The first step is to get some treats, make the whole experience positive and don’t feel like you need to be a hero and trim all the nails at once. Start with one, reward and come back later if you or your pet is nervous. One technique that helps is to hold the handle of the nail trimmers flat against the toe pad and cut straight across the nail, so that the nail will sit just above the ground. This technique makes it extremely unlikely you will cut the nails too short.
To get a shorter cut than the previous method, aim to cut at a 45° angle, after visualising the quick. The quick is the pink area within the nail where the nerves and blood vessels are, similar to the area underneath our nails.
If your dog has black nails, look at the underside of the nail and you will notice that towards the tip the nail separates out into a triangular shape with two outer ‘walls’. At this point, there is no quick and it is safe to cut the tip off. Otherwise use the technique of simply cutting straight across from the pad, rather than attempting to cut up at a 45° angle. Another trick of the trade is to apply gentle pressure with the nail trimmers without actually cutting where you think you need to cut. If your dog reacts to the pressure, most likely you are too close to the quick and you will need to more the clippers further down the nail.
If you accidentally cut the nails too short you can use styptic powder, or simply use a clean bar of soap and run it under the damaged nail. The soap will plug the vessel and stop the bleeding. Usually if you have made your dog bleed, they will be a bit nervous next time, so make sure you have lots of treats at the ready and take it slow.
Older dogs tend to end up with long quicks, elongated nails and often extremely hard nails. Nails can also grow back a bit deformed if there has been some sort of trauma to the nail bed, such as when the dew claw has been caught in something and torn.
Clipping after bathing can help with the hardness issue, as they nails will be softer. Ensuring you just take the tips off the nails or cut them so they sit just above the floor when your dog is standing can help to ensure you don’t cut deformed nails too short.
Alternatively, if you gradually take the tips off, you can often make the quick recede a little over time, but you will need to be patient. So long as your dog’s nails are not touching the ground, getting caught in anything and causing the toes to splay out or bend, there is no need to worry too much about keeping them extremely short.
Whenever you trim your dog’s nails remember to make the whole experience rewarding by having treats at the ready and always take a little bit at a time if you can’t clearly see the quick beneath the nail. And if you have a very patient dog, why not paint those nails!