Does your stomach drop when you notice that your dog’s claws have grown into gargoyle talons yet again?
I don’t think anyone looks forward to nail time, but it’s something we all have to deal with, whether your have your vet or groomer trim them, or you go at them at home with clippers or a nail grinder.
Trimming nails at home can be less stressful for your dog than having them done by a stranger. You’ll also save a few bucks when you do it yourself. Try my techniques for drama-free trimming anytime.
What You’ll Need
I’ve only tried the Pet Dremel, and I initially chose it over other brands because it doesn’t have that plastic guard.
I did try something with a guard when I was younger and had my first dog, but I never figured out how to use it. It was difficult to get the toe through that awkward hole.
Now I know that the guard may make it tough to grind the nail down at different angles. If you get one with a guard, make sure you can remove the guard.
I purchased my first Pet Dremel on Amazon about three years ago, and I recently had to replace it because the motor burned out. This was after monthly nail trims for two dogs over three years.
At the price I got it for, I was happy to have it for three years, but if you have multiple dogs or bigger dogs, you might need to use a Dremel rotary tool with a more powerful motor.
Update: I can’t find the Pet Dremel for sale anywhere, I don’t think they make this model any more. When mine breaks down again, I might try the Wahl’s Ultimate Nail Grinder – you don’t have to charge it and it has an LED light, so that’d be an upgrade for us. It’s also slimmer and would be so much easier to hold in my preferred “pencil hold.”
You’ll also need lots of bite-sized treats that your dog can eat quickly. Licks of canned cheese, tiny bites of scrambled egg, or licks of peanut butter off a spoon can also work.
You might also want to have a soft blanket on hand. You don’t want to use it completely restrain your dog, but you can use it to help restrict their movement and help them get comfortable as you try to find positions that work for both of you.
Mastering Use Of The Nail Grinder
When you get your Dremel or other nail grinding tool, you don’t want to start right away.
Make sure you know how to use it so when your dog’s first experience with it will be faster and less traumatic.
You can try it on an uncooked piece of spaghetti or a small piece of wood, and you can even use it to trim your own nails. That way you can master your technique.
The “drum” of the nail grinder may spin clockwise or counterclockwise, or you may be able to switch the direction.
You’ll want to position it so it spins away from the nail, not into it. When it turns into the nail, you’re in for a bumpy ride.
I like to hold it like a pencil because I’m able to get the most control that way. That might work for you too.
Need A Video Demonstration?
I don’t like making videos, but I initially had such a hard time figuring out how to grind Matilda’s nails at first. So, I created a video showing you exactly how we do it.
How Much Nail To Trim
If your dog has white nails, it’s easy to see the pink quick running through their nail. Hit the quick, and you’ll make the nail bleed.
Fortunately, the nail grinder makes it easy to trim gradually so you should not hit the quick. I’ve only had this happen once. I trimmed just a little too long on Matilda’s nail, and I saw a tiny drop of blood. She didn’t make a sound or seem to even notice, even though I was pretty nervous about it!
A dog with black nails will be a little harder to trim. But here’s a neat little trick for finding the quick: just shine a light under it!
The goal is for your dog’s nails to not tap the ground as they walk.
Imagine if your toenails were so long that they touched the floor. You’d have to shift your weight to your heel to avoid feeling pain with every step.
Dogs, too, have to walk differently when their nails are too long, and that affects their gait and alters their muscles and tendons over time, making them more prone to injury.
Trim your dog’s nails short enough that you do not hear a tapping sound when they walk on wood or tile flooring.
If your dog’s nails are overgrown, the quick may have grown long too, making it impossible for you to safely trim their nails short enough to keep them from tapping.
Desensitizing Your Dog
When you’re practicing your technique on an object, your dog can hang out nearby and get habituated to the sound of the nail grinder. You can even give them treats while you do it, or do it during mealtimes.
Leave the nail grinder on the floor and let your dog sniff it. Tell them they’re good whenever they approach it.
Then, without turning it on, press it to their paws.
Some dogs hate simply having their paws touched, so you might have to spend extra time on that step. Use lots of treats and praise.
Preparing For A Trim
I used to have a routine before nail trimmings. Now that my dogs are calmer during trims, I don’t follow all of these steps, but they can really help get your dog in the right mood.
Trimming Your First Nail
Now that you know how to use the grinding tool and your dog is okay with the sound of it, and doesn’t mind sitting next to you or in your lap while you touch her paws, you can try grinding just one nail.
I like to get behind my dog and reach around to access her paws.
I find that my dogs are actually more content with me grinding their back paws than their front ones. So, you may want to start on their back paws. See which your dog tolerates more easily.
Make sure to hold the toe firmly to expose the nail and to help minimize vibrations.
Start with just a very quick touch with the nail grinder. Then, turn it off and heavily reward your dog, give them lots of rubs and verbal praise.
From there, you can decide how quickly your dog should progress. While you will have to hold your dog so that they do not wiggle and get themselves hurt, you do not want to have to restrain them against their will.
Remember, it’s always better to progress slower than you need to, than it is to rush. Rushing can create a scary experience for your dog. You want your dog to get progressively calmer with each nail session, and the only way to do that is to make trimming fun.
When I first started trimming my dog’s nails with the nail grinder, I spent about half of the time cuddling, petting, and speaking softly to them, and just half the time actually trimming. Now, I can spend less of that time comforting them and get it done more quickly.
I do still give them a treat after every nail, and a jackpot of a few treats after every paw. There’s no need to use fewer treats or to phase them out. Trimming nails should always be a fun, yummy experience.
I know this all sounds really time consuming, and that’s because it is. But it’s worthwhile to take extra time to make sure your dog feels safe with you. The calmer your dog is, the more quickly you will be able to get their nails done in the long run.
When Your Dog Really Hates Nail Trimming
Does your dog growl, snap, or even bite when you try to trim their nails?
It could be dangerous to both you and them to proceed – yet it’s necessary to your dog’s health that their nails are kept at a reasonable length.
Walking your dog on concrete will help keep their nails from overgrowing too long, but they will still need trims. You can also get regular trims at the vet while you work on training at home.
You can put a muzzle on your dog if you’re worried they may bite. A cloth muzzle, or even a strip of ace bandage can keep them from biting, but those should be used for no more than 15 minutes or so.
It’s better to use a basket muzzle that allows your dog to breathe through their mouth and accept treats. Adding a muzzle can make the situation even more stressful, so you’ll want to condition your dog to wear it – and you may be short on time if you really need to get those nails done.
Trimming nails is not painful for your dog. They may feel the vibration and the heat of the grinder. Avoid holding the grinder against the nail for more than a second. Do your best to make the experience pleasant for them. Over time, you’ll notice your dog behaves better and better with every trim.
Do Nail Trimming Tricks Really Work?
You may have seen some hacks for trimming your dog’s nails. These tricks work for some people, but I would advise against using them.
One trick is to use a grooming hammock to suspend the dog. It can work, but it won’t be a pleasant experience for your dog, and they may still be able to bite. It may make sense as a last resort, but I imagine it would be more and more difficult to get the dog into the bag with each scary experience.
Then there’s the trick of… if you haven’t already seen this, I am not sure you would actually believe me, but people on TikTok are wrapping their heads in Saran wrap, applying peanut butter to their own forehead, and letting their dog lick it off while they trim nails. It seems to work for them, and it certainly creates a fun experience for the dog.
I do like the idea of distracting the dog with a treat. Peanut butter on a wooden spoon would probably work just as well, without the risk of your dog biting or scratching your face.