How to Dremel Dog Nails

by Miles & Emma

Dremeling dog nails is a fantastic alternative to the traditional method of clipping dog nails. It is not surprising that many dogs react badly to nail clipping. Even if you do not cut painfully into the quick, the motion of clipping still pinches the sensitive nerves within the nail. Dremeling is a great way to maintain healthy nails, and to lessen stress for everyone involved. You don’t have to be a professional to do a good job, but, there are some important steps involved in properly Dremeling nails.

Essential Tools

  • Variable Speed Dremel: I recommend against using a single speed model, which may spin too fast. Beyond it being a Dremel and a variable speed one, the only other choice is cordless or corded. If you have poor arm/hand strength, go corded. Otherwise, I personally prefer cordless. Cordless Dremels are heavier, but, they are also less disruptive to the dog – whereas corded models do not require charging, and are lighter to handle.
  • Sanding Drums: 1/2” diameter, Fine 120 Grit, Dremel #432. The fine grit provides maximum control when sanding, and prevents flaking of the nail in between sandings.

Optional (but useful) Tools

  • Dremel Ez-Drum Mandrel, Dremel #EZ407SA. This inexpensive part makes routine Dremeling so much easier. This tool (shown below) allows you to swap out dull sanding bands in seconds. It doesn’t come with the Dremel kit, but almost all hardware stores carry it in the rotary tool / Dremel section.
  • Safety Glasses, to keep nail dust out of your eyes.
  • If you have asthma, you might also want to wear a respirator or dust mask.

Preparing & Positioning 

You can practice putting your dog in “Dremeling” position for short periods of time, treating often, long before you introduce the Dremel tool. Doing so is a great idea to make the eventual experience relaxing, familiar, and positive. After many practice sessions positioning your dog, treating her, and sitting for a minute or two, you can then eventually begin introduce the Dremel, without using it, to familiarize your dog to the sound of the tool. Taking it slow will pay off!

For a medium or small dog, I recommend that you place the dog belly up on your lap.  A large dog can be laid gently on his or her side on the floor in front of you. Talk to the dog in a soft voice and allow them to relax. Once either size of dog is used to this process, you may also choose to have them up on a grooming table.

Miles is a dog that absolutely cannot stand having his nails clipped (I cannot emphasize how passionately he hates nail clipping – no amount of food or training could convince him to tolerate nail clipping), but, he is completely content to relax and take a nap while I Dremel his nails. This is because I introduced the tool slowly, and because I use it properly.

Safely Sanding

Turn your Dremel on, and set it to a low speed. Start out at a very slow speed. When you are experienced, you’ll be using a slow/slow-medium speed. Hold up one paw, select a nail, and push any stray fur away from it. (People whose dogs are very furry often recommend pushing the paw through a nylon stocking prior to Dremeling). While supporting the nail between your fingers, touch the sander against the nail, and then retreat. Never leave the sander touching a single spot on a nail for more than a second, and never apply any pressure.The goal is to smooth little sections off, while never putting enough friction on the nail to generate any heat. That is why using a Dremel that has variable speeds is very handy for the safety and comfort of the dog, because the slower the speed, the longer it takes to build friction, and the more control you have over ensuring the process never creates any heat, or sands the nail down too fast. As long as you never put pressure, and you gently and briefly smooth the sander along the nail, and never remain in one spot more than a second or two, you will do just fine. The best way to Dremel nails is to focus on one paw at a time, rotating between all of its toes.

Goals While Dremeling

Aim to smooth the nails, and focus on creating nicely flattened rounded ends. After creating a nice smooth flat surface at the end of the nail, I suggest that you also gently take away the thin flaky layer that runs along the bottom of each nail. You can do this by quickly rotating the Dremel around the nail in one or two swipes. Doing so will prevent any flaking or cracking of the nails.

When to Stop Dremeling

Over time you will learn exactly when to stop sanding. A sure indicator of when to stop is when you begin to see a little white dot in the center of the tip of the nail. Also, the tip of the nail will start seeming a bit softer and moister – and less dry and flaky. That is because you are entering the “living” part of the nail. That little white dot is the beginning of the quick. The first time, don’t do too much. You can always try again in a few days. If you don’t see a little white dot, but you get too close to the quick, your dog will lightly flinch. Stop sanding if your dog shows sensitivity, as this is an even clearer indication that the nail is finished.

Finishing The NailsWhen you are finished Dremeling all of your dog’s nails (bottom left), the final step is to rub a thin layer of olive oil over each nail. Doing this moisturizes, and most importantly, seals the nail. Applying a little bit of olive oil prevents the nails from absorbing nasty stuff outside, and from drying out and chipping as it grows back before your next Dremeling session.

Advantages of Dremeling Dog Nails,
& How Often to You Should Dremel
One great advantage of Dremeling your dog’s nails is that if you introduce the process slowly and positively, the likelihood that your dog won’t mind it is much greater than the alternative of nail clipping. Being able to trim your dog’s nails yourself doesn’t just save time and money, it also can ensure that your dog will get his nails trimmed often enough.
Over time, not trimming dog nails often enough can lead to all sorts of health problems. Every single part of your dog’s body depends on, and is affected by his feet. Nails that aren’t clipped often enough will to grow longer quicks over time. This means, if your dog goes for periods where his nails are on the medium/longer side, the live part of the nail will also longer, and that is the part that you cannot cut. Therefore, every time a dog whose nails aren’t trimmed often enough are trimmed, they will be longer than they were the previous trimming.
For most dogs, Dremeling once a week is a good schedule of how often to trim. With that said, how often you Dremel really depends on how fast your dog’s nails grow, and how often she is running around on rough surfaces, which also can aid in wearing down the nails. For this reason, avoid Dremeling your dog’s nails right before strenuous activity. The soft part of the nail can be a bit delicate for the first few hours after Dremeling.
Additionally, say you’ve just discovered Dremeling, and your dog has a longer quick area than he should. I have found that if you Dremel on a schedule of around every 3-4 days, you can actually trick the quick into retreating over time. With this sort of frequent trimming, you will need to be diligent, careful not to ever trim too far (but to make sure to trim close enough), and to trim every 3-4 days on a strict schedule. Once the nails have reached the desired length, you can go back to regular maintenance (weekly) trimming.
Article Overview
  • Practice positioning your dog for Dremeling in short sessions, treating often, before ever introducing the Dremel. Then, practice having your dog in position, and having the Dremel on, without actually Dremeling. Do several of these sessions until your dog is relaxed before introducing actual Dremeling.
  • Use a fine grit (120) of sanding band, buy a variable speed Dremel, and when using, set it on slow or slow/medium.
  • Touch the Dremel to the nail to sand for a second, retreat, touch again, repeat.
  • Never put pressure on the nail when sanding
  • Never leave the sander on the nail for more than a second at a time
  • Dremel on a schedule to maintain healthy nails (typically, once a week is recommended).
  • Rub nails with a thin layer of olive oil after each Dremeling session to seal them.