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How to Trim Puppy Nails: 10 Vet-Approved Steps

Brooke Bundy

By Brooke Bundy

Merle Pitbull puppy nail clipping, cutting nails, nail trim

Vet approved

Dr. Marta Vidal-Abarca Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Marta Vidal-Abarca

BVSc GPCert (Ophthal) MRCVS (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Like their growing teeth, your puppy’s nails can be needle-sharp despite their petite size. Beyond the damage to your pants and furniture, overgrown nails pose a danger to your puppy. This is especially the case with the dewclaw, which may accidentally cause an eye injury while scratching their face or grow into their paw pad if it’s not properly trimmed. Trimming your puppy’s nails is a relatively simple task, but you’ll need to take care not to cut their nails into the quick because they’ll bleed. You’ll also want to take your time to build positive associations with your pup, especially leading up to the days before their first nail trim. We’ve provided all the steps you need to take to trim your puppy’s nails in this article.

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Choosing the Right Nail Clippers for Your Pup

There are four main options for your dog’s nails: clippers, nail scissors, pliers-style nail clippers, or a grinder. Many people prefer a nail grinder because it’s easier to avoid cutting into the quick. However, dogs with long coats may get their fur painfully tangled into the grinder. Operating a nail grinder also leaves the unpleasant smell of singed hair, and some dogs may also not like the noise.

Traditional dog clippers with a hole where you insert the nail can be more difficult to use than the other types, but the blades tend to be more durable. The scissors-style clippers are the best choice for handling smaller nails, such as on toy or small breed dogs. The pliers-style nail clippers resemble traditional nail clippers, but are spring-action, which can assist with thicker nails common with large and giant breeds. The best choice depends on you and your dog, what you’re comfortable using, and what you think your dog would do best with.

Safari Professional Nail Trimmer for Dogs

Before You Start

Gather some training treats or a chew toy to keep your pup engaged, as well as a couple of first aid supplies in case you accidentally trim the nails too close. Paper towels are helpful for dabbing blood spots if you hit the quick. If this happens, you can use them to apply pressure over the bleeding area for at least 5 minutes, unless you have styptic powder on hand. Styptic powders such as Dogswell or Nail-Safe work great; you just need to press a pea-sized amount of powder onto the nail tip to ensure that it sticks and leave it there for as long as possible.

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Special Instructions for the First Nail Trim

Many canines feel uncomfortable with people touching their paws in general, much less having them groomed. That is why it is so important to get dogs used to these activities from a very young age. Since nail trimming might be a life-long activity, you don’t want to rush your dog into it. Instead, let them build positive associations with the tool in the days leading up to the first clip.

The 5 Steps to Introduce Your Dog to Nail Trims

1. Acclimate your puppy to feeling safe when you touch their paws.

While you’re resting with your pup, try to touch their paws. Reward them if they let you. If they don’t, give them a break and try again later.  As they become more comfortable, you might even want to give them a little paw massage.


2. Reward your dog when you introduce the clippers.

Simply show them the nail trimmer, without using it or turning it on if it’s a grinder. Treat them with snacks and praise, communicating that the trimmer is a good thing.

pitbull puppy getting a treat
Image Credit: .A. Dunbar, Shutterstock

3. Repeat the next day while holding their paws.

Combining the previous two steps, show them the trimmer while you’re handling their paws. Give them plenty of praise and rewards when you do.


4. Turn on the clippers or trim or a spaghetti noodle.

This time when you bring out the clippers, turn on the grinder or clip something besides your dog’s nails with your tool. Continue to build positive associations through praise and treats.


5. Trim one nail every day until they’re comfortable.

While it might be tempting to jump onto all fours, you’ll want to take it slow until your dog is completely okay with the idea of getting their nails trimmed. Even though one nail a day may seem like it’s taking forever, it’s worth sacrificing a couple of days or weeks if it means they’ll be comfortable with you trimming their nails for life. Plus, it’ll save you a lot of time and money that you don’t have to spend at the vet or groomer over the years.

Dog nail trim
Image Credit: GaiBru Photo, Shutterstock

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The 5 Steps for Trimming Your Puppy’s Nails

It’s the big day! Your puppy is finally comfortable with the clippers, and it’s time for a thorough trim. Here’s what you need to know before you call your pup.

1. Gather your supplies and an extra person, if available.

Nail trims can certainly be a solo act, but it’s easier if one person can hold the dog still while the other person trims, especially if you have a nervous pup (or if you’re nervous too).

white Maltipoo dog getting its nails trimmed
Image Credit: Olena Yakobchuk, Shutterstock

2. Find the best way to lift their paw.

You can cut their nails while standing or kneeling in front of them. This approach might work best if someone is holding them, but if you’re on your own, it might work better to trim their nails from the side. You can reach around your dog to hold their paw like you would hold someone’s hand and grip the clippers with your free hand. Experiment with angles before you clip to find the best position where you’re most confident. You’ll cut their nails at a 45-degree angle, so take that into account when deciding where to sit.


3. Trim only the outer curve of the nail.

The quick of the nail is located on the inside curve of their paw. Never cut a huge chunk of a nail at once. Instead, you’ll want to trim conservatively, only trimming the outer curve of the nail, so you avoid running into the quick. If you’re lucky enough to have a dog with white nails, you may be able to see the quick as a pinkish line running through the inside. It’s darker than the outer edges of the nail because it has blood vessels running through it.

Hepper_How to Trim Puppy Nails_Infographic_v1-4_May 29 2023
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4. Remember to give praise and treats.

As you trim their nails, reward them with treats and kind words. They may feel nervous too, especially at first. Repeat exposure (and frequent rewards) should help them gradually relax over several sessions.


5. If you hit the quick, don’t panic.

Maybe your dog jerked their paw, or you misjudged how far to cut. It’s okay. Just stay calm and reach for the first aid supplies you gathered earlier.

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What to Do If Your Pup Hates Nail Trims

Despite your best effort, your dog still might not cooperate like you’d hoped. There’s no shame in that. Some groomers can’t even trim their own dogs’ nails due to feisty or anxious temperaments. If it’s not safe for you or your dog to trim their nails at home, talk to your vet about other ways to calm them down or ask if they offer nail trims in the clinic. Most vets will trim nails for a low cost, or you can take them to a professional groomer instead.

a pet groomer with a white Maltipoo dog on a table
Image Credit: Olena Yakobchuk, Shutterstock

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Conclusion

Trimming your puppy’s nails can be a relaxing experience for you both. Building early positive associations with holding your puppy’s paws and with the clippers can help ease tensions when it’s time to trim their nails. Always keep first aid supplies handy in case you accidentally cut the quick and remember to stay calm. While it’s normal for your dog to take some time before they feel comfortable with the clippers, some dogs may not tolerate it even after multiple patient sessions. If your dog tries to bite you or you feel like it’s not safe for you to trim their nails, don’t hesitate to call your vet or groomer.

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Featured Image Credit: PPstudio, Shutterstock

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