How to clip dog nails when your dog is scared of clippers?

By Bethany Tate

How to trim a fearful dog’s nails 

1. Place the nail clippers in view of your dog so they get used to seeing them. 

2. Start touching your dog’s paws lightly. Touch each toe… 

3. Get your pup used to the sound of the nail clippers. 

4. Show the nail clippers while holding your dog’s paws 

Dog’s have a long memory. If they have had a bad clipper experience, they will let you know. Since we hate the thought of a frightened pooch, or an injured one, we want to help. We are going to show you how to clip a dog’s nails when the dog’s scared of clippers.

Since we know you feel the same way, you need to follow the step-by-step process below. Your pooch will never squirm away again. 

Why Your Dog Is Scared Of Nail Clippers

In most cases, there is a reason your dog is scared of clippers. The fear usually comes from some kind of traumatic incident. It left them with PTSD at the sight or sound of nail trimming. 

So you have an idea, here are the most common reasons for clipper fear. 

They’ve Been Quicked 

The most common dogs are afraid of nail trims is an injury to your pup’s quick. They have likely gotten hurt by this before. Also called being “quicked”, this is when the blood supply in the nail gets nicked with clippers

Sore or Painful Paws 

Sore paws can come from ailments such as arthritis or an injury. If their feet are already hurting them, they are not going to be happy about having them touched. Never mind held firmly for nail trimming.


Puppies are also scared simply because they are not used to it. They don’t understand what is happening. This is slightly different than today’s topic because nail grooming is typically part of puppy training. 

Long Nails Cause Serious Health Issues

We know it can be tempting to push off nail trimming if your pet is afraid. Unfortunately, not having your pup’s nails clipped causes more issues than just overgrown nails. The problems can actually be very serious. 

Take a look at why nail clipping is so important. 

Foot Pain 

When a canine’s nails are overgrown, they cause pain when the dog walks. This is because the nails retract back into their paws as they come in contact with the floor. This is an extremely painful experience for your pooch. It also puts pressure on their toe joints. 

In rare cases, overgrown nails can twist their toes into unnatural positions. It can go so far as to make them weak or lame in their hind legs. 

Mobility Issues 

Before domestication, wild dogs filed down their nails by running for long periods. Their nails didn’t touch the level ground. They would only come in contact with the earth if they were climbing mountains. For these canines long dog nails weren’t a problem.

Modern pooches feel this instinct. If their nails are too long, it signals to their brain that they are climbing uphill. In turn, your dog’s posture will subtly change to accommodate an uphill hike

That said, this stance change can create all types of mobility problems due to overused muscles and joints. Both of these will make normal activities difficult. They can have trouble… 

  • Running
  • Jumping
  • Climbing Stairs
  • Walking
  • Standing
  • Getting up

Know When To Clip Your Dog’s Nails

To avoid painful problems, it’s important to know when to clip your dog’s nails. As we mentioned, their ideal length is short enough not to touch the floor

Conversely, the nails should still be long enough to dig into the ground. If you can hear their nails clicking on the floor, it’s time for a nail trimming. 

What You Will Need For Nail trimming

These are the items you need to make your dog comfortable getting their toenails clipped. 

  • Nail Clippers
  • Normal Treats
  • Special Treats
  • A positive and calm attitude
  • Patience
  • Routine

This may take a few weeks so patience is also required. You want to make the step-by-step process below a routine. It is better to have this worked out beforehand. 

Types Of Clippers

There are three types of nail clippers to choose from. We have provided some details about each one below to give you an idea of what the best type is for you and your dog. 

Guillotine Clippers 

This type of clipper is made of a metal half-circle with a blade at the top. To operate, you need to push your pet’s nail into the half circle and squeeze the handle together. The blade then drops down to cut the nail. 

We don’t recommend this tool unless you are an old pro at trimming nails. They are less accurate, and a guillotine can pull out toe hairs, which is painful. 

Grinder Clippers 

A grinder trimmer looks and works more or less the same way as a Dremmel. This is a tool with a round sandpaper wheel attached at the end that spins quickly. You use the sandpaper wheel to file down the nail. 

This option is popular because it only removes small amounts of the nail. Grinders are also convenient for large dogs with thick nails.

This is not our favorite for scared dogs, though. The extra noise of the machine can make them more anxious along with the vibration of the tool

Clipper Scissors 

Our favorite option is the scissor clippers. They don’t have the noise and vibration of the grinder. Plus, they don’t have the inaccuracy of the guillotine trimmers. It makes them the safest option. 

Scissor clippers look like a small set of scissors with a very small, curved mouth to fit your dog’s nails. They allow you to be quicker, more accurate, and more efficient.

Calming Aids

You also have the option of using calming aids in conjunction with the other items we listed above. There are all kinds of natural, organic, and harmless supplements you can use to make your pet less nervous. Melatonin supplements are one of the most popular.

These items only mask the problem and are not a cure-all, however. We don’t recommend using them unless there is no other choice. 

If you decide to use any kind of a calming agent, it’s important to speak with your vet first. They can look at your dog’s medical history and help you find the best solution. They can also offer a prescription if necessary. 

Step by Step Instructions

Now that you have everything you need, you can start the process of easing your pet’s fears about having a nail trim. The process is called “desensitize and recondition”.

Create a Routine

As we spoke about above, the first thing you want to do is create a routine. Dogs respond well to consistency. Take a look at your schedule, and see if you can block off ten minutes per day to work with your pooch. 

Try to keep the training to the same part of the day whether it’s morning, noon, or night. Your pup will start to recognize these times and look forward to the time with you. 

Show The Clippers

The first order of business is to put the clippers in plain sight. You don’t have to bring them too close, but make sure they can see them. Once your dog catches sight of the torture device, they will likely act anxious. 

Sit on the floor, and speak in a positive, calm tone. Give plenty of positive reinforcement then reward them with a treat. From there, start bringing the trimmers closer to your pet. Keep going until you can hold the clippers in your hand, and pet your dog at the same time without a reaction

Don’t forget to let them sniff the clippers. Allow them to do whatever they feel comfortable doing (chewing is not recommended though). 

Handle your dog’s Paws

Now it’s time to start handling their paws. Keep the trimmers nearby, and be sure to act positive, calm, and confident. Start by petting their shoulder and running your hand down their leg. Touch or pat the top of their paw. 

From there, you want to systematically get them used to you holding their paws and toes. If possible, position them in the same way you would if you were clipping their toenails. 

Hold their paws alternating their front and back. Hold them for just a few seconds at first, and add time as you go. 

Also, work on holding their toes. Touch each one individually adding gentle pressure. Equally important, don’t forget to reward your pup with treats for each milestone they hit. 

Clipper Noise

At this point, you should be able to hold the clippers in your hand while holding their paws and toes. You should be able to do so for extended lengths of time without any negative reactions. 

Now comes the sound. 

Show your pet the clippers while slowly squeezing them. Don’t doggy chatter, and instead go silent for the demonstration. Be prepared for a reaction. Scared pups usually don’t like the sound. It may seem like an undoing of weeks worth of training. 

This is not the case, however. Clipper noise is typically the quickest to overcome if you’ve already overcome the rest. 

Combine Sound and Touch

Now it’s time to combine all three steps. You want to hold your dog in place while also holding their paws and toes. You should also be holding the clippers in your other hand. What you want to do is mimic a nail trimming.

Make sure you are doing this for both the front paws and the back paws. Keep bringing the clippers closer to their nails while also making the sound. As soon as they are calm and comfortable with this step, it’s on to the finale. Start with one or two nails.

Talk in soothing voice

While practicing with your pup it’s important to talk in a soothing voice. You want to make sure your dog stays relaxed.

Clip Nails

Time to clip their nails. At this point, your dog has come to view the physical, vocal, and visual aspects of clipping their nails as a good time. They get your undivided attention, praise, and treats. 

Now is the time to cut their nails. Make sure you keep up with your calm demeanor and chatter. Plus, this is where you want to have the special treat on hand. 

How To Clip Your Dogs Nails

You now know how to make your pet comfortable, but are you comfortable? 

Dogs are tuned into our emotions. If you become nervous when it’s time for the actual trimming, they will pick up on it and react accordingly. 

You need to be confident when you make each cut. Hesitating and second-guessing will only add to the problem. If you are new to trimming your dog’s nails, start off slow by only taking a tiny bit off the end. You can even do one nail a day if need be. 

To better help you prepare, here are the steps for cutting a dog’s nails. 

  1. Get them to a comfortable and secure position.
  2. Hold each toe firmly and push back any hairs.
  3. Hold the clippers at a 25-degree angle.
  4. Look for a line in the nail. This is the quick. You want you cut well below this area.
  5. Be decisive and cut small amounts off the nails quickly.
  6. Reward with something extra tasty.

The quick is what makes most pet-owners nervous. This is why we suggest taking smaller chunks off at first until you feel more comfortable. 

Keep in mind, the more your dog gets their nails trimmed, the easier it will get. This is because the quick recedes over time the more you cut their nails. This is the ultimate goal. 

For a more in-depth look at how to cut a frightened dog’s nails, take a look at the video below. 

Final Thoughts

Finding a solution to your dog’s fear is threefold. First, it lessens their and your anxiety each time they need their toes done. Second, it keeps them from being in pain from overgrown nails. Third, it wards off any side effects that could affect their mobility. 

We only want the best for our pets, so we hope this article has helped you find a way to bond with them and get their nails trimmed at the same time! Happy nail clipping!

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Bethany Tate
Writing and analyzing data are her superpowers. Dogs, nature, and trail running are her oxygen. Bethany passionately believes pets make the world a better place. Her world is made better by Nemo, her pet dachshund.