Using The Right Tool Is Half the Battle
The key to trimming dog nails successfully comes down to conditioning and choosing the right tool for your individual dog.
In this post, I am going to help you solve the second half of this equation.
If you are new to trimming dog nails or are simply looking for the best tool for the job, or if you happen to have a large or giant breed dog with black nails – making your journey of trimming dog nails particularly adventuresome – keep reading!
In this post, you will learn:
- The pros and cons of using a Dremel for dog nails,
- The pros and cons of trimming large dog nails with a clipper,
- How to clip or grind black dog nails while avoiding hitting the quick,
- Why tools like metal files and scratchboards are not right for big dogs, and
- The top 7 factors you need to consider before deciding between a nail clipper and a Dremel for dog nails.
This post contains affiliate links from which I may receive a small compensation. There is NO ADDED COST to you should you use these links.
Trimming Dog Nails with a Dog Nail Clipper
This is the tool that I started with some 20+ years ago. Tried and true. The traditional dog nail clipper is a tool that gets the job done.
With a guillotine clipper, a single blade comes down and slices off the end of your dog’s nail (like a guillotine).
While simple, I do not recommend this style for people with large or giant breed dogs as it is not quick or powerful enough to cut the thicker, stronger nails of our big dogs.
The scissor-style traditional nail clipper is the style I have and recommend for large dog owners.
This style consists of two blades that come together to cut your dog’s nail (like a scissor). The amount of force you are able to generate with this style of nail clipper is better for the thicker nails of large and giant breed dogs.
There are some variations of dog nail clippers with a sensor or led light that claims to help with identifying the quick before you hit it, however, I do not recommend these.
Not only am I not convinced that they even work, I know that identifying the dog nail quick is NOT the source of the problem even if these tools worked as they claim.
So if you found this post and are looking for the best dog nail clippers with a sensor, I urge you to keep reading and consider an alternative.
Here are the pros and cons of a traditional nail clipper for dog nails:
- Conditioning to a dog nail clipper is less complex. While there are a sound and sensation associated with using a clipper, it tends to not elicit the same reaction from dogs initially and may be less intimidating for some dogs and owners.
- Dog nail clippers are significantly less expensive to purchase, running between $6.00 – $15.00 on average.
- Durable and long-lasting. The nail clippers I purchased over 20 years ago are the ones I still use today. With regular sharpening, the blades are easy to maintain and last forever.
- The simplicity of use makes the dog nail clipper an obvious choice for new dog owners and beginner home groomers.
- Large and giant breed dogs have thick nails (and often black nails) which can be hard to cut with a traditional dog nail clipper.
- The “Clip and Pray Method” is often used with a nail clipper. This is when dog owners take one giant clip of nail off while saying a silent prayer that they didn’t hit the quick. See below for tips on how to avoid hitting the quick with a clipper.
- Traditional dog nail clippers take a decent amount of hand strength to use making them a poor choice for people with arthritis or reduced hand strength.
- Nail clippers require regular sharpening in order to make clean cuts on the nail.
- Technique matters when using a nail clipper, so learning to clip properly is key.
- Bleeding is usually worse and more frequent when using a dog nail clipper due to the low accuracy of the clipper when cutting.
Want to save this information for later? Grab your PDF cheat sheet of this post, The Ultimate Tool Guide for Trimming Dog Nails, here.
Tips For Using a Clipper on Black Dog Nails
Remember that black nails are just the color on the outside. The anatomy of the inside of the nail is identical. The only difference is that you can’t see the quick as easily.
That said, there are a few things to consider when it comes to using a nail clipper on black nails.
- Prioritize proper conditioning before attempting to clip your dog’s nails.
- You can often view your dog’s quick (or approximate location) from the underside of the nail.
- Maintain your clippers with proper sharpening. This will ensure you are getting clean cuts off of the nail and not causing your dog discomfort.
- The only way to shorten a dog’s nail is to put pressure on the quick to force it to recede. You do this by clipping right up to the quick with each nail session.
How To Use a Clipper And Avoid Hitting the Quick
I mentioned above, the dreaded “Clip and Pray Method” for trimming dog nails. This is the method used by the vast majority of dog owners who rely on a nail clipper. They pray with every clip that they haven’t hit the quick.
This is method is particularly common with dog owners of dog’s with black nails since they can’t visually see the quick in order to avoid it.
Consequently, dog owners become anxious about nail trimming due to a higher incidence of bleeding. This results in owners fearing the quick so much they fail to cut enough off the nail.
- Condition your dog to love nail trims so he or she is still, patient, and not doing the paw-pulling dance (not sure how? Click here).
- Start by identifying approximately where your dog’s quick is (see image to the right) on the underside of the nail. This step is not necessary, but it can help give you an idea of how much nail you can take off.
- Gently hold your dog’s paw and steady the toe between two fingers.
- Holding a scissors-style nail clipper at a right angle (sideways) to the nail and begin clipping the tip off of the nail to shorten it most of the way to the quick.
- Continue making tiny cuts around the nail – 5-10 or so – in order to further shorten the nail and remove any sharp edges.
- Clip until you start to expose the soft part of the nail revealing a little dark spot which is the quick. STOP HERE! ❌
Please let me know if you would like a more detailed step-by-step tutorial video. Comment below if that would help you.
Best Dremel for Dog Nails
Invented in 1934, the Dremel is a high-speed rotary tool used for an endless number of projects from jewelry making to drilling holes to cutting dog nails. Most Dremels come with a wide range of highly engineered accessories, including several sandpaper bands of varying grits.
According to Dremel.com
“The Dremel brand is dedicated to empowering Makers through creativity, precision and project enjoyment.”
This should read “Makers AND Dog Owners” as there is nothing more enjoyable than Project Dog Nails, am I right?
The following are the pros and cons of using a Dremel for dog nails.
- Precision and accuracy are unmatched by any other tool used for trimming dog nails. A Dremel allows you to sand right up to the quick without hitting it.
- The flexibility of options for speed and level of grit needed.
- Efficient nail trimming. With a classically trained dog, nails can be done in a few, stress-free minutes, but may take slightly longer than with a dog nail clipper.
- A Dremel produces smooth, rounded nails that don’t hurt or catch on fabric, carpet, furniture.
- Ease of use. A Dremel takes little to no hand strength so it is a great option for women, people with small hands, or those with reduced hand strength.
- Fewer bleeding issues due to improved accuracy, precision, and slower grinding.
- Learning how to Dremel dog nails properly can take a little longer as conditioning to the sound and vibration of the Dremel is key to long term success.
- Sound can be scary to some dogs initially.
- Dremels are the most expensive of nail trimming tools. A cordless Dremel Micro 8050 runs about $65 on Amazon and most of the electric versions can be $100 or more including the cost of the kit.
- Electric (Corded) Dremels, like the Dremel 4000, can get heavy, especially for people with smaller hands. I use a flex attachment which is an extension that can be added on to a corded Dremel. This makes nail trims super easy with little to no effort at all.
- The battery life of the cordless Dremel is about 2-4 years on average depending on usage. Replacement batteries are available for purchase.
Should You Buy a Pet Dremel?
It seems like every day there are new versions of pet Dremels. With features that promise to warn you of the approaching quick, grind faster, and with less noise, these pet Dremels sound great.
But are they any better for dogs, especially big dogs, than the tried and true Dremel?
In the spirit of full transparency, I have never purchased one of these pet Dremels. I would love to try the PawControl by Dremel to test out the claims, however, here are my general thoughts as it relates to pet Dremels.
Most of them are not that much less expensive than the basic Dremel Micro. Most of the pet Dremels I’ve seen are between $20 – $50, with the Dremel Micro 8050 today on Amazon sitting at $68.
The jury is still out for me on how well the pet Dremels like the Dremel 7020, Dremel 7760 PawControl, PawPerfect, Peteast Dog Nail Grinder, or FURminator Nail Grinder will hold up to the demands of large and giant breed dogs getting frequent trims.
I would love to know how this compares with your experience, so comment below and let me know.
3. Marketing Claims
Do your due diligence as you shop for a pet Dremel. Many of these new tools make claims, especially about the quick, that may not work as expected.
Be sure to read all of the reviews before you buy.
Tips For Grinding Black Dog Nails With a Dremel
In my many decades of using a Dremel for dog nails, I have found one thing to be true. As long as your focus is on proper conditioning so that your dog learns to love nail trims, whether your dog has black nails or light-colored nails is inconsequential.
That said, there are a few things to consider when it comes to using a Dremel on black nails.
- The quick is in the same place regardless of the outside color of the nail. So HOW you trim the nail to avoid the quick (see below) will be the same for both.
- Black nails on large and giant breed dogs tend to be much thicker and stronger on average, so trimming them will take slightly more muscle regardless of the tool you choose.
- While this is anecdotal, I have found black nails grow faster than light nails. This could just be on my own dogs, how they wear down their nails naturally, or due to me not trimming enough off during each session, however, I have noticed that this is true for my dogs. How quickly they grow helps me determine how often I need to trim them.
How to Avoid Hitting the Quick With a Dremel
Avoiding the quick using a Dremel for dog nails is less complicated than it sounds, even if your large dog has black nails.
Here is how you do it….
- Condition your dog to love nail trims so he or she is still, patient, and not doing the paw-pulling dance (not sure how click here).
- Set your Dremel on the low – medium speed setting.
- Gently hold the nail between two fingers to steady it and reduce the vibration.
- Grind starting in the center with a little pressure to shorten the nail (how much pressure and duration of time will depend on your dog and his or her nails).
- Move outward to finish the nail, continuing to slowly grind in the middle.
- Eventually, you will see a small black center which is the quick. STOP HERE! ❌
- You can continue to polish the nail on the sides and top, but be sure to avoid the center at this time, or you will hit the quick and the nail will bleed.
- If you do happen to hit the quick, here is how you can stop the bleeding.
How to Trim Large [Black] Dog Nails and Avoid Hitting the Quick Using a Nail Clipper and a Dremel – VIDEO
Other Tools for Trimming Dog Nails
While not as popular or commonly used, a comprehensive overview of tools for trimming dog nails would not be complete without information on dog nail files and scratchboards. Here is a brief overview of these alternative options.
Metal File for Dog Nails
A metal file is just what it sounds like. Most are about 4-6 inches long and would be used like a human Emory board or nail file. The only difference is that one is metal, the other is usually sandpaper.
If you are looking for a good laugh, do a quick search on Amazon for “file for dog nails.” I cannot imagine using any of these products on my huge Mastiffs!
While I have not used a file for my dog’s nails personally, here are some pros and cons to consider:
- Precision in cutting without hitting the quick
- Files are Inexpensive to buy
- Not very effective when trimming the very thick nails of most large and giant breed dogs.
- And if your dog’s nails are overgrown, getting them to a proper length may be very time intensive.
Scratchboard for Dog Nails
One of the members of the Big Dog Mom Community Facebook Group shared some videos of her dog using a scratchboard for trimming his nails.
This product is essentially a board with sandpaper covering it. Dog Training Nation shares here how to DIY your own scratchboard if you are interested in learning more.
- Provides an alternative to a traditional dog nail clipper and a Dremel for dog owners looking for one.
- A scratch board would be more efficient and effective at trimming thick big dog nails than a metal file.
- Homemade DIY scratchboards are easy to make.
- A scratch board is not a viable option for most dog owners since getting sufficient cut length on all nails is extremely difficult, if not impossible.
- Requires extensive training to teach the dog how to scratch his nails across the board.
- No precision or accuracy in shaping the nail.
- More time-intensive as compared to a traditional dog nail clipper or Dremel.
Miscellaneous Tools for Nail Trimming
In addition to the tool you select, you will want to make sure you have a couple of other items on hand before you begin trimming your dog’s nails.
We referred to dog nails bleeding a few times in the course of this guide, but I did not go into detail about it. Assuming you know how and why a dog nail bleeds (if you would like details on this, read this post all about the quick), for the purposes of this discussion, we are simply addressing the tools you need to stop the bleeding.
The final tool that is absolutely essential for trimming dog nails is TREATS!
Remember what I said in How to Socialize Your Puppy At Home: 15 Creative Tips (That Work)…
Dogs understand food and treats. We don’t have to teach them what food means. So the best way to condition your dog to LOVE nail trims is with food!
Now… do NOT start slathering peanut butter all over your forehead. That serves only two purposes – to coerce your dog into tolerating a nail trim and make a giant mess all over you and your floor. This does not teach your dog anything.
Treats are used for a specific purpose, in a specific way, so I have a few criteria that I use for treats that I use in nail trimming. They are:
- Small in size
- Soft, not crunchy
- Mostly dry in my hand
- Easily accessible
- Home-cooked and DIY foods are great to mix in as well
Here are a few treat options that fit all of these criteria, or you can go to my Amazon store which has a curated list of many more healthy treats for dogs.
Dog Nail Trimming Tool Decision Guide – 7 Factors To Consider
- Your level of fear and anxiety over hitting the quick.
- Size of your dog. The larger the dog nails, the more comfortable you will be with a Dremel.
- Comfort level in training and conditioning your dog to love nail trims.
- Your size and hand strength. Petite women with small hands may find the Dremel easier to handle for very large dogs.
- Cost as a factor. There is a moderate price difference between a nail clipper and a Dremel. You may save a little money by choosing a pet Dremel, however, for giant breed dogs, pet Dremels may not be the best choice (see above).
- How many dogs you will be trimming. Given the hand strength required with a nail clipper, those with multiple dogs may appreciate the ease of using a Dremel over. an extended period of time.
- How much experience you have trimming nails. If you are a first time puppy owner or are starting to trim nails for the first time, a nail clipper is an easy tool to start with.
You Have Options for Cutting Dog Nails
At the end of the day, the decision on whether to use a dog nail clipper or Dremel or one of the alternatives is a matter of personal preference. With the pros and cons listed for each, it will be up to you to decide which tool is best for you and your dog and which one you are most comfortable starting this training with.
Keep in mind, this is not a permanent decision. Once your dog is conditioned with one tool, you can transition to a different tool in the future with the same training.
So, now you know WHAT you are going to use to trim your dog’s nails.
Congratulations on taking this first, very important step!
What is the next step, you ask?
Information means nothing if you don’t take action on it. Here are three quick and easy steps you can take today to get started on your dog nail trimming journey:
- Save this information so it’s at your fingertips when you need it! Grab your PDF cheat sheet of this post, The Ultimate Tool Guide for Trimming Dog Nails.
- Grab your nail trimming tool of choice in my Dog Nails Store on Amazon. There you will find everything you need to get you started.
- Join the waitlist for my new online training course, Dog Nailpro™ – My proven step-by-step system for conditioning your dog to love nail trims without force, fear, or frustration.