Clipping Your Shih Tzu Nails

by Laurie Semple

It is most important that your Shih Tzu’s nails be trimmed regularly. The dog’s overall health can suffer if its nails are neglected. Walking on the nails can cause your Shih Tzu’s toes to spread apart, creating an unnatural way of walking. If you have slippery floors, the dog’s feet will be constantly sliding and its ankles twisting slightly every time it tries to walk. In a show dog, the movement can be disastrously affected, and the damage can be hard to correct. For the companion dog, problems can develop over time as well. At the very least, untrimmed nails can create great discomfort for your dog, especially later in his life. Nails that are too long can also snag and break off, causing profuse bleeding. In extremes case-- especially with dewclaws, which many Shih Tzu have--the nails can curl around and pierce the dog’s pads or soft tissue, creating a painful mess.

Clipping nails is easy to learn and can be mastered with a little practice. Yet many put it off due to a fear of cutting into the quick, thus causing pain and/or bleeding. Actually, when trimming the nails, you are only trimming away the excess. The ability to recognize what is excess and where the nerves and blood vessels are is the key. To help guide you, you may want to look at the illustrations found at even though they deal with a dog of a much larger breed.

TO TRIM YOUR DOG'S NAILS Have your tools prepared: Purchase the best quality pair of nail clippers that you can afford. The most frequently used are the “guillotine” type and the “plier” (sometimes called scissor) type. The former has a little sharp blade that slides up and down and the latter resembles thick scissors or pliers. If you are truly squeamish, you can purchase the plier-type with a built–in guard that prevents you from cutting off more that a small slice at a time, thus calming the fear of cutting into the quick accidentally. Personally, I find this type of clipper annoying to use, but the guard can be used temporarily and then pushed out of the way when you no longer need it. You should also have ready some sterile gauze and some Quik-Stop or a styptic pencil, just in case.

Hold your dog on your lap or have someone hold him on a table. Taking a firm hold of his paw, push down on his pad to extend the nail. Locate where the quick ends. With white nails it is easy to see the pink where the quick ends.

Using your nail clipper, cut below the quick, being sure to remove the finer (sharper) point of the nail. With dark nails, use the amount you cut off the white nails (if there are any) to help you estimate how far to cut, but make several small slices of the nail instead of one big one, until you can see a black dot appear toward the center of the nail when looking at it head on. This spot is the beginning of the quick, which you want to avoid. Simply put, if you always cut off the skinny, pointed part of the nail, which is also the part that usually curves a bit, you will be okay. If by some chance you do accidentally cut the quick, blot the blood and apply Quik-Stop or styptic powder and gentle pressure for a moment to stop the bleeding. It is not serious and will heal in no time.

You may then want to use a doggie nail file, which is slightly curved, to smooth out any rough edges. This is especially important if you have two dogs that play together and paw at each other’s faces. This is also a good time to trim the hair between the pads of your dog’s feet. This excess hair, if not trimmed level with the pads, will also interfere with proper movement. If it grows long enough, it can mat between the pads and become painful.

Nail trimming is more effective if a small amount is taken off weekly, rather than waiting until the nail is really long and trying to take off a large portion. This is because the quick, which grows longer with the nail, will be closer to the surface if trimming is delayed, and will be more likely to bleed during trimming.

When trimmed properly, the dog’s nails should not touch the floor when the dog steps down. However, if they were previously very overgrown, it may take a few weeks to achieve this result.

TEACHING YOUR PUPPY TO ENJOY NAIL TRIMMING It is best to train your Shih Tzu by starting a nail-trimming routine when he is young; the younger the better. If your puppy is not accustomed to having his nails cut, you should start slowly with practice sessions during which you simply restrain the pup gently, talking to him calmly, holding the toes firmly. It can take daily handling for a week or more to reach a point where your pup is tolerating this well. Once you have worked up to 15-30 seconds without squirming or resisting, prepare your nail clippers and Quik-Stop or styptic pencil and some sterile gauze. Now you are ready to actually try clipping one nail at a time. If he behaves for one nail, praise profusely, offer a small treat, and then try a second nail. Continue if the pup will tolerate it. If not, stop on a positive note when the puppy is calm, take a break and try to cut more later. With stubborn puppies, it may take some time. But if you are firm and consistent, nail trimming will eventually become fun part of the grooming process, rather than an unpleasant chore.