How to Restrain a Dog to Clip its Nails

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Frequently I am asked about nail trimming, but for the first time, I was asked how to restrain a dog to clip its nails.

My initial reaction was to ask questions about their dog and why they needed to restrain their dog to clip its nails.

As my dogs get older, I have needed a second pair of hands to distract or hold the dog, but not restrain.

My personal experience with restraining is that it can cause your dog to react more than if you just distract them with a treat or chew.

However, I am also not so foolish to think that all dogs can have their nails clipped safely without being restrained.

Some dogs display fear aggression and snap or even bite their owners when the nail trimmers come out.

Some dogs even need to be sedated to cut their nails.

It’s also vital to point out that restraining a dog is not cruel, nor does it hurt them when done correctly. And securing your dog can be necessary, especially if the dog is hurt or at the vet.

So, even if your dog doesn’t need to be restrained for their nails to be cut, it is a good training opportunity in case it is ever required.

Related: Dog Nail Discoloration Guide – Dog’s Nails Turning Black, Brown, or Red? What Does it Mean?

How to Restrain a Dog to Cut His Nails

If you need to restrain your dog because they are too wiggly, it is best to have two sets of hands available to get the job done.

If your dog is fearful or even unsure about getting its nails trimmed, you may also want to work on desensitizing your dog to having their nails cut.

If your dog is aggressive and muzzle trained, you will want to muzzle your dog before starting.

If your dog is not muzzle trained, it would be an excellent place to start, and in the meantime, ask your vet office to clip your dog’s nails until you can safely do it at home.

There are several safe ways to restrain your dog so you can comfortably clip your dog’s nails; below, I have listed the top three easiest options.

However, it needs to be noted that your dog’s size and strength matter, so not all methods will work for all dogs and their owners.

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Some dogs may react poorly to restraining methods[1], so you may need to try different ways to see which works best for the two of you.

Also, some dogs will require desensitizing to being restrained, which is understandable.

Related: How to Grind Your Dog’s Nails with a Dremel

The Burrito

The Burrito method works well for small to small to medium-sized dogs.

Also, it is an excellent method if you are clipping your dog’s nails solo.

What you will need:

  • Nail Clipping Tools
  • Large Towel or Light Weight Blanket

The blanket or towel needs to be big enough to wrap around your dog tightly. However, using a blanket or towel that is too thick will not allow you to get a good fit.

Step One: Lay the towel or blanket on the ground or your lap, depending on your dog’s size.

Step Two: Place your dog on their back or side on the blanket.

Step Three: Wrap your pup up tightly as if swaddling a baby, leaving only their front paws and head sticking out of the top. Be sure to tuck the end of the blanket under your dog to keep the wrap in place.

Step Four: Clip your dog’s nails, starting with the front paws.

Step Five: Unravel the bottom of the burrito to trim your dog’s hind paws.

Remember to praise your dog while going through the process, but do so in a calm, confident manner; you don’t want to get your dog excited and wiggly.

Side Restraint

This restraint can be a bit more uncomfortable for your dog but is not painful.

This method works well for larger dogs that can not use the burrito method[2].

The side restraint method works best with two people but can be managed with just one person.

What you will need:

  • Nail Clipping Tools

Step One: Call your dog over to you and ask them to lay down.

Step Two: Coax your dog to their side, with their legs pointing away from you.

Step Three: Gently but firmly rest your forearm, just before the elbow, along their neck at the base of their head. You will need just enough pressure so they cannot lift their head, but not so much that you are hurting or choking them.

Step Four: With the arm that is resting on their neck, grab both of their front paws.

Step Five: With your other arm, rest your forearm just before the elbow over their hips to prevent them from rolling over.

Step Six: Using the arm that is holding the hips, grab their hind legs.

If you are working on this alone, you will want all of your nail clipping gear sitting in between their front and back legs when laying on the floor. If you are alone you will only be holding one to two paws at a time.

If your dog is aggressive be sure to securely muzzle your dog first.

Grooming Hammock

A grooming hammock will work for dogs that are small to medium in size[3].

There are larger grooming hammocks available for bigger breeds, but you definitely need two people to get them hooked in.

What you will need:

Step One: Set up your grooming table with the arm in place

Step Two: Lay the hammock out on the table so that when you lift your dog onto the table, you can place their feet into the holes,

Step Three: Place your dog standing on the hammock and put each of your dog’s feet in the holes, then lift the fabric so that it around them like a vest,

Step Four: Gather all four tabs into one hand and lift your dog to connect the hammock on the grooming arm.

Step Five: Clip your dog’s nails.

When lifting your dog in their hammock, they do not need to be high above the table. In fact, just a couple of inches is best. You just don’t want their feet to be able to touch the table.

Related: The Best Dog Nail Grinders on the Market

Things to Remember When Clipping Your Dog’s Nails

There are a few things to keep in mind when clipping your dog’s nails:

  • Keep things positive. Bring treats, chews, or canned food to make the task more enjoyable.
  • Work your way towards clipping their nails without restraint – Neither you nor your dog loves going through the restraining process. Plus, it’s so much easier if you can do it with treats instead.
  • If your dog is getting stressed, stop the process, you do not want to make their nail trimming experience worse.
  • If you are not comfortable clipping your dog’s nails or don’t know how to, learn this step first. Otherwise, nail trims can become a real disaster for both of you.
  • Always keep a blood stop product nearby. Even the most experienced groomers can make mistakes (See: How to Stop a Dog’s Nail from Bleeding).
  • Try and trim your dog’s nails after they are tired, maybe after a day at daycare or take them for a walk first – I often do Mira’s after a run.

Related: Trimming Your Dog’s Nails: Clipping Vs Grinding


Restraining a dog to clip their nails was a very common practice for years.

It wasn’t until more recently that people found that some dogs do just fine, if not better, without it.

If you need to restrain your dog, you are not alone. However, be sure you take proper precautions to ensure your and your dog’s safety.

Also, restraining your dog can still be made into a positive training experience with the proper tone and treats.

And if you are unsure how to confidently and safely restrain your dog, ask a groomer or vet office for assistance.

They will be more than happy to demonstrate.


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