How to Keep Dog Nails Short Without Clipping? Grooming Tips for Your Canine

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Author: Jacob Kay

Many dog owners dread the task of clipping their dog’s nails, as it can be stressful, difficult, and risky. However, nail trimming is not something that you can ignore, as long nails can cause various problems for your dog, such as pain, injury, and health issues. Fortunately, there are ways to keep your dog’s nails short without clipping.

In this article, we will explain why nail trimming is important for dogs, and how to use alternative methods to trim your dog’s nails without using clippers.

dog with long nails

Key Takeaways

  • Regular nail trimming is important for your dog’s health and comfort, as long nails can cause pain, injury, and health issues.
  • You can keep your dog’s nails short without clipping by using alternative methods, such as walking on rough surfaces, using a nail grinder, a nail filer, or nail caps.
  • You should check your dog’s nails regularly and consult a veterinarian if you notice any signs of infection, bleeding, or cracking.

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Why Dogs Need to Shorten Their Nails?

One of the most essential parts of a dog’s grooming is trimming his nails. It is important to maintain them regularly. Long nails can not only damage the floor and furniture of the house but can also hurt the dog. When these long nails get stuck in the carpet or rug, they tear off, causing pain to the dog. It might also lead to bleeding.

As mentioned by ASPCA, “A dog’s nails should be trimmed when they just about touch the ground when he or she walks. If your pet’s nails are clicking or getting snagged on the floor, it’s time for a trim.

The nails of a dog grow in a curved shape. If left untrimmed, the claws will eventually curve under the dog’s paws and dig into the skin. This will hurt the dog while walking. To ease this discomfort, dogs will put more weight on their back paws, which can lead to sore muscles and joints, backaches, and eventually arthritis.

According to Dr Mark Stickney, Director of General Surgery Services at Texas A&M University, it is important to trim the nails regularly. If you let the nails grow too long, the quick will also keep growing with it. This will cause more pain or may lead to bleeding when you trim them.

cutting nails with clippers

Typically, dogs that prefer being outdoors will naturally wear down their nails by engaging in activities such as running or walking on hard surfaces like roads. On the other hand, dogs that prefer staying indoors and have limited access to such surfaces may grow their nails long enough to require regular trimming.[1]

How to Keep Dog Nails Short Without Clipping?

If your dog is comfortable with the use of clippers then it would be the most efficient and quickest way to shorten their nails. Professional groomers use clippers to trim the nails of a dog as they are trained enough to perform the task. However, clipping their nails at home is not something everyone can do.

Clipping nails is a tricky task and a slight mistake can give your dog a painful injury.[2] Thus, clipping becomes very stressful for you as well as your dog. Dogs do not like this process since with clippers their nails are squeezed and it causes a painful sensation.

A dog’s nail consists of a living pink quick and a hard outer shell. The nails should be trimmed in such a way that it does not hurt the quick. Nerves in the quick cause bleeding and discomfort when cut. While clipping the nails at home, there always resides a fear of getting the dog injured, which can also cause loss of blood.

Clipping a dog’s nails, even when professionally done, can leave the end of the nails uneven as it just cuts the nail from a certain length. On the other hand, nail filling allows the nails to be rounded and smooth on the end. So, now the question arises, how to keep a dog’s nails short without clipping?

While regular nail trimming is essential, other grooming tasks like bathing a dog that hates water can also be challenging. Refer to our guide how to bath a dog that hates water for more tips.

Taking for a Walk

Taking your dog on a walk regularly is the most natural and effective way to trim his nails. By this method, all stray dogs shorten their nails. Generally, stray dogs walk or run on a rough surface which acts as a natural nail filer for them. Make sure to rinse off any dirt and mud afterwards with the best portable dog washer.

The same method can be used for domestic dogs too. Take your fido outdoors for a walk or have a race with him on rough surfaces. It will also provide regular exercise needed for the dog. However, if he is having joint pain or is sensitive to walking on hard surfaces then you should avoid this method.

Using Nail Grinder

A nail grinder is a type of electric device used to trim down a dog’s nails, making them shorter and smoother. It has a rotating head that works as a filer for you to smoothly grind and shape the nails. It should be done at home with your dog being totally relaxed and comfortable, so no need to step out of the house.

grinding the nails of a dog

Grinders are quite noisy and can scare the dog by its introduction to his paws. An effective way to make the dog comfortable with it is to get familiar. Turn on the grinder when you are around your dog and make him feel the vibration through his fur. Let him respond positively to these actions. Then gradually introduce the grinder to his paws and there you go!

Tip: If your dog is responding negatively to the grinder, try these sessions for 2-3 days, starting with just the on/off activity of the grinder. Stay with your dog while he tries to overcome his fear. With each step, reward your dog with a treat or appraisal.

The advantage of a grinder is that it easily removes the nails without leaving any uneven edges. Using a grinder may take a lot of your time, but it leaves smooth nails without any pain or discomfort to the dog. This is really helpful to dark-coloured dogs as it is difficult to find the quick.[3] Also, grinding can be a more suitable option for dogs with thick nails, as clippers may be unable to cut through them effectively.

Using Nail Filer

A nail filer is a handy tool often used by us to file our nails. There is nothing specific for dog nail filers. This is the least stressful way to trim your dog’s nails. Nail filers can be used to smoothen the nails and cut out the sharp edges. However, it is difficult to shorten long nails with a nail filer as it will be time-consuming.

filing the nails of a dog

Nail filer has a more hands-on approach. The control for using the filers is completely in your hands and also it does not make a loud vibrational noise like a grinder. Hence, the dog easily gets comfortable with it.

Tip: Never use your personal filer to trim your pet’s nails. Human nails are not as strong as the canine’s so the filer will be of no use. The emery boards and metal nail filers designed for humans are not strong enough to last through filing even one dog’s nail.

Nail Caps

Nail caps are a temporary solution for your dog with long nails. They were designed to provide protection against an aggressive dog that might hurt someone with his nails or scratch the floor. But, with that, nail caps also blunt the nails since they stay there for 4-6 weeks before they need replacement.

Nail caps are small rubber-like caps that fit on your dog’s nails, preventing them from causing damage to others as well as themselves. You can consider using them for dogs who refuse to trim their nails till you get your next grooming appointment!

Tip: Make sure to pick the correct size for your dog’s nail. This is because an inappropriate size might be troublesome for your dog. Follow the instructions on the packaging for proper application.


How can I shorten my dog’s nails naturally?

Stray dogs use the most natural method of trimming their nails. Generally, they walk or run on a rough surface. By this method, all stray dogs shorten their nails. The same method can be used for domestic dogs too. You can take your dog outdoors for a walk or have a race with him on rough surfaces. You can even teach your dog digging techniques which can also help in wearing off the nails.

What happens if a dog’s nails are too long?

Long nails can cause damage to the interiors of the house and can even hurt someone. Apart from this, having long nails is not good for a dog’s health. Long nails can create potential issues like a splayed foot, reduced traction, deformed feet and even injured tendons. As long nails hit the ground, it puts force on the foot and leg structure. This force can potentially lead to arthritis and ongoing pain.  

What is the proper length for dog nails?

As a thumb rule, the Fido’s nails should be about 1 mm to 2 mm away from the quick, which means they should be long enough to be visible. However, the nails should not touch the ground as that will make the dog difficult to walk.

Is it better to cut or grind dog nails?

Grinding allows for more precision in shaping the nails and the ability to smooth rough edges. Clipping dog nails can leave rough edges, which are dangerous and may harm you or your dog. Grinding nails is time-consuming but it does not impose any danger to the dog if not done carefully.


To wrap up, other than clipping there are other tools and methods by which you can make the nails of your canine short. Each method has its own pros and cons. However, which method to choose depends on you as well as your furry friend. The most efficient method is the one that makes both of you feel comfortable.

Hope I answered — ‘How to keep a dog’s nails short without clipping?’ Remember, trimming the nails of your dog is an important activity to be maintained regularly. If you are not an expert, you can always book an appointment with a professional groomer. Moreover, in case of any injury, it is always a good idea to see a local veterinarian and seek guidance.

While keeping your dog’s nails trimmed is important, don’t forget about their other grooming needs like baths. If your dog was recently neutered, be sure to find out from your vet when it’s safe to bathe them again. A common question owners have is how long after being neutered can a dog have a bath.


  1. Pet Hygiene | VMBS News. (2022, March 11). VMBS News.
  2. First Aid for Broken Nails in Cats | VCA Animal Hospital | VCA Animal Hospitals. (n.d.). Vca.
  3. How to clip a dog’s nails. (2022, March 10). Veterinary Teaching Hospital.
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Jacob Kay
Jacob Kay is a Veterinary Advisor and Editor at WWD. He’s also a dog lover and has two pet dogs of his own. He has extensive knowledge in the field of veterinary medicine and is always happy to share his insights with others.

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