We all know that keeping our dog’s nails well-trimmed is essential, not just for our dogs, but for us and our furniture too! Besides, those scratches can be immensely painful! But if you walk your dog regularly, you may be wondering whether the physical act of trimming is still actually required. Is walking enough to do the job – on its own? Well, here is everything you are going to want to know.
So, does walking your dog trim their nails? Walking your dog is usually not enough on its own to keep their nails at the correct length. Unless your dog is taking very long walks every day on hard surfaces that act like a nail file, you’ll most likely need to trim your dog’s nails a couple of times each month.
It certainly helps, but of course, it does depend a lot on the terrain.
And chances are, you are not walking your dog enough to keep their nails at the optimal length.
Besides, in some breeds, they shouldn’t be walked for too long – it does them harm.
So with this all in mind, let us continue to explore nail trimming in dogs and how to best keep them at an optimal length – with and without walking.
Do Dogs Trim Their Own Nails?
Wild dogs and wolves trim their own nails because of the range of activities that they engage in that require the use of their nails. Domestic dogs, however, usually don’t have daily habits that naturally keep their claws short.
How Your Dog’s Nails Grow
Your dog’s nails are constantly growing. Like our nails, your dog’s nails are made of keratin: a protein made of dead cells.
However, unlike humans, dogs have nerves and blood vessels that grow inside their nails (the quick). The longer their nails grow, the longer the quick becomes.
Your dog’s nails are thus constantly in need of a trim.
Wild Dogs Vs. Domestic Dogs
In the wild, dogs wear down their nails naturally as they scratch, run, and hunt.
Wild dogs and wolves run on hard surfaces like rocks, rough terrain, logs, and other areas, which will slowly and continuously wear down their claws to keep them trimmed.
Wild dogs also engage in far more digging than their domestic counterparts. Wolves and wild dogs will dig to build burrows where they can have their pups and protect them while they’re small.
Burrows also protect these animals from inclement weather as well as predators.
As part of investigating their surroundings, wild dogs will scratch the ground, trees, logs, and other things in their environment.
In doing so, sometimes they scare small rodents like mice that run out from their hiding places and become a quick meal.
Our domestic dogs spend much of their time indoors, and when they do run, they often run on soft surfaces such as carpeting or grass.
Running on grass may be fun for your dog and very worthwhile as part of his exploration and enjoyment of the world, but it won’t trim his nails.
And unless you have the space for your dog to dig every day in the forest, on a mountainside, or on other rough terrains, your dog is unlikely to do the same amount of digging and other forms of exploration as wild dogs.
Do You Still Need To Trim A Dog’s Nails With Regular Walking?
Even if you take your dog for a walk on a regular basis, you still need to trim his nails, as they are growing all the time. Yes, you can walk your dog on hard surfaces (such as sidewalks) to help shorten his nails, but it’s no substitute for regular trimming. Then there are dewclaws, which you must trim for your dog.
Regular Trimming Helps Your Dog Walk In Comfort
If your dog’s nails get too long, it can lead to many problems (see below). Trimming your dog’s nails in addition to regular walking can help him stay comfortable.
Dewclaws Can’t Be Trimmed by Walking
Dewclaws are additional claws that are found on the inside of many dogs’ legs (not all). Some dogs have dewclaws only on their front two legs.
Other dogs have dewclaws on all four legs. And other dogs have dewclaws only on their rear legs.
There are even some dogs who have two dewclaws per rear leg.
For some dogs, dewclaws are only connected to their legs by loose skin: therefore, they are easily ripped or torn off.
Because dewclaws don’t touch the ground, they don’t get worn down, no matter how much you walk your dog.
Dewclaws usually require more frequent trimming than your dog’s other claws.
How To Best Keep Your Dog’s Nails At An Optimal Length
Regular trimming is best to keep your dog’s nails at an optimal length. Many of us are afraid we’ll do it incorrectly, but there are several ways of keeping your dog’s nails nicely trimmed.
Do It Yourself
Although many people are afraid to trim their dog’s nails, you can learn to do this yourself. You’ll first want to learn how to spot the quick.
How To Spot The Quick
The quick is a portion of blood vessels and nerves that runs along the center of each of your dog’s claws.
You’ll want to avoid the quick when trimming your dog’s claws because otherwise, you can cause him pain (and bleeding).
If your dog’s claws are light in color, you’ll be able to spot the quick: you’ll see a pink band in the middle of the nail.
If your dog has dark claws, you won’t be able to spot the quick: you’ll have to very carefully trim your dog’s nail bit by bit.
Only clip off a very small amount of nail at a time – at some point, you’ll be able to see a black spot in the center of your dog’s claw.
That’s when you know when to stop before cutting into the quick.
How To Trim Your Dog’s Nails
There are many different tools for trimming your dog’s nails, such as:
- Guillotine trimmers
- Plier-style trimmers
- Grinders (like LuckyTail)
- Nail clippers
- Nail scissors
If you don’t know how to trim your dog’s nails, the best place for advice is at your vet’s or with an experienced dog groomer.
You may be able to get someone experienced to show you how to do it.
If your dog doesn’t like having his paws touched (many dogs don’t), you can try getting your dog used to it in stages.
Don’t progress too quickly – one stage at a time is the best way, and take things at your dog’s pace.
Here are the stages:
- Start by gently touching his paws, perhaps offering a treat if he lets you do this. Once he is used to you touching his paws, proceed to the next stage.
- Get him used to seeing the clippers (or your chosen tool). Let him smell them.
- Once he is fine at the previous stage, touch his paws with the clippers. Don’t clip his nails yet – let him see that the clippers are not something to be feared.
- If your dog is now used to the clippers touching his paw, gently clip one nail, then stop for the day.
- On the following day, clip the next nail. Do this once a day until you’ve clipped all his nails.
- The next time, try clipping one paw per day.
- The time after that, try two paws per day if your dog allows it.
Note: If your dog becomes stressed at any stage, stop and go back to the previous stage. If you are really struggling, seek advice from your vet. It’s a bit easier if you have a puppy, as you can handle his paws and trim his claws from a young age so that he is used to it.
If your dog has hairy paws, consider keeping the hair well-trimmed so that you are able to see when your dog’s nails are getting too long.
Consult A Professional
Sometimes it’s easiest to get your dog’s nails trimmed professionally.
If your dog doesn’t enjoy having his paws touched, or if he finds nail trimming highly stressful, you may not want to aggravate him further by the process taking longer than it needs to.
Some owners have dogs who are happy to have their nails trimmed, but they’re worried they might cut into the quick (the blood supply that you can see along the middle of your dog’s claws).
Other Things To Bear In Mind When Trimming Your Dog’s Nails
- Long claws have a long quick. If your dog’s nails have not been trimmed for a long time, the quick will have lengthened. You will have to shorten the claws a little bit at a time, clipping them regularly (once a week) to make sure the quick is moving back. This may take months, but it’s essential for your dog so that he’s comfortable – especially if his claws were too long.
- Once your dog’s nails are trimmed, exercising on hard surfaces helps dull them a bit. While exercise is no substitute for trimming your dog’s claws, it definitely helps to give your dog regular walks and runs on hard surfaces.
- If you cut the quick, don’t panic. Your dog will only pick up on your panic and become even more distressed. Do what you need to reassure your dog (using treats, for instance) while you apply styptic powder to help control the bleeding. If your dog is otherwise healthy, he should be fine.
How Often To Have Your Dog’s Nails Trimmed
Whether you do it yourself or you bring your dog to a professional, there’s no one rule for how often to trim your dog’s nails.
Every dog is different, and there is some variation between dog breeds as to how long their nails should be.
As a general rule, when your dog is standing on a flat surface, check where his claws are. If they are touching the ground, they’re too long.
Can you hear your dog’s nails clicking as he walks on a hard floor? If so, they are probably in need of a trim.
Depending on how active your dog is and the types of surfaces he usually walks on, you’ll need to get his nails trimmed once or twice a month.
Ideally, you’ll want to get into a routine: for example, the first Saturday of the month.
Why You Need To Keep Your Dog’s Nails Trimmed
It’s essential to keep your dog’s nails trimmed because too-long nails can inhibit your dog’s ability to walk, long nails can get torn off by accident, and they can ruin your floors.
If your dog’s claws are long, they are more likely to tear, break, split, or chip. Damaged claws can be very painful and can require veterinary treatment.
If your dog is experiencing pain because of a broken or too-long claw, he may start putting pressure on other parts of his paw, making him move differently.
Therefore, he can become more susceptible to joint injuries: this is especially true for older dogs who may already be experiencing some joint pain as they get older.
Your dog’s posture will also be affected if he starts walking differently to compensate for the pain.
In very extreme cases, a dog’s nails can grow so long that they curl over and start digging into their paw pads!
Longer Nails Can Get Torn Off
If your dog’s nails are too long, they risk being torn off by accident: imagine your dog’s nail gets stuck in a piece of furniture or on the carpet.
You might have a dog that’s seriously injured and will need immediate veterinary care.
Not only would this be very painful for your dog (imagine one of your nails being torn off), but it could be an expensive visit to the vet.
Ruining Your Floors
While this is not the most important consideration for your dog’s well-being, not trimming your dog’s nails can ruin your flooring with scratches and scuffs.
And certain types of flooring can be very expensive to replace.
Continue walking your dog by all means.
It’s essential for their health and wellbeing – and likely yours too.
And while your dog will get a small and minor nail trim out of it, just remember it’s likely not going to be enough.
So do get to grips with the anatomy of your dog’s nails and learn how to use nail trimmers properly.
You’re going to need to. Or at least, you’ll need to find a professional who does.
Other dog walking guides you may want to read:
- What Temperature Is Too Hot For Dogs To Walk? [By & Large]
- Can I Walk My Dog 30 Minutes After Eating?
- Why Does My Puppy Cry On Walks? [And How To Help Them Stop]
I am an experienced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets, from traditional pets like dogs and cats, to the more exotic like reptiles and rodents. I currently own a Cockapoo (pictured) called Bailey. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site dedicated to sharing evidence-based insights and guidance, based on my vast pet ownership knowledge, experience, and extensive research.