Cutting your dog's claws has benefits both for you and for your dog. Long claws can cause pain when walking, become jagged and catch on things, become ingrown and cut the pad of the foot, and even cause the foot to become misshapen or malformed.
From your point of view the longer the claw the deeper the scratches on your furniture, so cutting dogs' claws is really win/win!
When to cut your dog's claws
Cutting dogs' claws regularly is one of your responsibilities as a dog owner, so to make it as painless as possible it's a good idea to get your dog used to having his claws handled from an early age. Make touching and squeezing his paws a part of playtime, and use the opportunity to check for overgrown or split nails as well as anything that could become stuck in the pad and cause trouble later.
Rewarding him for letting you inspect his paws will get your dog used to the process, and make it easier when it is time for cut your dogs claws.
An active dog that spends most of his time on hard surfaces may need little to no help keeping his claws at the correct length, but it's worth checking regularly anyway.
A good rule of thumb to use if you're unsure what constitutes "overgrown" is the sound your dog's claws make on the ground. The correct answer is "none", hearing the clip-clopping of claws on the floor when your dog is walking normally means it's time for a trim.
Dew claws will also need to be trimmed. These are the small claws further up the leg and tend to curl in on themselves since they aren't naturally worn down.
How much is safe to cut?
Inside your dog's nails is something called "the quick", which is where the blood vessels and nerves are located. Your goal is to trim the outer cover of the nail while steering clear of the quick. If the nails are light in color you may be able to see the dark line of the quick inside them, but often it will be pretty much invisible.
If you're unable to see where the quick begins, be very careful and trim off small amounts of nail instead of one large chunk. You should soon start to see a dark circle in the middle of the nail, and this is the start of the quick. If his claws are particularly long you may want to trim to the start of the quick, leave it to recede slightly, then cut some more at a later date.
What happens if I cut the quick while cutting dogs' claws?
If you accidentally cut into the quick, which will probably happen at some point, don't panic. Your dog will yelp with the pain, which can be upsetting, and the nail could bleed quite a lot. The bleeding should only last for 5 minutes or so as long as you don't let your dog lick his nail, and the dog should forgive you pretty soon after it stops. Give him a big hug to say sorry!
How to make the cut
This depends to an extent on which tool you purchase, since there are many different types of clipper and grinder out there for cutting dog's claws. Be sure you read the instructions thoroughly before attempting anything on your poor dog!
Depending on size and "wriggliness" of your dog you might need a second person to help hold him still. Try to soothe him and calm him down before making any cuts since the last thing you need is for him to move his paw at the last second and cause you to cut off more than intended.
As soon as you get a window of opportunity and your dog is sitting still, make a quick clean cut all in one go. Be sure to have some treats on hand to cheer him up for being so well behaved!
This sounds too difficult
By far the hardest parts of cutting dogs' claws are getting your dog to sit still (unless you're blessed with an angel in dog form) and plucking up the courage to do it for the first time. The actual cutting is the easy part.
If you're uncomfortable taking the plunge, your vet will be able to cut your dog's claws for you. You could also ask them for tips on how best to approach it at home which may help you to feel more confident.
Cutting your dog's claws regularly will help to prevent a lot of different health problems and is something every caring dog owner should be prepared either to do or to pay for. Your dog will be happier and healthier and there is less chance of ripped up bedding and furniture. Depending on how "affectionate" a dog you have, it could result in less painful (love) scratches for you too which is never a bad thing.
Yes, those are my sleepy Jack Russell puppies in the photo up top. Kat (right) and Sparrow (left), my babies!