How to Use Dog Nail Clippers

Updated March 23, 2017

Keeping your dog's nails short will help maintain his overall health, preventing abrasions when scratching and preventing joint pain caused by your dog's inability to support his weight because of long nails. There are a variety of dog nail clippers you can purchase at your local pet store to trim your dog's nails at home, each with its own benefits and features based on your dog's size. Before you attempt to clip your dog's nails, you should understand how to safely use dog nail clippers and avoid injuring your dog or causing hemorrhaging.

Hold and stabilise the paw. Lift your dog's paw up in order to clip the nail from the bottom. To clip the nails on the front paws, place your dog in the seated position and grab the paw, stabilising individual pads between your thumb and index finger as you cut each nail. There are four nails on each of the front paws and one "thumbnail" on the inside wrists. To clip the nails on the rear paws, stand your dog up or place her on her side, holding the paw in the palm of your hand. There are only four nails on each of the rear paws.

Position the clippers on the light or white-coloured end of the nail. Open the clippers and place them at the tip of the nail. This lighter-coloured or clear area of the nail will be the starting point of clipping. You will gauge how closely you can clip once you make your first clipping into the nail, exposing the nail's interior colour.

Clip from the bottom of the nail. Quickly and firmly squeeze the clippers to clip the nail from underneath. Regardless of the type of dog nail clippers you use, you must clip from underneath the nail because of the downward curve in which the nails grow. Again, do not attempt to clip a large portion of the nail at once, as it is safer to clip the nail in stages, especially if you have not clipped dog nails before.

Reposition the clippers to cut more of the nail. After making your initial clip, place the clippers on the tip of the nail and squeeze to clip another portion of the nail. Do this until you begin to see the colour of the nail change from light to dark. This change in colour signals that you will soon reach the quick---the group of nerve endings and blood vessels inside the nail. If your dog has clear nails, do not cut too close the pink-coloured area of the nail.

Apply styptic powder to any closely cut or bleeding nails. If you notice that you have cut a nail too short causing bleeding, quickly apply a liberal amount of styptic powder directly onto the nail. This will stop the bleeding.


Getting your dog used to having her paws handled will make it easier for you when you have to trim her nails. Similarly, familiarising her with the nail clippers and offering her treats will help make the experience less stressful. Your veterinarian may trim your dog's nails for free when you bring your dog in for a checkup or other services. Professional dog groomers can also trim your dog's nails, although this service must be purchased.


If you have to apply styptic powder to a nail, keep an eye on the nail and your dog's mobility for the next two or three days to make sure that the nail does not become infected. If you are not comfortable clipping your dog's nails or if your dog reacts nervously or violently to nail trimming, seek the help of a professional.

Things You'll Need

  • Canine nail trimmer (guillotine or scissor-style)
  • Styptic powder
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About the Author

M. Wade is a licensed attorney and writer. She is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and University of Louisville and has been published in the University of Louisville Law Review, The Brand, and Blackline. She has been a writer for Demand Studios since August 2008.