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How to Cut Your Dog’s Black Nails – Stress-free Grooming Tips

How to cut dog black nailsHow short should a dog’s nails be? If you can hear your dog’s nails clicking on the floor at home, they are too long.

Nail cutting is essential because “nails that are too long and resting on the ground can affect the dog’s posture and their movement”, says Dr Leslie Woodcock DVM.

When nails are constantly jamming into their nail beds due to the long nails impact with the hard floor, it can get uncomfortable or sore for the dog. So cutting the dog’s nails when they start clicking on the floor at home is recommended.

“Nails are very important to keep up on for the dog,” said Brenda Cox, a groomer in Oregon. “When the nail gets too long it’s like wearing shoes too small and in time the nail will twist or toe will turn which can lead to early arthritis, but always will have a sore painful foot.” – lifewithbeagle.com

The following information has helped me become more confident with cutting my dog’s nails. And I hope it helps you too! :)

Here are the questions to be covered:

  1. Is there a proper way to hold or angle the clipper?
  2. How do I know when I need to stop cutting?
  3. Is it really that easy to find the pulp?
  4. How often should I cut?
  5. Is it really such a bad thing to cut the quick? And what to do when you do.
  6. Equipment: Guillotine clipper, Scissors clipper, QuickFinder deluxe or Dremmel?


1. Is there a proper way to hold or angle the clipper?

If you ask enough times, you’ll find there are different recommendations to cut the nail at different angles, but by far the most common suggestion was to cut it at a 45° angle. A 90° cut would work on a dog with short nails.

A friend of mine who is both my agility coach and a Vet tech in her “real world” job taught me this trick. If you grind the nail tip perpendicular to the floor (i.e., straight up and down), you can get more of the nail off close to the quick without actually nicking the quick. – doberdawn.com

45° vs 90° cut – which are you more comfortable with?


Here’s how I do it currently. Step 1, Cut the nail short at 45°. Step 2, cut slivers off the visible hard shell at the top of the nail so it helps the quick recede faster.

dog-nail-cutting black nails

This is similar to what Dr. Leslie Woodcock DVM recommended on the video on this post. Except that she appears to really get into the nails and cut very, very close. I don’t dare to. :P


2. How do I know when I need to stop cutting?

Confidence comes with knowing that you are not going to hurt your dog! And that means you are confident when you know when you can cut and when you need to stop cutting so you don’t hurt the dog.

But when your dog has black nails like mine, it is very hard to tell when we are near the sensitive quick. My Aha! moment came when I saw a video of a groomer explaining that we can cut the nail until you see the pulp! Finally, something visually indicative to let us know when we should stop cutting!

dog-nails-pulp black nails

The black spot or pulp apparently tells you that you are near the quick. You can see the relevant part of the video here – 0:38 – 1:28. It’s not my favourite video because it’s not force-free. You can see the dog is stressed and tries to pull away. There is no visible counter-conditioning going on.  :( So I’ll say just watch from 0:38 – 1:28 because she has very clear visuals of cutting until you see the pulp. I do not recommend the rest of the video not within this timing 0:38 – 1:28. (If I find a clearer video, I will update the post.)

Note: I subsequently attended a grooming workshop by Bubbly Petz and they taught the same thing about the pulp!! ;)


3. Is it really that easy to find the pulp?

It was really easy to find the pulp the first time I used the QuickFinder deluxe nail clipper on Donna.

dog-nails-pulp black nails
Previous day’s nail cutting with the QuickFinder deluxe

The next day, I used an old scissor type nail clipper of Donna’s and it was more difficult. The cross-section of the nail was all crumbly and it was hard to make up my mind whether I hit the pulp or whether I have not cut far enough.

dog-nails-cross-section-1 black nails
Next day’s nail cutting on a different paw with Donna’s Mikki brand nail cutter.

Why the difference? Donna’s existing nail clipper was older, so I thought it might be because the clipper has become blunt.

Or it could be as this veterinarian explains in his video, that perhaps I was not cutting forcefully and powerfully enough. When you cut slowly or tentatively, especially on very hard dog nails, you may end up getting a rougher finish rather than a smoother, cleaner cut.

When I compare the QuickFinder deluxe and Donna’s exiting Mikki nail Clipper, I personally feel that the spring between the handles of the Mikki clipper provides greater resistance than the QuickFinder deluxe. Perhaps the resistance force of the spring affected how quickly and cleanly I can cut her nail using different clippers.

So my takeaway is that when I cut my dog’s nails, I need to try to use the right tool that enables me to get a cleaner finish when her nail is cut – whether it’s because the blades are blunt from use or because the spring resistance is to strong for the strength that I tend to exert to get a clean cut. ;)

If you’ve spent time cutting your dog’s nails, you may have noticed that it’s the time we spent hesitating or slowly increasing pressure on the nail clipper that increases the dog’s nervousness and her awareness of the pressure of the blades on her nails. So a tool that helps me be quick and assertive about it is a good tool! :P


4. How often should I cut?

As often as you hear your dog clicking on the floor, because ideally your dog should not be clicking.  :P That also means that you don’t need to sweat about getting the nail super short because your dog still needs to dig in when running around on grass. It just needs to not touch the floor.

For dogs that can’t help clicking on the floor because their quicks are maybe too long to be cut short enough yet, the nail cutting needs to occur more often to help the quick recede. Once every 1-2 weeks appear to be the optimum recommendation for dogs who need their quicks receded.

This diagram explains the concept. Remember, if you grind or cut slivers off the top of the tip of the nail after you cut, you can help the quick to back up faster.

How to cut dog black nailsImage from futurepets.com


5. Is it really such a bad thing to cut the quick? And what to do when you do.

Of course, it’s something that most people would avoid if they can help it. But even vets and groomers may not have 100% success rates at not cutting to the quick, despite this being a part of their jobs!

So it’s probably something that will happen sooner or later. Make sure you have a bottle of Styptic Powder on hand before you start nail clipping. This can be bought at any good pet store. Stopping the bleeding is simple. Just apply a pinch of the yellow powder to the bleeding nail and apply moderate pressure. It stops pretty fast. ;)

Cardinal Laboratories Remedy and Recovery Professional Groomer’s Styptic Powder for Petsstyptic-powder black dog

So don’t let one or two unfortunate accidents get you down.

I had quicked Donna before so she was fearful of nail-cutting. For a while, I sent her to the groomer to get her nails cut. But sometimes when she was released, I checked her nails and they seemed no shorter to me than they were before. At the same time, the different groomers I met in Singapore did not have a positive training mindset. So I preferred to cut Donna’s nails myself, which gave me plenty of opportunities to treat as often as I liked and counter condition her to like nail cutting.

Note: If “Counter Conditioning” is an unfamiliar term to you, this is a great video that explains in less than 3 minutes what it means

Basically, to counter condition, you expose the dog to the unpleasant activity like nail cutting, and reward her for it. I was seeing some success with clipping and treating. But I saw significant success when I changed from a longer duration of clipping and treating for 10 nails at a go, to a shorter duration of just clipping one nail only and feeding her breakfast/dinner. One nail per meal may seem slow, but her acceptance of the activity was incrementally stronger in a shorter duration of time.

What got me really excited was in the most recent incident when I accidentally clipped her quick. She barely reacted and remained lying on the floor. I immediately shoved the whole bag of liver fudge into her face and she just calmly lay there vacuuming the fudge, while I tried to stanch her bleeding. She amazes me sometimes. :)

She used to be really fearful of nail cutting because I cut her before. Now she’s not so traumatised by it, so I’m not gonna beat myself over it either. ;)

Note: I cut her to the quick maybe two or three times within the last 2+ years. I don’t do it deliberately and I try to be careful but accidents happen.


6. Equipment: Guillotine clipper, Scissors clipper, QuickFinder deluxe or Dremel/nail grinder?

Regardless of type, any new tool may require a period of adjustment because of the design and variables such as resistance of the spring. At least, I found that was the case for me.

The first clipper I bought was a guillotine-style clipper. There was an initial adjustment period when I switched to the scissors-style clipper. I was used to the guillotine which I felt was more stable. But once I adjusted, I felt that both work equally well.

I have never used the dremel. But considering that Donna had a nail bleeding from a groomer over-grinding her nail before, I don’t think any of the tools have an advantage over the rest. Whether it is a dremel or a clipper, whichever gives you more confidence is good. ;)

At the end of the day, confidence in handling the tool depends on the individual’s familiarity with handling the tool in an appropriate and effective manner. The same applies to the QuickFinder deluxe and it’s sensor technology. I was told I needed to watch the DVD for the product before I start to use it from the seller, Luv-Ya-Pet.

When the product comes with a DVD and a more detailed 9-point instructions guide in the paper manual, it definitely needs more practice at handling for me to ensure that it works for Donna’s nails, especially when I’m working closer to the quick. I’m just not that familiar with it yet. When used as intended, the LED light indicator is designed to highlight to you whether it is Green and safe to cut, Orange and not safe to cut and Red and definitely unsafe to cut.

QuickFinder-deluxe batteries not included
Light light indicates when it is safe or not safe to cut.

So for now it doesn’t really detract from my current practice of cutting off small sections at a time, until I hit the pulp or black spot in the cross section of the nail. And in the scenerio where I think I’m near the quick but the cross-section is too crumbly to show the pulp clearly, having the sensor blink “red” certainly is a clear sign for me to be conservative and stop. ;)


How to cut dog nails - black nailsDisclosure: I received the QuickFinder deluxe product as part of a Musher’s Secret sponsorship by www.luv-ya-pet.com. This nail clipper is the store’s best selling product. To learn more about how the QuickFinder deluxe works, watch this video. To buy it, go to Amazon here. (Luv-ya-pet is no longer available). Also check out Musher’s Secret paw wax which we use, learn more about caring for your dog’s paws on my post here.


Leave a comment

  • Any great tips for nail cutting? Do share!
  • Do you have experience cutting nails of different size dogs? Does the size of the dog have a difference in the tools you use or the way you cut?
  • Do you disagree any any points laid out in this post? If yes, how would you do it better? :)



  1. Pet health, Interesting facts and Trivia – Nailclipping – futurepets.com
  2. Cutting your dog’s nails – how important is it really? – susangarrettdogagility.com
  3. The Best Way to Cut Your Dog’s Nails – Kikopup Youtube
  4. Truth about nails – neogreyhound.com
  5. Trimming your dog’s nails – ASPCA
  6. How to trim a dog’s toenails – petmd


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  1. It took some practice, but Mom can cut our black nails just as well as she cuts the white or clear ones. It isn’t that hard once you get used to it.

  2. Excellent information. As far as seeing where to clip, there is a little V on the back of the dog’s nail and if your dog will stand so you can look to the back of their nail, you can use it for a guide. Cut just before.bottom of the V. Also make sure clippers are sharp. We either have ours sharpened regularly or buy new. When you clip a dog like Thunder with his giant hard nails, you have to make sure clippers are sharp. Thanks for joining the hop.

  3. Flea

    And this is why we go to the groomers. Four dogs with black nails means I’m not doing it myself. But your tutorial is excellent.

  4. Delilah’s nails are black and I clip them fairly easily, Sampson’s are light colored and I’ve hit his quick too many times. I like to take him to one of my trainers and let her clip his nails.

    Thanks for sharing this on the blog hop! I’m always super nervous when it comes to clipping their nails.

  5. Polly

    No need for expensive powder from a vet or supply company…simply mix warm water with baking soda and make a paste if you accidentally trim the quick

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