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How to Cut or Trim Black Dog Toenails Without Cutting the Quick: Safari Dog Nail Trimmer Product Review

Updated on May 8, 2014
Photo copyright HTO via Wikimedia Commons
Photo copyright HTO via Wikimedia Commons

Need more than a nail trim? Learn about doing dog grooming yourself

The Everything Dog Grooming Book: All you need to help your pet look and feel great! (Everything Series)
The Everything Dog Grooming Book: All you need to help your pet look and feel great! (Everything Series)

Here's a quick and easy guide for grooming your dog at home so he can be healthy and look his best without stressful and costly trips to the groomer, or in-between trips to the groomer.


One of the first skills I learned in 4-H was how to clip black dog toenails without accidentally cutting too far and hitting the quick. I never would have guessed then just how long that skill would have people knocking on my door to clip their dog's nails. "Oh, she doesn't like her nails clipped, will you do it?" "I'm always afraid I'll cut too far so I just haven't done it in two years, can you clip his nails?" Yes, I have no greater desire in this life than to get bit by a strange dog who hates having its nails clipped.

Now for a little informational break. The quick is the part of the nail that has blood and nerves and all that good stuff and dogs really object to getting it cut. If you cut into it too many times that dog will end up being pretty terrified of their clippers. If you go too long without clipping your dog's nails the quick extends and then you have a lot of work to get them to recede again, if they end up too long they could potentially make it difficult for the dog to walk and are more susceptible to unpleasant happenings such as getting them caught on the rug and ripping them which I hear is somewhat painful.

How to clip a dog's nails if they're black: yes, you are about to be privy to my big secret that I gladly tell anyone if they'll just try to clip their own dog's nails. Lighter-colored nails are easy to clip because you can see the quick, it's the pink shaft within the nail. Black toenails, on the other hand, must be clipped with caution because you have no idea exactly where that quick is. So here it is...clip the very end of the dogs nail, then carefully clip in small slices until you see a horseshoe shape on the cut end, this means you're almost to the quick and stop cutting now.

How often you clip your dog's nails depends a lot on the dog; more active dogs that get to run outside a lot won't need clipped as often because they'll wear them down more. Less active dogs that only go outside to do their business before wandering back in to couch and carpet will need to be clipped often because there's nothing to wear them down.

For the last 15 years I've clipped my old Redbone cross's nails religiously every three months. Even at his age he's still quite active, spends a few hours a day out in a spacious kennel, gets to run around the backyard daily, and is taken out to the badlands to run (clay and rocks, great nail files) at least once a week but much more than that in the summer and fall. My significant other's dogs get their nails clipped about every month, but they also have light-colored nails so it goes much faster.

There are two types of nail clippers I use for the dogs. The first has a loop on the end that you feed the nail through then squeeze the handle to push the blade forward (guillotine clippers); this seems to be the most popular dog clipper, at least around the people I've seen so far. These people tell me how difficult it is to clip their dog's nails and then hand me their set of this style of clippers. Alright, I've found that that type of clipper works great for well-behaved dogs with light-colored nails or that don't mind if you hold their paw in an odd position to watch for the horseshoe (which accounts for exactly one of our three dogs). That does kind of narrow it down, doesn't it?

I want to talk about the other style of clipper today. These clippers look like a cross between human nail scissors and hedge clippers. They have a comfortable handle with rubberized grip and have an open-ended clipping apparatus. To clip, simply place the nail in-between the two blades and squeeze the handles together just like scissors.

How do they work better? If you have a dog that's struggling against your efforts and you can see his quick (i.e. light-colored nails) it's going to be much faster and less traumatic for him if you just set the clippers and cut as opposed to trying to feed his nail from the end through the loop. For one, if that dog has a quarter inch of nail inside the loop and he tried to jerk away he won't be able to get away and it may hurt a little too, whereas an open-ended clipper would let him get away and you can comfort him and take his paw back from there. For dark-colored nails I at least can see what I'm cutting better with this style of clipper, as I stated earlier you have to trim off pretty small slices to keep from cutting the quick so unobstructed visuals are pretty important.

There there are everyone else's dogs. I wasn't kidding when I said I have an influx of people showing up and asking me to clip their dogs' nails (and guinea pig's nails) and it's not just because I can cut dark nails; they know I'm pretty good with animals that don't like their nails clipped, a fact I attribute to my days of raising rabbits...I have yet to meet a rabbit that enjoyed getting their nails clipped and I'm shocked they still trusted me since I was always nominated to clip their nails, hold them for tattooing, and other unpleasant events. There's only one thing that seems to be overlooked on the package of these clippers quite a lot...they're for medium to large dogs. I've had people hand me these to clip a 3lb Chihuahua, a Lhasa Apso, a Pomeranian, and a toy Poodle cross. A word of advice, if these are about the size of your dog then save your money. The problem I ran into is that they just don't clip all the way through such small nails, leaving a little layer still intact so the poor dog that's already traumatized about getting its nails clipped is trying to get away with a half-amputated nail hanging off their toe that could easily catch and tear. This is where those human nail scissors come in. I first tried this with the Chihuahua, her nails were so small the clippers cut through exactly half the thickness of her nail. On a whim I grabbed my son's First Years Baby Nail Scissors and tried those, they work great.

I bought these clippers at the local Wal-Mart for just under $5.00, the other style I use is about the same price, and the baby nail scissors can be purchased for just under $3.00 if you have a small dog. There are also clippers from this brand available for small dogs but I've never tried them and the baby nail scissors have worked like a charm. Overall I've been pretty happy with these clippers, bear in mind they are an economy option and are built fairly cheaply but should still last a while; I clip my three dogs' nails plus whatever others get brought to me...four regulars, plus I never know when the neighbors, my dad's girlfriend, my significant other's friends, or someone who saw me passing by in the supermarket will ask me to clip their dog's nails...and I still get at least a year of satisfactory use out of each set, I generally replace them when the blades start getting dull and causing the nail to splinter when cut. Yes, I need to go into the nail-trimming business, I'd be rich. Ready availability, ease of use, low price, and relative durability are all great reasons to go with these nail clippers.


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    • lrc7815 profile image

      Linda Crist 

      6 years ago from Central Virginia

      I''m glad you don't live near me or I would be calling you too. lol I pay someone to come to my house to clip my IG's nails simply because I cannot hold her and clip too. I got over my fear of hitting the quick but I still keep some Quik-stop handy. Your article is very well written and if my dog ever gets so old that I can control her and clip too, I will be back at the task. :-)


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