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Trimming German Shepherd Nails: How Short Should They Be?

From walking to more walking, German Shepherds’ paws do a lot of work. While you can’t get your beloved dog the latest workboots or sneakers to make him comfortable, you can ensure his nail health. For that, you need to know exactly how short your dog’s nails should be.

German Shepherds’ nails should not exceed the pads of the paws. When the nails reach under his paws, the clippers need to come out. Don’t cut within 2 millimeters of the quick (the center of the nail containing the nerves and blood vessels) to prevent bleeding.

However, trimming a German Shepherd’s nails without knowing how to do so can lead to severe injuries and infection because of the blood vessels that run through each toenail. You need to know precisely where to cut, how much to cut, and what to use to trim your GSD’s nails. And that’s exactly what this article will show you.

A GSD's nails. How Short Should German Shepherd's Nails Be?
My German Shepherd’s Nails – Oops! Looks like they need a cut!

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How To Know When Your GSD’s Nails Are Too Long

The key to avoiding nail clipping injuries and injuries that occur because of a dog’s nails growing too long is knowing the right time to cut your GSD’s nails.

German Shepherds aren’t dogs you have in your lap all the time! As a result, you might not get a direct view of your dog’s paws as often as you would with a smaller dog or a puppy. You can use the following indicators to conclude that it is nail clipping time for your German Shepherd.

Your GSD’s Nails Click When He Walks on Hard Surfaces

German Shepherds’ nails are not supposed to be anywhere near the length where they click on the floor. You should check underneath your dog’s paws when you hear clicks on wooden planks, tiles, or other hard surfaces.

This indicator is easier to use for senior dogs as younger German Shepherds find it hard to walk without barking out of excitement. Still, paying attention while your dog is moving from one place to another within your house can help you hear the soft clicks of doom.

Your Dog’s Dew Claw Pokes His Skin 

This requires looking really hard. Dew claws are located at the sides of your dog’s legs, as far from the rest of their toes as your thumb is to the rest of your fingers. These claws usually stabilize a dog’s paw on the ground, especially when they put weight on it. 

Despite its slower growth rate, a dew claw can grow to the point where it pokes the dog’s skin. If your GSD’s dew claws are overgrown, then his regular nails are definitely overgrown.

Dew claws are particularly at risk of injury if they grow too long as they can easily fracture, which is why some breeders choose to remove dewclaws shortly after birth.

They can also get accidentally damaged even if the dew claws are not excessively long. My German Shepherd does not have a good track record where her dew claws are concerned! She damaged one as a puppy jumping up at the door and, as an adult, needed them both surgically removed.

The Dog’s Paw Pads Have Injuries 

Checking your dog’s paws is the best way to determine if his nails are overgrown. One thing to look for is potential injuries caused by the nails circling and poking the paw pads.

Even the slightest hints of the paw skin getting poked should raise the alarm for an emergency dog grooming and nail-clipping session.

The Nails Go Over the Paw Pads 

You don’t have to wait for your German Shepherd’s paws to get injured before you clip his nails. The first stage is where the dog’s nails reach over the paw pads. From then onwards, every step pokes his paws until they are injured.

You can easily prevent injuries by checking regularly and clipping your dog’s nails as soon as they reach over the paw pads.

In the below images of my German Shepherd, Willow, you can see her nails need clipping as they extend further than her paw pads, whereas the second image shows one of her nails at the correct length.

Should You Trim German Shepherd Nails?

Trimming a German Shepherd’s nails is crucial to prevent injuries. However, if you try cutting too much of the toenail, you might cut the quick, leading to continuous bleeding.

Here are the reasons why you should cut your German Shepherd’s nails:

  • So they can walk properly without slipping.
  • So they can walk comfortably.
  • To prevent awkward postures leading to sprains or paw injuries.
  • To prevent overgrown nails from burrowing into the skin, causing infection and pain.
  • To prevent scratches on you and your nice wooden floor!

That doesn’t mean you must check out your GSD’s paws weekly. An estimate of your dog’s nail growth will help you know when to cut his nails as you should trim them as and when needed. Usually, toenails must be checked monthly and cut every 1.5 to 2.5 months.

However, this is a rough guide, depending on where you walk your dog. If your GSD predominantly walks on hard ground, his nails will naturally wear down and won’t need clipping as often.

Also, consider the type of activities your German Shepherd does. Is he a digger? Does he do agility? Some activities will wear down your dog’s nails quicker.

Finally, the balance of specific minerals and vitamins in your German Shepherd’s diet can have an effect on the health and rate of nail growth. The nails of a well-fed dog are usually more durable and less brittle.

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How To Trim Your German Shepherd’s Nails

When trimming your GSD’s nails, you have one job (aside from cutting the nails). And that job is to avoid making mistakes that can hurt your dog. You must cut a GSD’s nails with the right equipment and at the right spot.

So to start cutting your dog’s nails the right way, you need to get proper dog nail clippers and avoid using other household cutting devices. Average scissors and shears lack the precision to cut a German Shepherd’s nails safely.

I use the Boshel Dog Nail Clippers from Amazon. I find they’re the best clippers to trim your dog’s nails because they don’t allow you to overreach as they have a safety stop. They are also recommended by trainers, veterinarians, and professional dog groomers.

Boshel clippers are super sharp and stay super sharp. And, of course, the entire design is geared towards eliminating the chances of overcutting. I’ve tried other nail clippers in the past but never felt confident with them. You can see me trimming Willow’s nails using Boshel clippers in the below photos.

But whether you get Boshel dog nail clippers or any other type that is safe for dogs, you have to start with getting clippers. Once you have those, it is time to take the following steps:

  1. Familiarize your dog with the clippers – Do this from a young age if possible. Relate the sound and feel of the clippers with a positive experience – give your GSD a treat when he sniffs and explores them. Get your pup used to having his paws handled.
  2. Call your German Shepherd – This is the first step. You can also walk up to your doggo, but it is better to sit where you’re comfortable and call him. Lure him over with a treat will work.
  3. Be calm and help him become calm – If the dog is in an energetic state, you might want to wear him out first. The last thing you want is to wrestle an over-enthusiastic GSD for the privilege of cutting his nails.
  4. Get him in a comfortable spot to lend his paw – While your comfort is essential, you should also consider his comfort. So don’t trim his nails on a chair. Do so on a couch where he can be in the correct position. Using a lick mat like the Aquapaw and filling it with peanut butter will keep him calm and entertained during the grooming session.
  5. Take his paw and extend one claw at a time – The claws of a GSD need to be clipped so that you don’t accidentally cut the quick. Extending a toe can stretch out the nail, making trimming the overgrown edge easier.
  6. Look for the white portion towards the tip of the claw -When you extend an individual toe, the claw is visible enough to spot the difference between the pinkish area (the quick) and the white area. The quick looks like a small pinkish bean within the nail. Usually, the white area towards the end is the overgrown bit. 
  7. Remove as little as possible – Err on the side of clipping less, trim the slightest bit you can, cut at a 45-degree angle, and follow the nail’s natural shape. 
  8. Let the claw snap back and check if it reaches the paw pad – After you clip the nail, you need to check if further clipping is required. Try to clip a small enough length that you need to make two attempts per claw. This can help you avoid accidentally cutting the quick.

You can also try nail grinders if you’re not too confident using clippers or if your doggo dislikes being manipulated. The Casfuy Dog Nail Grinder on Amazon gets fantastic reviews and looks the real deal as it uses an advanced diamond drum bit grinder for safe and comfortable dog claw grinding.

Watch How To Clip Your GSDs Nails In This Video…

How To Clip your German Shepherd's nails

All in all, you need to get yourself and your dog in a comfortable position, take his paw and cut each nail’s white portion (towards the end) while leaving the more colored (pink) part unharmed. Cutting just the bits that circle back onto your GSD’s paws is essential.

Knowing what to do while cutting your German Shepherd’s nails is more important than knowing what not to do. And there are only two things you need to avoid: cutting too little or cutting too much.

Cutting too little is not as severe a mistake as cutting too much. That’s why erring on the side of caution is wise. In most cases, cutting too little results in having to cut the nails again pretty soon. Cutting the nails too much always leads to chopping the quick.

The quick is a blood vessel that runs through the dog’s toes. If you cut it, the nail starts bleeding. The severity of the cut determines its consequences.

If the cut is too deep, the blood rushes out like a typical wound, and your German Shepherd will begin to yelp in pain. If the cut is minor (which is expected even with careful trimming), there will be some bleeding.

To stop bleeding, you need to immediately pinch to wound shut and hold it still for 2 minutes. Using a towel to keep the wound closed is advisable.

You can speed up the recovery using styptic powder, which you can get from Amazon or veterinary clinics. Apply a pinch to the bleeding area using moderate pressure until the bleeding stops.

Your dog will improve within a day or so, and the quick will fully recover in a couple of weeks when the re-grown nail once again protects it.

Trimming Your German Shepherd’s Nails

Cutting GSD Nails
Image Source: Bubbles Dog Grooming

Trimming Black or Dark Nails

There’s a caveat with trimming black or dark dog nails because you don’t have the luxury to visually distinguish the portion that has the quick running through it. On lighted dog nails, you can clearly see the white color where the quick is absent.

For dogs with black or dark nails, you have to rely on cutting too little to get rid of excess nail growth without chopping the quick. Cutting 1/14th to 1/16th of an inch at a time can help eliminate excess growth without harming the quick.

Pro Tip! Bathe your GSD first before trimming and BEFORE you take him out of the tub. Soaking the nails softens and lightens them, while the part containing the quick remains dark. The black nail won’t turn as white as light nails, but you will notice a color difference between the two sections, helping you to identify the quick.

The Long and Short of Your GSD’s Toenails

Most German Shepherds dislike getting their nails cut. Therefore, it’s a good idea to train your dog to accept handling of their paws as a puppy through gentle manipulation and positive reinforcement.

When your German Shepherd’s nails are too long, the nail tips are in permanent contact with the ground. The pressure will cause the toe to rotate backward and up or to twist sideways. Undoubtedly, this will feel uncomfortable – similar to wearing shoes too small.

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