How to Trim a Difficult Dog's Nails

15 - 20 Minutes
1 Month


Does your dog head for the hills when he sees you reach for the nail clippers? If so, he is in good company, lots of canines do not like any part of dog nail care. With many dogs, it may just be that having the nails clipped creates an unpleasant sensation, while with some, it may be that they have had a nail clipped too short once or twice resulting in sharp pain. This is actually pretty common, accidents do happen. Sometimes dogs may be picking up on your stress, or fear of cutting the nails too short, and resist because they feel something is wrong--dogs are pretty sensitive about such things. 

If your dog does not want his nails clipped, he may try to flee or even become aggressive and bite or scratch when restrained for nail clippings. A dog that struggles and moves while you are trying to clip his nails puts himself and you in danger of injury. In a way, it is a self-fulfilling prophecy: a dog that is difficult to trim is more likely to have a nail trimmed too short when they struggle, resulting in pain and a vicious cycle, as now the dog will have reinforced his negative experiences associated with nail trims.

Dog's Perspective

There are a few things that may contribute to a difficult situation when it comes to cutting your dog's nails. Trimming requires restraining your dog--most dogs don't love this, and who would? Also, the sensation of having the nails trimmed can be unpleasant. Even when not cut too short, there is pressure applied to the sensitive nail and if your tools are not sharp, a crushing sensation may be felt. If your dog had caught his nail on something like a bush or a carpet, it would be a similar sensation and would cause your dog alarm, as his nail could be ripped. No wonder your dog does not like the sensation of having his nails trimmed! 

Additionally, make sure that you are aware of the proper dog nail length before you begin and learn the in's and out's of the equipment. For example, many pet parents consider the best nail clipper for dogs with black nails is the guillotine clipper which has a stationary ring that the nail fits in and a blade that makes a quick slice. Others prefer a scissor-type tool. Make sure that you use the equipment that you are most comfortable with.  Working with your dog to reassure him that you are not hurting him, knowing what it means to avoid the dog's nail quick, and using the right tools, is well worth it as it will make nail trimming sessions easier in the future.

The Desensitization Method

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Nail Clipper
Handle paws
Teach your dog to let you touch and manipulate his paws when you are not nail clipping. Pick up each paw several times a day, put pressure on the bottom of the paw, massage, manipulate toes. Give rewards for compliance and accepting handling.
Use a pencil
Use “fake” tools like a pencil with an eraser on the end. Pick up your dog's feet and get him used to you touching his nails with the eraser end of the pencil, to simulate a clipper tool.
Introduce nail clippers
Introduce clippers, but do not use them. Place the nail clipper over each nail. Hold your dog firmly but gently and reassure him, provide a treat or distraction. Start squeezing clippers near the toes to make a clipping sound but do not actually clip the nail.
Cut tips of nails
Place the clipper on your dog's nail, but near the end, far away from the quick, and clip the nail. Do just one nail at first, then take a break, do subsequent nails in further sessions, gradually start working back to where the nails need to be cut, farther away from the tip. Provide a distraction like a chew toy or food while clipping nails.
Do one nail each day
Instead of clipping all nails in one session, try clipping one nail a day. Associate nail clipping with a treat, such as brushing and grooming, a high value food, or a daily walk.
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The Use the Right Tools Method

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Nail File
Use sharp tools
Make sure the nail clippers are sharp and of good quality. Dull, poor-quality blades on clippers will pinch or crush the nail before cutting, and can cause nail splits. Sharp clippers make a quicker, cleaner, more accurate cut. This will make the job more streamlined and less stressful.
Try filing
Try using a nail file to manually file down nails instead of a clipper. This is more time consuming, but less stressful for your dog. Keep in mind, some dogs will prefer a faster option.
Try a Dremel
Use a motorized Dremel tool or a grinder designed for dog's nails. This avoids the feel of having the nail pinched and held. Make sure to get your dog used to the sound of the tool before using it.
Create positive associations
Whatever tool you use, create a positive association by laying the tool next to the feed dish at mealtime, or presenting it with lots of treats even when you are not using it.
Use a muzzle
Use a muzzle if your dog is liable to bite when having nails trimmed. Get your dog used to wearing the muzzle at other times throughout the day, so he doesn't just associate it with having nails trimmed.
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Caution & Considerations

  • Use caution when trimming a difficult dog’s nails so that the dog does not move and injure himself when trimming. Take time and patience, use appropriate training methods, tools, and restraint to mitigate movement.
  • Have a styptic pencil available to stop bleeding, in case you do nick your dog.
  • Be calm, firm, and gentle at all times, so as not to contribute to your dog's stress.  Do not punish or get upset.
  • Use a muzzle, or have someone restrain the dog, with the dog's face away from them and you, so you do not get bitten, if that is a concern.
  • Make sure all tools are good quality, and sharp, or that motorized tools are in good running order
  • Know how to use nail clippers for dogs and ensure you understand the specific tool's operation before trimming nails (Dremel, scissor clipper, guillotine clipper, file, styptic pencil).


Trimming Toto's nails does not have to be terrifying! It should be a stress-free event for both of you. Be aware of how often to trim your dog's nails so that you do not fret about the frequency, passing this along to your dog. Using the right tools, taking time, working with your dog so that he is comfortable having his paws handled and toes manipulated, and making positive associations with nail trimmers will make nail trimming time a whole lot easier on you and your dog.

Success Stories and Grooming Questions

Grooming Success Stories

2 Years

I have been living with Wendy for 3 years and her owner never trimmed her nails because she would throw a fit, by yelping and twisting with no blood drawn. I started to handle her paws and nails while I had good to reward her. Within a week and a half of just handling her paws and rewarding for staying still,I was able to get a full nail trim done, all four paws

8 months, 2 weeks ago
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