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How to groom a dog at home

The essentials

  • Regular maintenance is the key to easy grooming — Consistent brushing helps to keep their coat in shape and makes any necessary trims much easier.
  • Nail trims are a part of the deal — Frequent nail trims reduce the risk of painful scratches and prevent injury from overgrown nails.
  • Different breeds and coat types have different requirements — Familiarize yourself with your dog’s coat type to select the appropriate grooming tools.

Most people take their dogs to the local groomers without a second thought, but did you know it’s possible to pamper your pup without taking them to a professional? DIY dog grooming is inexpensive, easy to do, and builds stronger bonds between us and our beloved pets. 

These tricks and tips can help you recreate the spa day experience for your dog at home, with no outside help necessary. Because different dogs have different grooming needs, we’ll start by digging into what you’ll need for the job based on their breed.

How to brush your dog at home

Coat maintenance plays a key role in preventing flea infestations, and it’s an essential part of every good grooming session. Take care to brush the grain of your dog’s fur in smooth, firm strokes to prevent painfully pulling on their hair. You should brush them before and after bathtime to prevent tangles.

Most dogs require brushing at least once a week, but some need even more depending on their coat type. The only exception is dogs with corded fur, such as the puli, who don’t need to be brushed at all once their dreadlocks are formed.

Just as each breed is unique, so are the tools required to properly groom them. You wouldn’t use the same brush for a corgi as you would for a poodle, right? Use these guidelines based on your dog’s coat to give them the best, most comfortable brushing experience possible:

Short-haired breeds

For smooth-coated breeds like the French bulldog and the dachshund, a weekly once-over with a rubber glove brush should be enough to comb their fur and distribute oils on their skin. Short-haired dogs have sensitive skin that’s easily damaged, but if you decide they need a traditional brushing, opt for a soft boar bristle brush instead of a bin brush or slicker.  

Medium-coated breeds

Siberian huskies and corgis fall into the medium double-coated category. These dogs benefit from being groomed with a slicker brush weekly, but they’ll need more frequent brushing when they start to “blow” their undercoat during the spring and fall. Their skin isn’t as sensitive as smooth-coated breeds, so you can use a de-shedding tool to help with this, if necessary. 

Long-haired breeds

Long hair requires regular attention to avoid the formation of unhealthy knots. This is just as true for breeds that barely shed, like the Havanese and Yorkshire terrier, as it is for breeds that shed a ton, including the Old English sheepdog and Lhasa apso. We recommend brushing these dogs once or twice a week with a stainless steel comb to detangle knots, but it’s a good idea to have a slicker brush on hand to get to the hairs trapped deep in the undercoat. Some long-haired dogs may require daily brushing during shedding seasons.

👉 You can help long-haired breeds maintain an evenly parted coat by running a comb down the middle of their body, starting at the top of their head and gently working your way to the base of the tail.

Curly-haired breeds

If your dog has tight curls or wavy hair that doesn’t really shed, such as the poodle or Portuguese water dog, a slicker brush will be your best friend. Dogs with curly hair ideally need brushing daily — or at least several times a week — to prevent matting. Apply light but gentle pressure when brushing these dogs to make sure you’re reaching the skin, as only brushing on the surface can make mats harder to detangle. Once you’ve brushed them with a slicker, follow up with a metal comb to make sure they’re tangle-free.

Trim your dog’s coat when necessary

If you have dog hair all over your sofa, chances are good that you won’t need clippers. Short-haired breeds that shed, such as the Labrador, don’t need clipping at all. Dogs with longer coats that shed only require occasional sanitary trims around their paws, ears, and tail. On the other hand, hypoallergenic breeds like the bichon frisé or Maltese require full haircuts every 6 to 8 weeks, depending on how fast their fur grows and your preferred length.

👉Some curly-haired breeds, such as the Schnauzer, can have their fur hand-stripped instead of clipped. If you decide to go the more traditional route, expect to trim them once every couple of months.

Bathing your dog at home

While nobody wants a stinky pup, overbathing a dog can strip their skin of the natural oils their body needs for a healthy coat. A good rule of thumb is to bathe them no more than once a month unless they’re excessively dirty. Try these tips to cut down on baths and make the process as easy as possible for you and your dog: 

  • Always brush first. No matter the breed, it’s important to brush a dog’s coat before bathing them to release any tangles.
  • Use prep time as a check-up. Bath prep is an excellent time to look for signs of trouble on your dog’s body. Watch for any changes in their skin and coat as you brush them, as well as parasites and injuries.
  • Shampoo with care. After you’ve gathered your materials, check the temperature first to make sure you’re washing them in warm water. Once you’re ready, simply rinse, lather, and repeat. Additionally, avoid getting water and shampoo in their eyes and ears. 
  • Avoid the shower, if possible. Some dogs are scared of bath time and may need more patience than others, especially at first. If you have a small dog, give them a traditional bath in a laundry tub, bucket, or sink as opposed to a shower.
  • Blow-dry. After bathtime is over, some pet parents prefer to use a hair dryer on low to get them dry, especially if their dog has longer hair. If you do, be careful not to burn their skin.
  • Wipe down their paws. To prevent long scrubbing sessions during future baths, make a habit of wiping your dog’s paws after their walks and keeping a towel in the car for quick clean-ups.
  • Stay calm when they don’t. If your dog tries to bite while you’re grooming them, don’t overreact. Calmly stop what you’re doing and dry them off. Never continue grooming a dog who’s acting aggressively because it can cause injuries to you both. You may also wish to ask your veterinarian about anxiety medications you can use to soothe your pup during future grooming sessions. 

👉  For large dogs that have to stand in the shower, you might want to invest in a non-slip mat to give them a little extra grip.

Any patches of hair loss or extreme scaliness, dry skin or signs of extremely red or abnormally moist skin including pimple-like skin changes can be indicative of more serious skin problems as infection (pyoderma), and of course, flea dirt and fleas are signs of infestation.

Dr. Bruce Armstrong

How to trim your dog’s nails

Nail trims are an essential part of pet care for every dog breed. Overgrown nails can cause injuries, not to mention unsightly scratches to your legs and furniture. For the first time, though, it’s important to build trust with your dog instead of jumping right in.

Follow these steps to get your dog more comfortable with nail trimming. Be patient with them and avoid rushing any part of the process — most dogs take a few days to acclimate. We recommend starting off slow, gently touching their paws and introducing them to the smell and sound of the clippers before you actually start trimming. 

  1. Pick up the paw — Place your thumb on the toe pad and your forefinger on top of the toe, on the skin above the nail. Apply firm but gentle pressure as you trim, and make sure the area is clear of fur before you start. 
  2. Extend the nail — To do this, push your thumb slightly up and back on the paw pad while pushing your forefinger forward. 
  3. Clip the tips — Cut across each nail in a straight line to avoid trimming too far down. Don’t forget to trim the dewclaws, which are located on the inner side of each paw. 
  4. Repeat the process — Trimming past the curve of the nail puts the quick (the pink part of the nail that contains blood vessels and nerve endings) at risk of being cut. Avoid cutting past the chalky white ring on the nail to save your dog unnecessary pain and bleeding. 

👉 First-time nail trimmers should start by removing small amounts of the nail until they can comfortably identify the quick. 

Many different tools are available for trimming dog nails. The best one for your dog will depend on the shape and size of their nails, their overall temperament, and how comfortable they feel around each instrument as they’re introduced to it. 

Watch their behavior for clues about how they’re feeling, and always prioritize your dog’s comfort and safety above all else. 

  • Pliers. These nail cutters look similar to traditional pliers, but they’re equipped with spring-loaded handles and a dual-sided blade to make easy work of cutting through tough nails. Most pliers are ambidextrous, which means you can use them if you’re left or right-handed. 
  • Guillotine. Named after the infamous execution device, these nail clippers use a single blade to quickly slice through the nail. Just place the nail through the hole and squeeze the handles together. 
  • Scissors. These aren’t your everyday household scissors — these specialized dog clippers come with curved blades for painless, effective cutting. We recommend using this type of clipper for smaller dogs since they’re often not powerful enough to cut through large nails. 
  • Nail grinder. Nervous dogs may do better with a nail grinder since it’s not as easy to accidentally cut into the quick.
  • Styptic or clotting powder. Have this on when trimming your dog’s nails to stop excess bleeding in the event of any nicks or cuts. This product is relatively inexpensive and readily available, but you can use cooking flour to the same effect in an emergency. 

Ear and eye cleaning at home

Hygiene is essential for a happy, healthy pup. This is just as true for their fur and nails as it is for their ears and eyes. You don’t necessarily need to do routine maintenance on these parts if there don’t seem to be any health problems at play — but there are some important considerations to keep in mind for each. 

A good rule of thumb for ear cleaning is to only clean what you can see. Some wax is normal in clean dog ears, but there shouldn’t be any odor present. 

To clean your dog’s ears, apply a specialized dog ear cleaning solution to a cotton round, gently wiping away dirt and wax near the inner ear without pushing too far in. If you have a dog with drop ears like a Basset hound or cocker spaniel, you’ll periodically need to wipe away the dirt inside the ear flags as it builds up over time. 

👉 Clean your dog’s ears once a month if they’re susceptible to ear infections

Eye cleanings can typically be more sporadic, though extra maintenance may be required for breeds with large eyes, including pugs, Pomeranians, and Pekingese. Similarly, long-haired and white-haired dogs will need help getting tear stains and other trapped debris out of the fur around their eyes. You can wipe up small amounts of discharge from the eye using a moist cotton ball.

Brushing your dog’s teeth

Many owners skip brushing their dog’s teeth in favor of treats like dental chews to make the job easier on themselves — but daily brushing is far more effective at reducing their risk of several life-threatening conditions, including kidney, liver, and heart disease. It may take some getting used to at first (for both of you), but it only takes minutes a day, and it’s a great benefit for your dog’s overall health.

Use these tips to help your dog into the toothbrushing process: 

  • Patience, patience, patience. Every dog is going to need time to adjust to the feeling of a toothbrush moving around in their mouth. Only try brushing their teeth when they seem calm and relaxed, and move in small steps that work up to full brushing. 
  • Get the right tools for the job. Toothbrushes specifically made for dogs have softer bristles and are angled to help you tackle hard-to-reach areas. Brushes with longer handles are good for big dogs, but finger brushes can work well for small breeds. You’ll also need a toothpaste formulated for dogs to avoid toxins in human toothpastes, including fluoride, parabens, sulfates, and xylitol
  • Avoid using force. Prepare your dog for the sensation of toothbrushing by using light pressure to gently run your thumb along their teeth and gums. Stop what you’re doing immediately if they show any signs of discomfort and try again later.
  • Brush in small, circular motions. Once they’re comfortable enough to let you attempt a full brush, stick to light pressure, with the bristles positioned at a 45-degree angle to make sure you’re getting the plaque off the gum line.
  • Use positive reinforcement throughout. Give your dog ample praise as you brush to let them know how good they’re being. Work in hugs, kisses, and treats during and after toothbrushing to turn the experience into one of their favorites.

How to handle impacted anal sacs

Commonly referred to as “scent glands,” anal sacs are the glands on either side of a dog’s anus that release a scent every time the dog has a bowel movement. This helps dogs identify each other and mark their territory when they do their business. 

When these glands fail to empty normally, they’re deemed “impacted.” Vets and professional groomers can treat anal sac impaction by manually draining the sacs but don’t try to do this yourself at home.

Tips for successfully grooming your dog at home

While grooming sounds straightforward in theory, it can be tricky in practice depending on your dog’s temperament. Whether you’re brushing, trimming, or cleaning their ears, the best course of action is always to start by introducing the grooming tools while giving them praise and treats. Follow these key grooming do’s and don’ts, and they should warm up to the process before long. 

What to do 

  • Use the right tools for the job. Dog-specific hair brushes, nail clippers, toothbrushes, and cleaning products exist for a reason. They keep our pups clean without causing discomfort or adverse side effects and make the grooming process easier on pet owners. Only use vet-approved hygiene products when grooming your dog. 
  • Slow and steady. Never use grooming tools the same day you introduce them to your dog. Give them a chance to sniff each tool and get used to having them in their personal space. 
  • Wipe away dirt with a damp towel. You don’t need special cleaners to wipe away mud, sand, and other outdoor debris from your dog’s fur. Simply wet a towel and wipe away (gently, of course). 
  • Be consistent with tooth brushing. If you can’t brush daily, try to at least brush a few times a week to eliminate plaque buildup. You can also clean your dog’s teeth by wrapping your finger in a piece of gauze or washcloth, then gently wiping the teeth and massaging the gums. 
  • Keep your dog’s nails trimmed. Long nails are in constant contact with everyday surfaces and are more susceptible to snags, breaks, and infections. Irritation may also cause some dogs to start biting their nails. 
  • Regularly check the paw pads. Clean paw pads are important for a healthy dog, but you’ll also want to do routine inspections to make sure your pooch’s paws are free from hidden dryness, cracks, and injuries. Dogs with excessive hair between their toes may require occasional trims to avoid matting. 
  • Don’t skip grooming sessions (even if you can’t do it yourself). Regular grooming is essential to a dog’s health and should always be prioritized. If you don’t have time to groom them at home, look into professional pet grooming services in your area.

What not to do 

  • Don’t use human hygiene products. Shampoo, conditioner, and toothpaste products intended for humans may contain ingredients that are toxic to dogs. If you’re unsure whether a particular product is safe for your dog, ask your vet about it. 
  • Don’t groom if you’re uncomfortable with it. Hair and nail clipping require proper training and should only be attempted by owners who feel comfortable handling sensitive areas on their dog’s body. If done incorrectly, these grooming procedures can cause your dog discomfort, pain, and bleeding. 
  • Don’t cut mats out of the fur. Scissors can cause serious injury to dogs during a haircut, especially if the dog is nervous or uncomfortable with the procedure. If you find a tough knot in your dog’s coat during a trim, use your fingers, doggie conditioner, and the appropriate types of comb. 
  • Don’t bathe your dog outdoors if it’s cold. This can result in a sharp drop in body temperature that leads to illness. 
  • Don’t attempt to drain your dog’s anal sacs. Anal sac expression is best left to trained professionals like vet technicians. 
  • Don’t play vet. Schedule a vet appointment if you find any cuts, scrapes, scars, or sores on your dog’s body while you’re grooming them. Injuries can become infected and lead to serious health complications when they’re not treated properly.

Why grooming is important for dogs

In addition to replacing funky smells with the aroma of a freshly washed pup, routine bathing and brushing helps distribute oils across their skin and keep it healthy. Mats and tangles prove similarly dangerous by restricting blood flow and hiding harmful parasites like fleas. Regular grooming prevents these complications and helps your dog look and feel their best. 

Grooming a dog from top to bottom can seem like a tall order if you’re new to it. Professional groomers are a good option for owners who are unable to groom their dogs themselves,  but the DIY route is well worth trying if you want to save a little extra money or if you want to build a deeper connection with your furry best friend.

Frequently asked questions

How do you groom a dog for beginners? What tools do I need?

Dog grooming is largely about patience, especially if it’s your first time doing it yourself. Follow the procedures outlined above to safely and comfortably brush and trim your dog’s fur, trim their nails, brush their teeth, and clean their eyes and ears. Essential grooming tools include brushes, combs, nail clippers, cotton balls, specialized dog toothbrushes, hygiene products like shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste (formulated specially for dogs), and styptic powder to prevent excess bleeding. 

Best grooming advice for a new groomer?

A good rule of thumb for dog grooming is to only groom the things you can see. If your dog’s nails or fur don’t look overly long, they’re probably not ready for the next trim. Whether you’re brushing, trimming, or wiping, always be gentle with your movements, and be patient with your dog as they ease into the unfamiliar process. 

What are the 7 steps of grooming a dog?

Every groomer’s process is different, and some groomers may perform certain procedures before others. In general, the grooming process typically goes like this: 

  1. Brush the hair to eliminate tangles and knots 
  2. Bathe to remove dirt, pests, and other debris
  3. Dry them off after bathing 
  4. Clean the ears of excess dirt and grime 
  5. Trim the coat (only once their fur is dry) 
  6. Trim the nails 
  7. Reward with praise and treats for positive reinforcement. 

What should you not do when grooming a dog?

Never pressure your dog to endure any grooming procedure they seem uncomfortable with; grooming is all about patience. Start slowly and allow them to get used to the tools and sensations of brushing, bathing, and trimming before you attempt any actual grooming. 

Is it better to cut a dog’s hair wet or dry?

Dry. Dog hair works similarly to human hair in that it shrinks up when it dries. If you cut a dog’s hair while it’s still wet, you risk cutting it too short and leaving them exposed to environmental conditions like the cold and sun.