Dremeling dog nails is a fantastic alternative to the traditional method of clipping dog nails. It is not surprising that many dogs react poorly 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.
Choosing a Dremel
There are many Dremel possibilities. The company is always rolling out new models, and there are many used models available. Therefore, rather than recommending a specific model, I will provide you with two very simple criteria so that you can choose the right model:
- RPM: Ideal dog nail grinding happens at between 10,000 – 15,000 RPM (the sanding drum’s rotations per minute). Select a model that offers at least one speed mode in that range, or a sliding scale speed that will allow you to tweak within that range. Anything lower than 10,000 RPM is too slow, anything higher than 15,000 is TOO HOT and will cause too much heat to generate as you Dremel. If you have questions about models and RPM, please comment below, I am happy to help!
- Corded, or Cordless? I prefer cordless. Cordless Dremels can be heavier due to the attached rechargeable battery, but, they are also less disruptive to the dog. The main hassle with a cordless Dremel is remembering to charge the battery every two weeks or so.
- 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.
- Dremel Ez-Drum Mandrel, Dremel #EZ407SA. This inexpensive part makes routine Dremeling and switching between grits a breeze. This tool (shown below) allows you to swap out sanding bands instantly. 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 dust out of your eyes.
- If you have asthma, you might also want to wear a respirator or dust mask.
Miles is a dog that absolutely cannot stand having his nails clipped (I cannot emphasize how passionately he fears 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 carefully, and because I use it properly.
Because you will be using this tool once or twice a week for the rest of your dog’s life, it is critical for both you and your dog that there is no fear or force involved. For many dogs, the whirring sound of the Dremel can be suspicious at first, and understandably so! If you train your dog that the Dremel isn’t a scary thing long before you use it on their nails, there is a much greater chance it will be a tool they won’t mind for life. Please work with a experienced trainer who uses “force-free” methods if you are unsure of how to approach this task.
You can practice putting your dog in “Dremeling” position for short periods of time while giving them treats before you introduce the Dremel. In combination with Dremel training, your dog will realize that the sound and vibration of the tool, along with this position, are routine, and not at all scary.
For a medium or small dog, I recommend that you place the dog belly up on your lap. A large dog can be laid on his or her side on the floor in front of you.
Turn your Dremel on, and set it to to between 10,000 and 15,000 RPM (again, if you are unsure what this means, comment below). Hold up one paw, select a nail, and with your free hand, hold fur away from the nail. While supporting the nail between your fingers, touch the sander against the nail for 1-2 seconds, and then retreat. Never leave the sander touching a single spot on a nail for more than two seconds, and never apply 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 a few rounded 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 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 Nails
When 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 they grow back before your next Dremeling session. If you Dremel properly, and moisturize the nails afterwards, you won’t have to worry about your dog’s nails leaving marks or scratches anywhere.
Advantages of Dremeling Dog Nails
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. I know this because my own dog Miles is extremely sensitive, and couldn’t have his nails clipped, and he is now very accepting of having his nails Dremeled.
Being able to trim your dog’s nails yourself doesn’t just save a huge amount of time and money, it will also ensure that your dog will not be terrified or in pain and will allow you to ensure that his or her nails are kept at a healthy length.
How Often to You Should Dremel
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.
- 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. If you are unsure of how to practice between introducing the Dremel, please consult with a qualified force-free trainer.
- Stay between 10,000 and 15,000 RPM for the speed of your Dremel.
- Touch the Dremel to the nail to sand for 1-2 seconds, retreat, touch again, repeat.
- Never put pressure on the nail when sanding.
- Never leave the sander on the nail for more than 1-2 seconds at a time.
- Dremel on a schedule to maintain healthy nails (once a week is recommended).
- Rub nails with a thin layer of olive oil after every Dremeling session to seal them and to prevent flaking/cracking.