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How to Cut an Uncooperative Dog’s Nails

cutting uncooperative dog nails

Cutting an uncooperative dog’s nails can be stressful, time-consuming, and even dangerous. As you already know, taking care of your dog’s paws is an essential part of your dog’s health. So you know it’s an action that you need to perform regularly.

If you’ve been struggling and don’t know where to begin, never fear! We’ve got you covered with the best tips and tricks to cutting your dog’s nails safely at home by yourself.

Why Won’t My Dog Let Me Cut Its Nails? 

There are many reasons why a dog may not allow you to cut its nails. 

Past trauma related to nail clipping is a big reason. If they’ve ever had their quick clipped during nail cutting, they may be afraid that it’ll happen again.

Other reasons include things like the actual sound of the clippers, the fact that they have to be physically restrained to have their nails clipped, an injury, or a past injury on their paws. Or it could simply be the fear of the unknown and unfamiliar. 

Whatever the reason is, slowly going about cutting your dog’s nails is the best solution to the problem as it allows them to become familiarized with the sounds and sensations related to nail cutting.

This makes them feel safe, secure and ensures that they aren’t surprised because they know exactly what to expect. 

Before Cutting Your Dog’s Nails

Before you dive in, it’s important to be ready and educated about the parts of a dog’s nail. 

A dog’s nail is comprised of two parts. The shell is the hard outer part of the nail, while the quick is the inner part that is usually pink.

dog nail parts
Dog nail parts. Lisemaine Dieuveuil/Petlity

On dogs with white nails, you can see the quick. If your dog has black nails, you can’t. The quick contains nerves and can bleed if cut, so you’ll want to avoid this entirely by cutting slowly and carefully. 

The quick can grow out really long if you haven’t cut your dog’s nails in a long time, so if you cut them for the first time in a while and they’re still long know that this is normal. Regularly trimming them will allow the quick to go back, making them shorter and shorter every time. 

Have a styptic powder on hand to sprinkle onto their toenail if it starts bleeding due to cutting into the quick. This will stop the bleeding immediately. 

How to Cut Your Uncooperative Dog’s Nails 

Slow and steady wins the race, so slow and steady is the best way to go. You know your dog, so you know what they will and won’t tolerate.

If your dog is okay having its paws held, you may be able to skip a step. If they’re completely uncooperative, follow this guide from the beginning until the very end. 

1. Familiarize Your Dog with Having Their Paws Touched 

While we pet our dogs regularly, we don’t typically touch their paws or nails. If you suddenly start grabbing and messing with them, it may be scary for them which can trigger a reaction. 

The first step to cutting your dog’s nails is getting them used to having their feet touched. Hold their toes for increments of 10-30 seconds at a time, depending on how long they’ll allow you to in the beginning. Gradually increase this as they become more comfortable. 

If you want to have someone help you while you cut their nails and hold them, this is also the time to start practicing that. Again, ensure that you are moving very slowly while familiarizing them with the feeling of being held.

Holding a dog's paws
Holding a dog’s paws.

Do NOT go in strong and immediately start restraining them. This will create fear and will ensure that you will never be able to cut your dog’s nails this way. 

If they don’t allow you to touch their toes or restrain them and they start to react, you have two options. Your first option is to tell them “no” in a very firm tone, ensuring that you are not yelling and further escalating the situation. Your second option is to drop their paw and walk away to try again later.

Whichever option you choose, be firm and be consistent. Do not continue if your dog is continuously reacting and becoming overwhelmed, as it will only agitate them further and regress your progress. 

Once your dog is comfortable with its toes or body being held for a considerable amount of time, you may move on to step two. 

2. Start Slowly Cutting Your Dog’s Nails

Start the process by cutting one toenail at a time, rewarding every nail that you’re able to cut to positively reinforce the good behavior. 

To cut your dog’s nail, place your clippers at a forty-five-degree angle. You want to cut a little bit at a time, paying attention to the quick of the nail.

If your dog’s nails are white, it should be fairly easy to know when to stop by checking for their quick on the front of their nail. If they have black nails, check the bottom of their nail for a small grey dot. Once you see it, you’ll know you’ve cut far enough and it’s time to stop. 

If you’re only able to cut one nail a day at first, then that’s okay! Don’t push beyond what your dog is comfortable with and make sure that you’re stopping as soon as your dog shows that they’re uncomfortable or combative.

Ignoring your dog’s signals and cutting their nails until they are emotionally exhausted is not helpful and will make the process more difficult in the future, as you’re creating bad experiences and trauma related to nail cutting.

3. Get in a Routine of Cutting Your Dog’s Nails 

If you continue slowly every day, you can work up to being able to cut multiple nails at a time. 

Eventually, you will be able to cut all of your uncooperative dog’s nails at once. If not though, it’s okay! Many pet parents cut half of the nails one day and then half the next. 

Whatever your dog is comfortable with is what is best for them so remember not to push past the point of comfortability. 

Tips and Tricks for Cutting Your Dog’s Nails

If you’re still having a bit of trouble cutting your dog’s nails, check out these tips and tricks for a smoother process. 

dog with black nails
  • A tired dog is a cooperative dog most of the time, so make sure your dog has been well exercised before trying to cut their nails! A high-energy dog is a recipe for anxiety. 
  • Use high-quality nail clippers with a safety stop, to prevent over clipping. 
  • Soaking your dog’s nails in water by bathing them or letting them swim before cutting their nails will soften them, allowing you to cut them easier. 
  • Distracting your dog with peanut butter on a lick mat or plastic wrap is a great way to correlate nail cutting with a positive experience. This will also allow you to work while they’re not paying attention. 
  • Remember to cut your dog’s nails every two weeks. If you can hear your dog’s nails as they’re walking, they’re too long. Cut them!

If All Else Fails, Head to the Vet

If you’ve tried everything and you still can’t get your dog to cooperate or behave safely, it’s time to head to the vet. 

It’s better to pay someone else to help in situations where you cannot safely cut your dog’s nails after trying for some time. This protects you and your dog in the long run. 

Cutting Your Uncooperative Dog’s Nails 

Trimming your uncooperative dog’s nails can be stressful, but breathe! By going slowly, cutting a few a day, and not pushing your dog past their point of comfort, you can ensure a safe and pleasant process. 

What is your best trick for distracting your dog while clipping its nails? Let us know in the comments and be sure to share this article with any friends who may be having trouble cutting their dog’s nails! 

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