Top 10 nail care secrets

Comfort equals cooperation

My secrets are focused not only on meeting needs for efficiency but also on meeting needs for comfort and safety at the same time. When the nail trimming experience is something other than joyful from the dog's perspective (even mild discomfort is enough, it doesn't have to be straight up traumatic), dogs will show discomfort signs not only to nail trimming but also to similar activities which involve paws, like brushing, washing/wiping the paws, checking for mats around there, etc. To set ourselves up to successful teamwork, here are my nail trimming secrets for you to explore.

Secret #1.

White or clear nails are not easier to trim than black nails.

When we take a look at the nails from the paw pad side, we reveal tons of information about the soft nail tissue which are -literally- at our fingertips to help us stay safe while making the nails shorter. We can identify the layers of the nail and find our stop sign easily to stay safe. The way you hold the paw and toes are much more critical for safety than the nail colors.

If you take a look at the image on the left, you will clearly see what I mean. The left image shows a black nail with a taco nail type and the right one shows a white nail with the hot dog nail type. It's the matter of you can distinguish between the two and understand how to trim them or not that makes it easy or hard.

Often times care providers get lucky when trimming white nails because seeing part of the soft tissue gives them a better percentage to avoid the quick. However, it does not make the method logical or trustworthy.

Secret #2.

The safe holding technique to see the layers of the nail is the "paw pad view" holding.

The horny nail tissue that protects and hugs the sensitive parts of the nail prevents us from seeing exactly where the quick is when we take a look at the nails from any other direction other than from the paw pad side (bottom of the nail). You might be able to see part of the soft tissue or even fairly clearly as a pink/black/grey cloud in the nail from the outer sides, but the tip of the soft tissue cannot be precisely located, thus we still can't make sure we are cutting into only horny tissue from that perspective.

Don't be fooled by clear nails! Take a look at the bottom side to see the layers and to determine the stop sign.

Examples of safe positionings to hold paws for nail care

The safest position is to take a look at the nails from the paw pad side. That way we can see some of the layers under the horny tissue in order to get the information we need. The safe holding technique for nail trimming is to take a look from the paw pad side while the dog is standing on all fours, (top left) on the side/back (top right). The dog also can be in the owner’s or helper’s arms for this position (top right). Standing/sitting (bottom right).

Examples of "prone to error" positionings to hold paws for nail care

In case you have been trimming dog nails with the holding technique shown below, count your blessings if you haven't trimmed them too short yet. And please forgive yourself if you trimmed it too short. It was not you, it was the method you used that led the trim to go south. Keep your curiosity alive, understand you had good intentions and you used the best possible knowledge you had at that time. By learning a logical and trustworthy method you all need, you will make nail care a safe and fun experience for all involved. You will make your dog's and your life more comfortable, not only for nail trims but also for nay paw related grooming steps.

In case you are a pet care provider and you are holding your doggy client's paws like any of the two examples below for nail care, I recommend you revise your method to one that enables you to see all layers of the nail, not the horny tissue only.

Hitting the nails with this holding method will be almost guaranteed rather sooner. It will also exponentially decrease friendship points from your furry clients and will make each nail care more and more difficult for all of you. Plus the dog will not be happy about any paw related grooming steps either, making it more difficult for groomers and pawrents alike to do brushing, washing, or just a general checkup around the feet.

If you would like to trim your dog nails yourself, please educate yourself from a logical and trustworthy source before clipping nails to make sure everyone is safe.
It takes way less time to learn about nail care before attempting one than to desensitize a dog after a painful experience.

Description of the prone to error holding method below

Taking a look at the nails from the top/side when the paw is horizontal and is below the care provider's eye level. The horny tissue is blocking the view to see the soft tissue below it, even after cutting off the tip.

Secret #3.

Quick stop/styptic powder helps to stop the bleeding but it won't eliminate the pain.

Think about a cut on your skin. You sanitize it and put a bandage on it to stop the bleeding. If it's serious, you might get some painkillers. Painkillers do block pain, but they wear off. It's the same with dogs.
The bleeding will stop eventually due to the coagulant styptic powder. In case we used a styptic powder that did not contain pain blockers, the pain will remain. In case we used a quick stop powder that had pain blockers in it, the pain will resurface after the pain blocker wears off. So the dogs will experience pain sooner and/or later in case we hit the quick. And they will highly likely to defend any further attempts to work on the feet, let it be brushing, combing or a simple paw wiping on a rainy day.

Often times due to the combination of the lack of logical and trustworthy information on nail trimming methods, care providers conveniently use the quick stop powders as a replacement backup plant in the present. ("You just put the quick stop in it, no big deal.")

While I am absolutely pro immediate injury management when nail care goes south, I would love to see people be more interested in prevention instead of being a frequent buyer of styptic powder. I'd love care providers -let it be pawrents, groomers, vet techs or veterinarians- immerse in learning a safe method to trim nails so the dog will find it comfortable and he/she will cooperate, willingly. Along with tricks on how to keep the dog still for nail care, what are some environmental tricks we can put into practice to aid a relaxing room, gentle and compassionate care, and a calm dog.

Secret #4.

Most dogs are sensitive to nail care because the method is uncomfortable or painful for them.

There are no evil dogs, biters, or crazy ones. But dogs do remember and react. Growling and biting are late discomfort signs. There are MANY early discomfort signs that they show us. We just need to be aware of them and customize the dogs’ care plan around their comfort levels. The more fun Paw-di-cure sessions they experience, the more easy-going they’ll become. In case a doggy reacts, we need to find his triggers, take a few steps back, and work with him in smaller steps so that he will connect the doggy pedicure with fun and joy. Then he will cooperate with a big smile. Seriously.

Secret #5.

You can desensitize a “feet sensitive” dog.

Like humans, there are more & less sensitive parts on the doggies, indeed. (In general, the more sensitive parts are the face, ears, feet, or private areas; less sensitive areas are the back and sides.)

However, dogs can be trained and or desensitized to be OK with, even enjoy all grooming steps on all doggy parts, even if they had a rough start. We can do a LOT to keep them comfortable. Finding their triggers, just as mentioned above, and working on them will help you turn a doggy who is pulling feet away like Fred Astaire or biting like a “sewing machine” to a smiling cutie pie even while getting her nails done. Note: I am using the “sewing machine” description only to describe the intensity of the sensitivity in a humorous way, not to frighten. Furthermore, I am not using it as a label.

It has way more to it, but here are some very basic guidelines.

Step #1 Stop those traumatic, painful, and unpleasant experiences from happening again, let it be a DIY nail trimming, or at grooming facilities, vet offices.

Step #2. Get serious about desensitizing. Watch tutorials, hire a dog trainer, or a dog groomer to help you with this. And practice, practice, practice!

Step #3. Take the time to find a caring care provider or learn to trim nails yourself, a safe and gentle way!

Secret #6.

Dogs need their nails trimmed and/or filed customized to their needs.

The frequency of nail trims depends on a lot of things, like:

* Nail type -toenails vs. dewclaws
* Paw/leg structure differences and deformations - Shih-Tzus, dachshunds vs. dogs with straight legs.
* Pain -arthritis, hip dysplasia, etc.
* Age - puppies and elderly pups move less than adult dogs move
* Surgery - restriction in moving
* Energy level -dogs with low energy levels often need more frequent pedicure sessions
* Injury -cut on the feet
The doggy’s weight
* The doggy’s body shape
Doggy’s activity level
* And many other circumstances influence the frequency of nail care.

Some doggies do not need nail care at all, only regular checkups, which totally can be done by a knowledgeable owner. Some doggies need only their dewclaws trimmed or filed frequently. Some doggies need regular pedicures on some or all nails for a lifetime. See the chapter about nail care plans for more info.

Secret #7.

One nail trim appointment in some cases might not be enough to get the nails to the proper length.

In case the quick has grown down together with the nail, it cannot be trimmed to the proper length in one doggy pedicure appointment. The doggy may need several and/or home nail care sessions to make the quick recede the fastest possible way without causing pain and bleeding. See the chapter about nail care plans for more info.

The image on the left is about the cycle of the toenail growing too long. Notice the red layer in the middle -the quick- the part of the nail full with nerve endings and blood vessels.

Left two images in the top row show normal nail length.

In some cases, the nail grows way longer than it should be, but the quick stayed the same place before so a normal nail length can be achieved even on extremely long nails within one pawdicure session. (Bottom left image.)

Secret #8.

Tiny-tiny cuts on nails are the safest and fastest way to trim nails.

The one-cut per nail method may seem to be a pretty fast-working way of cutting dog nails; however, there are two reasons I prefer the tiny cuts method over it.

For one, it puts a lot of pressure on the nail. So, depending mostly on the dog's previous experiences, present comfort level, and the methods which worked most of the time for them to make humans do what they wanted -or what they wanted to avoid-, they will either cooperate, wiggle away, kick or bite, etc.

Additionally, when we use the one-cut-per-nail method on the hot dog nail type, we won’t see what we are doing. Even when using the right holding method for the nails and paws, because the horny tissue encircles the soft tissue and we need to go tiny by tiny to stay safe. You see why the one cut method can -and rather sooner will- result in a too short cut and cause tremendous discomfort for the dog and includes the risk of us getting bitten. Many-many, tiny-tiny cuts will enable us to see the stop sign on time and it reduces pressure on the dog’s nails and we’ll get a very well cooperating doggy, without bites, sweating, or swearing.

Secret #9.

Dogs can be in any position they want for nail trimming, as long as you can get a paw pad view and stay safe.

Doggies can be in any position that they are -and we are- comfortable with as long as we can get to see their nails from the paw pad side and our body is comfortable, too. They can even change their position throughout their pawdicure session. Sitting, standing, lying on their sides or back is perfectly fine. Being in the pawrent’s/other care provider’s arms is also acceptable, though I prefer other positions since doggies tend to wiggle a lot there; plus there is always a bigger chance of getting bitten since a bigger human surface is presented.

Secret #10.

Dremels or grinders might promise a fast and safe alternative to make nails shorter, but at the expense of the dog's comfort and safety.

While the dremel might seem to offer safety and comfort along with a speedy way to shorten nails - especially tempting to busy grooming salons to get done with more dogs rather sooner, I would like to raise awareness of how it adversely affects the dog's comfort and grooming experience.

* It makes a very loud noise.
* It vibrates.
* The drum blocks our vision.
* It works way faster than we want it to, to be able to do a precise, safe, and comfortable Paw-di-cure.
* The sandpaper drum tears out any hair that gets close enough to tangle up on the drum (oftentimes even when we use the “safety cap”). Let it be your dog's or your hair.
* The drum heats up to burning hot in no time.

All these are extremely unpleasant and painful for the dogs, as you can imagine. No wonder they become super sensitive about us messing with their paws when we are trying to use dremels, even the brush for grooming, right? Based on the above reasons, and since my highest priority is safety and comfort for a joyful experience, I do not recommend dremels, and I never use them. For nail filing, I am using a dog nail file.

Often times people get a dremel and shorten nails without educating themselves first about nail care. Thinking, that they can't hurt their dog with the tool. It's not only the tool you are housing, but it's also your knowledge about nail trimming, positioning the dog, the tool, yourself, and using a cutting method that is eliminating pressure and discomfort that makes it safe.

I find that the Paw-di-cure method I designed helps dogs stay calm and cooperative and enables us to work just as fast and even more precisely than the dremel. I find it definitely safer even on reactive dogs.

Secret +1.

The scratchboard will not file all nails evenly.

Think about the curve of the front legs and the back legs. Also the presentation of the leg, feet, toes, and nails. Some dogs have tighter feet, some larger, more flat paws. Some have O legs, some have X. Even a genetically excellent presentation foot won't make a dog file his nails evenly. Why? Because the foot is rounded. Not like outs, where most of the toes are kind of aligned evenly. Dogs have 4 toes and a dewclaw on the front legs. The two middle toenails will get worn off way more than the outer two on scratchboard. Just by that one single example, you'll see that you will end up with some follow up care on the outer 2 nails and on the dewclaws for sure. On top of that, the pads can get worn off with this method as well faster than the nails.

Regardless of which tools you use, I think it is inevitable to know the layers of the nails to know when to stop.

Why not training yourself to know how to trim dog nails safely and desensitize your dog to nail care at the same time? It can be done. Once the nail care is pain and pressure-free, comforting and fun, your dog will forgive you and forget the past experiences.

I am happy to help you and accompany you on the journey.

Secret +2.

The safety guard on the nail clipper will not keep you from hitting the dog's quick.

The safety guard on the clipper might sell better with the slogan suggesting you won't hit the quick that way, but the fact is you need to learn the layers of the nail to be safe. Plus adding some common sense to the equation, you really need to see which layer you are working on between the jaws of the clipper. When the guard is in the way, it is blocking your vision, you have no idea which layers you are cutting. It's exactly as if someone put a cutting board between a surgeon and its patient in the OR and expect the surgeon to cut "the right spot". 

The only thing the safety guard does and is a pro is to stop you from chopping the whole toenail off by the base. But, there are many other ways to prevent that happening, so why not actually see what we are doing instead of gambling with dog nails based on a false promise? 

Secret +3.

Using the quick stop finder clippers and nail grinders will not keep you from making your dog's nail bleed.

The quick finder nail clippers are a blockbuster idea for sellers, combined with unreliable engineering. There, I said it. They are incredibly unreliable and I cringe just by the thought of using it. While it sounds like a sweet promise to our worried souls, I've seen it fail in so many hands. Good intentions and the sad fact that they did not want to learn minimal nail anatomy to keep pets safe resulted in painful little toenails and upset puppies. (Point taken, there are not many trustworthy and logical methods out there to trim nails that you can trust.) The shortcut to nail care has a high price. And your dog will be the one to be taxed the most, unless you find a trustworthy source and learn, practice before actually trimming.

Secret +4.

Trimming the nails need to be followed up with filing them.

Trimming the nails (without following up with filing) is neither safe nor recommended. After trimming, nail filing is a must to avoid scratches on the dog’s skin, cornea, or on us. Notice the sharp edges on the left image below. Those will definitely draw blood with one jump, let it be your thigh or your kid's face. Also a ticket to the vet for scratched cornea, weeks of medication, and hands-on care for your dog.