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How to trim dog nails without fuss

Do your regularly trim your dog’s nails? We just found out that a dear friend’s dog can only get nail trims under anesthesia. Consequently, this gorgeous five-year old Great Dane has only had this vital grooming procedure a couple of times in his life.

Fortunately, while long, his nails haven’t yet started to curl back into his paws. Probably because he’s a city dog, and goes for miles of walks on concrete, which helps keep his nails from becoming worse than they are.

Gotta help if you can

We’re working with our friend to turn things around for his boy Frankie. At this point, we don’t know if it’s going to work, but we have to try. It’s a great opportunity to put our convictions to the test. Frankie has to cooperate and consent. There’s no way we can force a 135-pound Great Dane to do anything. We have to teach him that it’s okay. He weighs more than we do. 

Fortunately, Frankie adores his person and is an eager and fast learner. We’re hopeful.

Step #1: Get used to the noise

We’ve told our friend to get a corded, handheld multi-tool with a sanding drum. While many people use nail clippers without an issue, we’ve never been fans. Probably because we’re terrified of hurting our dogs – especially the dogs with black nails that we can’t see through. Once you’ve “quicked” a dog, you’re a bit hesitant.

Boston Terrier shows consent to dog care by calmly allowing nails to be trimmed

Add to that the tremendous success we’ve had with the grinding tool. We even trim our Bearded Dragon’s nails with it! 

Boston Terrier Simon usually naps during nail grinding. We had to wake him up to take the picture.

The first step, after you get the tool, is to just plug it in and let your dog get used to the sound. Run it for a minute or less, feeding your dog yummy treats the whole time. If your dog is terrified, distance is your friend. Have the tool as far away as possible, and only gradually get closer as your dog adjusts. 

This may be a great time to use a “lick mat.” Just spread a soft food (peanut butter, yogurt, cream cheese, whipped cream) on the mat and freeze it. Save this special treat to use for nails only. If your dog adores something about the process, the rest of it will be easier.

Step 2: Play patty-paws

Get your dog used to you handling his/her paws. At first, without the grinder. In time, you can add the grinder turned on – but only if you also use the lick mat, or some other really high value reward. If your dog has a favorite chewy treat, use that if you like. 

Getting your dog to accept nail grinding is a process, especially if it’s been an issue in the past. We’re being completely honest with the dog. We need to do this. We want you to be comfortable with it. We’re going to give you every opportunity to adjust and accept.

Step 3: Moving on

When your dog is comfortable with the grinder in close proximity, and with you playing with his/her paws, you can try grinding one nail. If you have two people, have one person stay with the dog’s head and lick mat. The other person will be in charge of the grinder. Start with a back paw. Hold it gently. Tell your dog what you’re doing – you never want to try to fool your dog. 

If your dog pulls his/her paw away, don’t hold on. Just gently take hold of it again and try again. The harder you hold on, the more your dog will resist. This is the part that takes the most patience. Try a few times, or as long as your dog is working on the lick mat. If your dog freaks out, stop trying to grind the nail. Just let the grinder run while the dog finishes their treat.

Don’t give up

Getting your dog comfortable with normal grooming procedures is important for optimal health throughout your dog’s life. And it saves both time and money if you’re able to do it yourself. Think of it as an investment in your dog’s long, healthy, happy life with you.


How we trim dog nails

There are a lot of dog nails in our house. We trim dog nails regularly – we’ve had a log ot practice. Four dogs, each with 16 toenails, in addition to Torque’s two bonus nails – he has dew claws on his front feet.

Just to make our lives more difficult, two of the dogs grow their nails at a great rate – making weekly trims imperative. Fortunately, one of them is the best dog ever for doing nails. The other, not so much.

Scaredy cats

We freely admit that we’re scaredy cats. We cringe at the thought of the damage possible with the squeeze-type guillotine nail clippers. Simon, the angel-for-nails dog, would be fine. But Booker? He has a hard time holding still for a millisecond. 

Booker is a very special boy. Not in the best sense of the word. He tries very hard, but life is difficult. He’s a high-anxiety boy. Touching his paws isn’t a problem. But keeping hold of a paw, positioning a clipper, and making the cut wouldn’t be possible. And we want to avoid horror-movie scenes. Not to mention hurting our boy.

Using power tools

The tool we use to avoid a bloody mess is the rotary power tool. There are lots of manufacturers, ours is made by Dremel. We use a fine-grit (120) sanding drum on the dogs’ nails. 

You might wonder how Booker reacts to that. It took some training (both us and him), and it still takes some patience, but we know we can’t do any major damage and there’s rarely blood.

The handiest hint we can share is to get the “Flex Wand.” It makes the sanding drum remote from the motor – and its whine. It lets you hold the sander like a pen. Not to mention not having to hold a heavy tool while you’re trying to perform a delicate task. 

Getting accustomed

Training the dogs to ignore the sound of the motor didn’t take long – aside from Booker. We just turned it on (placed on a flat surface) across the room and gave them treats. If dogs get a treat every single time they hear a certain sound – they’ll quickly learn to like the sound. Even love it.

Trim dog nails with a rotary tool and sanding drum

Not that our dogs “love” getting their nails done, but they don’t really mind (aside from Booker.) They know they get a treat after each paw. And they know our grooming routine. When we take out the tote bag with the rotary tool, they line up for their turns, and their cookies. It may not be a favorite thing to do, but to trim dog nails isn’t traumatic, either.

Second stage

The other factor, aside from length of the nails, is how smooth they are. Our dogs all use their paws a lot, usually to get attention. And if the dog is pawing at you, you don’t want to get scratched by rough nails. So we use an emery board on all the nails to take off any rough edges the rotary tool may leave. It’s an extra step that not everyone uses, but it makes the dogs’ pawing just naughty instead of painful.

You can find many charts and diagrams online recommending the correct length and angle to trim dogs’ nails. If your dogs’ nails have gotten a bit lengthy, don’t try to take off all the excess at once. A little bit at a time and you’ll get there.

Walking on pavement

We also see advice to walk your dog on pavement to wear down the nails. It’s never worked for us, but we’re also not miles-at-a-time walkers. If you enjoy walking, it’s certainly a great excuse to get out and enjoy the time with your dog.