Dog Grooming Basics - Tools and Techniques
A dog of any breed will need grooming to look and feel her best. Grooming your dog appropriately may take a few minutes to quite a few hours each week, depending on breed and coat type.
Not all pet owners may have the time, skill, desire, or expertise needed to keep their dog's coat, nails, skin, teeth, and ears in the best possible shape. For these owners, it is best to hire a dog groomer.
Evaluating A Dog Grooming Business
What are your grooming goals - a well-trimmed family dog or preparing a dog for conformation showing? Finding a talented show groomer may be much more difficult than finding a wonderful groomer who specializes in fabulous cuts for pet dogs. If you are looking for a show groomer, contact your breeder or breed club for recommendations.
The internet and phonebook can be helpful in locating a dog groomer, but even better is a satisfied friend or trusted professional's reference. Ask your vet, trainer, breeder or rescue organization, and friends if they can recommend any good groomers in your area. Also ask about typical rates for services in your area. (Prices may vary depending upon a dog's breed, special health, behavior, or grooming situations, type of products used, etc.)
Prepare a list of questions (some are suggested below), and begin interviewing!
How long have you been in business? How did you learn to groom? Has an animal ever been injured in your care? What experience do you have grooming dogs of this breed? Can you provide references from other area pet professionals (vets, trainers, etc.) and from clients? (Follow up on these!)
If your pet has special coat and grooming requirements, health or behavioral problems (hot spots, existing fear of groomer, corded coats, mange, severe/extensive matting, need for anal gland expression, separation anxiety, ear plucking, fear biting during nail clipping, etc.), ask what type of experience the groomer has working with animals with the same needs.
After you've found the right answers to your questions from one or more professionals, check with the Better Business Bureau to make sure the company has no complaints on file; and make sure that they carry an active insurance policy. If all that checks out, schedule a visit to the facility.
The facility should be clean, well-lit, and inviting. Do the dogs look happy and well cared for? Is the staff friendly and helpful?
If you feel good about a potential dog groomer, schedule an appointment. If you are uncomfortable leaving your dog alone the first time, ask if you can attend during the grooming - this is a valuable training opportunity for you to teach your dog that the groomer's can be a great experience with lots of yummy treats! If the groomer refuses, look elsewhere for services.
Whomever you choose as your groomer should recommend dog grooming tools and supplies to help you maintain the dog's coat and good condition in between grooming visits.
Dog Grooming Tips
You may decide that you do not need the assistance of a groomer, at least not regularly; and that you prefer to do most of your dog's grooming at home. Here are some tips on ways to maximize your grooming success!
- Research your dog's breed or coat type online to see what tools are recommended. You may also consider contacting a local groomer for a one-time consultation on the right tools for your dog's coat.
- Make grooming sessions pleasant and short. Use lots of yummy treats, play soothing music or light a lavender candle for calming.
- The best time to begin training a dog to enjoy grooming is early puppyhood.
- If your dog is afraid of being groomed and will bite or struggle, you may want to consider hiring a local dog trainer to teach you how to make grooming an enjoyable experience for your dog through a systematic desensitization protocol.
Many trainers offer classes specifically on how to use positive reinforcement techniques to teach your dog to love both grooming and veterinary husbandry procedures.
- Avoid bathing your dog too frequently. Most dogs need not be bathed more than once every 4-6 weeks.
- Brush your dog's teeth every day.
- Trim dog's nails weekly.
- Some procedures are best left to the pros - do not clip your dog's nails if you are afraid she will bite you, do not pluck a dog's ear hair, hand strip the coat, express anal glands, shave a dog (believe it or not, not all long or double-coated breeds will benefit from shaving in summer months - on the contrary, their coats can serve as protection from the heat as well as cold), clip a severely matted dog, etc, if you don't know what you are doing.
- Visit a veterinarian if you see any signs of an unhealthy coat or skin problems - bald spots, scaly patches, excessive dryness or oiliness, open sores of any kind, hot spots, etc. These coat problems can be symptoms of underlying problems ranging from dietary deficiencies to allergies, extreme stress, or hypothyroidism.
Photo: Moonstone Archive
Related Advice from Other Dog Owners
Tips on Grooming Your Dog
I am a groomer and I only use OSTER TURBO 2 speed clippers. You will need multiple blades specific to your dog's fur. Purchase a grooming book or buy a video. You must be very careful in the hind leg area. You must pull the skin back lightly so no to catch it. Rule number one before you do anything is comb through all hair with some water or conditioner and get ALL knots and mats out FIRST, then bath him downward, Head first, Hold his ears down close to his body to prevent any water from getting into his eyes, I put mineral oil in there eyes first before bathing. You can purchase a dog dryer too. A human dryer will dry out the fur. Consider hand clipping the hair in sensitive areas with a good hair scissor. Tie the hair up away form the face or you can cut bangs and angle the sides.
~Terry Q., owner of Maltese
When Your Dog Fears Nail Trims
If you've tried everything but can't get your dog to stay still for a trim, try exercising on tennis courts or cement to grind down her nails. You may also consider desensitization training with a professional trainer where you introduce the nail clippers in a very positive manner with positive rewards to help break your dog's nervousness. Also, sometimes dogs better with a professional groomer or tech so you may seek assistance that way.
~Kelly R., owner of German Shepherd
Cleaning a Dog's Teeth at Home
First, never use human toothpaste as it's dangerous for dogs. You have a couple of options when it comes to cleaning at home. First, you can buy a toothbrush and dog toothpaste at most pet supply stores. Toothbrushes usually have heads at each end for different sized dogs. Begin by allowing the dog to inspect the brush and taste the paste to get him used to it. Work up to the actual cleaning. Use lots of treats and praise.
You brush the teeth in a similar way to human teeth, starting at the gum line then a gentle downward circular sweep. It's not as important to do the insides of the teeth, the outsides are good enough, so don't feel you have to pry your dog's mouth open; it's not necessary and he won't allow you to do it as easily in the future.
Another popular method is to wrap a finger around a damp terry washcloth and clean the teeth that way. Anesthesia should be avoided unless the dog really truly needs a deep cleaning.
~Michelle B., owner of Welsh Terrier mix
Train Your Dog to Like Having Her Ears Touched
It’s very important from day one to play with your dog's ears and feet. This makes necessary jobs much easier. Your dog probably doesn't associate ear cleaning to a comforting experience, especially if it means being forcefully held while you poke around in her ear. Try making it positive and rewarding.
Does your dog allow you to rub her ears when you’re cuddling? When she is laying down, gently play with her ears, flopping them over and stroking the underside of her ear. Talk to her, praise her and possibly give her a treat. If she likes body rubs, give her one with the other hand; body rubs and ear stroking means love. Get her used to the idea of having the inside of her ear being touched. I don't know what you use but when you want to clean her ears, hide the stuff from her; dogs are smart, and she knows what it is and will instantly get tense if she sees it. They also say dogs can smell it, so you might consider switching to something that is not familiar.
For cleaning the nooks and crannies you could buy one of those terry cloth gloves designed for washing yourself in the shower. Put one glove on and put the cleaning solution on the finger you’ll be using to clean the ears. Then you can sit and give her a body rub with the ungloved hand and clean her ears with the other, and then you just wash it. Another thing, if your dog ever needs ear drops for infections, or solutions in the ear canal, warm the drops up a bit before you use them. Cold solution in the ear is no fun.
~Kathy L., owner of a Great Pyrenees
Keep Your Dog's Face Clean
It is very important to keep your dog's face clean. Some dogs have a lot of discharge from their eyes and this can build up and become very hard. If this is not cleaned on a daily basis it can cause sores.
As a groomer I've seen some pretty nasty sores that required medication. Also, smushy-face breeds need to have their face folds clean and dry to prevent getting stinky fold infections. Some breeds like Cocker Spaniels can get infections in the folds of the lips as well. Work with your dog on keeping his/her face clean. If they don't like it, try doing it just a little at a time and praise, praise, praise when they allow this.
~Lisa the Groomer, owner of a Frenchie
A Trick for Trimming a Nervous Dog's Nails
One of my dogs has a tendency to try to snap at me when I am trimming her nails. I've never felt good about the use of muzzles on dogs, so my alternative to keeping me (and her) safe during the trim is to put a plastic cone around her head (the kind used after surgery) during the trim. Now the nail trim is quick and therefore less traumatic for her (and me)!
~Gina, owner of Cookie, a Cocker Spaniel mix
Try a Toothbrush
I use a battery-powered human toothbrush on both of my dogs. Both dogs look forward to it. One loves it and doesn't want to stop the chewing on the brush that helps me clean his teeth.
~Martha F., owner of a border collie