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Dog having a shampoo bath

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.

The smell of a freshly groomed dog costs a pretty penny, but it doesn’t have to. Here’s some tricks and tips on how you can recreate the spa day experience at home for a fraction of the professional price. Different dog breeds have different grooming needs, so let’s dig into what you’ll need for your special pup.

If your dog tries to bite while you’re grooming them, don’t overreact. Calm them down and try to keep going. Talk to your veterinarian about anxiety medication if your dog still appears overly anxious . You shouldn’t continue grooming a dog who’s acting aggressively because it can cause injuries to you both.

4 steps for grooming any dog at home

All canines need grooming basics such as brushing, bathing, and nail trimming. Did you know that their breed and fur type determine how often? Plus, some breeds like the Shih tzu don’t shed, but they’ll need their fur plucked or trimmed in addition to regular brushing. Dogs who shed need frequent brushing to catch loose hair but rarely (if ever) require the clippers.

Step 1: Routinely brush your dog’s coat

Brush with 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 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.

Step 2: Bathe your dog — but not too often

While you don’t want a stinky pup, overbathing can strip their skin of the natural oils that their body produces for a healthy coat. A good rule of thumb is to bathe them no more than once a month unless they’re excessively dirty. To help cut down on baths, cultivate a habit of wiping your dog’s paws after their walks and keeping a towel in the car for quick clean-ups.

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. This gives you more control and relieves their fear of loud noises and the shower sprayer. For large dogs who must stand in the shower, you might want to invest in a non-slip mat to make things easier.

No matter the breed, always brush them first to release any tangles. As a loving dog owner, keeping an eye on any changes in their skin and coat is a good idea. Bath prep is an excellent time to notice any irritation on their skin. You’ll also want to check for parasites and injuries. After you’ve gathered your materials and prepped your pup, you know the drill. Check the temperature with your elbow first to make sure you’re washing them in warm water. Once you’re ready, simply rinse, lather, and repeat. Avoid getting water and shampoo in their eyes and ears. Using a puppy shampoo even on an adult dog can give you a peace of mind if they tend to wiggle a bit while you’re bathing them.

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.

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

Step 3: Trim your dog’s coat when necessary

If you have dog hair all over your sofa, chances are good that you won’t have to break out the 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 and touch-ups around their paws, ears, and tail.

You’ll want to keep your clippers handy if you have a hypoallergenic breed like the poodle or Havanese. These guys require full haircuts every 6-8 weeks, depending on how fast their fur grows and your preferred length.

Step 4: 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, building trust with your dog is important instead of jumping right in.

Introduce the nail clippers with positive reinforcement gradually over a few days before you cut the first nail.  That way, when it’s finally time for a groom, they’re familiar with the clippers, and they may even look forward to future grooming sessions because they know it’s bonding time with you. Make sure not to miss the dew claw, which is located above their paw on their front legs.

It’s also a good idea to familiarize yourself with the size and shape of your dog’s nails, as well as their temperament, to find the best type of nail trimmer.  For example, nervous dogs may do better with a nail grinder since it’s not as easy to accidentally cut into the quick.

Essential grooming tools by coat type

Just as each breed is unique, so are the grooming tools. You wouldn’t use the same brush for a corgi as you would for a poodle. We can break down grooming tools by coat type to help you find what you’ll need.

Long-haired breeds

Use a slicker brush once or twice a week for long-haired breeds that shed. A rake or de-shedding tool can also be helpful in collecting loose fur and preventing matting. If they have a double coat, they’ll usually “blow” their undercoat in the spring and fall. You’ll probably want to switch to brushing a few times a week during this time. The dog hair on the sofa is the trade-off for not having to cut their hair.

Short-haired breeds

For smooth-coated breeds like the French bulldog and the dachshund, use a rubber glove brush to comb their fur and distribute oils on their skin about once a week. Short-haired dogs have sensitive skin that’s easily damaged, so if you decide they need a traditional brushing, opt for a soft boar bristle brush instead of a bin brush or slicker.  Just like long-haired dogs that shed, smooth-coated dogs don’t need clipping.

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. They’ll need more frequent brushing during shedding season when they blow their coat. Their skin isn’t as sensitive as smooth-coated breeds, so you can use a de-shedding tool if necessary. While they won’t need a full haircut, they may need a sanitary trim around sensitive areas such as their tail and paws every once in a while to stay clean.

Curly-haired breeds

If your dog has tight curls or wavy hair that doesn’t really shed, such as the poodle, the 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.

It’s important to gently apply pressure when brushing these dogs to make sure you’re reaching the skin. Brushing only on the surface creates mats that can be difficult to detangle. Once you’ve brushed them with a slicker, follow up with a metal comb to make sure they’re tangle-free.

Some curly-haired breeds, such as the Schnauzer, may be hand-stripped instead of clipped. If you decide to give them a haircut instead, expect to trim them every couple of months.

Common dog grooming problems and solutions 

While grooming sounds straightforward in theory, it can be tricky in practice depending on your dog’s temperament. Creating a positive association with grooming tools is important before you turn on the clippers or cut their nails. Some dogs hate being brushed or fear the sound of the clippers, so you’ll need to take it slow.

Start by introducing the grooming tools while giving them praise and treats.

  • Let them see all of the tools for the first day, but don’t use them yet.
  • Next time, gradually turn the clippers on and let them see how they work without using them on their fur.
  • Once your dog is comfortable, you can take it slow with brief grooming sessions. Give them plenty of praise and treats to reinforce the idea that grooming is an enjoyable experience.

Why grooming is important for dogs

Regular grooming helps your dog look and feel their best. In addition to replacing funky smells with the aroma of a freshly washed pup, routine bathing and brushing also helps distribute oils across their skin and keep it healthy. Excessive matting is actually dangerous and can be deadly in severe cases. Tangled hair restricts blood flow by constricting the blood vessels, and hides parasites such as fleas, which can easily be fatal in puppies.  Excessively long nails can cause injuries, so that’s why it’s vital to trim them as needed.

Frequently asked questions

Help! My dog is matted. What can I do?

Regular brushing helps prevent matted fur, but sometimes life gets busy. If your dog’s coat is out of control, work out the matts with your fingers, kid-friendly blunted scissors, or take them to a professional groomer. You should also make sure you’re using the appropriate grooming tools for your dog’s coat. For example, curly-haired dogs need a slicker brush to reach their skin because surface-level brushing can cause deep mats. Also, be sure to work out all the matts before you bathe them because bathing a matted dog can worsen the problem.

My dog hates being groomed. What can I do?

Build positive reinforcements with the grooming tools before you begin. You should introduce your dog to the scissors, clippers, etc. before using them. Reward them with praise and treats so they associate grooming with being pampered. When it is time to get the job done, work in brief sessions so they don’t get too tired and irritable. If your dog shows signs of aggression, talk to your vet about anxiety medication, or consider finding a professional.

How often do I need to bathe my dog?

Generally, dogs don’t need a bath more than once a month. The exact frequency depends on their breed and coat type. Wiping them off with a towel after outdoor excursions can help prevent having to bathe them too often.