Matted & Tangled Coats

Nail Clipping Basics Procedures Before Clipping Nail Clipping Tools & Supplies
Nail Polish and Caps Nail Clipping Steps  
The following article is for general information only and not intended to serve as professional training nor replace professional training. We strongly advise professional training for every new groomer before they offer grooming services to pet owners. Based on our experience your charging fees for grooming services is legally interpreted that you are the expert in grooming, and not the pet owners you serve. Thereby you accept the risk of being responsible for the services you provide. You are responsible to interview every pet owner you serve to ensure that your services are not only aesthetic, but safe and appropriate for their pet. You are also responsible to disclose to each pet owner any and all risks your procedures may involve to their pet. Professional grooming requires professional training. Click for training opportunities. We wrote the Pet Care Services Brochure and Pet Groomer's Report & Health Alert in the book From Problems to Profits to exemplify one example of  the disclosure process for a professional groomer. Remember, every pet owner you serve is putting their faith and trust in you. Get the professional training required of a professional groomer.

Nail Clipping Basics

Professional groomers usually include a nail inspection, clipping and filing service as part of all grooming services, and as part of the basic fee without assessing additional cost. Most groomers also offer nail clipping only services.

Dogs need their nails clipped and filed on a regular basis, usually every 3 to 4 weeks. It is not uncommon for dog owners to wait too long between nail clipping. Overdue nails raise health issues. Extended growth can result in painful ingrown nails. Elongated nails affect the comfort and health of dogs. Some dogs will find it difficult to place their full body weight on their feet with discomfort from elongated nails. As a result these dogs develop sore feet, legs and hips and overall discomfort. Just to walk can then be a painful experience for them.

Clipping your pets' nails can be tricky if your dog has ingrown toenails. Dog health insurance may cover this service to be performed by a vet. Veterinary pet insurance is a great idea and will save you money in the long run. Find the best pet insurance plans online.

Many dogs that require little professional grooming and styling still visit groomers for a nail clipping, or a bath with nail clipping, for one reason. Generally, dog owners do not like to cut nails, and many of these pet's don't really care for nail clipping either. Learning how to hold and handle the dog, and properly use the correct tools, makes nail clipping and filing a much more bearable procedure for dogs. Most nail clipping procedures cause no pain to the dogs.

Nail clipping is essentially the process of cutting away excess nail, and the key is to learn just what is the "excess nail." If you can hear dog nails when walk on a hard floor surface, there is probably a small or better amount of excess nail to clip and/or file down.

It is better to cut a small amount regularly than a large amount at once. However, since dogs may go many weeks between professional grooming appointments it is usually the task of groomers to reasonably clip more excess nail. Praise the dog after nail clipping to encourage them to be less resistant to future nail clipping sessions.


About 1" to 3" above the inside of their front feet (and sometimes rear fee) dogs may have "5th nails" commonly referred to “dew claws.” Nail clipping should include these nails. Since dew claws are never exposed to friction from touching ground surfaces, they are often longer and sometimes overgrown. In fact, you may find neglected dew claws grown into a full circle circle and even painfully ingrown requiring veterinary care. It is not uncommon for pets to have dew claws on some feet, and not on others.


There is a blood vessel in pet dog and cat nails. It is commonly referred to as "the quick." The quick is usually visible to the eye except for dark-colored nails. Because it is possible to cut the quick and cause a nail to bleed, many pet owners are fearful of cutting their pet's nails. Instead, they bring their dogs to groomers or veterinarians for clipping.

If the quick is already very near nail tips, daily filing for approximately three weeks may encourage nail quicks to recede enough for a comfortable, bloodless nail clipping. However, the recession during those three weeks is likely to be enough to clip the tips of the nails without bleeding. Inform the pet owner if they will continue to file the pet's nail several times a week, you will be able to clip the nails a little shorter each time until they have properly receded and avoid discomfort caused by overly long nails. Thereafter, the nails should be clipped and filed on a regular basis in order to maintain their healthy state, and prevent the pet from having to undergo bleeding nails. There is almost no risk of causing the nails to bleed when filing them.

Indoor dogs typically require more frequent nail inspections.  Outdoor dogs or those taken for regular walks on hard surfaces like concrete sidewalks usually require less maintenance since the friction of their nails against hard surfaces helps to limit nail growth and encourage quicks to properly recede away from nail tips.

Procedures Before Clipping Nails

Inspect every dog's ears for potential problems before proceeding with nail clipping procedures. Be prepared to record written descriptions of any suspect conditions so that you may report them accurately to pet owners and veterinarians.

Common nail related problem signs are:

- Ingrown nails.
- Sore toes, foot pads, redness and swelling.
- Discharges from ingrown nails and powerful odors.

When you discover serious nail problems you should inform the owner and recommend veterinary inspection as soon as possible.

Sterilize any tools that you have used during the nail clipping process, actually a process you should do between all nails clippings as well.

Nail Clipping Tools & Supplies

Grooming suppliers normally stock all the tools and supplies required for clipping dog nails.

You will need the following tools and supplies for the nail clipping and filing procedure. Carefully read and follow instructions supplied with all products before using them.

- Guillotine-type nail clippers for medium to large dogs.
- Large scissor-type nail clippers for small dogs.
- Commercial coagulant that stops dog nail bleeding.
- Nail files (emery board type) for small and medium dogs.
- "Bastard" file or similar for large dogs.
- Nail polish for dogs or "nail caps."

Nail Clipping Steps

Below you will find basic nail clipping steps for dogs. However, you can expect additional detailed instructions and guidelines from most professional trainers and schools and training programs. We do not provide these steps as complete, professional ear cleaning. We encourage pet owners to use the services of a professional groomer and veterinarian for ear cleaning. Pet owners should practice preventative ear health maintenance and check their dog's nail every 3 to 4 weeks.

1. Place your left arm around the dog's middle body and hold it against your chest. Talk softly and kindly to ease the dog's anxiety about the clipping procedure.

2. In your left hand hold the dog's foot with your thumb on top of the toe, and two or more fingers below along the pad of the foot.

3. Insert the nail into the clipper, and clip below the quick at a 45 degree angle. Be sure to also clip dew claws. On dog's with black nails you may want to make several small clips instead of clipping "a chunk off." You will usually be able to spot the quick as a dark spot in the center of the nail when looking at it head on. This then is the quick you want to avoid cutting.

4. If you cut the quick you must stop the bleeding. In most cases, a coagulant product (nail styptic powder) is sufficient. Apply the powder to the tip of the quick where it was cut, and hold with moderate pressure. The bleeding often stops very quickly. Wipe away excess powder and re-check the "seal" often. Remember, it is possible that the powder seal may be washed or scratched off until the "seal" has had adequate time to dry. If you leave too much excess powder it hardens into a "cap" on the nail tip that can be broken off and entirely remove the seal. Therefore, be sure to remove excess powder only.

5. File each nail so that the tip is soft and without rough broken edges. Pet owners appreciate this added touch, and it saves women's stockings! Filing nails that bled may remove the coagulant styptic powder "seal" and resume bleeding. Do not file the seal away. Brittle nails will require more filing to remove burrs.

6. If a dew claw has grown into a circular loop, you can cut into the mid-section of the nail with scissor-type cutter before the quick. Afterwards, use the regular nail clippers to finish cutting but again avoiding the quick.

Nail Polish & Caps

One nails are clipped and filed, nail polish may be applied. We do not recommend using nail polish for humans. Instead there are epoxy enamel polishes for dogs available from grooming suppliers. Good dog nail polish is very durable.

Do one foot at a time. Quick drying polishes help prevent the dog from smudging the paint onto other surfaces. Be very careful to prevent the dog from rubbing wet polish on their skin or coat, and if they do remove it immediately according to instructions provided with the commercial polish used.

Colorful nail caps come in various sizes to fit over most dog nails replacing the need to use nail polish. Ask your grooming supplier for product information and availability.