Puppy nails are sharp. Because puppies have yet to learn that jumping on people is unwanted, those sharp nails can do some damage to your skin. It’s important then to introduce your puppy to nail trimming as soon as you bring him home. When his nails are trimmed early and often, it becomes a normal part of his life rather than a frightening chore. Our Fear Free tips will help you to teach him that nail trims aren’t scary and can even be rewarding.
Your puppy needs to learn to hold still while his nails are being trimmed. If he squirms or jerks his paw you could accidentally trim the nail too close and cause it to bleed. You can avoid this by teaching him to become accustomed to having his paws handled.
Lift your puppy onto your lap or sit on the floor and cuddle him. Offer him a treat when he’s on your lap, give him a slow, gentle massage, and talk softly to him. Relax him.
When he’s relatively calm, gently roll him onto his back, and give him another treat or two. Again, relax him with your hands and voice. When he’s calm, massage one of his paws for just a couple of seconds. Give him another treat and let him go.
Repeat this several times a day for several days until he stays calmly on your lap and allows you to touch and massage all four paws, each toe, and each toenail. Now it’s time for actual trimming.
Choosing Your Supplies
You’ll need several tools to trim your puppy’s nails. Gather your supplies and make sure you know how to use them before you attempt any trimming.
There are several types of nail trimmers:
Guillotine cutters have an oval shape at the end. You insert the tip of the nail in that shape and when you squeeze the handle a movable blade cuts the nail. These trimmers are inexpensive but don’t always provide the best view of a small toenail.
Scissor type cutters look like scissors except the cutting edges are curved to accommodate the toenail. These are usually easy for most dog owners to use.
A Dremel is a power hand tool with a rotating cylinder with a sandpaper surface. By touching the cylinder to the nail, some of the nail is ground off.
You will also need some treats to act as both a distraction and a reward.
Last, you need something to stop the bleeding should a nail be trimmed too close to the quick. A styptic pencil or powder, often called Quick Stop, will both work.
Invite your puppy on to your lap as you did to restrain him. Have several treats at hand. Take a good look at your puppy’s nails before you trim them. If your puppy has white nails, you can see a pink or dark line as you look at the nail from the side. That’s the “quick,” a bundle of nerves and blood vessels. When you trim the nail, don’t trim it so short that you hit the quick. Getting “quicked” is the number-one reason dogs hate having their nails trimmed.
If your puppy has black nails you won’t be able to see the quick. In this instance, look at the shape of the nail. From the side, see where the nail curves downward? Trim the nail toward the tip of that curve.
Once you know where to trim, give your puppy a treat. While he’s chewing, trim one nail. Praise your puppy. Then give him another treat and trim another nail.
When one paw is done, four nails and perhaps a dewclaw (the thumb), stop for the day, praise your puppy, and play with him. You can do another paw tomorrow.
This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.