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When should I cut my puppy’s nails for the first time has to be on anyone’s mind who just brought home a puppy!
I know it was top of mind for me when my 8 week old Boxer mix puppies Missy & Buzz moved in.
As I worked on figuring out their grooming routine, I’ll admit that I was a little stressed out about puppies’ first nail trim in their new home.
Because here’s the thing – their nails were almost all black, so it was really hard to see the quick.
That’s the inner part of the nail that consists of blood vessels and nerves.
Cutting your puppies’ nails doesn’t hurt them UNLESS you accidentally cut into the quick, and it also bleeds quite a bit.
Of course that means they’re not going to look forward to any future nail trims, so the goal is always to avoid cutting into the quick.
In light dog nails, it’s really easy to see but in dark dog nails, it’s not.
While it took me some time, I eventually learned how to trim (black) puppy nails and what not to do, including how to stop dog nail bleeding and everything else that’s somehow related.
So in this blog post, you’ll learn about proper nail care for puppies, including tips for a stress-free nail trimming experience as well as why it’s important to start as soon as possible.
Why Trimming Puppies’ Nails Is Important
Before I dive into the ideal time for that first puppy nail trim, let’s understand what happens if you don’t cut your puppy’s nails.
Neglected puppy nails can lead to a variety of issues, including discomfort, pain, and potential injuries.
Long dog nails can cause problems while walking, running, or playing because it changes their gait and puts strain on their joints.
Additionally, excessively long dog nails are more prone to splitting or breaking, which can lead to infections.
Bonus reason: Regular nail trimming not only keeps your puppy’s paws healthy but it also prevents scratches on both you and your furniture!
The Right Time For The First Puppy Nail Trim
Your puppy’s nails are like mini bear claws cutting through your skin like a warm knife to butter. Well…maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. But seriously, when should I cut my puppy’s nails for the first time?
Now that you know that trimming puppy nails isn’t optional, let’s talk about your puppy’s first nail cut.
A general rule of thumb is to start trimming your puppy’s nails when they are two weeks old.
At this stage, their nails are still small and easy to manage, and you can actually trim them with human toe nail clippers.
It’s enough to just take the very tips off.
However, you’re obviously only going to be able to do that if you’re raising your puppies right from their birth.
If you’re adopting your puppies at 8 weeks of age, you can start trimming their nails then.
With Missy & Buzz, I trimmed their nails for the first time 7 days after they moved in with me.
How Do You Introduce A Puppy To Nail Clippings?
During the week leading up to the “event”, I gradually introduced the puppies to the concept of having their nails trimmed.
When they’re at that age, human toe nail clippers won’t work anymore.
I had read about both in a Terra Nova book by Sheila Webster Boneham on Boxers I bought a month before the pups moved in with me.
Obviously, you’ll need the dog nail clippers to trim puppies’ nails, and the styptic powder is GREAT to stop any bleeding.
Sidenote: Cornstarch also works to stop dog nail bleeding.
Anyway, what I did is I pulled out the dog nail clippers and showed them to the pups every day leading up to their first nail trim.
I had also read that it’s important to handle your puppies’ legs and paws on a daily basis to get them used to the sensation of being touched.
So every day when the puppies and I had cuddle time, that included “cuddling” their paws, and I’d also touch their paws with the dog nail trimmer, but without using it.
While touching their paws with the nail clipper, I handed out yummy dog training treats, which worked particularly well for Missy because she was extremely food motivated!
My goal here was to associate something positive (the treats) happening when the nail trimmers came out.
Terra Nova’s Boxer book. It’s a great read, I highly recommend it!
Your Puppy’s First Nail Trim
Once your puppy is comfortable with paw handling and they’ve seen the nail trimmers a few times, you can start with the first trim.
Find a quiet and well-lit space where you and your puppy can comfortably focus.
I personally found that daylight worked better over artificial light sources, and the best time for a trim was always after a walk or playtime.
That’s when the puppies were pooped and less prone to wiggle around! That said, you can also cut puppy nails while they’re napping.
Now, don’t forget to place the styptic powder or cornstarch within reach, just in case you may need it.
If you do, put some on your dog’s nails and apply some pressure with a finger for 2-3 minutes, that’s typically how long it takes for any bleeding to stop.
As far as cutting your puppies’ nails while standing or sitting, either approach works.
If you prefer standing, you’ll have to place them on a dog grooming table. The professional ones include a grooming arm that keeps your puppy in place.
Or, you can also have your puppy lie on your lap or the floor and trim their nails while sitting, that’s up to your personal preference.
I personally always had the puppies lie down on the floor while I sat next to them.
OK, now start by trimming a small portion of the tip of one nail.
Be careful not to cut into the quick, which is the sensitive part of the nail with the blood vessels.
Also, don’t forget to reward your puppy after that very first nail trim!
You can either offer them a treat if they’re food motivated, or verbal praise.
If you feel like your puppy will let you clip a few more nails during this session, go for it, but take your time.
This is not a race! It’s perfectly fine to clip as little as one nail per day for starters.
Once you and your puppy become more used to this part of their grooming routine, you can slowly progress to knocking out one paw at a time, and finally all 4 paws in one session.
How Far Down Do You Cut A Puppy’s Nails?
You’ll want to trim your puppy’s nails so that they do not touch the ground when the puppy is standing.
Aim for a length where the nails are just above or in line with the paw pads.
As a general rule of thumb, you don’t want to hear your puppy’s nails on the ground when they walk around.
As far as how often you should clip puppies’ nails, it depends on your puppy and can be anywhere from every 3 weeks to every 6 weeks.
It’s definitely time for a puppy nail trim when you hear the nails make a “click click click” sound on your floors.
Now, the quick should always be your magical threshold.
Since you don’t want to cut into the quick to avoid bleeding, you need to stop trimming puppies’ nails right before the quick ends.
If you’re trimming light nails, it’s fairly easy to see the pink quick, especially when light shines onto the nail.
I experienced this in my dog walking clients, many of whom had light nails, and my current pup Wally also has mostly light nails (he has one black nail).
For black nails, only shave off little bits of nail at a time and stop when you see a black dot in the middle of the nail. The quick is located right behind the dot.
Should I File Or Cut My Puppy’s Nails?
As far as filing or cutting puppies’ nails, both approaches work.
Cutting gets the job done more quickly, but there’s also more of a chance to cut into the quick, especially in black nails.
But if your puppy’s nails are thick or tough, cutting may be easier and more efficient.
Filing is done with a so-called dog nail grinder and takes longer because it gradually shortens the nail rather than chopping off part of the nail in one cut.
That said, when you’re filing puppies’ nails, the chances of cutting into the quick are very slim.
So this approach works particularly well for trimming black dog nails and the nails of puppies who have a hard time standing or lying still!
Filing also helps to round the edges of the nails, which reduces the chances of sharp edges that can scratch you.
So when you decide between cutting and filing, consider the following:
- Does your puppy have light or black nails?
- Is your puppy stressed out by nail clippers?
- Does your puppy keep wiggling around?
- How thick are your puppy’s nails?
- Do you feel more at ease with nail clippers or a nail grinder?
Remember, cutting is quicker but less precise, while filing offers more precision and control.
I personally ended up preferring a nail grinder for my pups Missy & Buzz because of their black nails.
But for my pup Wally, I use regular dog nail cutters because he has mostly light nails that are easy to trim.
Missy & Buzz’s nail grinder (left) and Wally’s nail cutters (right)
How Do I Keep My Dog’s Nails Short Without Clipping?
If you end up cutting into your puppy’s quick one too many times, you may have to look for an alternative to cutting their nails.
Which, quite frankly, is understandable because why would they cooperate in a chore that ends up hurting them, right?
Now, the easiest approach is a purely natural one – some dogs who are very active will do a great job at keeping them naturally short.
That was the case with Buzz, at least when he was young and played fetch on a daily basis.
Why? Because his nails naturally wore themselves down when he took off after his ball or frisbee from our concrete patio!
If your pup doesn’t have a strong playdrive/concrete patio combination, there’s still something else you can try to keep their nails short without cutting them.
There are so-called dog nail scratch boards or pads that are lined with emery sandpaper your dog scratches to keep their nails short.
One drawback of this approach, however, is that it’s tricky to get your pup to scratch on the board with their hind paws.
If you’re looking to outsource this chore, you can also take your puppy to the groomer or ask your vet to clip their nails when you’re going in for a check up.
So, when to cut puppies’ nails for the first time?
If you raise them right from their birth, you can start trimming your puppies’ nails at 2 weeks of age with a regular toe nail clipper.
If you adopt puppies around 8 weeks of age, you’ll want to start trimming their nails shortly after they move in with you.
But at this stage, you’ll want to use specific dog nail clippers or grinders rather than human toe nail clippers.
Since puppies are very impressionable during their first few months, start nail trimming early in their life because it helps them get used to the process.
It also makes future grooming sessions easier and less stressful.
Before attempting to trim their nails, remember to let your puppy sniff and inspect the nail clippers or grinders, and make handling their paws a daily occurrence.
This helps them become familiar with the tool and having their paws handled.
Remember not to cut into the quick, and to have styptic powder or cornstarch nearby in case you do nick it.
Happy puppy nail trimming!
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