Clipping Great Dane Nails – Best Practices

Clipping large dog nails presents some unique challenges. It’s hard enough with any dog, but the thickness of a Danes nails and the shear strength of the dog make it all the more challenging to trim large dog nails. For this reason, many people leave this job up to the professionals, but if you don’t have that kind of cash and you’re not afraid of a small challenge, you can learn to care for your Great Dane’s nails.

Touch Their Feet

The first step is to get them used to the sensation of you touching their feet. I’ve never met a dog that enjoyed a pedicure -Great Danes are no different. When you touch their paws or nails they tend to pull it away or worse, run away. The first step to getting your Dane acclimated to having their nails trimmed is simply getting them used to you touching their feet.

In a quiet setting when you’re both laying on the floor (or couch depending on where you fall in the “should we let the dog on the furniture” debate), pick up a paw and gently start touching the nails. Use plenty of encouraging words and a soothing tone of voice. The goal here is to simply get them used to the idea of you touching their feet. This familiarity will help when you move to actually trimming the nails.

How Often?

No real firm answer to this – every other week is a good place to start. Better to do a little at a time, more often, than waiting till they’re nails become talons. If your dog’s nails hit the floor while standing on a hard surface – if you hear them clicking as they walk through the house, it’s definitely time for a trim.

If it’s been a while and the nails are a bit out of hand, don’t try to take them back all at once. Trim a little bit once a week for a few weeks to help the quick recede. Once the nails are back to a good length you can go back to once every 2-3 weeks.

If the nails get too long it can affect the dog’s foot and ankle posture leading to joint pain and even arthritis.

The Great Debate: Clippers vs. Grinder

Lucy’s nails are black, making it impossible to see the quick and as with any Great Dane, her nails are also very thick making it difficult to use clippers. For these reasons I choose to use a grinder.

Grinder/Dremel

I use a cordless Dremel 8220. This unit is larger and spins over twice as fast as the smaller Dremel 7300-PT. The 7300 is marketed specifically for pet nail trimming, but the significantly higher speed and Lithium Ion batteries of the 8200 make it my choice. You might think it’s overkill but the faster rotation means the job gets done quicker which is good for everyone and the Lithium Ion batteries won’t lose their charge while the trimmer sits in a drawer. It’s always ready to go when I need it.

I’ve always been afraid of clipping too much, hitting the quick and getting a bleeder. The grinder let’s me take off a little at a time reducing the potential for hitting the quick. It may take some time for your pup to get used to the Dremel so I suggest starting slow. Start by doing one foot, give a treat, some praise and take a break. I often do Lucy’s front paws and release her to run around – work off some tension then call her back to do the hind paws.

My oldest brother is a blacksmith and farrier (a guy who shoes horses). I used to watch him trim horse hooves by pulling the foot up toward their hind quarters and work upside down. I’ve adopted a similar posture for doing Lucy’s nails.

Farrier

Farrier trimming a horse hoof.

Me trimming Lucy’s nails

It seems to be a natural and comfortable position for Lucy, it also lets me keep a firm grip on her foot while I support her leg on my knee.

I separate each toe press on it to extend the nail and support the nail to reduce vibration.  Starting at the pad and stroke the grinder toward the tip, this will keep you from accidentally hitting the pad. I work the grinder across the bottom of the nail to clean up and smooth the underside. Then I start rolling over the tip to take off the length and shape it around to the top.

I’ve seen questions about which direction the grinder should be rotating. The Dremel is spinning so fast that this really isn’t a consideration. You can’t change the rotation direction on a Dremel any way – just use short strokes and keep the grinder moving. If you let it sit in one spot too long it can get hot and uncomfortable. (Not that anything about this process is comfortable).

Clippers

If your pup just can’t deal with the grinder be sure to get some clippers big and strong enough for Great Dane nails. The typical guillotine style clippers are not typically strong enough to make a clean cut without you struggling. If you’re struggling it will not help your dog feel at-ease.

Heavy-duty scissor style clippers

You want to get a clipper that will let you make a quick clean cut. A heavy-duty clipper with a sharp quality blade is important.

The upside-down position won’t work as well with clippers. You’ll want to approach the nail from the front. While sitting in a chair lift the paw onto your knee and take small clips at a time with an quick smooth motion. Cut the nail at a 45 degree angle from the floor taking a little at a time to be sure you don’t hit the quick. After trimming with clippers you’ll want to use a file to smooth the edges of the cut. (Another reason to just use the grinder.)

Ahh! It’s Bleeding!

If you clip dog nails it will happen. Don’t panic! Even the most experienced groomer will hit the quick once in a while.

The best thing to do is be prepared. Have a towel and a binding agent on hand. There are lots of products on the market for just such an occasion. (This fact alone should be enough to convince you that this is a common occurrence.)

Kwik Stop is a good binding agent to have at the ready. Just wipe off the blood with a towel and immediately press some Kwik Stop against it. Hold it there for a few seconds until the bleeding stops. If you have a bleeder and don’t have any Kwik Stop on hand I’ve heard you can use regular baking flour or corn starch from your kitchen although I’ve never tried it.

If you have a bleeder remain calm and have some towels and a binding agent of your choice on hand.

Conclusion

If you can get your pup used to the sensation, use a grinder – do it often – offer treats and lots of praise – it’s not just for looks, it’s for good health.

One of the biggest things you can do is stay calm. If you’re stressed out, the dog will pick up on that and get stressed out along with you. Using a calm and soothing voice, keep offering reassurance like; “You’re being a good girl – what a good girl – that’s a girl, easy – almost done…” you get the idea. If you sound stressed they’ll be stressed. So “Stay Calm and Trim on” (sorry I had to say that).

Remember, we’re in this together.

P.S. – Checkout this Dog Owner’s Handbook

Over the years I’ve learned many tips and tricks for training and living with dogs of all sizes. “The Dog Solution” offers a lot of good information in their “Dog Owner’s Secret Handbook” for a reasonable price. You might consider picking up a copy a reference on a variety of topics related to life with your fur baby. I didn’t write this book but I’ve used many of the tips contained in it. (If you pick up this publication I will receive a commission and I will be grateful.)

32 comments on “Clipping Great Dane Nails – Best Practices

  1. Todd Matthews

    I would definitely agree that you want to get them used to the sensation, since many dogs, especially in my experience, large dogs, hate it when people even go near their paws. And even then, getting them used to clippers present a challenge, but just slowly breaking them into this new sensation should work wonders. Some dogs might be more stubborn, so I think doing this in a comfortable situation will work better than a hectic one, or at least in a situation where the owner remains calm throughout the process. Since dogs trust their owners, they may remain calm as well, regardless. 

    Reply
    1. Dave

      Todd,

      Your’e right, NO dog likes having their paws played with, much less their nails. Lucy still doesn’t enjoy the process of having her nails done but will at least come when I call her with the Dremel tool in my hand. Although she comes very slowly with her head dropped low.

      I just keep talking nice words of encouragement keeping an upbeat tone of voice. As you said, she trusts me even if she doesn’t like it.

      Reply
  2. Riley

    I think any dog will have a very hard time being trimmed because they do not like to have any one around their paws. Well this is the issue a friend o mine is having currently with his dog as well. The great Dane although gentle gets really weird when you come close to trimming. I think getting the sensation is a good idea. I’ll share this with him.

    Reply
    1. Dave Gillaspie Post author

      Riley,

      You’re right no dogs like anyone messing around with their paws – especially with power tools!! It really does help to ease into it. 

      Lucy still doesn’t like it but she lets me do it without a fight any more. Our last Great Dane eventually got to the point where if I walked toward her with the Dremel Tool in my hand she would just lay down, roll over on her back and stick her feet up. She knew what was coming.  🙂

      I hope your friend finds this helpful! Tell your friend to feel free to ask anything – I’ll be glad to help. Remember, we’re in this together.

      All the best,
      Dave

      Reply
  3. Jeff

    Thanks for sharing this, and yes I agree that touching their feet often is important in order to accomplish the task of trimming the nails, I believe just as human touching of the under feet can be a bit uncomfortable or ticklish and so are the dog paws. I think I will try to follow your advice and see what happens although my dog is still very young.

    Reply
    1. Dave Gillaspie Post author

      Jeff,
      Thanks for your comments. Nail trimming is an important part of caring for you pup. It’s easy to forget but if the nails get too long it can have serious implications. You mentioned that your dog is young and that’s a great time to start conditioning them to touching and event just short sessions with the Dremel tool – not really even trimming, but just turning it on and touching each nail will get them used to the sensation. 

      A little bit at a time will help them adjust to this reality of life. 

      Thanks again for stopping by DaneStuff. Feel free to ask anything, anytime – remember, we’re in this together!

      Dave  

      Reply
  4. David nelson

    need to start cutting my Danes nails myself and was wondering if anyone … I think the best way to avoid hitting the Quik is to trim a little at a time, maybe one per hour…i think i would try out these steps that you have given as this one that i didn’t work… as it made it impossible for me to touch their feet as i fear i may hurt it.

    Reply
    1. Dave Gillaspie Post author

      David,
      I know it can be scary at first. We don’t want to hurt our furry friends, but keeping their nails trimmed is very important. 

      I share your fear of hitting the Quick – it’s especially hard with Dane nails that are so large and often dark colored. That’s why I like using the Dremel tool. It let’s me take a little at a time and even if I do hit the quick it will only be a small hit that can be easily cared for with a paper towel and some light pressure. 

      It can be helpful to spread out the time between nails but I would try to do more than 1 nail in a sitting. I don’t want to stretch out the discomfort too long. If Lucy seems extremely uncomfortable I’ll do one foot at a time and take a short break to let her run around the yard for a minute or two before I’ll call her back (or chase her down), to do the next foot. 

      Most often I’ll do her two front paws one day, then do the two back paws the next day.

      I hope this helps! Let me know how things work out.

      Reply
  5. Smoochi

    Thank you for creating this superb article. i still can remember the very first time that tried trimming scubby’s nails.  it was a terrible experience i was even scared that i almost got my hands chopped off. i have to give it time, get some snacks and try again. it has been a bit better since then.

    Reply
    1. Dave Gillaspie Post author

      Smoochi,
      The first time is always the most challenging. I remember our first Great Dane. Our two children where young and it too both of them and my wife to hold down, talk nice and pet the dog, while I pulled out a leg to start doing her nails. Eventually she got used to it and would simply lay down and roll over on her back when it was time to do nails.

      I always use a lot of encouraging words and a soft tone of voice to keep Lucy calm during the process. While running the Dremel I might stop, still holding her foot, and pet her and give her some calm words, a lot of “Good dog,” or “That’s a girl,” or “Easy girl” helps them relax the best they can.

      I give the treats after the nails are done. Along with a quick run around the yard.

      What’s your dogs name? Let me know how the nail trimming goes. Remember, we’re in this together!

      Dave

      Reply
  6. Kristen

    My Dane is 7 months and has gotten more aggressive every time we try to do her nails. She trembled when she sees the Dremel box. She tries to find the clippers and chew them to death. She is now growling and biting. I’m getting stressed out because I don’t want her nails to get unmanageable. We have tried all of the calming techniques mentioned and nothing seems to help. I worry about taking her to a grooming salon because I’m afraid she will either bite someone or they will harm my dog to get the nails done. I’m at a loss!

    Reply
    1. Dave Gillaspie Post author

      Kristen,
      I’m so sorry to hear you’re having such trouble with your 7 month old pup. I understand your apprehension about taking her to a groomer. At 7 months she’s still learning to trust you. I would spend a lot of time giving her close loving attention. By “close” I mean sitting on the floor or couch together – snuggling – getting her comfortable with, and enjoying having you in close proximity. While snuggling, be sure to pet her feet and occasionally pick up a paw and touch or wiggle her nails.

      At 7 months you are at the hardest point in “nail training.” Understand that she will never like it when you need to do her nails, but over time you can gain her trust. You will likely need help with this at first. In my experience for the first year or two nail trimming has been a team effort. One (or two) people to hold the dog secure while another team member pulls out a foot and does the Dremel. If you’re the one with whom she’s most comfortable you may be the best person to do the holding part, doing your best to talk assuring words in a calming tone.

      You may have to start with just doing one paw at a time, or even just one nail. Then circle back after 15 minutes or so before continuing the process.

      If you don’t have a team to help you this this, or if you’re still concerned about the aggressive behavior I’d recommend having your veterinarian do her nails. They are trained to handle these type situations and may be able to give you further advice.

      I wish you and your pup all the best as you journey down this road together.

      Dave

      Reply
  7. Greg Smith

    We’re on numbers 3 & 4. I went through 4 pair of guillotine type trimmers in a year and turned to dremel. Wow. What a difference. My boy is quintessential Dane and has extremely large nails. I’ve seen nails as almost a stub. Ours are getting shorter with dremel, can’t praise them enough, is it common to see very short nails. After all they are very large.

    Reply
    1. Dave Gillaspie Post author

      Greg,
      I’m glad the Dremel is working so well for you. As you keep using it the quick on your boy’s nails will recede and you will be able to get those nails nice and short. I also like the way the Dremel lets you smooth and shape the nails so you don’t have any sharp edges. Keep on trimin’

      Reply
  8. JulijanaM

    Wow, what a lovely topic! My cousin owns a beautiful Danes and he always struggles with some pedicure or manicure thing for his King 🙂 I’d never thought that this went beyond science, how to, but your article proves me wrong! So, I guess if we follow your tips & tricks we can be professionals as well! Great advices for clipping their nails, I will sure recommend this!

    Reply
    1. Dave Gillaspie Post author

      JulijannaM – The Dremel tool is a game changer! I mean no dog like having their nails trimmed, but the size of a Dane and thickness of their nails adds to the challenge. I was just trimming Lucy’s nails yesterday and a 8 years old she still drops her head and walks away when she sees the Dremel in my hand. But she tolerates it and feels better when it’s done. 

      Please pass this along to your cousin, or get them a Dremel for Christmas!

      Reply
  9. cathy

    thanks for the great advice on how to cut a dog’s nails. One of our little dogs gets her nails cut during the grooming session, but the other three are the challenge. Two of them are small dogs and I’d be standing on my head to position myself backwards like you suggest. The chow chow mix is one that I’ll try your approach on. It was embarrassing last time I took her to get nails clipped; they were so long. I know her feet had to be hurting. thanks for the directions and I definitely will be using a Dremel. 

    Reply
    1. Dave Gillaspie Post author

      HA! Yes that position wouldn’t work for a small dog. But a Dremel is still a good idea. You could probably get away with using the smaller model. Clippers always made me nervous. I have much more confidence when using a Dremel.

      Reply
  10. Daniel Tshiyole

    It takes quite a while for your page to load. This is something you might want to work on. I use to have a great Dane. I never use to clip his nails as I did not know that it was necessary to do so. I will save this article as I am looking to purchase a new dog in the near future 

    Reply
    1. Dave Gillaspie Post author

      Thanks for the “heads-up” on load time. I’ll look into it. 

      Trimmed nails are more comfortable for your dog, even if they don’t like the process they will be better off having it done regularly. For a big dog the Dremel tool is the best!

      Reply
  11. Sariyah

    Thanks for all this information!

    I’ve always wondered how on earth do you cut a dogs nails especially when they’re that large! Currently I don’t have a dog but I’m planning on purchasing my very own fur baby, I’m thinking of a large sized dog so reading this is definitely going to help me prepare. It is going to be a puppy so I’d best get it used to the paw touching earlier on so it’s easier as it gets older. 

    Salons are too expensive and besides if it can be done at home, why waste that money, it could be used elsewhere, maybe a treat for the fur babies!

    Reply
    1. Dave Gillaspie Post author

      I hope you’re able to get a puppy soon. Personally my wife and I can’t imagine a home without a dog. 

      It will help to get them used to you touching their paws and even using the Dremel tool for short sessions when they’re young. Salons are definitely too expensive and there’s really no reason to go there when you can do it yourself. 

      Reply
  12. Emmanuel Emmato

    Great article. 

    The was I do mine is, Grasp your large dog’s paw firmly in your hand and use the other to position the trimmer on the nail. Ask a friend or family member to help if your large dog struggles and you can’t keep it still. Cut the nail just below the quick. For black nails, trim a little at a time until you see a circle appear on the trimmings.

    Reply
    1. Dave Gillaspie Post author

      Yes! Big dogs are definitely a two-person job when they’re young. Now that Lucy is used to it I can do them by myself. Great Dane nails are so hard that clippers are very hard to use. That’s why I prefer using the Dremel tool. You’re on the right track by trimming until you see the ring appear. Glad you enjoyed the article. Come back anytime and let me know if there’s a topic you’d find interesting.  Glad to help.

      Reply
  13. T-Rx

    Wow, these are all great tips. Especially, the first one. I have a cat that needs constant trimming and he’s just like any other animal when it comes to nail clipping. He used to not want any part of it. So, we would do it as seldom as possible. One day I started gently caressing his limbs and paws like a quick massage for a few seconds at a time. Each day I’d do that until he let me do it for a few minutes until he would get comfortable and extend them out. Then we could use the scissor-style clippers and they work wonders. Obviously, he got some treats afterward too.

    Anyway, I’ve only ever had small dogs whose nails didn’t seem to need to be clipped too often, maybe, once a month to every six weeks. Do you know if there’s any major difference in how quickly they grow and is it based on their size?

    Reply
    1. Dave Gillaspie Post author

      Yes, easing into it is a good strategy for any animal, it help you build trust and as you mentioned treats accompanied by sweet talk will get you a long way. I don’t believe nail growth differs based on size. A good rule of thumb (for a dog) is if the nails hit the floor they are too long. If you can hear them clicking when they walk on a hard floor – it’s time.

      Reply
  14. David Nelly

    A very informative article that gives a sense of always having the correct products on hand to be prepared for anything, I like it! Definitely, something I will have to be prepared for in my older years once I can finally afford a house and to be able to own dogs. I will remember to have kwik stop on hand because I very much lack experience clipping dog nails.

    Reply
    1. Dave Gillaspie Post author

      Dave – It’s always a good idea to be prepared. No matter how careful you are it is likely to happen.  I hope you can get a dog soon. My house wouldn’t be a home without Lucy there to welcome me back every time.

      Reply
  15. Mike Ramsay

    I almost can’t believe I’m having to seek some guidance on this but I need to!

    We are currently rearing our very last Great Dane Puppy, Daisy, a beautiful blue. She absolutely digs her feet in, quite literally, and will not let me anywhere near her feet with clippers or a Dremel.

    She is our 24th Dane in over 51 years. I started all those years ago with ordinary clippers but while able to get their nails trimmed always found it a challenge. Then a chiropodist/podiatrist we knew, who also showed Danes back then, suggested a Dremel. This was almost instantly a lot easier, against my expectations.

    Over the years we also had two American Cockers and two Basenjis. The Cockers were easy but the Basenjis fought tooth and nail and in the end had to be muzzled and held under the arm like bagpipes, but it got the job done! At one stage I had 100 nails to trim which included some dewclaws or as I described it at the time a ton of nails.

    So I kind of know what I’m doing. I managed to cope with Poppy, a fawn bitch, who screamed the whole time, while letting me do it without trying to stop me and Indy, a lovely, kind, quiet brindle bitch who hated it and tucked each front foot under her as I went to trim it but, again, it always got done.

    And now for Daisy. She is the softest most adorable and affectionate dog but absolutely refuses to let me near her nails, becoming apparently quite aggressive if I persist too long. Naturally I won’t persist at any cost and have used all the techniques you have described, feeling quite triumphant if I get one or two nails done on each foot! But right now, at 5 months old she is becoming more resistant to clippers or the magnificent new rechargeable Dremel I recently bought and I agree that I will always prefer that to clippers. But at first when she was terrified of the Dremel, even with cotton wool in her ears, at three months I had to resort to clippers and, you guessed it, cut one or two, confirming her distrust of the whole process.

    In the light of all this I wanted to say how totally I agree with all the advice you have given and not being one to give up will continue to apply the principles you’ve set out. So what’s different? What have I learned from your advice.? I can only say that I have concluded I must start afresh, discarding any idea I automatically know what I’m doing and slow everything down and be very patient with her.
    By way of encouragement, I have succeeded in training her at meal times to go into the next room and ‘fetch mummy’ who follows her back to get her to sit and then give her the food I’ve prepared – amazing!

    Any further input or insight you can offer will be gratefully seized upon!

    Mike and Jenny Ramsay (UK)

    Reply
    1. Dave Gillaspie Post author

      Mike and Jenny,
      I truly apologize for the delay in responding to your post. Thanks for sharing your story. Wow! You clearly have more experience in this area than I do with 24 Danes under your belt. It is amazing how each dog has such a unique personality.
      The older my Lucy gets, the more difficult it has become to do her nails. She doesn’t fight (she’s too old for that now) but she runs away making me track her down adding to the frustration of a job no one enjoys. In light of this I’ve started only doing one or two nails at a time to reduce the stress on her at any given time. I keep the Dremel by the back door where I let her out and grab it when we go out. After she’s done her business I try to do a nail or two giving her lots of praise when we’re done and some time to roam around the yard to “recover.”
      Hope this helps. Let me know how it goes.

      Dave

      Reply
      1. Mike Ramsay

        Hi Dave
        Sorry, only just seen your reply. Daisy is now 9 months old and it’s still almost impossible to get near her nails which are definitely too long and are now a high priority for us. Your ‘little and often’ suggestion is one we will definitely try as she is worth the effort. Your final comment about going back to a similar approach with Lucy gives me renewed hope we will get there. If we do we will definitely let you know. Keep up the great work!
        Mike & Jenny

        Reply
        1. Dave Gillaspie Post author

          Mike & Jenny,
          How is Daisy doing with nail trimming? Lucy is 9 1/2 years old now getting into her twilight. We are planning on getting a new puppy next summer and will start the process all over. They are a lot of work, but as you said, “They are worth it!”

          Reply

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