Is there anything better than snuggling up with your furry friend right after a trip to the dog groomer? Most pet parents would say no! But for some of us, professional dog grooming can be too expensive or too inconvenient to keep up on a regular basis.
What’s a well-meaning pet parent to do? DIY, of course! While some pet grooming is better off left to professionals, there are a lot of ways you can maintain your dog’s cleanliness and hygiene at home.
Read on for the best tips and tricks.
Why Should I Groom My Dog?
Pet grooming helps dogs look and feel their best. Regular grooming will also get you into a routine of examining your dog’s nails, ears, skin, teeth, fur, and paw pads for any potential problem spots.1
Regular grooming also gives these healthy benefits:
- Brushing your dog’s teeth can help protect against tooth decay, gingivitis, and periodontal issues.2
- Regular ear cleaning helps keep your pup’s ears healthy.3
- Nail clipping can help prevent joint injuries.4
- Brushing your dog’s coat spreads out the natural oils and helps keep the fur free of external parasites.5
And perhaps best of all – grooming is a great bonding opportunity for you and your dog. A grooming session allows you to focus your energy entirely on your dog, something they probably consider a dream come true!6
Whether you’re clipping nails, brushing, or ear cleaning, handling your dog in a calm and steady way is a great way to build trust.7 This will benefit your relationship beyond your grooming sessions.
If you’ve never groomed your dog before, it may take a few sessions for your pup to get used to your touch. Take it slow and be gentle – you may find that you and your pet both find it very relaxing.
How To Brush Your Dog At Home
Regularly brushing your dog is one of the easiest ways to keep up with grooming at home. Brushing helps remove dead hair, spread their coat’s natural oils, and keep fur looking its best.
Different Types of Dog Brushes, Explained
To the uninitiated, the sheer number of dog brushes on the market can seem overwhelming. What is the best grooming equipment for your dog? Should you just buy one of everything?
Hold your horses, animal lover! Read on to learn about each brush type and discover which grooming tools you actually need.
A brush with tightly-packed wire bristles designed to remove dead hair, dirt, mats, and tangles. Best for dogs with long hair, curly hair, or double coats.8
Wire Pin Brush
Gentler than a slicker brush, this brush has widely-spaced wire bristles with protective rubber balls at the end. Made to remove dead hair and dirt. Best for medium to long-haired dogs and dogs with silky hair.
Natural Bristle Brush
A brush with tightly-packed natural bristles that is made to remove dead hair and stimulate the skin. For use on short-haired, smooth-coated dogs. Can be used on all coats to smooth fur after brushing.
Gloves with bristles, usually made of silicone, that help remove loose hair and smooth coats. A good choice for fearful dogs.
A brush with plastic or rubber teeth that loosens and removes dead hair. Ideal for animals with short, dense coats.
A comb made entirely of rubber. Great for use with shampoo in the bath.
Combs, usually made of metal, designed to remove mats from a dog’s undercoat.
Which Brush Should I Use On My Dog and How Do I Use It?
Okay, now that you know the main types of brushes, it’s time to decide what gear you need for your specific situation. First, determine what type of coat your dog has. You’ll want to consider the length, thickness, and the texture of their fur.
Is it short and smooth like a Doberman? Silky and long like a Yorkshire Terrier? Wiry like a Fox Terrier? Your dog may have curly hair that doesn’t shed, like a Poodle, or long, thick hair that does shed, like a Golden Retriever.
Some dogs, like Siberian Huskies, have a double coat which is made of a soft undercoat and tougher topcoat. Other dogs, like Irish Setter, have feathery coats with no undercoat.
If you can’t tell what type of coat your dog has, ask your vet or groomer. Here are recommendations for major coat types:
Short and Smooth Coats
Short-haired dogs with no undercoat, like Pugs, are relatively low maintenance.
Brush: bristle brush
Frequency: At least once a week.9
Technique: Run a natural bristle brush through their coat in the opposite direction of hair growth.This helps loosen dead hair. Then brush in the direction of hair growth to smooth and spread oils.10
Short, Dense Coats
Dogs with short, thick coats, like Labrador Retrievers, aren’t likely to get tangles in their fur. But they are likely to shed without regular brushing, so commit to brushing them at least twice a week.11
Brush: slicker brush, wire pin brush
Frequency: Twice a week. More frequently during shedding season in the spring or summer.12
Technique: Run a natural bristle brush through their coat in the opposite direction of hair growth. This helps loosen dead hair. Then brush in the direction of hair growth to remove the dead hairs and help with future shedding.13
Long and Silky Coats
Dogs with silky coats, like Yorkshire Terriers, have no undercoat. Their long hair is likely to tangle without regular care.
Brush: wire pin brush, bristle brush, dematting tool
Frequency: Three to four times a week to prevent mats from forming.
Technique: First, remove any tangles with a dematting tool. Then brush in long strokes with a wire pin brush to remove loose hair. Finish with a bristle brush to polish the coat.14
Recommended: See a professional dog groomer every other month.
Long with a Wooly Undercoat
Dogs with long silky hair on top and an undercoat beneath, like Lhasa Apsos, need regular brushing.
Brush: wire pin brush, bristle brush, dematting tool
Frequency: Three to four times a week to prevent mats from forming.15
Technique: First, remove any tangles with a dematting tool. Then brush in long strokes with a wire pin brush to remove loose hair. Finish with a bristle brush to polish the coat
Recommended: See a professional dog groomer every other month.
Long, Double Coats
Lots of fur means lot of shedding – so don’t forget to brush regularly! Dogs with long, double coats, like Chow Chows, are likely to experience matting in their undercoat.
Brush: De-matting tool, slicker brush
Frequency: Two to three times a week.
Technique: Go over the coat with a slicker brush in both directions, using short, gentle strokes.16 Continue until you’re pulling out less and less hair. If you run into a tangle, stop brushing and pick it out using a steel comb or a de-matting tool.17
Recommended: See a professional dog groomer every other month.18
Dogs with curly coats, like Poodles, don’t shed easily, but they can develop mats without regular brushing.
Brush: Dematting tool, slicker brush
Frequency: About twice a week.
Technique: Go over the coat with a slicker brush in small sections, removing mats as you go. If you see a large tangle, stop brushing and pick it out using a steel comb or a de-matting tool.
Recommended: See a professional pet groomer every other month.
Since wire-haired dogs are not likely to shed on their own, make sure you brush them regularly to remove dead hair.
Brush: wire pin brush19
Frequency: Twice a week.
Technique: Go over the coat from head to tail in long, even strokes. If you see a mat, stop brushing and pick it out with a dematting tool. Finish with a slicker brush for a shiny and smooth look.20 Don’t forget to brush your pet’s beard, mustache, and eyebrows if they have them!
Recommended: See a professional dog groomer every 6 to 8 weeks.
How To Remove a Mat
If you spot a mat in your dog’s undercoat:
- Push the topcoat aside.
- In one hand, gently pull the mat perpendicular to the skin so you can see what you’re working with.
- With your other hand, use your dematting tool in quick, short strokes – starting from the end of the hair and working toward the skin as you go.21
How To Bathe Your Dog At Home
While some pet owners take their dog to a professional when it’s time for a bath, many people bathe their dogs at home.
Taking this task on yourself requires some preparation, equipment, and (if your dog doesn’t like bath time) mental toughness. No one likes to see their buddy suffer! Read through this guide first, so you can bathe your dog with minimal drama.
How Often Should You Bathe Your Dog?
Vets used to warn against bathing Fido too frequently. When you wash your dog, they said, you strip the natural oils from the coat.22 But times have changed!
Since ingredients in shampoos and conditioners have improved, you can feel good about washing your dog once a week if you’d like.23 As long as you’re using the highest quality products, you can clean your dog without drying out their skin or coat.24
But is a weekly bath necessary? It depends on your dog’s breed type, coat, environment, and activity level.25 It’s also a great way to keep fleas in check.
Here are some helpful guidelines:
- Dogs with medium to long hair need a bath about every 4-6 weeks.26
- Short-coated dogs can go longer without a bath. Once every other month should suffice.
- Oily-coated breeds, like Basset Hounds, may need a bath once a week.27
- Thick or double-coated breeds, like Siberian Huskies, should be bathed less frequently, but brushed often.
Regardless of coat type, if Bella just had a romp around a muddy field, or she’s visibly dirty, throw her in the bath!
All that said, the most reliable method for figuring out if your dog needs a bath is the tried-and-true smell test. If your dog is starting to smell like… well, dog, it’s time for a bath.
What Products To Use When You Bathe Your Dog
When you’re bathing your dog, you need the proper gear. Don’t use human products on your dog! They don’t have the right pH level for your dog’s skin.28 Here’s what you need:
- Dog shampoo: read reviews and look for one that contains ONLY natural, organic ingredients. If you shop for natural or organic products for yourself, consider doing the same for your dog.
- A bathtub or portable wash basin
- A container that holds water, like a large pitcher. You can skip this if you have a detachable shower nozzle.
- A leash or tether if you have a dog who is likely to hop out of the bath
- Clothes that can get wet
- And of course, plenty of treats!
How To Give Your Dog A Bath
Set aside an hour, put on clothes that can get wet, and cross your fingers. Let’s do this!
- Before you start, brush your dog to get rid of any tangles, surface-level dirt, or matting.
––Make sure you get out any mats before you get your dog wet. Water makes them nearly impossible to remove!29
––If you have a long-haired dog, use a slicker brush at this stage.
- Decide where you’ll wash your dog.
––Inside: Most people will want to use their bathtub if they have one. Close the door to your bathroom to contain the mess.
––Outside: If you have a heavy shedder, long-haired breed, or extra large dog, you may want to do this outside with a wash basin or a hose.
- Run the water and fill the bath before you bring in your dog. The running water might cause anxiety.
––If you’re using an indoor bath, fill it up with warm, but not hot, water.
––If you’re using a hose, but make sure the pressure isn’t too high.
- Leash your dog (optional) and lead them to the bath.
––If you have a dog who hates baths and is likely to bolt, you may need a friend who can help hold the leash.
––If your dog is okay with baths (lucky!) or small enough to hold, you won’t need the leash.
––In both cases, calmly lead your dog to the tub and encourage them to get in with little drama. Don’t raise your voice, it will add to the stress.
- Get your dog wet.
––A detachable nozzle makes this easy. If you don’t have one, pour water over them with a large container.
- Apply shampoo.
––Lather up and rub shampoo all over your pup, making sure to reach spots like the belly, under the tail, between toes, and around the ears.
––Make sure the shampoo reaches all the way through the coat to the skin. For dogs with thick hair, a rubber comb can help with this.
––For dogs with long hair, massage the shampoo in with your fingers, following the way the fur naturally grows. This will help avoid tangles.
- Optional step: Distract!
––If your dog hates baths, consider having a friend give your dog small pieces of treats throughout this process.
––Another trick is to hold out a spoon with peanut butter and have your dog lick it as you wash him. Distracting and delicious!
––Use a nozzle or a container to rinse.
––Make sure you remove all the shampoo residue – it can be irritating to skin.30
––When you’ve rinsed off all the shampoo, take a clean, wet washcloth (no soap!) and gently wipe the area around your dog’s eyes to clear away any eye gunk.
––Use a towel and dry them off, taking care to dry their paws. Paws can get cold quickly if wet!
––If your dog has long hair, rub the towel in the direction of hair growth to avoid matting.
––If you choose to blow dry your dog’s coat, be sure to use the lowest heat setting. Hold the blow dryer at least six inches away so you don’t burn their skin.
- Grab a colorful bandana to accent your dog’s new clean look. Give your dog some love for a job well done!
Should You Give Your Dog A Haircut?
Alright, you’ve learned how to brush and bathe your dog! Next up: haircuts and trims. Is this DIYable? Well, yes and no. First off, you should keep in mind that not all dogs need haircuts.31 So, if you have a short-coated dog, there may be no need to trim the hair.
Some dogs, like Poodles and Shih-Tzu’s, have hair that continuously grows. These breeds need regular hair trimming. For breeds like these, it is best to see a professional. And if your dog has a specific hairstyle and needs professional styling, you’re probably better off going to the salon.
If you want to give it a go at home, the safest way is to use a set of electric clippers.32 Comb your dog thoroughly first. Using the clippers, start with the head, and work your way down in the direction of hair growth. Do the legs last.
Note: Unless you’re skilled in all things dog grooming, avoid using scissors. You do not want to slip up and injure your best bud!
How To Trim Your Dog’s Nails
Regular nail trimming is essential for your dog’s hygiene and health. Grown out nails can be painful for dogs. Long term, they can cause the joints in their legs to fall out of alignment.33
This particular grooming routine can stir up anxiety in some animal parents. There’s a chance you could trim too far and hit their quick – a blood vessel in their nail – and make them bleed.34
Is there anything more stressful than knowing you could accidentally make your dog bleed? Probably not.
But fear not! This doesn’t have to be a stressful experience. Many nail trimmers on the market today have special safety guards to make sure you don’t cut down too far.35
The best advice? Take it slow. Do everything you can to ensure that your dog is calm – not squirmy – when you’re trimming their nails. This is the best thing you can do to prevent accidents. Follow these tips to desensitize your dog to nail trimmers so they’re more likely to be calm.
- Take a whole week to introduce the nail trimmers to your dog before you use them.
- For the first couple of days, show your dog the trimmers, give them a treat, and put the tool away.
- After that, you can show them the trimmers, touch their paw with them, and put them away before you do any trimming. Give them treats for remaining calm.
- Once your pup is used to the trimmers, start trimming a nail or two at a time and show your dog that you aren’t going to hurt him.
- Use plenty of treats, words of encouragement, and a calm attitude throughout the whole process.
When you’re ready to trim, the American Kennel Club has these recommendations:
- Pick up a paw. Place your thumb on a toe pad and your forefinger on top, right above the nail.
- Use your thumb and forefinger to extend the nail away from the skin.
- Clip only the tip of the nail. Cut straight across.
- Stop trimming before you reach the curve of the nail. This will help you avoid the quick.36
What About Cleaning Your Dog’s Eyes?
Just like humans, dogs occasionally get gunk in their eyes that should be wiped away. To clean, wet a washcloth or cotton ball with warm water and gently wipe them.37 Never use your fingers.
If your dog’s eyes are excessively wet, gunky, or dry – there may be an underlying health problem. Don’t attempt to clean them yourself. If you notice a pus-like discharge that crusts over, call your vet. Your pup may have conjunctivitis.38
Small dogs with white fur – like Maltese, Bichon Frise, or Havanese – may develop staining around their eyes and mouth. Apply a tear stain remover for those areas. If this problem persists, you may want to look at the food they are eating and make sure it is the highest quality.39
How To Brush Your Dog’s Teeth
Regularly brushing your dog’s teeth is the best way to prevent tooth and gum problems.40Here are the best tips for keeping Fido’s pearly whites clean:
- Find a pet-safe toothpaste. Never use human toothpaste, ONLY use pet-safe toothpaste made with natural, organic ingredients. Or, you could make your own pet-safe toothpaste by blending coconut oil with parsley and mint leaves.
- Pick up a dog toothbrush with soft bristles – a kid’s toothbrush will work too.
- Before brushing, help your dog get used to the toothpaste and the toothbrush by letting them sniff and lick it. Work to create a positive association with both. You may want to slowly introduce the toothbrush over a period of several days.
- When you’re ready to brush, gently lift your dog’s lip so you can see the surface area you’re working with.
- Gently brush your dog’s teeth in small circles, just like you would your own.
- Don’t forget to reach your dog’s back upper molars and canines – these areas tend to build up tartar.42
- When you’re finished, reward your dog with playtime, some treats, or an affectionate scratch on the head. Good dog!
When To See A Professional Groomer
Although there are many grooming techniques you can easily tackle on your own, you still may want to visit a professional groomer or doggie salon from time to time.
Groomers can give your dog a fancy skin or hair treatment
Professionals can do things like give your dog a blueberry facial treatment, feather their coats, and blow dry their fur in the proper way.
Can you do those things? Well, maybe. But you’d have to invest some money in buying the proper grooming equipment and products. You’d also have to learn how to give these treatments.
Groomers have the right tools for the job
Visiting a professional can end up saving you time and money simply because they have the grooming equipment that most people don’t. This is especially true is your dog requires specialized equipment – like a large wash basin, professional clippers, or a doggie blow dryer.
Groomers have the appropriate shampoos, toothpastes, brushes, clippers, and scissors for the job.
Groomers can handle gross stuff you don’t want to think about
Do you know about your dog’s anal glands? They are the reason why your dog sometimes smells fishy.43
Most dogs squeeze out fluid from these glands when they pass a bowel movement. But sometimes they need to be manually expressed to remove build up.44-45
While you could do this yourself when you give your dog a bath, many people prefer to leave it to professionals. Some dogs, especially small breeds, need their anal glands expressed regularly.46
Professional dog groomers are more convenient than ever
Many groomers now have mobile salons that will come right to your house. You really can’t beat the convenience of that.
Where Can I Find A Good Dog Groomer?
If you’re looking for a groomer, start by asking your vet, friends, or neighbors if they have any recommendations. Your dog’s breeder might have a list of people who work with that breed.
However, we advise avoiding commercial pet store groomers as their employees may not always have sufficient animal care training.
The American Kennel Club maintains a directory of trusted breeders that you can find through their website.47
The Bottom Line
Many grooming techniques – like brushing your dog’s hair and teeth – can and should be done at home. If you do them yourself, you’re more likely to do them frequently. And, you’ll have the added benefit of bonding with your dog.
Washing, hair trimming, nail trimming, eye and ear cleaning, and anal sac expressing may all take more effort – it depends on your dog. If you’re able to comfortably take care of these grooming essentials at home, go for it! If you think you’d benefit from a professional, decide which activities you need help with, and schedule a visit to a doggie salon.
Whether you choose to do it yourself or get help from a pro, keep up with a regular grooming schedule. Maintaining your pup’s hygiene can prevent all sorts of health problems. Plus, nothing can beat that extra pep in their step when they look and feel great!
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