Help! My Dog Won’t Let Me Cut His Nails

Keeping a dog’s nails well-trimmed is a routine part of care and grooming, but some pups can turn it into quite a fuss. My dog won’t let me cut his nails without tons of coaxing, and it’s still a work in progress.

If you, too, are facing a dog that won’t let you cut their nails, you can try a few methods to get them used to nail trimmers, better trained, and ready to handle grooming day.

my dog won't let me cut his nails
Help! My dog won’t let me cut his nails.

Make a Plan

At this point, you know your dog has some issues and won’t let you trim their nails. You need to approach the situation thoughtfully and find out how to address the problem.

Some dogs may face anxiety, while others have had previous painful experiences they’re afraid of recurring. Your dog might dislike having its feet touched.

No matter what, you can follow a few basic steps to reassure your pup that everything will be okay. 

Gather Tools

First and foremost, you want to have the proper tools for the job.

Nail clippers usually come in a guillotine or scissor style. Guillotine nail clippers function with a small hole that a single blade slices through, and it’s usually best for small dogs with thin nails.

Scissor-style clippers function similarly to a pair of scissors, with two ends that you situate the dog’s nail between before clipping. Some models have an extra plate of metal that swings down to prevent you from accidentally over-clipping.

Your choice of nail clipper is up to the size of your dog and your personal preference for handling.

Once you have nail clippers, remember to keep them sharp.

In addition to choosing nail clippers, it’s also helpful to have on hand:

  • High-reward, bite-size treats
  • Towel or rug for a grippy standing surface

Work on Training

When my dog wouldn’t let me trim his nails, the crucial change we made was training. Being patient and taking the time to desensitize my dog to having his feet touched and seeing the nail trimmers made a significant impact.

You can work on getting your dog comfortable with the environment you plan to trim their nails in, with the feeling of having their feet touched and nails squeezed, and with the presence of the nail trimmers.

Each of these works similarly. For instance, with nail trimmers, you would bring them into the room but set them down distantly.

Whenever your dog looks at the clippers or even approaches them, praise them with a positive and calm voice while giving treats. A clicker for training can also be helpful.

Next, let your dog sniff the clippers and investigate them. Don’t try to use them on your dog yet, but praise and treat them.

With their paws, you can try to slowly approach and give treats whenever they don’t pull their feet away. Slowly start touching them while saying positive words and giving treats.

During training, if your dog leaves, try to coax them with a treat. If they refuse, don’t force it and try training the next day.

Keeping a positive attitude is crucial to solving the issue when your dog won’t let you trim their nails. It turns the negative, scary experience into a playful time of treats and praise. Do not yell at your dog or force him into a frightening situation, as this can be traumatizing for the dog. 

dog treat
Giving dog treat on the couch.

Prepare Your Dog

Besides taking the time to train your dog, you can also prepare them for the experience by tiring them out and softening their nails.

You could try to take them for a walk in the morning so that by the evening, when you trim, they’re less energetic and reactive.

Additionally, you can try giving your dog a warm bath for a few minutes right beforehand to soften their nails. This process helps if their claws are dense to cut through, as it shortens the time.

However, it’s worth noting that if your dog hates baths, it’s not a good idea to put them in a stressful situation directly before another. It’s better if your dog is calm.

bathing a Dogo Argentino
The owner bathes a Dogo Argentino in a bath tub.

How To Cut Your Dog’s Nails? 

Now that you’ve got the tools, prep, and training done, we can talk about how to trim your dog’s nails. This task isn’t quite as simple as it seems, and knowing a few facts beforehand can keep the process running smoothly.

Getting in Position

Before, I would try to approach my dog and clip his nails casually, and this was a primary reason why my dog wouldn’t let me trim his nails.

I struggled with the grip because it’s a bit tighter than I’m used to handling my dog. However, it’s how vets and other professionals restrain dogs in a safe way that’s more comfortable for your dog.

Remember to keep a confident and positive attitude throughout this process because your dog takes emotional cues from you during stressful situations.

So, the best way to comfortably hold down a dog for nail clipping is to have them lay down. Then, sit behind them and try to sit over the front of their body, with one arm ready to grab a paw and the other over the chest to help hold them still.

Carefully grab each toe to clip the nail. You can work doing one foot at a time if your dog needs it.

dog nail trimming
Groomer trims dog’s nail using nail clipper.

Cutting the Nails 

Dog nails aren’t like ours because they have a blood vessel, a quick, inside the nail. It’s crucial not to clip the quick, as it can be painful and cause bleeding.

Light nails that are white will be slightly transparent, and you can see the pink quick inside the nail. Black or dark nails are harder to trim.

Either way, you should try to snip small pieces off and incrementally go shorter. Pay attention to the center of the nail because if a gray or pink oval begins to appear at the top of the cut, stop immediately.

I like trimmers with a built-in plate to stop you from trimming off too much at once, as they can help you be sure you haven’t harmed your dog. With the trimmers in hand, grip the toe firmly and slowly work your way through grooming. 

brown dog's nail polish
Cutting dog’s nail with brown nail polish.

Keeping Your Dog Happy

Throughout the process of trimming, don’t forget to try and keep your dog happy. An extra person can be helpful because they can handle treat or toy duty.

Regularly hand out treats after each nail, or try a licking surface with peanut butter that your dog can be distracted by. 

You can also try to distract your dog with a toy, a soothing voice giving plenty of praise, or calming pats on the back

Keep an eye on your dog’s behavior, and if you notice any signs of them becoming tense or struggling hard, try taking a break.

patting a happy red basenji on the head
Have you ever seen a happier red Basenji?

Alternative Options

Sometimes, your dog might not let you trim its nails after these steps. If you’ve been trying everything with no luck, some options remain to keep your pup’s nails at a safe length.

Vets and Groomers

If the process of cutting your dog’s nails is too hard on you or your dog struggles too much, it may be worth seeking out a professional.

Groomers can be an option, and you can work on getting your dog excited to go to the groomers before they even trim the nails. Take them for walks and car rides to the storefront and begin the positive associations.

This option can be helpful if your dog is afraid of the vet already. It may be harder to implement if your dog doesn’t like meeting new people or has separation anxiety. However, some people experience surprising results with professional help.

Of course, taking your dog to the vet can also be ideal. They are all well-trained to groom your dog, and you can be a part of the process and learn from your vet for home sessions. A veterinarian is a better option if your pet bites or nips during grooming.

They can put a muzzle on your pet during the visit. 

A Basenji dog has its nails clipped
A Basenji dog has its nails clipped

Nail Filing

Your dog may be scared or allergic to nail clippers, and you could have more success trying nail grinders to file down the nail.

Nail grinders are electric devices that shape the nail. Some dogs prefer it, while others can react in fear to the vibrations and sounds.

Without nail grinders, you can also try to find a dog file board. These work similarly to human file boards, where you train your dog to slide their paw down the rough surface. It is slow but can be great to give your pup a fun way to trim their nails and feel like they’re in control.

trimming dog's nail
Trimming dog’s nail using small rotary sander.


Finally, the last resort could be sedation. A vet is the only person who should sedate your dog for grooming, and they will perform it at their office.

Sedation is for scenarios where the nails have become dangerous for your dog, in the case of overgrowth or pain. 

Nails need trimming too often for regular sedation, so consider it only if there is an emergency or if your dog will not allow you to groom them otherwise. 

Jack Russell Terrier lying on the table
Jack Russell Terrier is lying on the table at a vet clinic.

Final Thoughts 

When my dog wouldn’t let me trim his nails, it seemed like a frustrating and dangerous task. Now, we can have a playful experience that keeps us both safe.

It can take a lot of patience, dedication, and training, but it’s worth the work. Keep a positive attitude, and your dog will soon follow suit.