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How do you cut a scared dogs nails?

How to Clip Dog Nails: Turning Scary Task into Success!

successful dog nail trimmer smiling with her rescue dog named banjo

On the way home from adopting Banjo, I noticed that one of his toenails had split and looked like it might painfully break off if it wasn’t trimmed. I was apprehensive about trimming it myself since I knew that if I cut in the wrong place, it would hurt Banjo and his nail might bleed a lot. I wanted to cut it myself. I knew that learning how to clip dog nails was important. But I was scared.

So I called the woman from the rescue agency who had matched our family with Banjo and asked her what I should do. She could tell from my voice that I was nervous about trying to trim Banjo’s nail myself. I vividly remember her saying…

“If you can raise three children, you can learn how to clip dog nails!”

Her vote of confidence was kind and encouraging. I was almost ready to attempt it. But I ended up driving Banjo to the veterinarian’s office that day to have his nail trimmed by a professional. I knew it was important to keep my dog’s nails clipped for his well-being. And, in theory, I knew that I could do it. But the task just seemed so daunting. I was afraid of hurting my dog.

From fearful to fear-free: Fast forward 18 months

Eighteen months later my sister (Dr. Julie Buzby) and she noticed my dog’s nails and complimented me on how good they looked. I took great pleasure in her praise. For the past year, I had been my dog’s sole nail groomer!

So how did I go from a place of fearful inaction to dedicated action when it comes to my dog’s nail care?

I took these three steps to learn how to clip dog nails

1. Educate yourself!

Learning how to clip dog nails requires a little knowledge and the right tools for the job.

  • Use your resources. I knew it was important to my dog’s overall health, posture, and well-being to keep his nails trimmed. But I didn’t know where to begin learning how to clip dog nails. I needed the knowledge and training to get to the point where I was willing to attempt the task myself. I sat down and thought about the resources at my fingertips. If Julie had lived nearby, she would have been my hands-on advisor. But too many miles separated us. That was just not an option. However, I did have two friends in town who might be able to demonstrate share some training: a veterinarian and a dog groomer.
  • Watch a pro. I asked the dog groomer to demonstrate how to clip dog nails. This was extremely helpful. She gave me tips on what tools to use, showed me nail trimming techniques, and encouraged me as I tried it myself. By practicing with her guidance, I learned that I was using clippers that were too big! So I immediately ordered a smaller pair.
  • Use the right tools. I have used the same plier-style nail clippers ever since that time. Also, I learned from my friend that an Andis EasyClip nail grinder was an affordable addition to my dog grooming toolkit. The nail grinder smoothed my dog’s nails without having to worry as much about cutting the quick.

2. Practice!

Learning how to clip dog nails comes with repetition.

Once I had the right tools (clippers that I felt comfortable wielding), I was ready to begin trimming my dog’s nails. I put into practice what I had learned! While still hesitant, I began to clip my dog’s nails about once a month.

Banjo loves the outdoors, so I trimmed his nails on the front porch where he could lie in the sun on a towel. It’s a small thing, but it made the nail clipping experience more pleasant for him, and it made the cleanup easier for me.

dog having front toenails trimmed

I practiced taking it slow and making small cuts. At first, when I was beginning to build my confidence, I clipped just the nails on one of Banjo’s front paws. Then I wrote down on my calendar which nails I had trimmed. I came away with a sense of accomplishment, and the length of the ordeal wasn’t very stressful for Banjo.

As I built my skill and gained confidence, I learned to trim all four paws at once. I still made small cuts as I trimmed Banjo’s nails. This allowed me to see when I was getting close to the quick. I never made one big clip and called it good.

The more I clipped Banjo’s nails, the more enjoyable it became for both of us. I’m more relaxed now that I am comfortable clipping his nails. Plus, Banjo is very pleased when I reward him with treats and a neck massage after his nail trim is over.

Black dog getting a head rub during dog nail trim

Now I trim Banjo’s nails with confidence weekly. Do I ever cut the quick? Yes, I do. That’s why I keep a small container of flour in my grooming kit for such occasions. But, since I make very small cuts to the nail, it’s a very rare occurrence that results in a minimal droplet of blood. I quickly cover the nail with flour to stop the bleeding. (Styptic powder or cornstarch are two other alternatives to stop the bleeding if you accidentally cut the quick. (Or you can buy Dr. Buzby’s nail trimming kit here. It includes nail clippers, styptic powder, and a step-by-step nail trimming guide.)

3. Connect the small task to the big picture.

Learning how to clip dog nails is easier when you have a goal in mind.

How did I go from hesitantly trimming my dog’s nails each month to confidently trimming them each week? I connected the small task of nail trimming to the big picture of seeing my dog bring comfort to others.

In a little less than a year from the day I brought Banjo home, he became a registered therapy dog. I am his handler, and we volunteer as a therapy team with a local animal-assisted therapy organization called Hand in Paw. As one of the requirements before each therapy visit, Banjo must have his nails trimmed. Weekly therapy visits meant weekly nail trims. Initially, this forced me out of my comfort zone. Ultimately, it broadened my comfort zone.

I still take my time and go slowly when I trim Banjo’s nails, but I am comfortable doing so. Banjo picks up on this as well. He can sense that I am relaxed as I set out to trim his nails. Although he still doesn’t enjoy the process, I am no longer feeding his anxiety with my own.

While your big picture may or may not be volunteering as a therapy team, you can connect the small task of learning how to trim dog nails to your own big picture or goals. Keeping your dog’s nails properly groomed:

  • Keeps him out of pain (no more painful split nails)
  • Promotes natural and healthy posture
  • Helps him grip the ground when he walks
  • Makes it less likely that he will experience the pain of a nail breaking off.

I hope you’ll connect the small task of trimming your dog’s nails to the bigger goal of your dog’s well-being and longevity. With the right tools, practice, and goals, learning how to cut dog nails will be a nail-biter no more!

A note from Dr. Julie Buzby:

If like my sister, you’re afraid to trim your dog’s nails, I encourage you to reach out to a trusted source for nail trimming tips and techniques. Successful, at-home nail trims are possible. If you’d like to learn the tried-and-true techniques that I’ve shared with my veterinary clients and perfected over 20 years of practice, I’ve put them all into a new, online video course: Nail Trimming Without Fear. To learn more, visit

What questions do you have about how clip dog nails? Please comment below.

Keri Adams had wanted a dog her whole life. She is thankful for the kind people at Two by Two Rescue, who found Banjo running along the highway, fostered him, and matched him with her family. Keri loves spending time with her family, reading, supporting the work of International Justice Mission, and volunteering with Hand in Paw in Birmingham, Alabama.


Reader Interactions


  1. Dianne Bush says May 2, 2020 at 4:55 pm

Thank you for your help. My Riley is a 10 year old lab mix and hates her nails done. She pulls her feet away all the time. We take her to the vet to have them done and my hubby has to hold her.
But right now with the virus I have to do them as she is clicking around the house. so with your help I am taking on the task tomorrow. Thanks.

  • Julie Buzby says May 3, 2020 at 9:52 am

I’m so glad to hear this, Dianne! You can do this! If you’d feel better having a step-by-step tutorial, I invite you to check out my master course at You can save 50% by using the code NEWTRICK. ♥️

Thank you for addressing the issue of nail clipping. I trained my small pooch from a puppy to have her feet touched and her nails clipped but unfortunately after a very bad experience at a supposed groomer all my hard work was undone and my dog has been terrified of having her nails clipped ever since. She was about four years old when she had this bad experience. She came home from the groomers with bleeding grazes all over her tummy and underarms, one of her hips was out of joint and her nails had been cut so short that they all bled and one nail was missing.
Now she is a senior and still is terrified of having her nails clipped and very anxious at just having her paws touched.
Reading your blog has given me comfidence to try to educate myself again and try to settle my dog again to try to eliminate her fear.
Of course I have been trying to do that for years but I feel that was has been missing was my own lack of education to settle her appropriately. Wish me luck …….. Cheers Deb.

Thank you for addressing a concern I personally have for my Casper, this helped a lot!

We welcome your comments and questions about senior dog care.

However, if you need medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, please contact your local veterinarian.

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About Dr. Buzby

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Dr. Julie Buzby has been an integrative veterinarian for twenty years and has earned certification by the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association in 1998, and by the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society in 2002.

Owner’s Guide: How to Trim Dog Nails

little white dog getting nails clipped with tongue hanging out

It’s time for that monthly drama that you both dread! Trimming your dog’s nails can be a difficult process for both you and your pup.

The toenail clippers come out and your dog makes a beeline for the crate, hoping that maybe you’ll just lose your nerve. He’s trembling and giving you the “Please no!” eyes. Your own anxiety starts to rise and you briefly consider putting the trimming off for another week.

This drama is playing out in households across the nation every day. Dogs and owners everywhere are dreading getting their nails trimmed. It doesn’t have to be this way!

Wondering how to clip your dog’s nails when they’re scared? This article will walk you through steps to change the dynamic so trimming your dog’s nails isn’t so difficult.

Is Trimming Nails Really That Important?

Unfortunately, yes, it is. If your dog’s nails get too long, it can lead to serious problems. Time to put those nail clippers to work.

Your dog’s posture is, in part, determined by their toenails. When the nails touch the floor, it sends signals to the brain that they’re on an incline, compensating their stance accordingly. Over time this creates undue stress on joints. In some cases, it can do permanent damage.

In addition, long toenails on dogs twist the toes out of alignment, causing potential lameness and arthritis in the joints of the feet.

Why is My Dog Afraid of Nail Clipping?

Toes are sensitive areas and many dogs would simply prefer that you don’t mess with their feet, even on a good day. If there has been some trauma associated with nail clipping in the past, the memory can cause a PTSD-type reaction to the sight of the nail clippers.

For many dogs, the initial trauma is having been “quicked.” This is when you trim too far and cut the nail too short, trimming into the tender nail bed of your dog. This is extremely painful and often leads to a bloody mess because there are blood vessels in that area.

Once a dog has a fear of having her toenails trimmed, well-meaning owners can easily make things worse without realizing it. This is true whether you use clippers, nail grinders, or a nail file.

German shepherd dog looking up nervous

Don’t Restrain Your Dog When Clipping

Many people want to know how to restrain a dog to clip its nails. This method of nail trimming involves muscling through a scary experience. The technique includes squeezing the paws too hard (ouch!) or forcefully restraining the dog while they are terrified. This will lead to a cascading fear that erodes the trust bond between owners and their dogs.

This is a recipe for disaster, and it should be avoided at all costs. Instead, take the time to teach your pooch to be more comfortable, not more fearful, of the toenail clipping ritual.

Calm Yourself, Calm Your Dog

Your dog is extremely tuned to your emotional state during nail trims. If you are getting too emotionally involved and expressing your own fears and anxieties, It’s only going to add to the trauma of any nail-related event.

Don’t Give Up, Whatever You Do!

Giving up is a common response, particularly for the owner of the melodramatic pooch. You can’t let your dog win this one. You know what is best for her and you have the responsibility to get the job done.

All of these responses to the drama of trimming make things worse by adding to the trauma of the past, deepening the fear response. Here is the good news: No matter how bad things are, they can get better.

small bulldog looking afraid to get his nails clipped

The Best Way to Cut a Dog’s Nails When They Are Scared

Loving dog owners are often traumatized by repeatedly going through this drama. If any of the above responses sound familiar to you, recognize they aren’t working and may even be making things worse. Instead, try to have confidence that you can change this process into a positive one.

Take the emotion out of it and try these techniques:

Desensitize and Recondition

These are two technical training terms related to nail trimming. They amount to changing the association with the nail clipping ritual into a positive one. You will do this by scaling it back to interactions that are tolerable for your dog, rewarding a calm response, and slowly progressing at your dog’s pace.

Rewards during this process should be foods your dog really loves, cut into small pieces so you can reward them often. The more frequent you reward your dog, the better.

Examples include giving your dog pea-sized bits of cheese, cooked chicken, or soft dog treats. Or, use a chopstick to dole out a small lick of peanut butter as a reward. You can even use pieces of kibble from her regular food rations.

Try to add something special to at least 1/3 of the volume to keep your dog motivated.

The process will vary depending on your dog. Praise and reward calm behavior at each level at least 10 times before progressing to the next level. If you get a fear response, back it up. Stay under the reaction threshold and progress slowly through the nail training.

Praise and reward calm behavior and ignore any fear response as you progress through these stages:

  • Sit on the floor near the space where you trim without any clipper tools out. Ask for a sit.
  • Touch your dog’s paw for one second. Praise and reward several times before extending the time gradually to 5 seconds.
  • Hold your dog’s paw for a second, touch the nails, then gradually extend the time.
  • Progress through the last 3 steps again with your dog, this time with the clippers out and next to you.
  • Pick up the clippers in one hand and progress through the first three steps again.
  • Holding her paw, touch the clippers to your dog’s nails for one second. Gradually extend to a 5-second touch.
  • Get in position with your dog with the clippers around the nail for one second, building to 5 seconds. Don’t actually cut your dogs nails yet.
  • Once you’ve achieved clippers around the nail for 5 seconds and praised and rewarded at least 10 times, you are ready to actually clip the nails. Just take a tiny bit off to be absolutely sure you won’t cut the quick. Make the reward extra big with plenty of praise for success.
  • Continue to practice, backing up to a simple touch of the clippers to the toe often.

Keep your training sessions to 10-15 minutes and repeat several times a day if possible. Don’t put too many expectations on results. Your guide is your dog’s response. Sometimes progress is very slow at first, but then a major breakthrough happens for your dog.

Avoid punishing or using harsh tones during your nail training. It won’t be effective and will only serve to teach your dog that nail trimming is a risky time when she might be punished for simply expressing her very real fear.

Your only job is to stay patient and look for every opportunity to reward your dog’s calm behavior as you progress towards success trimming your dog’s nails.

happy little white dog

You Might Need a Professional Groomer

This doesn’t mean you give up on clipping dogs’ nails at home. However, if the nail fear response in your dog is too overwhelming, you have the option of passing the job to a professional.

This will break the negative association with nail clipping at home, allowing you to make more progress with your training program. Consider it the “reset” option.

How to Calm My Dog for Nail Trimming

Giving your dog a dose of calming full-spectrum CBD hemp oil for dogs at least an hour before your train your dog can help speed up progress with your training program. Remember, the key to reconditioning is to stay under that reaction threshold, and CBD can be an excellent aid to that end.

While it won’t solve your dog’s fear of having her nails clipped overnight, CBD oil combined with the nail training program in this article can transform trimming your dog’s nails into a ritual that you both look forward to.

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