Dog Grooming Tips: How to Groom Your Pet at Home

Posted in:
dog grooming session where a white-and-black dog is getting a bath

Dog grooming is an important part of canine care. Regular grooming will help you build your relationship with your pup and practice gentle leadership skills. Another benefit of grooming is you might notice a physical change that needs medical attention, such as lumps, bumps, or soreness. Most dogs can be taught to enjoy grooming at any age. If you're a beginner looking to groom your dog at home, here are some helpful dog grooming tips to know.

Dog grooming supplies

Here are some supplies that you might need for grooming dogs:

  • Shampoo made for dogs that is appropriate for the age of your pet (e.g., puppies need gentle shampoo)
  • Large cup or small bucket containing water to create a nice lather
  • Cotton balls
  • Ear cleaner
  • Parasite-control products (Ask your veterinarian about what is needed in your area for fleas, ticks, and mites.)
  • Metal comb
  • Brush (There are many styles to choose from: pin, rake, slicker, mitt, or curry.)
  • Nail trimmers (Find the best size for your pet’s nails.)
  • Nail file (Some animals will actually sleep while their people file each toenail.)
  • Styptic powder (to use if you accidentally cut a nail too short)
  • Ophthalmic ointment (used in the eyes to protect them from shampoo and debris)
  • Detangler or conditioner (great for combing through long hair before a final rinse)
  • Spray attachment for your shower (very helpful for rinsing your pet)
  • A hair dryer (Some animals can chill easily, but be careful not to overheat the pet.)
  • Toothbrush and dog toothpaste
  • Safety scissors for trimming hair
  • Clippers (if you want to learn to style your pet)

One caution about clipping your dog's coat: If you change the length of your dog's natural coat, they will need protection from the cold and the sun. (Pets can get sunburned!) Also, some coats do not grow back well. Consult a professional groomer if you want your dog to wear an unnatural style.

How to groom a dog at home

Start the grooming process by gently touching all the dog's body parts. If any parts seem sore, stop and schedule an appointment with your veterinarian for a checkup. 

If your dog seems uncomfortable with your touch, remember that animals learn positive associations with repetition and praise. You will need to be a kind, gentle leader but remain firm in your intentions. The plan is to teach your dog to enjoy being groomed and to groom them on a regular basis, not just when the animal is matted or really dirty.

If you need help, you can start by accompanying your dog to a professional groomer for a lesson. Choose a groomer who is patient, gentle, and kind. Most groomers are thrilled to meet people who want to work with their animals in between professional grooming visits.

Dog grooming tips

Here are some specific dog grooming tips about the various aspects of grooming:

Brushing your dog

Brushing and combing should happen daily or at least several times each week, no matter what kind of coat your dog has. If you plan to give your pet a bath, do the brushing part first. 

Brushing and combing will feel good to your dog; it removes dead hair and tangles, and it distributes natural skin oils. If the dog's coat is thick, make sure you are combing all the way to the skin. Be gentle and patient though; too much pressure on the skin can cause irritation called brush burn, and pulling the tangles will hurt if you hurry. A detangler can be used on dry hair to loosen any knots.

Different types of brushes are used for different coats. A curved wire slicker or pin brush works well for long, straight coats. Use a regular wire slicker for medium-length hair and coats with a dense undercoat. Rakes are good for brushing undercoats during the shedding season. Short, smooth coats can be brushed with a grooming mitt or rubber curry. After brushing, you can use an all-purpose comb to work out small knots the brush missed.

Giving dogs a bath

The water for your dog's bath should be warm, even in summer, because very cold water can chill animals and leave your pet with a bad association to bathing in general. If you are bathing a small dog, support them in the tub so they don’t panic. 

Give your pet a full body massage while lathering up the shampoo, and then rinse. If you wish, add conditioner and comb through the coat before a final rinse. (This can be good for long-haired pups.) On cold days, all animals should be dried, and very young, old, or sick animals should always be dried to prevent chilling.

Trimming your dog's nails

Begin by picking up each foot and handling the nails. Then, without clipping, hold the clippers near a nail and squeeze the nail as though you are clipping. Then, go forward with clipping the nails. Remember to trim the dewclaws. 

Always look carefully for the quick — where the blood supply ends in the nail. You’ll want to avoid cutting into the quick because it is painful and will bleed. If you ever accidentally cut the quick, don’t panic. Cover the nail end with styptic powder, and put pressure on the nail for 30 seconds until it stops bleeding. 

Be gentle and patient with dogs who don't like their nails trimmed. If you start by trimming one nail on each foot daily and rewarding with praise, you will soon have a relaxed, willing animal. Keeping the nails trimmed will protect your dog's feet from long nails that can become caught and break off, causing pain. Long nails can also cause permanent damage to toes by bending them into unnatural positions. 

Brushing a dog's teeth

Using a canine toothpaste and toothbrush, gently massage your dog's gums and brush the teeth. Go slowly, making the brushing a positive experience. If taught with patience and kindness, most animals enjoy a mouth massage. And the benefits are healthy mouths and fresh breath. Plus, you'll be more aware of when your dog needs dental work by a professional before serious problems can arise. 

Cleaning your dog's ears

You should periodically check your dog's ears. If they are clean and free of debris, then give your dog a nice ear rub. A gentle massage is going to give your pet a good association to your touch. If the ears are dirty, smell bad, or look sore, make an appointment with your veterinarian. The doctor can check for infection or parasites and can get you started with an ear cleaning lesson.

If you are doing a quick cleaning to healthy ears, start by dampening a cotton ball with dog ear cleaner and wipe the folds of skin, starting near the head and cleaning out to the ends of the ear flaps. Do not use cotton swabs because they can reach too deeply inside the ear and cause damage. Some animals are sensitive to the feeling of the cleaner going in, so you might want to start with just a small amount. Be prepared to “wear” some ear cleaner, as many dogs will shake their heads and send it flying.

Above all, remember that grooming can be a pleasurable activity for both you and your dog — and an important way to keep them healthy. Enjoy your animal family members and the time you spend interacting with them.