trimming dog nailsBeing a dog mama or parent is a joyful experience, but it also carries with it a lot of questions. Which is why we like to lend a helpful paw and connect your specific questions to the experts. Have a question, query or quandary? Write to us at [email protected] and we’ll track down an expert to answer it for you! How cool is that? Let’s get into this month’s questions all about trimming dog nails!

Q: Dear Lisa, I am a new dog owner and have had my puppy (a Lhasa Apso named Winston) for a whole year now. Before getting Wilson I did lots of research on puppy/dog care, including house training, grooming, diet, exercise, training in general, toys, leashes, the works! However, I forget to learn about Winston’s nails. They now need trimming as they are quite long and although not quite curled are beginning to get that way. However, I’ve just learned that as the nail grows the quick part grows too. So my question is, how do I trim my dog’s nails if the quick has grown with the nail? Am I looking at a trip to the vet? I only want what is best for Winston. Thank you! (Harry from Winnipeg.)

A: Hi Harry,
Winston is a very lucky pup to have you as his owner. You’re trying to give him the best life possible, and a dog can’t ask for more. You’ve done everything right, you’ve just overlooked a minor detail — the nails. Trimming dog nails is very important!
You’re correct when you state the quick/vein grows along with the nail. It’s the ability to get the vein to recede back into the nail that allows to the nail to be shortened and kept at the proper length. The nails should be kept as short as possible for good traction and maintenance of proper foot health.
Not too late to start the training though, for both you and him. The key to a successful nail trim is to be able to trim a non-moving object/nail. This means that there has to be a bit of training for Winston to understand that he must be calm and compliant when you hold his feet and touch his nails. Get him used to you tapping the nails with the palm of your hand without twitching or pulling. Then move onto tapping the nails with the nail cutters themselves. No cutting yet, just desensitizing Winston to the sensation without any drama or trauma. Reward with a nice dog treat when he’s relaxing and accepting. When he’s compliant, then you can actually start cutting/trimming.
Starting with the rear feet may be helpful too. Also, try trimming his nails after he’s had a long play session so that he may be a bit tired and less likely to wriggle. When cutting the nail, the vein is your guideline. You should be trying to cut as close as possible to it without cutting into the vein itself, as nicking the vein in any capacity is extremely painful for any pooch. Getting close to it is what will force the vein to recede, and by its recession, the nail can then be trimmed shorter. Frequent trimming, once (or even twice) a week, will allow you to keep the vein from growing out again and you’ll be able to get the nail back to its proper healthy length.
Be sure you have the proper tools, either a plier or guillotine type nail cutter, and always have some styptic powder (Kwik-Stop) on hand, just in case you accidentally cut too short and draw blood.
If you realize that the widest/thickest part of the nail (backside of nail) is actually representing the vein, and the thinner/narrower, hook portion is the dead part, then it’s easy to see where you should be trimming. Always cut right in front of the widest section of the nail and you will always be in front of the vein and not “quick” the nail. These diagrams may help you visualize where you need to trim. You may also feel more comfortable with filing the nails down instead of trimming.
Hope this helps with your future attempts in trimming dog nails! Good luck!
Lisa Day has over 30 years experience in grooming and regularly conducts grooming seminars and workshops. She is a certified IPG Master Groomer as well as an IPG certified grooming evaluator and is currently the coordinator of the Professional Grooming Program at Algonquin College in Ottawa.
Lisa has worked with poodles in the sport of competitive obedience for over 20 years in both the US and in Canada. Her current canine partner, GMOTCh Tudorose Smooth Operator RE AM.CDX Am., better known as Shaver, is the first Standard Poodle in the history of Canadian competitive obedience to have achieved the highest title offered in obedience — Grand Master Obedience Trial Champion (GMOTCh).
Some of Lisa’s additional accomplishments in the field of obedience with poodles include:
  • #1 Poodle in Canada 2010
  • #1 Non-Sporting in Canada 2010
  • #3 nationally ranked dog in Canada 2010
  • Winner of the Poodle Club of America’s High in Trial 2010


{CREDITS: Photography via}