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.

10 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

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