Grooming a Dog at Home: Sparky’s Top Tips
One of the most loving things you can do for your best pal is to make sure you keep up with their grooming regimen.
Grooming your dog regularly helps to remove loose hair as well as any dirt or dander in their coat. It also helps prevent abscesses, skin infections or mats that pull tightly at your pup’s skin and cause pain.
Even if you still go to a groomer regularly, doing some of your own maintenance in between sessions makes your groomer’s job much easier (and often cheaper).
The most important thing to remember when grooming a dog at home is to not be intimidated. The more you do it, the better you get at it, and the more ready you’ll feel to build upon your grooming skills!
Schedule For Grooming a Dog at Home
Some grooming tasks should be done weekly or even daily, while others can be left several weeks without issue. Here’s a rough guideline for how often you should groom:
Brush your pup’s coat. Even a quick five-minute brush each day to get out dirt and loose hair goes a long way — especially if you have a dog who sheds their undercoat twice a year.
Brush your dog’s teeth. Do this daily if you can; if not, even two or three times a week helps.
A few times a week:
Wipe any gunk away from your dog’s eyes
Check over your dog’s paw pads for dryness or cracking (daily in winter)
Clean out your dog’s wrinkles (daily if your dog is especially prone to skin infections)
Once a month:
Clean your dog’s ears. If your pup’s ears are prone to buildup, this may need to be done twice a month.
Clip your dog’s toenails.
Bathe your dog. If you and your dog are very outdoorsy and Fido often smells like dirt and dead squirrel, you’ll want to bathe him more often — but remember that bathing too frequently actually damages the coat. Once a week is considered too much. Unless the stink is overwhelming, try to go at least 4 weeks in between baths. For most dogs, every 6 weeks is recommended..
Trim or clip your dog’s fur. It’s usually best to do this after each bath. Only focus on areas you are comfortable with and need special attention (like any hair over your dog’s eyes or between their toes).
Every few months:
Take your dog to a professional grooming session. Of course, depending on your dog’s coat, some pups will need professional treatment more or less frequently. Consult your groomer or vet if you’re not sure.
Supplies You Will Need For Grooming a Dog at Home
You may wonder: do you have to get dog-specific cleaning products? For example, what if you just washed your dog with human shampoo or baby shampoo — it’s basically the same thing, right?
Unfortunately, it is not the same thing! Human shampoos have a very different pH and formulation than those products specially designed for your furry friends.
In fact, it’s best to avoid using any human-intended products on your best pal. Everything from the lengths of the blades on the razors to the formulas in the products are different, so it’s worthwhile to invest in good canine grooming supplies — including dog-safe scissors, trimmers and clippers that are designed to be less dangerous for a squirmy pooch.
Also, remember that while some grooming supplies are universal, others depend entirely on your dog’s coat type. As the AKC explains,
“The kind of equipment you need depends on your dog’s coat texture and length. Longhaired dogs need pin brushes, which have long, round-ended stainless-steel or chrome-plated pins. Short-, medium-, and some long-coated breeds need bristle brushes. There are also slicker brushes for removing mats and dead hair; rubber curry combs to polish smooth coats and remove dead hair; clippers, stripping knives, rakes, hair dryers, and other grooming tools.”
A few of the most important supplies you’ll need for grooming a dog at home include:
Dog-safe shampoo and conditioner
Dog brushes and combs
Dog-safe toothpaste and toothbrush
Dog-safe nail clippers or an electric nail trimmer
Towels and washcloths
Lots and lots of your pup’s favorite treats!
Depending on the size of your dog and how dirty they are, giving your dog a bath can be the work of an hour — or an entire afternoon!
A small dog can be bathed in your bathtub or maybe even the kitchen sink, but if you have a large dog you may need to go to specifically built dog washes, which you can often find at laundromats or pet-centered establishments.
Always double check the water temperature on your palm so you know it’s not too hot or cold before you spray your dog. They are more sensitive to heat than we are, so don’t assume your dog loves a scorching hot shower just because you do.
Before you get going on Fido’s bath, one good tip is to wipe some peanut butter, cream cheese, or other yummy substance on the wall. This will keep your pup distracted with licking the wonderful taste while you clean them.
As you’re washing, be careful not to scrub too hard or overlook any areas. Make sure not to get water in your dog’s ears, as that can cause an ear infection. When you’re done, completely rinse out any shampoo, conditioner or other products you may have used on your dog.
Dry your pup with gentle pats; you don’t need to rub them vigorously. (And watch out for those full-body shakes!)
Don’t use your personal hair dryer or blow dryer, as human-intended blow dryers are far too hot for dogs; the ones you see groomers using are made for pups. Unless they have a certain coat type, most dogs are best left air-dried, anyway.
Brushing and Trimming
Brushing techniques and tools vary greatly depending on if your dog’s coat is long or short, silky or wiry, single or double — the options and combinations are endless! You may have to seek out more detailed info on your pup’s coat type specifically if you’re just not sure how to groom it.
Generally, a “quick brush” should be done each day, with a longer brushing session every couple of weeks to really work out any loose hair or dirt. Always brush in the direction of your dog’s hair, regardless of their coat type.
If you feel comfortable doing any kind of trimming — or (gulp) styling! — make sure you only use dog-safe scissors and other tools that won’t hurt your dog if they wiggle.
If you’re the proud owner of an adorably wrinkly dog like a Shar-Pei, Bulldog or Pug, then there’s an extra grooming step you’ll have to take to keep that wrinkly mug at its most beautiful. (This also applies if your best bud of any breed has gained a few wrinkles due to their weight.)
Doggy wrinkles can be super cute, but unfortunately they are prone to build-ups of moisture, gunk and moldy leftover food — yuck! That ultimately leads to uncomfortable skin infections within the folds, such as yeast infections or dermatitis. You’ll know your pup is suffering from this if their wrinkles have red, aggravated, painful skin and a nasty odor. Fortunately, a little TLC can keep your buddy feeling and smelling good, and keep that wrinkly face cute and kissable.
At least two or three times a week (preferably daily), use a soft, damp cloth to wipe out the grooves and folds of your best pal’s wrinkles. If there’s grime or gunk that won’t come out, dab a bit of your dog’s shampoo onto the cloth. Don’t scrub or wipe too hard, especially if your pup’s skin is already dry or inflamed.
Whenever you wipe your dog’s wrinkles, make sure the area is completely dry when you are done. Leaving moisture behind breeds bacteria — the exact thing you’re trying to avoid in the first place.
Nails & Feet
If you can hear your dog’s toenails clicking on the hard floors, it’s time to trim them down.
Whenever you’re clipping your dog’s nails, it’s crucial to be very careful of the “quick” (the blood vessel that supplies the nail). If your dog has pale nails, you might be able to see the quick as a darker area in the “core” of the nail; if your dog has dark nails, the quick may look like a black spot, or it may not be possible to see at all.
If you cut the quick, it will bleed and cause your dog pain. (There’s a reason why “You’ve cut me to the quick!” is an expression used to show you’ve been deeply hurt!). Have a styptic powder on hand to stem the bleeding in case this does happen.
Be aware that if the quick is cut, the nail may take a while to heal, and the distressing experience may make your dog more reluctant to trust your nail-trimming abilities the next time. (Yummy treats, however, go a long way towards a distraction from the pain — and an apology!).
It may look intimidating, but an electric nail filing tool is probably a better choice than clippers, as it carries much less risk of cutting the quick. As with any grooming technique, while instructional videos exist, don’t be afraid to ask your vet or groomer to teach you how.
While you’re attending to your dog’s pedicure, also take a peak between your puppy’s toes. That’s a prime spot for minor injuries, burrs or ticks to be missed.
Be sure to examine your pup’s paw pads as well. If they’re red and sore, or dry and cracking, that can be very painful for your dog — especially in winter when the air is dry. Apply paw wax regularly to keep your pup’s patters in tip-top shape.
Whether your dog’s ears are big or small, upright or floppy, they’ll still need your attention to stay clean and hygienic.
To clean your pup’s ears, use a warm, damp washcloth to wipe out only what you can see and reach easily. Do not use cotton swabs or Q-tips to dig deep into your dog’s ear; all it takes is your dog to flinch while you’re working, and suddenly you’ve damaged delicate tissue.
Ear cleaning solutions aren’t usually necessary, if your dog’s ears produce a normal amount of wax. If you do opt for an ear cleaner, make sure to use one specially formulated for dogs’ ears, not one made for human use. If your dog has very dirty ears or has long hairs growing within their ears, you may want to leave some areas to a professional — so just do the best you can.
Once you make this a habit, you’ll quickly start to notice what’s normal and what’s not. An ear infection results in a different color of discharge than normal earwax and often smells strange, which will tip you off that it’s time to get your pup’s ears checked out.
It’s important to take care of those adorable puppy eyes!
As often as needed, use a lightly dampened cloth or cotton ball to gently wipe away all those eye boogers or gunk around your dog’s eyes (but be careful not to touch the eyeballs themselves). Start at the corners of your buddy’s eyes and wipe gently downwards.
While cleaning, inspect your pup’s eyes to make sure they are not red, swollen or too dry. Dog-safe teardrops do exist if your pup needs them, but double check with your vet first before putting anything in your dog’s eyes.
While you’re there, also take note of any tear stains: reddish-brown marks in the skin or hair around your dog’s eyes. Tear stains are the result of your dog’s eyes producing an excessive amount of tears, which is a condition commonly triggered by allergies.
If your pup is experiencing additional symptoms of a food allergy, it may be time to transition to a grain free diet. Drastically limiting the number of “mystery” ingredients in your pup’s diet will help you get to the bottom of what is causing the symptoms.
You brush your own teeth regularly — but what about Fido’s?
Dental disease is shockingly prevalent in dogs. According to Veterinary Centers of America, over 80% of dogs older than three have active dental disease. Brushing your dog’s teeth is the single most important thing you can do to prevent painful, infected teeth from being in your pup’s future!
The first step to brushing your dog’s teeth is to let your pup sample your dog-safe toothpaste by licking it off your finger first. Dog toothpaste comes in several different flavors, so if you try a few you’re sure to find one that your dog likes.
Once you have your dog’s interest, gently place your toothpaste-covered finger in their mouth and let them get used to the feeling. Then it’s time to brush, using just your finger until you eventually switch to a toothbrush.
Either way, the technique is the same: Gently rub the toothpaste against your dog’s teeth and gums in a circular motion. Make sure to cover all surfaces and even your dog’s back teeth — if they’ll let you! (You may have to start with only their front teeth first, and work up to the back ones).
Brushing your dog’s teeth every day is ideal, but even 2-3 times per week is helpful if that’s all you have time for. While brushing, take note of any cracked teeth, abscesses or bleeding gums.
If you find that brushing your dog’s teeth is quite difficult (or impossible, if Fido absolutely refuses despite your best efforts), there are still other steps you can take to improve your best furiend’s dental health.
For example, the amount of tartar and plaque on your dog’s teeth is related to many factors, but diet is the most important one. Grain- and gluten-heavy foods contain excess sugars that rapidly contribute to tartar buildup. Therefore, eliminating grains from your pet’s diet with grain free dog food can go a long way towards turning your dog’s chompers into pearly whites.
Don’t forget that many dog treats are a big source of sugars, too. Most commercial dog biscuits are basically meat-scented cakes — now that’s a cavity waiting to happen! Spoil your pup with grain free, single ingredient dog treats instead, to keep your best pal’s smile as dazzling as it can be.
Other Considerations While Grooming a Dog At Home
Always remember that when it comes to the health and hygiene of your best pal, it’s better to be safe than sorry! If you’re ever unsure about a technique, or concerned about something you come across on your dog’s body or coat, leave it alone until you consult with your vet or groomer.
Any time you’re grooming a dog at home is the perfect opportunity to check them carefully for ticks, parasites, infections, injuries, abscesses or hotspots. Pay attention to any area that feels warm or swollen (especially joints), and anywhere your dog reacts as if it’s painful to the touch — even if you don’t see anything wrong.
Grooming a dog at home is a slow process that builds on itself. The long-term goal of your pet tolerating or even enjoying a grooming session several months or years from now is more important than the short-term goal of getting every single tangle out or tooth polished today.
So, don’t be determined to see it all through in one session. Your dog may need breaks as you’re grooming, or the process may even need to be spread over several days — and that’s fine!
Above all, make sure it’s a positive experience for both you and Fido. Remember: lots of yummy treats go a long way towards making your grooming sesh a success!