Essential Tools and Tips for Trimming Dog Nails

tips and tools for trimming dogs nails

This guide contains lists of tools for grooming your dog’s nails and tips for trimming dog nails without hurting them (or you). It also includes answers to frequently asked questions about trimming and grinding dogs’ nails. If you are looking for a how-to guide for grinding or trimming dog nails, view these related posts:

List of Tools for Grooming Dogs’ Nails

  • Nail clippers, preferably scissor-style or guillotine-style with a guard
  • Nail grinder specifically engineered for dogs and cats
  • Replacement heads for the nail grinder (coming soon to the BarxBuddy shop)
  • Styptic pencil with silver nitrate (to stop bleeding if you cut too short)
  • Blunt kiddie scissors for trimming excess hair between the toes
  • Dog training treats
  • Good lighting

Best Dog Nail Clippers

Defining “best” when it comes to nail clippers depends on a few factors: Your own experience and your dog’s temperament and size. Here are our best tips for trimming dog nails … 

Best dog nail clippers for beginners

Whether you are new to clipping your pets’ nails or not, we always recommend that you get scissor-style nail clippers that have a protective guard, as well as a nail grinder that is specifically designed for dogs and cats. The BarxBuddy dog nail clippers have a nifty little nail file tucked into the handle, which you can use to smooth rough cuts.

Best large dog nail clippers

Using scissor- and guillotine-style clippers on large, extra large, and giant dogs can be difficult, especially if the clippers become dull. Big dogs have big, thick nails, which means you will need to keep your clippers very sharp. You also want to get in quickly and confidently to cut the nails. Avoid pulling or tugging while you trim as this will hurt the animal. Think about how it feels when you trim your own toenails — a steady hand goes a long way. 

The best option for trimming large dogs’ nails is to use a high-speed rotary nail grinder.

Best dog nail trimmer for small dogs

The scissor-style nail clippers work great for smaller dogs, especially if they have light-colored or opaque nails. If you’re right-handed, hold your small dog “football style” under your left arm and find a comfortable seat. Don’t pull on the nails. Trim excess hair from between their toes using scissors with a rounded tip; kids’ scissors work great for this task. Then, using the dog nail trimmer, quickly clip their nails just before the quick. Smaller dogs also do well with a rotary-style nail grinder, which we cover in another section on this page.

What about puppies — what are the best nail clippers for puppies?

Ask your veterinarian when the right age is for clipping a puppy’s nails. Typically it’s around six weeks. Even if your puppy’s nails haven’t grown too long, now’s the time to introduce your at-home nail salon to your newest member of the family. Whether you are going to use scissor-style clippers or the electric nail grinder — or both — get your puppy used to the feel and sounds. As your dog gets older, he or she will be used to the regular process; therefore, you’ll run into fewer uncooperative moments.

Best nail clippers for nervous dogs

No dog enjoys having its nails trimmed, but some can be more anxious than others. If you have an extremely nervous dog, talk to your vet about calming tools, like CBD oils or essential oils. You might also intersperse at-home nail trims with visits to a professional groomer, who is used to handling anxious dogs. 

The best tip for trimming dog nails of a Nervous Nelly is to make sure you know what you are doing and don’t lose your cool. Practice on another dog that’s used to having their nails clipped — ask friends and family. 

tips for trimming uncooperative dog nails
Hold your dog “football style” beside you and offer lots of healthy treats between nail trims.

The answer to the question, “What are the best nail clippers for nervous dogs,” is more about your technique than the tool itself. A nail grinder works well on a nervous dog because it allows you to shorten each nail in mere seconds; the downside is that even the best dog nail grinders make noise. 

Best dog nail clippers for thick nails

If your dog has thick nails, make sure first that this normal and not a fungal condition that can deform animals’ claws. Read more about signs of dog nail problems and when to consult with your veterinarian.   

For thick dog nails, we recommend the dog nail grinder. Its high-speed rotating bit quickly files down and smooths your dog’s nails in seconds. It isn’t uncomfortable like scissor-style clippers and it is easy to use. 

You don’t really need to buy expensive dog nail clippers with LED lights, quick sensors or other bells and whistles. Simply learn the anatomy of a dog’s nail and practicing regular nail grooming.

Best painless nail clippers for dogs

No clippers or trimmers should cause your dog pain. If your at-home nail grooming sessions are painful for your dog, first rule out any underlying health problems like infection. Do you notice any redness, swelling or discoloration around your dog’s nails, toes or pads? 

scissor style nail clippers with file

If you use scissor-style nail clippers, make sure they are sharp. Test them by slicing a piece of paper; if it cuts easily, they should be good to go. If they bend before cutting, your scissors need to be sharpened. Same goes for guillotine scissors. 

An electric nail grinder with quick guard is the most painless tool for trimming nails. 

What Happens if You Cut the Dog’s Nail Too Short?

This is where the styptic pen comes in handy. You’ll know the split second you’ve cut too far into your dog’s nail. The fleshy part of the nail is called the “quick,” and it is filled with nerve endings and blood capillaries. If you cut too short, it will hurt and bleed. If you don’t have a styptic pencil, some corn starch thickened in water will help stop bleeding. 

On a related note, we have a separate post that offers tips for trimming dog nails that have grown too long.

How to Cut Uncooperative Dogs’ Nails

Dogs feed off your energy, so if you are stressed out and yelling, your dog is not going to calm down. 

tips for uncooperative dogs
Don’t yell at a nervous dog. Be calm, take lots of breaks, and reward good behaviors with tasty treats.

Recruit a friend or family member to help you with the uncooperative dog. Their job will be to sit beside the dog, pet them on the head, reward them with treats, and keep them distracted while you get in and get out quickly. 

Some experts recommend taking your uncooperative dog for a long walk or exercise them to tire them out. Tired dogs are less likely to care about grooming; therefore, they’re less likely to object.

Can You Use Your Toenail Clippers on Dogs?

 No. Well, you can, but we don’t advise it. Human nails are very different from dog nails. Yours are flat, while your dog’s nails are tubular. Your nail bed is clearly visible, but your dog’s quick is hidden inside the tubular claw. Your nail clippers don’t have a guard that protects your dog’s nails from being trimmed too short. 

Related: The veterinary medical school at Washington State University offers a step-by-step illustration for clipping dog nails.

Are Cat and Dog Nail Clippers the Same?

Pet nail clippers and grinders can be used on dogs and cats. The difference between cats’ claws and dogs’ nails is that cats’ claws are retractable. You’ll need to gently press on the cat’s padded toes to see the claw. You can use the scissor-style pet nail clippers or the nail grinder on cats and dogs.