Will Walking My Dog File His Nails Down?

This article will examine the question of whether simply walking a dog is enough to naturally file down their nails, or if additional nail trimming and maintenance is required. We’ll look at the anatomy of dog nails, benefits of walking for dogs, how walking impacts nail wear, factors that influence nail growth, differences between trimming and natural wear, tips for overall nail health, signs of overgrown nails, and risks associated with untrimmed nails. The goal is to provide dog owners with a comprehensive understanding of how walking contributes to nail wear so they can make informed decisions about their dog’s nail care routine.

Anatomy of Dog Nails

Dog nails are complex structures made up of many parts. The most visible part is the nail itself, which is made of keratin and protrudes from the dog’s toe (1). The nail attaches to the nail bed inside the dog’s toe. Underneath the nail is the quick, which contains nerves and blood vessels that supply the nail. The quick extends partway into the nail and is sometimes visible as a pinkish area when looking at light colored nails (2).

As the nail grows, new keratin is produced by the matrix, which is the nail growth center located under the skin behind the nail. The keratin is added to the base of the nail under the quick, pushing the nail outward. Trimming the nail does not affect growth, only removes excess length (3).

Proper nail anatomy and growth is important for a dog’s comfort. Understanding the parts of the nail helps owners trim them correctly to avoid hitting the quick, and know what to look for to tell if nails are getting overgrown.

(1) https://pawsafe.com/blogs/claw-care/dog-toenail-anatomy
(2) https://www.dreamstime.com/illustration/dog-nail-anatomy.html

Benefits of Walking for Dogs

Regular walks provide dogs with numerous health and behavioral benefits. Walking is excellent exercise for dogs, providing opportunities to run, play, and burn energy. According to the Better Health Victoria government site, dog walking offers improved cardiovascular fitness, lower blood pressure, stronger muscles and bones from regular walking, and decreased stress levels (source).

In addition to physical exercise, walks stimulate and enrich dogs mentally. Per the VCA Hospitals, mental stimulation on walks helps relieve boredom and provide mental engagement for dogs (source). Walks allow dogs to explore, smell new scents, and experience sights and sounds, satisfying their curious natures.

Walks also provide dogs with opportunities for socialization. According to HelpGuide, walks allow dogs to interact with other people and dogs when done safely and properly (source). This helps dogs learn how to behave politely around others.

Effect of Walking on Dog Nails

Walking your dog regularly can help wear down their nails through friction against the ground. As your dog’s nails make contact with sidewalks, trails, or other hard surfaces during a walk, the constant abrasion slowly files the nail tips down over time. This gradual filing from the friction of walking can help keep your dog’s nails naturally trimmed to a shorter, healthier length.

According to veterinarians, the impact a walk has on filing down nails depends on various factors like the type of surface, how long the walks are, and how often they occur. While occasional short walks may not make much difference, longer walks of 30 minutes or more on abrasive surfaces like concrete or asphalt, done regularly such as daily, can have a noticeable nail-filing effect over time.

One source notes that the friction from walking “wears the nail down little by little, trimming it shorter and shorter” (https://www.derppets.com/does-walking-your-dog-on-concrete-file-their-nails/). So while walking may not eliminate the need for nail trims entirely, it can be a helpful supplement to keep your dog’s nails worn down between trims.

Factors That Impact Nail Wear

There are several key factors that impact how quickly and unevenly a dog’s nails get worn down from walking:

The initial length and trim of the nails matters. Nails that are overly long to begin with will make contact with the ground more and thus get worn faster. Keeping nails trimmed to an appropriate length for the individual dog can help promote even wear (source).

The types of surfaces the dog walks on regularly is also important. Hard, abrasive surfaces like concrete sidewalks and rough asphalt will file down nails much quicker than dirt trails or grass. Extended walks on hard surfaces can put extra wear on nails (source).

Individual factors like the dog’s activity level and how their paws strike the ground as they walk impacts wear. More active dogs that regularly run and play will experience more nail wear than sedentary dogs. Certain gait and movement patterns can also focus pressure on specific nails (source).

Trimming vs. Natural Wear

While walking can help wear down a dog’s nails over time, relying solely on walks is not enough to keep nails short and healthy. Trimming a dog’s nails regularly is still important.

The main advantage of regular nail trimming is that it allows you to maintain an optimal nail length. Nails that are too long can cause discomfort and health issues for dogs. Trimming nails helps avoid overgrowth. Walking alone often wears down only the tip of the nail, while trimming takes care of the entire nail.

Factors like exercise time, surfaces walked on, and individual nail growth rates can influence how much walking naturally wears down nails. For dogs that walk primarily indoors or have slower nail growth, natural wear may be minimal. Trimming provides more reliable control over nail length.

Veterinarians generally recommend trimming dog nails every 2-4 weeks for average adult dogs. More frequent trimming, such as every 1-2 weeks, may be needed for some dogs. Walking can supplement but not replace regular nail trims.

When you trim your dog’s nails routinely, walking can help maintain that shorter length between clippings. Natural wear from walking is beneficial, but regular trimming is still essential for keeping your dog’s nails short.


Tips for Nail Health

There are several tips to help keep your dog’s nails trimmed and healthy naturally:

Regular trimming – Trimming your dog’s nails regularly, such as every 2-4 weeks, helps prevent overgrowth. Use sharp clippers designed for dogs and trim just the tip, avoiding the quick which contains nerves and blood vessels. Go slow and reward your dog during the process.

Walking on abrasive surfaces – Allowing your dog to walk on abrasive surfaces like concrete or pavement can help naturally wear down the nails. The friction from these hard surfaces filing the nails can reduce the need for frequent trimming. Be sure to monitor for signs of overgrowth still.

Filing/grinding – Using a nail file or electric nail grinder can smooth and shorten nails gradually. Work slowly and carefully to avoid sensitizing the quick. This can supplement regular trimming.

Proper nail care involves regularly inspecting your dog’s nails, trimming when needed, and utilizing abrasive walking surfaces or filing to maintain an optimal length. Keeping nails short prevents issues like ingrown nails or damage from excessive scratching.

Signs of Overgrown Nails

There are several clear signs that indicate your dog’s nails have become too long and overgrown. Some of the most common signs to watch for include:

Curling nails – Healthy nails should sit flat against the floor. When they start to curl under, this is a red flag the nails are too long.[1]

Twisting nails – Similarly, if your dog’s nails are beginning to twist and turn to the side, it means they are overgrown and need trimming.[2]

Clinking and tapping on floors – When your dog’s nails are so long they clink and tap audibly on flooring, this signals they are too long. The noise comes from the nail tips hitting the ground.

Discomfort and changed gait – Dogs with overgrown nails may start to walk abnormally to avoid putting pressure on their overlong nails. They may hobble, limp, or avoid bearing weight on their feet.

Risks of Overgrown Nails

Overgrown nails can lead to a number of health risks and issues for dogs. Some of the key risks include:


Excessively long nails can cause pain and discomfort for dogs. The overgrown nails may crack or break, exposing the quick and leading to bleeding and pain. Dogs may also experience pain from the inward pressure of curled, overgrown nails on their paw pads. According to The Kennel Club, long nails are prone to chipping, tearing, splitting and breaking which can be very painful for dogs and may require veterinary treatment.


Overgrown nails can alter the angle of a dog’s foot and affect weight distribution. This abnormal pressure on the joints can lead to arthritis over time, especially in older dogs. Keeping nails trimmed helps maintain proper foot and leg alignment and reduces arthritis risk.

Limb Issues

Excessively long nails may cause dogs to walk abnormally or start limping. The unusual gait and weight displacement puts strain on the legs, shoulders and back. Per Scent Hound, neglecting nails can lead to muscle and skeletal issues over time.

Structural Problems

Overgrown nails force dogs to splay their feet unnaturally when walking. Not only is this uncomfortable, but it can cause structural issues in the legs and paws if left unaddressed. Keeping nails short helps dogs maintain proper foot placement.


Regular walks are beneficial for keeping your dog’s nails filed down naturally, but the amount of wear depends on many factors like breed, activity level, terrain, and individual nail health and growth rates. While walking may help keep nails short, it usually isn’t enough on its own to fully replace trimming. Watch for signs of overgrown nails like clicking noises, gait changes, overgrown quicks and risks like injury or joint problems. Work with your vet and use a combination of walks and nail trims to keep your dog’s nails at the ideal functional length.

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