Top 5 Mistakes People Make When Cutting Their Dog’s Nails
This article is a case of do what I say, not what I do because I’ve made a lot of mistakes when it comes to cutting my dog’s nails.
For the most part, My Dachshund’s nails are an ok length but they can easily get too long if I don’t cut them every week.
My Dog Gretel has back issues and, despite working with her for years, she fights me when I try to trim her nails to the point I worry I will injure her.
For years, I took her to someone else to trim her nails because she woulnd’ resist them as much.
My Dachshund Summit was my first dog I got as a puppy.
I worked with her for over a year and have finally got to a place that she will let me trim her nails without too much protest.
This video shows what was key to her finally letting me do it.
Clearly, I’m no dog nail trimming expert. However, I get how important it is to keep a dog’s nails a proper length.
So, to provide some information about why it’s important not to let your dog’s nails get too long, and to give some tips for trimming a dog’s nails successfully, I’m going to turn it over to my dog-nail-expert friend Stephanie.
What Makes Her an Expert on Trimming Dog Nails?
Stephanie owns dogs that are the size of about 20 miniature Dachshunds but cutting dog nails is a universal struggle whether you are the proud owner of a Dachshund, a Labrador, or a Mastiff.
She is the award-winning blogger of BigDogMom.com and founder of the Dog Nailpro™ Method, with decades of experience as a dog owner, over 30 years of which has been devoted to health, nutrition, and behavior of dogs.
Backed by a BS in Microbiology, an MBA, and a passion for writing and big dogs, Big Dog Mom™ is a purpose-driven brand with a mission to empower, educate and inspire large and giant breed dog owners through outstanding content, useful resources and actionable information.
Stephanie proudly shares her life with her husband, two children, and the inspiration for Big Dog Mom™, her two Mastiffs, Junior and Sulley.
5 Mistakes Dog Owners Make When Cutting Dog Nails
As dog owners, we share the desire to keep our dogs happy, healthy, and injury-free, yet dog nails tend to be the one area where we often lack skill and confidence to maintain them properly.
One of the best ways to learn how to master a new skill or accomplish a seemingly impossible goal (like getting your dog to LOVE nail trims) is to learn what not to do.
Here are some of the biggest don’ts.
Disclosure: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links (Amazon Associate or other programs we participate in). As an affiliate, I earn a small commission from qualifying purchases.
1) Use the wrong or ineffective tool
Whether you are using a traditional dog nail clipper or a Dremel nail grinding tool for cutting your dog’s nails, there are aspects to each that you need to consider before putting tool to toenail.
First, most dog owners don’t realize you need to sharpen your nail clippers regularly.
This applies to both the scissors style clipper as well as the guillotine style.
A sharp blade ensures you get clean cuts on the nail. When the blade is dull, it increases friction on the nail causing more pressure to be applied and perceived by your dog.
The sharpness of the blade also affects how the clipper sounds on the nail when it’s cutting.
What may be imperceptible to you, is heard loud and clear to your dog.
Even tiny changes can make a difference.
Dog nail grinders are no different in regard to maintenance.
If you are using a sanding disc, you need to make sure you are replacing the sanding bands on the drum as they become worn down and lose their grit.
When a sanding band has lost it’s grit, it becomes much more difficult and less efficient at sanding the dog nail leading to more time and more discomfort for your dog (not just the experience of trimming their nails but a dull sanding surface can overheat the nail due to friction).
The last thing I will say on this point is to make sure you are using the right tool for your particular dog.
Guillotine-style clippers are usually only appropriate for small and medium size dogs with smaller, softer nails.
Scissors-style clippers are more appropriate for dogs with thicker nails and larger dogs.
Also, scissors-style clippers may be easier and more comfortable to use for an owner because you can cut from several different angles.
Note from Jessica: I use the Miller’s Forge Steel Dog Nail Clipper for Gretel.
With proper conditioning and knowledge of how to use it correctly, a Dremel makes a perfect choice for all dog breeds, large and small.
Note from Jessica: I use the Dremel 7300-PT Dog Nail Grinding Tool for Summit.
2) Wait too long in between trims or don’t start early
Timing and frequency matter when it comes to trimming dog nails.
Whether you do, or intend to take your dog to a groomer for nail trims, it is imperative that you begin to handle your puppy’s paws and nails right from the beginning.
The foundation you build around paw handling and nail manipulation through proper conditioning will determine future nail cutting success with your dog.
When you put yourself in your puppy’s or dog’s paws, it makes sense.
Imagine the first time your owner touches your paws you get a scary instrument chopping part of it off. “Yikes!”
On the contrary, when you slowly condition your puppy or dog to love having paws touched and played with, you are building a solid foundation for then conditioning them to love the nail clipper or Dremel in the future.
In addition, if you take long breaks in between nail trims, you will find that your dog seemingly forgets nail trims can be fun and enjoyable.
Some dog owners will tell me, “I don’t understand. It’s like my dog doesn’t know what the nail clipper is even though I’ve cut his nails many times in the past.”
The mistake many owners make is waiting too long in between nail cutting sessions.
This is a mistake for three big reasons:
Frequency Required for a Conditioned Response
Frequency of conditioning is what solidifies a conditioned response.
With the method I teach, nail sessions are frequent and varied in order to properly condition the dog to loving having nails cut.
Put simply, every time the dog sees or experiences the nail clipper or Dremel, great things happen.
The more frequently you are sending that message, the more solidly you are able to affect the emotion of the dog.
Frequency Puts Pressure on the Quick
When done correctly, cutting dog nails more often puts pressure on the quick causing it to recede and the nail to shorten over time.
Waiting too long in between cuts allows that quick to grow longer and longer with the length of the nail, compounding the challenge of not hitting it during trims.
And we all know what happens when you hit the quick… bleeding and pain.
Hitting the quick is not the end of the world, but we try to avoid it if we can.
In case your dog’s nail does bleed though, have a tissue and some styptic powder on hand.
Note from Jessica: My favorite is Miracle Care Kwik Stop Styptic Powder.
Frequency Creates a Habit and Priority
Perhaps you’ve heard the saying, “What gets scheduled, gets done.”
When cutting your dog’s nails is a priority, it gets done.
If your dog’s nails are already at the proper length, then I recommend putting a nail session on your calendar once a week.
Consider this time as an opportunity to not only maintain your dog’s nail length, but to further the personal and emotional connection you have with your dog.
If your Dachshund’s nails are too long, you may need to schedule them to be trimmed more frequently over a few week (or couple month) period to get them to the proper length.
3) Never cut or condition in between trips to the groomer
This is one of the biggest fatal flaws most dog owners make when it comes to cutting dog nails.
They expect that taking their dog to the groomer once a month is not only enough to maintain proper length nails, but that it is solely the groomer’s responsibility to do it.
Wrong and wrong.
As we discussed above, monthly or less frequent nail sessions are not enough. Not by a long shot.
And I am here to argue that, while dog groomers provide a wonderful service to dog owners, they are NOT responsible for your dog’s nail health.
In Top 7 Most Popular Myths about Cutting Dog Nails – Busted!, I go into much more detail about this, but for the purposes of this post, let me just say this…
Your dog’s nail health is both physical and behavioral.
Because of that, it requires, at the very least, a partnership between you and your groomer to effectively maintain them.
My recommendation is to talk with your groomer and map out a plan moving forward that works for both of you.
Perhaps it is you working on the paw handling foundation and conditioning with a nail clipper or Dremel in between visits to the groomer.
Sit down with your dog several times a week and make the whole experience with your dog’s paws and nails an amazing, fun event.
Imagine just doing that a few times in between visits to the groomer how much more comfortable your dog will be when the groomer starts trimming!
4) Letting them get too long
The issue or proper nail length for a dog can be a bit controversial.
People like to make exceptions or excuses as to why their dog’s nails are long.
But how long is too long? And, in what situations is it beneficial for dogs to have long(er) nails?
I will boil it down to these two simple rules first, then we can talk about some breed specific considerations (NOT exceptions).
- Nails should not touch the ground when your dog is standing on level ground, AND
- You should not hear your dog’s nails on the floor when he walks.*
*This applies to ALL breeds of dog with slight grace given to those with very flat paws. For some paws, while achieving goal #1 is possible, #2 may be more difficult. Baby steps, my friends. Every step you take in this direction is better for your dog.
As long as those two criteria are met, the length of your dog’s nails is acceptable.
My preference is for dog nails for nearly all dogs to be much shorter than this for a few reasons.
However, I am willing to accept these two criteria as the minimum standard.
Beyond this length and dogs can suffer from a myriad of serious orthopedic, postural and mobility issues. This is true of dogs of all sizes.
But once the length standards above are met, you may be wondering in what situations longer nails may provide benefit to the dog.
The following are a few very specific situations where length of nail may be of some functional use for the dog.
- A dog who was bred for AND actively used in the field for digging as a means of hunting. For example, a Dachshund, Toy Fox Terrier, or Beagle that is used for hunting and/or tracking.
- A dog who was bred for AND actively traveling in snow covered terrain for long periods of time. For example an Alaskan Malamute or Siberian Husky that is used in sled work.
- A dog who is VERY active hiking on varied terrain. This is NOT a dog who takes a casual hike on the weekends. This is a dog who is active daily on long hikes on terrain in which having slightly longer nails would provide some functional stability and traction.
5) Using force
Despite being listed last, using force is the single most common mistake dog owners make when it comes to cutting their dog’s nails.
To be clear, my definition of force includes any and all of the following:
- Restraining the dog with a leash or collar
- Trapping the dog in a small area so he/she can’t get away
- Physically holding or pinning the dog down
- Coercing the dog into force or restraint with food
It is no wonder why so many people feel the need to force their dog into a nail trim.
Most dogs fear it and have not been shown or conditioned to believe any different.
Consequently, the task becomes almost impossible without some sort of restraint.
You may be thinking, “What’s the big deal? I hold my dog, my husband does the trimming. We get the job done.”
Here is the problem…
Increasing amount of force to accomplish the same task
What starts with two people (one giving treats, the other clipping) eventually becomes one pinning the dog down in some way (whether just a paw or full physical force) and the other clipping.
The reason is when force is applied to a dog that is fearful, that fear response is exacerbated.
When force is applied to a dog that fears the clipper or Dremel or the entire process of nail trimming, the fear is reinforced, again, not reframed.
And so, overtime, the dog’s fear response gets worse and worse. Not better.
It makes it an inherently scary process
Another reason force doesn’t work is because nail trimming requires you to use a tool (clipper or Dremel) to cut a part of your dog.
So the process in and of itself is a scary one.
And because most dogs and puppies are never conditioned to these tools properly, they never really learn that these tools can be wonderful things.
Likewise, because the process of cutting nails is not intrinsically rewarding to the dog, it is more difficult, without proper conditioning, to establish a conditional response (i.e. the dog loving the nail trim).
Freedom reflex is powerful!
And lastly, when a dog’s freedom of movement is restricted, this becomes the most powerful driver of their response to desire freedom.
In the book Conditioned Reflexes, Pavlov explains, “The dog was confined with loose loops around his legs but so as to be quite comfortable and free to move about a pace or two.
Initially dog would take food, but eventually dog became more and more upset at being restricted. Eventually the dog wouldn’t eat.”
He goes on to say, “…If the animal were not provided with a reflex of protest against boundaries set to its freedom, the smallest obstacle in its path would interfere with the proper fulfillment of its natural functions.”
Here is the point…
Even with food, a dog wants to be free. He needs to be free for his survival (or so he thinks in the case of cutting nails).
If we are restricting our dog’s freedom of movement through leashing or restraining, we are going to have a negative outcome due to the freedom reflex.
That is, if your goal is training your now fearful dog into one who enjoys and looks forward to nail trims.
What do you fear the most about cutting your dog’s nails? What is holding you back? Let me know in the comments below and I would be happy to help!
About the Author
Hi, I’m Jessica. I’ve been studying the Dachshund breed since 2007, owned 3 of my own, and shared in the lives of thousands of others through their owner’s stories. When I’m not sharing what I know on this blog, you can find me hiking, camping, and traveling with my adventurous wiener dogs.
Nice post – It is a must read for pet owners struggling with nails. The important thing is starting early with working with a dog and understanding what you (the human) needs to know before starting.
I’ve been struggling with my doxie’s nails for the past 6 years! LOL I now get them trimmed every 10 days but I feel it should be every week. It’s just pricey at $15 a pop… Sometimes when they’re trimmed I can hear them when he walks and sometimes I can’t. I can just never seem to get a handle on it even with the 10 day schedule.
I get it. My Chester was that way. My friend who wrote this and I actually had a lengthily discussion about this exact thing. I told her, honestly, I have not personally met many, if any, Dachshunds whose nails don’t click a little when they walk. She swears it’s possible though. I’m of the “do the best you can” and “every dog and situation is different” mindset.
The freedom information was a WOW moment for me. My female dachshund HATES her nails being clipped, so I’ve resorted to having her being held. Now I realize it is a bad decision. However, how do i transition over to freedom and yet maintain her nails?
Hi Bonnie. I’m not versed in the training part – my friend Stephanie wrote this – but I would definitely check out her training and contact her if you want to know more. My guess is she teaches this technique in her training. Here is the direct link to it: https://bigdogmom.com/online-courses/
Experiencing immense difficulty attempting the conditioning approach with a few dogs. Available regular sessions not possible so have spent fruitless hours n hours conditioning dogs 2 trimmer n dremmel along with treats. Unable yet 2 trim nor grind so other than restraint how do you or groomers overcome this problem Thank you so much
Hi Warren. I don’t know how long you have been trying but it took me a year of conditioning to be able to trim my dog’s nails and the “conditioning” is still a work in progress. In regard to your situation, I would either try conditioning with the dremel OR the clippers, not both. Once you have success with one, you can try to move to the other if you want but it’s important to work on one thing at a time. In the meantime, it is indeed important to get their nails trimmed regularly. You can have a veterinarian or groomer do it (maybe not in the current situation because of the flu but when you are able to again). I’m not sure what kind of dog you have but if they are small enough you can try physically restraining them or buy a sling for small dogs. They make one with leg holes in it so your pup is basically suspended in air and can’t leverage off a surface to pull away from you. Good luck.
Afraid of hitting the quick and not having some to stop the bleeding and when I apply pressure she freaks out
Hi Michelle. This can largely be avoided by clipping off less of the nail than you think you should. Look up videos online that show you what the quick looks like (it’s basically a tiny, shiny dot, in the end of a clipped nail) and never trim past that. Also, if you look at a nail from the side, you will usually see a smooth, even part and then a spot where it abruptly starts to taper at the end (kind of like a “step up” in the underneath of the nail). That’s a pretty good approximation of where the quick is so don’t cut beyond that. In regard to the pressure, that’s just something you have to get her used to. With that being said, use scissor-style clippers (not guillotine style with the loop on top), make sure they are extra sharp, and make the cut quickly. The longer you take to make the cut, the more pressure you put on the nail bed. Good luck.
You should always have a bottle or quick stop on hand. It’s a septic powder that stops bleeding for pet nails and small nicks.
I inherited a 16 year old mini dachshund when he was 13. He is vicious if you touch his feet and will eat you up if you try to clip his nails. How can I bring him around to trimming his nails without being bitten?
Hi Reda. At 13, it will be really difficult to change a dog’s behavior in regard to trimming nails. Old dogs can still learn though so I would definitely try the tips in this article. In the meantime, you can have someone else do it (groomer or vet) or use a soft muzzle. That way he can squirm but not bite.
I don’t see any mention of glass nail files. With my first mini dachshund, I trimmed her nails with scissor-type trimmers and it was always a bit of a struggle. Now with two new minis, I decided there had to be a better way, and for me and them there is: a glass nail file. Initially, there were a lot of treats, but now when I bring out the file, they get excited and don’t even need treats while I’m filing their nails – maybe it helps that I sing to them, they close their eyes and doze. Filing does take a little longer, but I can get both of their nails done in half an hour. A nail file may not suitable for bigger dogs, but it works well on my two dachshunds.
I’ve been ill for an extended period of time and my boy’s nails have gotten way too long. Now that I have read this great article, I know how to get where we need to be, but I’m not sure about the start. Should I spend time (and how much time? Days? Weeks?) getting him accustomed to liking me mess with his feet BEFORE his next trim? With them continuing to grow? Or should his nails get trimmed now, before I start this training?
Hi Deb. Yours in indeed a tough situation. Especially with current conditions. I know most groomers in my state had to close and most veterinarians are taking “critical” cases only. If you can find a vet or groomer in your area, I would suggest having his nails cut now by someone else. Then start the desensitizing process outlined in this article at home for the next time. A warning though: It can take weeks to months to get a dog totally comfortable with you trimming their nails. In the meantime, you have to decide if you can or want to get his nails done somewhere else or if you want to do it yourself and risk a setback from traumatizing him. In my opinion, it’s more important to make sure a dog’s nails aren’t dangerously long than worry about upsetting them. Good luck.
Will the quick retreat back once you’ve cut it? How can I cut more often if the quick was already cut? Do you have a recommendation for a good scissor for those little dachshund feet?
Hi Terra. Yes, the quick does retreat. However, it’s not immediately. The goal is to cut close to the quick (but not cut it) and then cut the nails again 5-14 days later, depending on how fast your dog’s nails grow, to make them shorter. I use and recommend these dog nail clippers: https://www.amazon.com/Clippers-Orange-Handled-Precision-Professional/dp/B0784D7H2B/ref=sr_1_6
Hi, how do you sharpen the scissor style cutters?
I Haven’t had to sharpen mine yet but I would get them professionally sharpened. I think a knife-sharpening shop can do it.
I have a 10-week old pup that likes to grab me every chance she gets (Bernedoodle). So she seems to be okay with handling her feet but I can’t touch her without some kind of restraint because those shark teeth have me looking like a pin cushion! Shredding clothes and flesh! Right now her nails are very short but I can’t figure out how to trim them once they need it without suffering injury. Any suggestions??
Hi Maggie. I don’t have experience with trimming the nails of a big dog myself. However, it all comes down to desensitization. That just takes a lot of time, treats, and patience. My friend taught her big dog to lay on his side while she clips his nails. In the short term, you may also want to look into a soft muzzle to use so she can’t bite. That takes some training too but she may get used to wearing that quicker than letting you trim her nails. Good luck!
I loved your article! I am scared of cutting my dogs nails back to far and hurting her or making them bleed. She has black nails so I can’t tell where the quick is.
Dazee (my dog) is a very loving lab-pit mix that I rescued. She is 7 yrs old and from what I understand, they think she was a bait dog. When I adopted her she had scrapes and recent scars all over her. They said she was thrown from a moving vehicle. So shes been through a lot and by all means hurt more than any human let alone dog should be hurt. I just want her hurt days to be completely behind her.
She is so beautiful and is GREAT with children and other dogs. She even lays down on the floor to get down to my friends dogs level to play with her. ???
I would appreciate any advice you could give me.
Your Animal Loving Reader
I get that you don’t want her to experience any more pain in her life. However, no matter the color of the nail, or how professional the groomer is, accidents sometimes happen. Cutting the nail too close hurts briefly at the time but then usually goes away. Walking on nails that are too long hurt too though. If you’re doing the nails yourself, just make sure to have some styptic powder on hand to stop any bleeding if you accidentally cut to short. It’s best to slowly shave back layers until you see the shiny, center spot (the quick) but there will be times you might accidentally go too far with the first cut. Just know that – in fact, expect it will happen sometime – and be prepared. Since she’s so sensitive, I suggest ending the nail session for the day the moment you clip a nail so short it bleeds and give her plenty of kisses and treats. Try again to do the rest of the nails a day or two later.
There is no way I can cut my dogs nails! They freak out and I have to buy a muzzle but my one dog that is totally impossible is too strong for me! I always feel bad because his nails are always too long! I feel like a bad Mom! The groomers are going to have to do it ! It just gets expensive!
I totally get you. It’s the same with Gretel (she doesn’t ever try to bite though but she struggles so much I’m afraid I will hurt her back). Her nails are always on the too-long side and I also feel bad. I when we lived in the city, I could take her a groomer regularly but we live in a small, rural community now without that option. I’m trying a million different ways to get it to work for me to cut them but not making much progress.
My dachshund mix has badger claws! We used to have a TERRIBLE time cutting his nails. Now it’s just somewhat nerve wracking. We have a routine where we put a soft muzzle on him and make him into a doggie burrito with a cover. I steady him while my husband clips. When we’re done, we let him munch on those delicious nail bits we cut off. Although this routine is bearable for us all, I really like the idea of transitioning to more peaceful sessions. I see we need to do it much more frequently than we have been and cut the nails much shorter. But right now if you mess with his paws/nails, he gets huffy and takes off. I’ve gotten him more used to his toes being touched a little, so sometimes I will walk by, clippers behind my back, I’ll pick up a toe and clip the nail before he realizes what’s up. At first he’d run away immediately after, but since I always walk away after one toe, he’s learned that’s it, no big deal and he’ll go back to napping.
Our other 2 dogs are Jack Russells. The younger grinds her own nails down by running outside a lot, but now that the old girl has slowed down, I realize I’m going to need to keep an eye on nails. She’s good with me casually clipping or glass filing a single nail at a time. Thanks for your very informative article!
Good for you for sticking with the nail trims even though your dog doesn’t like it. I understand wanting to make the sessions more peaceful. If you haven’t already, you may want to read my personal account of what worked to get my Dachshunds to cut their nails more peacefully. https://youdidwhatwithyourweiner.com/how-to-cut-dachshund-nails-what-worked-for-me/ Good luck.
How do I know where to cut so her nail doesn’t bleed
Hi Steven. I don’t have an article on that yet and it’s hard to explain in words. However, I recently discovered this graphic being shared on Facebook that does an excellent job of explaining this (with pictures). You can see it here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/124722937543251/permalink/4499267573422077
I’ve learned from the past when my passed away dogs always bite when their nails trimmed (some even snapped only with touch of the paw). Now i have a year old Beagle and since she was 7 weeks old i disensitized her by touching all of her body, including the paws and nails. She always fine with nail clipper and just months ago i introduced her to a dremel. The important thing of dremel is slowly made her used to its vibration with help some treats. Now, she could fall asleep when i use the dremel to smoothing her nails after clipped. Everyone who’s struggling with their dog’s nails must read this article.
I’m glad you were able to work with your Beagle so you are able to cut her nails.
I got a Staffy at 6 weeks (we’ve had this breed before) I started desensitizing him very early. He was great at getting his nails trimmed until my daughter in law tried the dremel on his nails. Now he doesn’t want me to touch his feet. Any suggestions?
Ugh. How frustrating. Sometimes you just don’t know how a dog will react to a dremmel. Some dogs mind it less. My Dachshund Summit had a bad experience with the dremmel at the groomer and then it was impossible to do her nails with any tool. I started over working on desentization with the clippers and got her a lick mat. I had to find the yummiest food to put on there. At first, I started with goat cheese and a little honey. Now I can use her regular raw food. Anway, I started with the lick mat and clipping one nail at a time or until she started to get irritated. I had to do a few nails at a time for a long time but now, two years later, I can clip them all at once. Besides the lick mat, getting really sharp clippers helped. Which ones do you use?
Hi Jessica. I have a 12-year-old German Shorthaired Pointer. We have had her since she was a pup, and have clipped her nails the same way her whole life. One person picks her up and holds her while she licks a Kong of PB and the other quickly clips her nails (In reading your posts now, I realize that it’s not the best way to do it, but it had worked well up until now). We have been going a bit too long between trims now, and her nails have gotten too long. We’ve been trying to get back to a strict routine to get her quick back down, but have had probably two accidents of cutting the quick and causing a bleed. Now when we try to handle her for a trim even with the reward of a treat, she lashes at us and tries to bite. Any advice for how to win her trust back? Can we teach an old dog? And what to do now, when her nails are getting far too long, but we’re unable to manage a trim? Thanks!
Hi Dara. It can be frustrating when that happens but accidentally trimming a nail to short is fairly common. It definitely sounds like it has scared her though. I would start retraining her again kind of like it’s from the beginning. Try clipping one nail a day and make sure you only take a tiny bit off so there is no danger of cutting the quick. You can also try putting a more tasty (distracting) filling in the Kong. You’ll have to try a few things to see what she sees as higher value but I find cheese or canned dog food to be effective. Good luck.
I’m so afraid of hitting the quick, hurting them, and making them bleed!!!
I get it. That is one of my fears though. But I will say, although it’s not ideal, it’s not always a disaster either. I clipped the quick many times on my first Dachshund Chester over the years. He flinched a little but then acted like it was no biggie. A little stop bleed powder helped to not get blood everywhere. While it’s true that some dogs will refuse a nail trim after having the quick clipped, that is not the norm in my experience. Summit is SUPER sensitive and hates having her nails done. I’ve have accidentally clipped hers a couple times too and, although I stop that session when I do, I’m able to try again later.