says:
    Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 11:05am

    Fantastic information! How can I find someone in the Indianapolis, Indiana area who is willing/able to do this? Anyone know of anybody?

    Reply

  20. Willy says:
    Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 10:47am

    I already find it a bit difficult to gauge where the quick is on large breed (GSD/Malinois) dark black nails when approaching in the “traditional” cut sense. How does Dr. Leslie know where the quick is when approaching in the “take the roof off” cut? It seems there is way more opportunity to hit the quick since you are cutting more parallel to the quick itself. Is there an indicator that you’ve reached a good place to stop when cutting in this manner?

    Reply

    • Susan says:
      Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 11:00am

      Willy, when I used to use trimmers (a dremel girl myself) I would stop when I saw the white get “pithy looking” With the battery operated dremmel (not the ones with AC current that you plug into the wall) it is far easier to see that coming.

      Reply

      • Willy says:
        Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 5:38pm

        Exactly the info I was looking for. Thanks! I’m going to give this a shot tonight. (And yes, I also almost exclusively dremel now.)

  21. Lynnda L in Mpls says:
    Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 10:45am

    Excellent points about propreception for sport dogs *and* old dogs. Lets help the geriatric dogs stay mobile!
    Trim that hair on the bottom of your dog’s feet. Keep the front nails short. And put down runner rugs on your hardwood floors if your old dog is slipping….

    Reply

  22. Anji says:
    Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 10:36am

    Great blog SG! Question for the Dr…

    I hit 3 quicks this morning…oops…Is there a window of healing where I shouldn’t be training in dirt or grass to avoid pain or discomfort? Is there any possibility of infection if I ever go TOO short accidentally?

    Reply

    • Susan says:
      Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 10:58am

      I will let Dr. Leslie answer that but with this new knowledge of how to clip nails it should be a rare occurrence that you hit a Quick and only 1 per session!

      Reply

      • Anji says:
        Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 11:54am

        I didn’t hit them on purpose!! And only one bled…the other two might actually be “perfect” trims 🙂

  23. Liz says:
    Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 10:22am

    Great information, thank you so much for this presentation!

    Reply

  24. Lynnda L in Mpls says:
    Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 10:21am

    I learned of this “style” of cutting nails years ago in an article by the greyhound person who wrote “Play training your dog” [at least 15 years old book]. Cutting at the angle and snipping off the “sidewalls” works great! And for folks with dogs with those hard, black nails, this *is* the way to go! [Luckily my Dalmatians have had white & dark nails on the same foot so I can gauge the quick a bit.]
    For all you folks who worry about dogs slipping on grass in agility, toe problems from A-frame slats are a much bigger health concern. My hunting cocker has nooooo problem in the field with compact nails. [Or being able to bury his toys in the backyard….]
    Thanks Dr.Leslie

    Reply

    • Susan says:
      Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 10:57am

      LOL “or being able to bury his toys in the backyard . . . couldn’t do THAT with nails that retract out when needed!).

      Reply

    • latrenda says:
      Tuesday, February 4, 2014 at 12:28am

      Thanks for sharing that. I just looked it up on google books. Lots of interesting info. I can’t believe no one has told me this before.

      Thanks so much to Susan and Dr Leslie

      Reply

  25. Di Henry says:
    Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 9:45am

    I just completed cutting my dogs nails again, using this method. First, I got more off even though I had cut their nails within the past week.
    My old dog has always needed her nails cutting more frequently because they grow fast & I could never seem to get enough. Cutting this way I got more off AND she was more relaxed as I took my time trimming rather than cutting. This way you don’t squeeze the nail quick trying to cut off close to the end.
    Thank you Dr Leslie & Susan for this important & very clear explanation. I’ll look forward to seeing her quicks pulling back & how it effects her stance & most importantly her comfort… Thank you ;0)

    Reply

  26. Meghan says:
    Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 9:16am

    Great info! I’m guessing Encore, Feature, Swagger, Decaff

    Reply

    • Susan says:
      Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 9:27am

      Ding ding Meghan you are the winner!

      Reply

  27. Angela says:
    Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 8:39am

    So what are the best nail clippers to use??

    Reply

  28. Sherry Goodwin says:
    Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 8:21am

    I am a groomer as well as an agility person. While I agree with most of the presentation, I do disagree with taking an agility dogs nails back to the quick. I leave a little bit of a tip for digging in. I do not agree with the premise that dogs don’t need their nails to dig into wet grass or dry grass. Think about it, soccer players wear cleats, we wear cleats, why wouldn’t our dogs need some nail to dig in?

    Reply

    • Susan says:
      Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 8:31am

      Sherry Dr. Leslie said twice that “dogs do use their nails to dig in on sand and on grass when they turn.” She did not suggest taking the nails back so they look like a Doberman in the show ring only just until you “can’t hear them on your tile floor.” If you keep them this length the nails are still readily available to the dog when they turn as they can curl them out over the pads into the grass. The healthy benefits of shorter nails far, far outweigh any competitive gain you may think your dog is getting with a long turf spike. I too have agility dogs and keep my dog’s nails at the length Dr. Leslie suggests without any competitive loss.

      Reply

  29. JanV says:
    Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 8:05am

    Oh and left to right: Swagger, Feature, Encore, Buzz??

    Reply

    • Susan says:
      Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 8:11am

      I can’t believe no one else guessed Jan – I guess Dr. Leslie’s amazing presentation trumped my question . . . btw your guess would be incorrect (you got one of four correct) but thanks for playing!

      Reply

  30. Katarina says:
    Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 6:59am

    Thank you for a great informative lecture! 🙂 I´ll start cutting in that way right away! Looking forward to shorter nails in the future!

    Reply

  31. Christine Schragel says:
    Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 5:48am

    She should teach this to vets over here and unluckily we do not have Quicktip solution in Europe.
    We did not know with our first dog and she had artritis in her toebones, we did know with all the rest and our second oldi was very well with his toebones. It makes a big difference!!!

    Reply

  32. Margot says:
    Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 4:44am

    Many, many thanks for this.

    Reply

  33. Carol says:
    Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 4:16am

    Susan or Dr Leaslie will it be possible to supply the website that supply’s the quick stop Thank you
    Carol from Engalnd

    Reply

    • Susan says:
      Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 7:58am

      You can buy Qwik Stop on just about any American on-line pet store. I would go to a site where you might want to buys something else :). Shipping shouldn’t be outrageous because it is so small. And it lasts FOREVER. I usually buy one every 10 years and through the old one out at that time.

      Reply

  34. Carol says:
    Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 3:52am

    Fab video, I have learnt a lot from this,I have always trimmed my pups claws from the day they arrived home, but never cut them in this way, so the quick grown, I have just done my three Australian Shepherds,
    Thank You 🙂

    Reply

  35. Krissy says:
    Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 2:43am

    I use a dremil and love the results~ but again was thinking trimming while running on wet grass or mats was unfair to my dogs, and possibly taking away the ability to dig in?

    Reply

  36. jeff levenson says:
    Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 2:29am

    For athletic companion dogs who spend most of their time in the woods and on grass do you still recommend the nails be shaped short? They rally seems to grip the ground.

    Reply

    • Susan says:
      Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 7:55am

      As I wrote about Jeff, any value of long nails to “dig in” is greatly overshadowed by the benefits of short nails that Dr. Leslie mentions here.If you keep them just short enough so that you can’t hear them on your tile floor –they are still long enough that when the dog’s need them, they are still there for them to curl out to grab the grass when they turn. My agility dogs have nails just as Dr. Leslie describes (you can see them in the picture at the top) and they do pretty darn well negotiating there way around turns in agility.

      Reply

  37. Maggie says:
    Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 2:26am

    Fasciating, and I ave ome work to do. At what angle should you approach the nail? A left/right squeeze or still top to bottom, but with a more slopey angle?

    Reply

    • Dr. Leslie says:
      Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 8:34am

      It varies by nail shape. I say “take off the roof” and then if you can, the side walls. Walls are less important as they usually wear off.

      Reply

  38. Kristen Wheeler says:
    Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 2:25am

    One my dog’s nails stay really worn down on their own pretty much all the way to the quick, so I rarely clip them. I clip the dew claw, but that’s usually it. I still hear them click on the tile floor, though, but there’s really not much of anything I can cut off. Should I do anything?

    Reply

  39. Shelley says:
    Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 2:08am

    I am never sure where the quick is on my dogs with black nails. How can you tell when you’re getting close enough (or too close) with the clippers?

    Reply

    • Dr. Leslie says:
      Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 8:33am

      The quick and nerve are in the bottom third. Stay on the upper half.

      Reply

  40. Briana says:
    Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 1:54am

    Great lecture! I am curious about what Dr. Leslie says about only needing 6 weeks to fix any too-long problem. I have a Bassett mix that I’ve been working on for 2 years and have only recently been happy with them being almost reasonable length, and they still click! They were really, really long when we got him 2 years ago (he’s about 7 now), but even when I cut them as short as possible, trimming and grinding, they still aren’t there yet. Any suggestions? Might it have something to do with the bowing in his legs?

    Reply

    • Dr. Leslie says:
      Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 8:32am

      That is a challenge and some conformation does make it tough. Any improvements you make will go a long way to helping your Basset be more mobile in the later years.

      Reply

    • Joel Taub says:
      Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 6:33pm

      I watched Dr. Leslie’s talk on nail trimming and thought it was great. It is not clear as to what size nail clipper she was using, can you tell me?

      Thank You

      Reply

  41. Ellen Kilpatrick says:
    Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 1:32am

    Very interesting and informative. Can you please tell me exactly what type of nail clippers Dr Leslie was using in the video?

    Reply

    • Dr. Leslie says:
      Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 8:30am

      I use small, sharp clippers with a good spring so I can whittle. I also routinely use a Drexel stylus model.

      Reply

  42. Joel Taub says:
    Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 1:21am

    That was a great presentation and I learned a lot, I never heard that kind of logic before. I have a 50 pound lab that has very strong and black nails that I have been working on for years, I keep them at bay, but needed your information, so now I will try it your way, thanks Dr Leslie

    Reply

  43. Cathi Winkles says:
    Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 12:41am

    Extremely interesting talk from Dr Leslie. I have always kept my dogs’ nails rather short since they start out in conformation and also obedience. I often feel guilty for having them on the short side in agility because everyone says they need their nails to “dig in” when they run. So Dr Leslie, do they NOT need their nails to run agility??

    Reply

    • Susan says:
      Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 12:50am

      No Cathi, any value of long nails to “dig in” is greatly overshadowed by the benefits of short nails that Dr. Leslie mentions here.If you keep them just so you can’t hear them on your tile floor they are still long enough that when they need them they are still there for them to curl out to grab the grass when they turn. My agility dogs have nails just as Dr. Leslie describes (you can see them in the picture at the top) and they do pretty darn well in agility!

      Reply

    • Dr. Leslie says:
      Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 8:28am

      Thanks for the question. Nails are necessary but nails should not interfere with pad placement. The nail hitting at the wrong time changes the ability of the toes flexor muscles to receive accurate information about posture.

      From my observations, nails are used in softer surfaces or at the last phase of stride and turning.

      Reply

  44. Marie Black says:
    Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 12:35am

    Thank you for all the information and clear explanations. I will get to work on my dog’s nails.

    Reply

  45. Karla Wilson says:
    Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 12:28am

    I’m really excited by this! I can’t wait to see how trimming nails correctly will make a difference for my old dogs. 🙂

    Reply

  46. JanV says:
    Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 12:27am

    I thought I was obsessive-compulsive about my dogs’ nails and paws, but this takes it to a whole new level! 😉 Very enlightening and thank you.

    Reply

  47. Denise says:
    Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 12:24am

    Thank you so much! What a fantastic blog and video from Dr Leslie. So informative and helpful and something that can greatly change the life for an old dog.

    Reply

  48. catz says:
    Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 12:17am

    Might I ask what Dr. Leslie’s thoughts are on dewclaws – is she for or against their removal, does she think removal can cause complications of the feet/legs tendons etc and does she think that dogs use their dewclaws when working? thank you.

    Reply

  49. Carole says:
    Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 12:13am

    very interesting!

    Reply

  50. Shelly says:
    Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 12:05am

    Never knew this, but it makes total sense. Thank you Dr. Leslie for sharing this information!

    Reply

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