little white dog getting nails clipped with tongue hanging out

Owner's Guide: How to Trim Dog Nails

Posted by Joey DiFrancesco on

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.

try calming chews for dogs with CBD, tryptophan, chamomile, and valerian root.

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.

Lolahemp calming soft chews and 150mg hemp oil



← Older Post Newer Post →

Leave a comment


Joey founded Lolahemp in 2018 after the success his own dog (Lola) experienced with hemp oil for her debilitating stress and anxiety. He has now made it his mission to educate pet owners everywhere on the benefits of holistic health and the therapeutic properties of the hemp plant. Joey is the visionary behind the brand, managing the director level team members and keeping the company's course. He enjoys long city walks with Lola, traveling with his wife Christa and spending time with family.

The Importance of Probiotics for Your Pet's Digestive Health

Lianne McLeod D.V.M.
By Lianne McLeod D.V.M.

Dr. Lianne McLeod explores how probiotics can impact your dog's digestive health and gut health.

Read more

The Difference Between Prebiotics and Probiotics for Dogs

Lianne McLeod D.V.M.
By Lianne McLeod D.V.M.

Dr. Lianne McLeod explores the use of prebiotics and probiotics for dogs.

Read more