Grooming your own dog can be a special moment between the two of you — and it can be traumatic for you both, if you don’t know what you’re doing. If you shampoo, brush and groom your own dog at home, here are eight tips for beginners (and eight reminders for seasoned at-home dog groomers) about how to groom a dog.
Why Grooming Your Dog is Crucial
Grooming goes beyond beauty. There are several reasons you need to maintain your dog’s outer appearance:
Your dog’s coat
Brushing your dog’s coat regularly can prevent skin irritations from dirt and oil buildup and matting (which can affect your dog’s ability to see, walk and eat). Brushing your dog provides an opportunity to look for skin irritations, ticks, sores, or lumps that warrant a call or visit to the vet.
Like humans, oral hygiene is an indication as to what’s going on inside the body. Poor canine oral health can lead to health issues such as oral cancers, heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney problems, blood and bone infections and diabetes mellitus.
Long nails can be painful for your dog when your dog walks, runs and jumps. Improperly maintained nails prevent your dog from getting a good grip on smooth surfaces and are more likely to get caught on something and ripped off. Untrimmed nails can also grow into your pet’s paw pads or skin causing pain or an infection.
Any type of discharge from your dog’s ear could be a sign she has an infection from allergies, mites, polyps, excessive swimming or bathing, or overproduction of earwax. If you notice a discharge from your dog’s ear, call your vet.
A grooming session is an ideal opportunity to check for changes in your dog’s eyes. Squinting, holding them shut, or excessive blinking, redness, discharge, haziness or cloudiness, unequal pupil sizes, or swelling (visible third eyelid), can indicate issues such as scratches, infections, glaucoma, cataracts, or retinal disease. Again, call your vet if you see any of these symptoms.
Grooming Your Dog at Home
Before you begin grooming your dog, select a clean, well-lit area that has a non-slip surface. You should also ensure the area allows for your dog to escape if she’s had enough!
1. Gather Your Dog Grooming Tools
While it might seem obvious to say, “gather your tools,” trust us: It’s easy to forget one or two things. Use this checklist so you don’t need to leave your pet unattended to grab something you forgot. Tools to gather include:
- Brush, like the BarxBuddy self-cleaning brush, comb, or shedding blade (depending on your dog’s coat you might need a detangler brush/comb)
- Dog hair detangler
- Dog shampoo
- Nail clippers (BarxBuddy nail clippers) or grinder
- Styptic powder (in case of nail bleed)
- Dog trimming scissors
- Dog toothbrush
- Dog toothpaste
- Soft washcloth
- A couple of cotton balls or gauze
2. Brush or Comb Your Dog’s Coat
A good brushing before grooming will remove tangles and mats before you wet the hair. Brushing your dog’s hair when it’s wet is a big no-no as it can make tangles and mats tighter.
3. Praise, treat, rest
Throughout a grooming session, you need to praise and treat your pet for doing such a great job. Take occasional breaks to give her and you a rest. If at any point your dog freaks out, don’t yell as that can make the situation worse. Give her a minute to calm down and resume.
4. Cut mats from hair
If you have a long-hair dog, look for mats before you get your dog’s coat wet. Although they can form anywhere on a dog’s coat, the most common places are where the hair is extra-long, such as behind the ears, stomach, under the arms, legs, and on the backside.
You can use a mat remover for dogs, a mat splitting tool, or you can use a home remedy like this one for matted go hair: Massage a few drops of dog hair conditioner or detangler into the knot to loosen the hair. Comb from the top of the mat to the base with a de-matting comb. If you are unable to brush out the mats, comb the mat away from your dog with the de-matting comb. Hold the mat in the comb to keep it away from the dog’s skin, then take the dog trimming scissors to cut the mat from the comb. Recomb to ensure you got all the knotted hair.
5. Clean eyes and ears
Use a moist washcloth to gently wipe around your dog’s eyes. For her ears, merely take a dry cotton ball and gently remove dirt and debris from the ear. Another option is to use a piece of gauze wrapped around your finger. Never stick the cotton ball or gauze into the ear canal. Only clean the area you can see.
6. Brush teeth
Start brushing the top row of your dog’s teeth by holding the upper lip out of the way. Move to the bottom row holding back the lower lip, and brush the sides and back. If your dog struggles with having his teeth brushed, some veterinarians recommend wrapping gauze around your finger and gently (but quickly) wiping your dog’s gums and teeth. Even this small cleaning can be good for reducing plaque build-up.
7. Clip nails
Pick up your dog’s paw and hold it firmly in one hand (be sure hair is out of the way of the nails). Extend the nail out by gently pushing the pad backward. Clip only the tip of the nail straight across, using guillotine clippers or scissor clippers with a guard like the BarxBuddy clippers. If you’re using a grinder, grind only a small part of the nail at a time and smooth rough edges. Never clip or grind into the quick (pink area that has blood vessels). Nicking this part of the nail bed will bleed and cause your dog pain. It could also become infected. If you cut into the quick, apply styptic powder to stop the bleeding and bandage.
Using lukewarm water and a sprayer or plastic cup, saturate your dog’s coat. Apply shampoo and lather up by massaging the shampoo into the coat. Starting at the top of her head and working down to her belly, legs, and tail. Rinse well. You can towel dry, or take a blowdryer on a cool setting to dry your dog. Or, you can let her dry au natural, a.k.a the shake method. If you choose the latter, expect to get wet!
Dog Grooming Tips
To make grooming at home possible, keep a few tips in mind:
- Offer plenty of treats and praise throughout the grooming session.
- If your dog is done and is ready to check out, let her. Try shorter sessions if your dog is anxious or nervous. Brush teeth one session, bathe in another and so on.
- Ensure all shampoo is rinsed away to prevent buildup or skin irritation.
- Avoid getting water in your dog’s ears, as moisture in the ear can cause an ear infection.
- Make grooming a routine so your dog gets comfortable with the process.
- Be patient. If you and your pet are new to grooming at home, take it slow — no need to conquer all the steps all at once.
- When in doubt, reach out to the pros. If you’re overly nervous or anxious about any of the grooming steps or if the struggle with your dog is too much, leave grooming to a professional groomer.