What Do You Know About Canine Nail Anatomy?
Updated: May 21
In my course ‘Nailed It: A Course in Canine Nail Care‘, it’s all about the paw. Gaining a bit of an understanding about canine nail anatomy can really make a difference in your nail maintenance efforts. Dog paws are complicated little things. They’re made up of lots of little bones and ligaments, in addition to nails that extend away from the body. All of these different components can be sensitive and cause dogs to feel worried when having them touched or handled.
Let’s Talk About Canine Nail Anatomy:
In the course I interview a veterinarian who goes into detail about the anatomy of a dog’s nails, including the most important aspect: the quick. Dog’s nails are made up of layers and these layers protect the quick. The quick is the blood supply that runs through the nail. We always want to be mindful of not hitting the quick, because in a great number of cases, it is the pain that comes with this injury which causes dogs to become fearful and anxious about the whole process. It’s not always the case, (and I’ll talk more about that later) but because it can be so painful, it’s worth it to work hard to avoid hitting the quick. Often (again, not always) the longer the nails are, the longer the quick is, so we really need to start off slow and this is a message I really try to drive home in the course.
Dogs’ nails can grow fast, so keeping up with trimming your dog’s nails is crucial. Once you have reached the desired length, this is easy to do. It can be easier to quick dark nails (because it can be hard to see), very long nails (because you aren’t aware of how close to the tip it is) or if you are using a clipper (because they are very sharp). But, slow and steady will get the job done and this is the approach I take in the course. One false move could undo all of your hard work. Be conservative and mindful, try to ignore the very human impulse to just get the job done as fast as possible. Once you have achieved the ability to handle your dog’s paws and she is comfortable with a particular tool, like a nail file, a Dremel or clippers, you’ll be able to buzz through the job. But when you are just starting out…go…slow.
Dog owners often get hung up on hearing the little click-click-click as their dog walks across a tile or wood floor, thinking that the clicking means the nails are too long. Our veterinary expert says in the course that a better gauge is that the nails should be just off the floor when your dog is standing squarely.
And then there’s another bit of anatomy of something all dogs have: fur or hair! For dogs with longer fur, getting in there to see the nail can be tricky! I love this article about a clever little hack.
Here’s another nice visual to highlight what a paw with nails that are too long versus one where the nails are a nice length:
Now let’s talk about another reason dogs might not want to have their legs or paws restrained. For dogs, or any animal, really, there’s seemingly no good reason to have their leg held! For wild animals, injury to a limb can mean death. And for many dogs, the feeling of restraint very much pushes those buttons. Panic sets in, we don’t let go and push forward with our own agenda. Is it any wonder that for so many dogs the process of trimming their nails gets more and more traumatic? This is why dogs don’t just get used to it, and probably why so many end up in my course!
Remember that your dog, just like you, uses her feet to move through the world, and just like us, maintaining her nails will help her do so comfortably and safely. Building comfort with clipping a dog’s nails, or filing or Dremeling is truly a process that needs to be broken down into little doable steps as outlined in my course. For some dogs, being able to get the process started by using a scratchboard can be super helpful and I was thrilled one of my colleagues did just that. You can read about it here.
Understanding a bit about canine nail anatomy really can change your approach to maintaining your dog’s nails and allow you to do it at home at a pace that is comfortable for you both. This can help you avoid the stress and expense of going to the vet or groomer to have it done. It can also turn something that was formerly stressful, and that maybe you avoided, into a nice bonding activity for you and your dog. I am always over the moon when I read the success stories that my students share in the course and on our website. Mindy is just one example.