Clipping vs Grinding: The Debate

by Ally Portegys

Great debates have waged throughout time, sometimes leading to wars and sometimes just a bit of friendly rivalry between sides.  Think Holden vs Ford,  Aussies vs Kiwis, toilet paper from under the roll vs toilet paper from over the roll…don’t get me started on that last one!

Now we have clipping vs grinding.  I’m not here to take sides, really just to tell my side of the story.

I am a groomer, yes, but I am also a self-professed phobic when it comes to clipping black dog nails!  Most groomers seem to fall into two categories, those who are really confident at nail clipping and those who cringe at the thought of tackling those black nails and possibly causing a bleed.

I admit taking the path of least resistance….my own resistance….and right from the start of my dog grooming journey I have ‘dremelled’ the majority of my doggie client’s nails, whether they be a big dog or a tiny Chihuahua (of course the type of grinder I use differs for those little ankle biters J).

In my opinion, the pros far exceed the cons, but it is personal preference after all. 

Firstly, the Pros and Cons of clipping a dog’s nails…


  • It’s quick – clipping a dog’s nailsis over in the blink of any eye, whereas grinding them down is a bit of a process.
  • It’s quiet – compared to the constant buzzing sound nail grinders make, any type of traditional dog nail clipper is going to be quiet.  Certain dogs are easily frightened and don’t react well to the sound of a grinder.
  • Inexpensive - doggy nail clippers generally cost less than any tools you will find for grinding a dog’s nails.


  • Can easily cut through the quick – it’s all too easy to misjudge by a fraction (and a fraction is all it needs) or for the dog to move their paw at the last second. Next thing you know, you’re reaching for the styptic powder, again.  While styptic powder is effective in stopping the bleeding when you cut into the quick, it can often be difficult to regain a dog’s trust when it comes to using nail clippers again.
  • Pinching –traditional dog nail clippers can squeeze and pinch a dog’s quick, causing pain even when you don’t actually cut into the quick.  This in turn can make the dog apprehensive and fidgety during the clipping process.
  • Nail bits everywhere – the bits of dog nail do tend to travel a bit when they’re cut – don’t have a glass of water anywhere in flick range J!
  • Nail damage – like humans, some dogs have nails that are prone to breaking, splitting, and cracking, and using clippers on these types of nails can make the damage worse.

 Now for the Pros and Cons of grinding a dog’s nails…


  • Works on thick nails – dog nail grinders are super handy for dogs with thicker nails which can be difficult to clip with traditional clippers (especially if using hobby tool type grinders). I don’t know about you, but I have some big dogs with such thick nails that I can’t even close the clippers around them.
  • Works on dark nails–dark coloured nails make it difficult to gauge where the nail ends and the quick begins. Using a grinder on black nails dramatically decreases the odds of getting too close to the quick and causing the dog pain.
  • Good for dogs that are scaredy cats – if a dog has had a bad experience with nail clippers in the past and the dog has decided they are done with that squeezing feeling, then grinders offer a second approach to shortening the length of the dog’s nails. The dog will often give you another chance as a grinder feels totally different from the clipper.
  • No sharp edges – Being able to round a dog’s nails as you shorten them makes sure they are smooth.  Clippers can leave behind a sharp nail that can snag cloth and carpet and scratch if they jump up.


  • Noise –dog nail grinders do make a sound and dogs that are irritated by sounds may be irritated by a grinder.
  • Feels different to a clipper – some dogs will need time to get used to the ‘feeling’ of the grinder on their nails.
  • Smelly dust – there is a dust created when you use the sanding bit of a rotary tool on a dog’s nails.  It smells a bit.  Wearing eye protection and a mask are suggested if you are a groomer – no different to protecting your lungs when you are drying a dog.
  • Heat– pet nail grinders are rotary tools. These little power tools can generate some heat if you leave them on one spot for too long.  Please don’t just hold it against the dog’s nail until the nail is the right length, you should grind in passes, ie grind, lift off, grind, lift off, to avoid the heat caused by friction.
  • Safety – always ensure the dog’s fur is away from the rotary end….and your own hair is tied back. If you have an inquisitive dog on the table…please don’t let them sniff the grinder while it’s working.


I have found that most dogs seem more accepting of having their nails ground down rather than clipped, especially if they have had a less than desirable experience previously with clippers, pain and blood!

Ultimately, the choice is a personal one and either way you’ve got to be comfortable with your decision.  There’s no point continuing with a method that makes you feel uneasy as the dog will sense your fear and likely play up more.

Yes, they are noisy but I have found no difficulty in conditioning my clients to tolerating the process, especially when treats or praise is involved…nail…treat….nail…treat…you get the idea J

Please feel free to email me on if you would like any questions answered.  I am always happy to chat.