How to Use Guillotine Dog Nail Clippers

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Having three dogs and a cat means 16 paws of nail trimming.

So, it’s not just a chore in our house, it’s an event!

Thankfully, all of our wee ones are good about getting their nails trimmed and only need minor distractions with treats.

However, I haven’t always been so lucky.

I have had my share of wrestling matches with dogs trying to trim nails and, speaking from experience, that is no fun at all.

This coming weekend my mom’s dog Gussie will be staying with us, and my mom asked if I would clip Gussie’s nails.

My mom isn’t comfortable clipping her nails for a variety of reasons, so I am happy to take care of it for her.

Plus, it was time to cut my dog’s nails too, so really, what’re four more paws?

I have used a variety of nail trimming tools such as Dremels, scissor clippers, and guillotine trimmers. They all work great, and each has its pros and cons.

My personal preference is to use both the plier and guillotine style trimmers.

I have been using the guillotine style for a long time and am very comfortable with how it works and how to change the blade to ensure the nail trims go as smoothly as possible.

What is a Guillotine Nail Clipper?

The guillotine nail clipper has a stationary loop that your dog’s nail sticks through then, as the name implies, a blade comes across and slices through the nail.

The guillotine trimmer has a spring-loaded handle that automatically draws the blade back after you have clipped the nail.

Another unique feature of this nail trimmer is that the blade can be replaced instead of needing to replace the whole clipper.

Guillotine Nail Clipper Pros and Cons

As with most everything, there are positives and negative things to consider regarding the guillotine style nail trimmer.


  • Easier to use for people who have arthritis
  • Can be used on any size dog
  • Replaceable blade
  • Durable


  • Isn’t the best for dewclaws
  • If the blade isn’t sharp, the clipper may tear the nail more than cut it
  • Can be hard to use on super thick nails

As my dogs got older, their nails changed getting thicker, which is why I use both the plier and guillotine styles.

Product Recommendations

Within the guillotine category there are few different styles available:

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This nail trimmer has a plastic frame and an ergonomic handle.

This clipper is an all-metal clipper.

This is the one we use. I like the sturdiness of the metal frame and the comfort and security of the rubber grip.

How Often Should I Cut My Dog’s Nails?

When should I trim my dogs nails how long is too long clack on floor
These nails should be trimmed

The frequency of nail trimming depends on a couple of different factors.

First, some dog’s nails grow extremely fast. Sophie happens to be one of those dogs, so I trim her nails every two weeks.

However, the average dog can usually go about a month between nail trims, especially if they go on frequent walks.

Walking your dog on grittier surfaces such as sidewalks can help keep nails filed down.

The other factor depends on how long your dog’s nails are when you start.

When we first picked Ginger up at the shelter, her nails were so long they had begun to curl under.

When you start with incredibly long nails, you have to do multiple nail trims more frequently since you can only cut a small amount off each time.

Once the nail is at the proper length, you can usually go to a monthly schedule.

Step by Step Instructions on How to Use a Guillotine Nail Clipper

Below is a brief tutorial on nail trimming.

If you are looking for more detailed information, please see our article: How to Cut a Dog’s Nails.

  1. Hold the nail clipper in your dominant hand. The nail trimmer’s handle can either be in an upward or downward position. The orientation of the handle is determined by what feels most comfortable to you.
  2. Place the nail inside the loop so that the blade will cut from back to front and not side to side.
  3. The blade’s edge should be 2 mm in front of the quick to avoid cutting your dog’s nail too short[1]. If you cut below the quick, it is both painful to your dog and will cause the nail to bleed.
  4. Squeeze the handle firmly to cut the nail.

If your dog’s nails are thicker, you may need to make a few smaller cuts so that you are not putting too much force on the nail bed.

Recommendations on How to Trim Dark Nails

If you have the misfortune of cutting dark-colored nails like Ginger’s, then it is imperative you go slowly and only cut small sections at a time.

As you cut the nails, you will want to look directly at the end of the nail where you cut.

Once you see an area in the middle that is slightly lighter (or sometimes darker[2]) in color, you know you have gone far enough.

If you are uncertain how to trim your dog’s nails, contact your local vet or groomer and ask for help.

They will be happy to show you how.

Alternative Nail Clipping Options

Plier Style Nail Trimmer

The name says it all.

They look like a pair of pliers, but instead of the standard top, they have blades for cutting the nails.

These are good for thick nails and dewclaws because it is double-bladed.

I like the feel of these slightly better than the guillotine style because I have smaller hands.

Product Recommendation

Dremel Style

The Dremel is an electric filing tool that grinds down the nail.

This tool is one of those love-hate things.

Some dogs freak out because of the noise and vibrations on their nails, whereas other dogs prefer it to the cutting motion of the traditional nail trimmer.

The nice thing about the Dremel is that it files down the sharp edges so that your dog nails don’t feel like barbed wire when they jump on you after a nail trim.

For more information on the Dremel, see our article that details the use, benefits, and drawbacks of grinding dog nails.

Product Recommendation

Final Thoughts

I don’t feel that one style of nail clipper is any better than any other type.

But some of the different nail trimmers are better for specific situations.

In my opinion, the guillotine clipper is an excellent all-around versatile nail trimmer. It is easy to use and can be used on most nails easily. Plus, you can change the blade quickly and economically.

The number one bit of advice I tell people about cutting their dog’s nails is to be sure that the blade is sharp.

It makes all the difference.

What it truly comes down to is what you are most comfortable using.

If you aren’t confident with the trimmer you use, your dog will sense that and become nervous.

Cutting your dog’s nails can be stressful for both you and your dog, so find the tool that best suits you.


What Should I Do If I Cut My Dog’s Nail Too Short?

If you nick your dog’s nail too short and it starts to bleed, you will want to apply a blood-clotting agent to the nail.

There are a few different kinds of products, such as styptic powder, nick sticks, and home remedies such as corn starch.

To learn more about what to do, check out our article: How To Stop A Dog’s Nails From Bleeding.

I Don’t Feel Comfortable Clipping My Dog’s Nails, Is There Somewhere I Can Bring My Dog to Get Their Nails Clipped?


Vet offices and grooming shops both do nail trims for a nominal fee.

Also, some pet stores and daycare facilities offer this service.

How Long Should My Dog’s Nails Be?

Based on the ASPCA[3], they recommend that your dog’s nails should be just short enough that they are hovering over the ground.

If you hear your dog’s nails click-clacking on the floor, its time to trim them.



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