How To Trim Dog Nails

Your free guide to clipping dog nails, safely and without cutting into the quick. Read on to learn how to trim your Cocker Spaniel's nails without tantrums or tears - his, not yours!

About Dog Claws

Let me explain a little about your dog's nails before we move on to the practical steps of how to cut or trim them - the last thing we want to do is hurt or injure our Cocker Spaniel so we need to get it right.

Clipper for dog nails, red handle

The inner part of the nail is called the 'quick' and it's very sensitive.

The quick supplies the blood vessels and nerves to help keep your Cocker's toenails healthy.

You must take great care not to cut into the quick because not only will it bleed quite freely, it will also be very painful for your little boy!

If you do cut into the quick and he's hurt, you may inadvertently create a negative association with nail trimming, which may make it much more difficult for you the next time, because he'll remember his painful experience.

Read on to learn how to see where the quick ends and where it's safe to cut.

Can You See The Quick?

Take a look at your pet's claws.

If they're white, or lightly colored, you should be able to see the quick quite clearly: it's inside the center of the claw, it's pinkish in color, and it tapers to a point towards the end of the nail.

If your Cocker Spaniel has black or dark colored dog nails, it may be more difficult to work out where the quick ends simply because it will be more difficult to see against a darker nail.

Chart showing how to cut dog nails

Being able to see where the quick ends will make the job much easier and you'll have a better chance of avoiding cutting through it when trimming each dog nail.

However, no matter whether your Cocker Spaniel has light or dark claws, it's best to take it slowly and only trim off small bits at a time.

If dog nails are allowed to grow too long, the quick will move further down the nail as it grows; however the good news is that as you trim the claw back, the quick will recede.

How To Trim Dog Nails

While some Spaniels don't seem to mind having their nails cut others will struggle and try to make it as difficult as possible - like mine, for example!

If your dog's not used to having his nails trimmed, start slowly and work up to it gradually. You can follow this link for details of how to acclimatise your dog (or your puppy) to having his nails trimmed.

Try to keep the pedicure session relaxed and fun and don't get stressed, otherwise your pet will pick up on your anxiety making it more likely that he'll struggle.

Some dogs can become so nervous that there's a danger they may bite, so if your pet really struggles against you, you may need to play it safe and muzzle him.

If you plan to cut his nails on a table or worktop, it's best to place a non-slip mat onto the surface to stop him from slipping and sliding (a bath mat is ideal!) and if it's possible, have someone hold his head and talk to him while you work.

Alternatively, you can lay him on the floor with his back to you and his legs pointing away and if he struggles, you can place your forearm gently across his neck to restrain him.

If you extend his front left leg, and hold the paw firmly, this should stop him from pushing himself up into a standing position.

Another position you may want to experiment with is holding him upright in your lap with his back to your body. Personally, I find it much easier to cut dog nails this way.

  • Before you get down to any snipping, I strongly urge you read the user guide that came with the clippers so that you understand how to hold them correctly and how to position them at the correct angle for cutting so that you don't damage the nail or cut into the quick. This site has some great shots that allow you to see exactly what you should be doing.

  • Examine your pet's nails carefully to help identify where the quick ends. This will allow you to work out how much needs to be trimmed from the nail.

Tip: Not all the dog nails will be the same. Some may need more clipping than others which means you may be able to cut off more before reaching the quick, so judge each nail separately.

  • Always use the quick as a reference point for cutting dog nails and cut at least 2mm away from the end of the quick; don't cut any further in than that.

  • Once you have a firm grip on his paw, steady the cutting tool in place and cut firmly and smoothly. The end of the dog nail should clip neatly off, with no tearing or splitting.

  • If you're not too confident about where to cut, or his nails are very dark, only take off a small snip at a time.

  • Examine the cross-section of the nail after each cut; if it's dry and powdery, it means you are still cutting dead nail. As you snip, you will begin to see a dark grey/black circle or oval in the center of the newly clipped nail; this is the beginning of the quick and you should stop cutting now - do not cut off any more of your dog's nail.

  • Gently file each dog nail until there are no ragged or sharp edges.

  • Praise your dog and give him a treat and his favorite toy to play with!

How Often Should Dog Nails Be Trimmed?

Dog nails should be checked and trimmed every 2-3 months depending on where your pet is exercised.

If he's walked mostly on pavement it shouldn't be necessary to cut them too often because the friction of the concrete will wear them down naturally. However, if he's walked in the countryside, on the beach, or in the park, they may need to be trimmed more often.

Long or badly cut dog nails can scratch human skin, particularly children's delicate skin, and they can also be a danger themselves as your dog could easily injure himself while scratching at his ears for example.

Failure to keep your dog's nails trimmed can also lead to health problems. For example, if they grow too long they risk breaking off which can cause injury, bleeding, and infection.

Long nails can also damage polished wooden floors, carpets and furniture.

Where they're are allowed to grow too long they can make walking quite difficult and if left for long enough could lead to permanent skeletal damage.

Dog nails shouldn't touch the ground when the paws are flat on the floor, so if they grow beyond the pads of your Cocker Spaniel's feet, or you can hear them click on a tiled floor or on the pavement, you'll know it's time to trim them!

What Tools Will I Need When Clipping Dog Nails?

You will need to have several tools nearby when cutting your pets claws:

A good quality clipper will ensure dog nails are cut properly and safely
  • Nail clippers: there are two types of nail clippers available; the guillotine type and the scissor type. Don't be tempted to use your own nail clippers or scissors because they simply won't be up to the job! You can buy the proper equipment from pet stores at a reasonable price.

    I prefer using the guillotine type as I feel it's easier to use, although it's a personal choice.

    The scissor type can be best used on dew claws where they have grown so long that they've curled and the guillotine can't easily get to the curled nail, but whichever type you decide to use you must ensure that they're kept sharp to maintain a clean cut.

  • A nail file: you may want to use a small file after cutting your dog nails, to smooth away any rough edges, although if your Spaniel is walked on pavement or other such abrasive surfaces, this will smooth any rough edges naturally.

    If you choose to use a file you can use a normal 'human' nail file or you can buy one suitable for dogs from your local pet store.

  • Styptic pen or powder: the styptic pen (or styptic powder) may be used where you've accidentally cut into the quick and your pet is bleeding and will usually stop the bleeding in a few seconds.

  • A muzzle: if your Cocker is particularly grumpy, (and let's face it, it's not entirely unheard of!) you may also need a muzzle. There are several kinds available and if used properly, they won't cause him any harm.

    I have a muzzle for Max which is a strong nylon snoot that slides over his nose and fastens behind his neck. It's adjustable for comfort and has a small opening at the mouth which allows him to pant and breathe freely.

"Cutting Cocker Spaniel dog nails shouldn't be
a traumatic experience - either for you or your dog!"

Dog Nails: Cut Into The Quick?

Even the most experienced groomer or vet may accidentally cut into the quick when trimming dog nails. So if it happens to you, don't feel too bad about it - it was an accident!

You can stop any bleeding with the styptic pen, powder or a little cornflour pressed onto the source of bleeding. If none of those are readily available, you could try pressing a tissue or a clean towel onto the freshly clipped nail until the bleeding stops.

If bleeding shows no signs of stopping within 5 minutes or so it might be advisable to take your Cocker to the vet for professional treatment.

The more regularly you trim his nails, the further the quick will recede, making it much easier to cut each time without cutting into the quick, and also allowing you to trim the nails as far back as they need to be, ie., level with his pads.

If you're still unsure about cutting and trimming dog nails, why not take your Cocker Spaniel to a grooming parlour or to your vets for his first trim? That way, you'll be able to watch exactly how it should be done.

You could even ask them to show you how, step by step, so that the next time your dog's nails need trimming you will have the confidence to trim them yourself.

Dew Claws

Your Cocker Spaniel may also have two dew claws which can be found behind each front leg and slightly above the paw.

Very often these claws get snagged on brambles and shrubs when rummaging about in the undergrowth and can be easily damaged or ripped off.

A torn dew claw can be very painful and can cause bleeding and subsequent infection. If your Cocker frequently has problems with his dew claws being snagged, the vet may recommend they be surgically removed.

Dew claws don't normally make contact with the ground when the animal is standing, although they may do so when they're running, and it's because they don't come into contact with the ground that they don't wear down (like normal claws). So if your pet still has them, they'll need to be trimmed periodically.

However, there's a good chance that your dog's dew claws have already been removed because nowadays many Cocker Spaniel breeders have them snipped off shortly after the puppies are born.

You can learn more about your dog's dew claws here.

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