Trimming Nails in Puppies: Taking the Stress Out of Nail Trims

Nail trims should be part of every puppy’s grooming routine so that nails don’t become ingrown, catch on things and tear, or cause paws to slip and toes to splay, affecting mobility. While nail trims can be stressful for you and your puppy, with some desensitization and conditioning they can become enjoyable.

Choosing a Nail Trimmer

The three types of nail trimmers available for dogs are described below. With a practiced hand, all of these tools do a good job of trimming nails. Choose what works best for you and your pet.

Scissor-style nail trimmers are shaped like a pair of scissors. The tip of the nail is positioned between the blades and when the trimmer handles are squeezed, both blades come together and cut through the nail. Our technicians use this type of trimmer because they find it gives them better control and gets the job done fastest.

Scissor Style Nail Trimmers

Guillotine trimmers have a hole that the nail tip fits through. Once the nail is in position, the handle is squeezed, and the blade moves across the hole and cuts the nail. The blade needs to be replaced if it gets dull or it will require more pressure to cut and cause more discomfort. This trimmer is better suited to small and medium dogs with small, soft nails.

Guillotine Style Nail Trimmers

Nail grinders have a rotating sanding head that spins at high speed and files down a nail bit by bit rather than cutting off one or more chunks. They’re best for maintaining nails, not sanding down long ones (which would take too long and heat up the nail). The vibration and noise as well as any wiggling from a puppy during handling may make nail trimming with a grinder more challenging and will take longer than other trimmers. Grinders may be more suited to adult pets whose nails are bigger and easier to work with and who may better tolerate the noise, vibration, and the time it takes to get the job done.

Nail Grinder For Dogs

Knowing When to Trim

A puppy’s nails grow quickly and get quite sharp. While nails typically need to be trimmed once a month, it’s best to examine your puppy’s nails on a weekly basis to get an idea of how quickly they’re growing. Small breeds may need nail trims as often as every 2 weeks while larger breeds may need them only every 5 to 6 weeks because they tend to file down their nails when walking on hard surfaces. Nails that touch the ground and/or make a clicking sound on the floor, or nails that are catching on things are too long and should be trimmed.

Knowing How Much to Trim

In the center of your puppy’s nail there’s a nerve and a blood supply known as the “quick.” You can easily see the quick in puppies with clear or white nails. It appears as a pink area within the nail, best see from the sides of the nail. The quick isn’t visible in a dark nail, which makes trimming those nails more challenging. The quick grows with the nail, so the longer the nail, the longer the quick and the harder it is to keep a nail nice and short without cutting the quick – another reason why regular nail trims are important. Cutting the quick causes pain and bleeding and makes a puppy resistant to future nail trims. Whether or not you can see the quick, it’s best to trim just 1 mm of nail at a time, leaving 2-3 mm before the quick to avoid cutting it. See the diagram below.

Dog Nail Trimming Guide

If you happen to cut the quick, you’ll need to stop the bleeding. Just apply some pressure to the end of the nail along with a small amount of styptic powder such as Kwik-stop (available at most pet supply stores) or use a bit of cornstarch or flour. Be sure to give your puppy a bit of a break before continuing with nail trimming.

Working Up to the Task

It’s natural for puppies to resist having their paws handled, so before attempting to trim nails it’s important to get your puppy comfortable with handling. Be sure to take your time and go at your puppy’s pace. You may have to take breaks in between each nail/paw or even trim a bit each day. It may take several weeks of consistent effort for your puppy to be comfortable with allowing you to complete an entire nail trim in one sitting. This may seem time-consuming, but “slow and steady” wins the day. Your patience and perseverance will pay off, and nail trims will be much easier, less stressful, and faster down the road.

Step 1: Handling Your Puppy’s Paws

Start by lifting your puppy’s paw and rewarding with a treat and some praise. Do this a few times, then give a command such as “paw” or “shake” and reward with a treat and praise as soon as your puppy gives you his/her paw. Once your puppy is comfortable giving a paw willingly on command, spend some time examining your puppy’s nails, rewarding with a treat as you go.

Holding Dogs Paw

Step 2: Introducing Nail Trimmers

Continue building a positive association with nail trims by bringing the nail trimmer to your puppy. Set it on the floor and allow your puppy to investigate it on his/her own. Every time your puppy decides to check out the nail trimmer, reinforce the behavior with “Good” or “Yes” and immediately reward with a treat. After you’ve done this a few times, ask for your puppy’s paw while you have the nail trimmer in the other hand. Bring the trimmer closer to his/her paw, then touch the paw and reward your puppy.

Step 3: Trimming Nails

Once your puppy is comfortable with the nail trimmers, it’s time to trim a small amount of a nail. Trim only 1 mm at a time to minimize the likelihood of cutting into the quick. Remember to reward your puppy’s cooperation with every trim. If your puppy shows signs of stress during the nail trim, take a break. You may need to consider re-acclimating your puppy to nail trims by starting at step one and re-building the positive association with paw handling.

Clipping Dogs Nails

Important Do’s and Don’t’s


  • Take your time to avoid causing your puppy stress.
  • Offer a high value reward for the behaviour you want to reinforce. But sure to use very small treats and short training sessions so your puppy doesn’t get too full or restless.
  • Handle your puppy’s paws daily, even when you’re not trimming nails. The goal is to get your puppy comfortable with having his/her paws handled any time (including during vet visits).
  • Trim only small amounts at a time to avoid cutting the quick and causing a traumatic association with nail trimming.


    • Take your puppy’s paw forcefully. This could startle your puppy and create a negative association with having his/her paws handled.
    • Use dull trimmers. A dull blade makes trimming difficult and painful.
    • Continue trimming if your puppy is showing signs of fear or anxiety such as excessive drooling, panting, growling or attempting to escape your grasp.
    • Scold or punish your puppy if he/she pulls a paw away as this can make your puppy fearful of future handling.