When, why, and how to groom a dog can be confusing for new pet owners, yet dog grooming is an essential part of general pet care. You can easily learn to do it and with a little practice, and do it well without having to pay a dog groomer. This all-in-one dog grooming guide for beginners will walk you through all the steps.
About This All-in-One Dog Grooming Guide
This “How to Groom a Dog 101” free course is for a complete beginner who’s never groomed a dog. You will learn what factors to consider when deciding between a professional pet groomer and home dog grooming, the basics of grooming your dog at home and the foundation for becoming a knowledgeable and skilled DIY dog groomer.
Before you embark on your very first grooming task, whether it’s bathing or nail cutting, we suggest you read through this whole guide for beginners. You’ll get a full view of the entire process, insight into what you should expect, and an idea of what to prepare for. This will not prevent all potential problems and mistakes, but having an overview might eliminate a few of them.
This guide was written by Katherine McKay, a certified and trained professional dog groomer with years of experience, and Samantha Randall, an experienced DIY dog groomer and Top Dog Tips editor-in-chief. Between the two of them, they have worked with hundreds of dogs. From show poodles to home pets, they have seen and done it all in the professional and home/DIY pet grooming world.
In this free how to groom a dog course, you’ll find not only all the beginners advice on dog grooming you will ever need but also tons of free video grooming guides that Samantha has filmed for you to better explain every step of the dog grooming process.
How to Groom a Dog 101: A Beginner’s Guide
What Is Dog Grooming and Why Should I Do It?
Grooming your dog takes care of some of the essential duties of a loving and responsible pet owner. Not only are you improving your dog’s appearance and smell, but you’re contributing to his cleanliness and taking the opportunity to check him for various physical problems.
If you see any physical problems during the grooming process, you must stop right away. Dogs are not able to let you know when they are in pain, or uncomfortable because of pain. Sometimes you may not even be able to see the signs that they are in pain, which is why you have to pay close attention.
If you believe your dog is experiencing physical pain, or any physical issue, stop, call your vet, and explain the situation. Let him or her know that you are in the middle of grooming your pooch, and ask whether or not you should bring your dog in.
Once you have learned how to groom a dog, you’ll have a better understanding of how caring for your dog helps ensure a happy and healthy life for him. The time spent grooming and pampering your dog helps develop a much stronger bond. It’s a practice in which all dog lovers should engage to one extent or another.
It’s more than the occasional bath and brushing
Like our own hygiene practices, grooming is the foundation of maintaining a clean, healthy dog. Some people see dog bathing as easy, while others dread the moment they have to do it again. In reality, it’s both — it can be difficult, but it’s easier if you learn the tricks involved with grooming and bathing a dog.
Your dog can have a variety of problems with his nails, teeth, ears, eyes, skin, and coat, but he can’t tell you when there’s something wrong. With regular grooming, you can discover and treat skin problems, matted hair, and tick and flea infestations much more quickly and before they become a painful condition that’s expensive to treat and difficult to get rid of. It will also alert you to problems needing medical help.
A dog owner’s position in your dog’s world
Dog groomers are often the center of the canine-human relationship. Even if your only aim is to learn how to groom a dog at home, you will benefit greatly. Take a little time to consider all the lessons you can learn about dogs and our relationship with them.
Also, you’ll be surprised what you will learn about your dog and his behavior. Just from practice alone, you’ll be able to better assess the behavior of dogs in general and to some extent predict their actions. This is an extremely valuable skill to have in your arsenal, one that can be used anywhere at any time when you have a dog around.
Where nutrition fits in dog grooming
Dog nutrition will become more important to you, so you will need to make a conscious effort to educate yourself. When learning how to groom a dog, you will be directly affected by what your dog eats. You’ll see the differences in his coat, skin, and general health as a result of his diet and the treats he is given.
You may even find yourself scouring veterinary studies for information about nutrition, which we often use on Top Dog Tips. You’ll learn what types of food are better for him, the consequences of feeding him inappropriate or unhealthy foods, and how to optimize your dog’s health to its fullest for a longer life span.
Grooming your dog to reduce stress and anxiety
Grooming your dog contributes a lot to his mental health and to yours. It’s bonding time for both of you. Once grooming is second nature to you and your dog, you’ll find it a great stress reliever.
I know it’s hard to believe that now, but trust me on this one. Dog grooming is a positive experience for many dogs and character building for the rest in their struggle to tolerate it. You’ll come to understand that learning how to groom a dog can actually help you feel more relaxed too.
However, some dogs experience extreme stress when they are being groomed, so you must watch the signs. If your dog begins panting heavily, shaking, whining, or attempting to move into a circle, you need to stop right away. Over-stressing your dog can be extremely dangerous, as it will cause his body to overheat from panting too heavily.
If your dog becomes stressed out and anxious during grooming, it may be time to try something more simple, as this can create trauma for him. There are some measures you can take to train your pet to enjoy being groomed. The video below describes how to help your dog feel more comfortable during the grooming process.
Training your dog for grooming
Earning the animal’s trust when learning how to groom a dog requires a lot more than simply learning the mechanics. You’ve already begun earning his trust during your training sessions with him, and you’ll see practical applications of that training during grooming.
You’ll also have the opportunity to train him further. You need to teach him to accept uncomfortable situations and how to behave in spite of his discomfort, to an extent. He will learn to trust you even more than before, and this type of bonding is very valuable for both of you.
Your dog will need more than a simple 3-in-1 session of rinse, shampoo, rinse. Safe and effective grooming requires that your dog learn specific commands and follow them. You will have to accustom him to water and shampoo and teach him to stand still and be calm and patient while being bathed.
Preventing injury is a very important part of grooming that requires his cooperation, and you’ll learn how to protect him but still do a thorough job of grooming. We will discuss this in much greater detail later, but for now, know that bathing your dog will require a lot of learning and effort on your part.
A possible occupation as a pet groomer
After you’ve worked through our how to groom a dog 101 course and discovered how much you like grooming, you may get the grooming bug and decide to go pro. You’ll find more about this in a later section as well.
Learning new skills, researching new information, implementing new training techniques, and practicing all you’ve learned comes with a price tag in terms of hard work and time. But, becoming an expert in grooming, nutrition, and canine behavior will pay off many times in the future.
If you become serious about wanting to become a professional groomer, look into a course at your local college, or inquire further at a professional grooming salon. They will be able to direct you somewhere, or they may even ask to interview you based on your knowledge of how to groom a dog. Keep in mind, however, the majority of professional grooming salons will not look at you if you only have experience grooming at home, and not a certification in the industry.
Your true feelings about dogs
Finally, learning dog grooming is guaranteed to cement your feelings about dogs. Despite the amount of complex information you’ll be bombarded with in this course, you’ll appreciate your dog and dogs in general much more after completing it.
Alternatively, you may learn that you’re not a “dog person,” which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Not every person is destined to be a happy pet owner. Many circumstances can get in the way, and one of the better ways to find out if your future should be bound up with a dog’s life is to try dog grooming.
If you pass the test and find yourself more in love with dogs than ever, congratulations. There are many directions you can take with a love of dogs, and now is the time to explore this amazing hobby or profession, whichever path you choose. There are many great things to enjoy alongside your pooch such as dog photography, traveling, dog sporting events, hiking, bicycling, or practicing yoga with your pet, and so forth. It’s an amazing world you’re about to get yourself into.
You and your dog have a lot to learn
Have you ever seen show dogs being groomed? Or dogs groomed on TV? If that’s how you picture learning how to groom a dog is going to be — your pooch standing straight up, patiently waiting for you to finish grooming him — you can forget it. This will not happen any time soon.
Most likely, your first few sessions will be a disaster with a high probability that you’ll end up as wet as your dog. You should also keep in mind that show dogs are completely different, as well as the grooming procedures that go along with them.
Therefore, do not expect a pet dog to act the same as a show dog. They have extremely different temperaments. If you’re looking to become a groomer for show dogs, then we’ll have to point you in a completely different direction.
How to Handle Inappropriate Behavior While Grooming a Dog
One thing many aspiring dog groomers forget to consider is the dog’s reaction during that first time he’s put on the grooming table. Nobody — and I mean nobody — can predict how a dog will behave once you begin to groom him. Every dog is different, and only time and experience will teach you how to handle your pooch effectively.
Knowing what to do in the various situations that can arise in a grooming session is usually a matter of experience. But, you can make some preparations in advance by researching how different problems are handled by the pros. Combine that learning with what you know about your dog’s temperament and how he reacts to new things. Make plans in advance about how you will handle problem situations.
When you begin training your dog for grooming or begin that first grooming session, you may find yourself frustrated and angry with your pup’s stubbornness and seeming refusal to obey your commands. It’s likely you will have already experienced these reactions while working with your dog in training sessions for other commands. This is another eventuality you can prepare for in advance when learning how to groom a dog.
You can’t let your emotions rule when training, and you can’t give in to his behavior. Plan how you will control your own emotions and how you will handle his misbehavior. Don’t give up. You cannot let your dog have his own way in this or in anything else.
However, if your pet begins to show signs of stress or distress, do not chalk this up to him simply being stubborn. This is his way of telling you that what you’re doing is making him too upset, and that he cannot handle it. If this behavior is ignored, he will either try to bite you, become traumatized by the experience, or both.
When to Start Training Your Dog for Grooming
The earlier, the better. Ideally, you want to start learning how to groom a dog when your pooch is still a very young puppy. Training him when he’s young will get him used to the process. There is a window of learning — until about 15 weeks of age — during which puppies will learn new things much more quickly. Experiencing something at this young age will make it less frightening when your dog is older.
Older dogs will be far harder to train for grooming (but not impossible), and there are some differences in rules and practices when handling older dogs who have never been groomed before. If you’re interested in learning to groom an older dog, I suggest you either try a professional first (and ask questions!) or at least spend more time learning the basics and then educating yourself using an advanced dog grooming guide for all the little details.
If you have an older dog with a physical problem or injury, ensure that you are extremely careful. If this is your dog’s case, bring him to your vet, and ask him or her how you could go about learning how to groom a dog safely. If you’d like a second opinion, or tips from one of the pros, visit your local grooming salon, let them know your dog’s problems, and ask if you can sit in on Fido’s session, to see exactly what they do.
Your dog’s age isn’t just a number. Puppies and older dogs behave differently when it’s time to grooming them. So let’s talk about young and old dogs.
When it comes to puppies, it’s not just about keeping them clean, it’s also about getting them in the habit of being groomed. The longer you wait to begin the grooming process, the wilder your puppy will be at his first grooming (and probably for several afterwards).
The best lessons are those learned early, and puppies are no exception. This is especially important in the case of ear cleaning and nail clipping, the two procedures dogs find most objectionable. By exposing your puppy to these procedures early, he will become accustomed to his ears and nails being handled.
Starting your puppy off on the right foot at an early age is the secret to successfully learning how to groom a dog. When you first bring a puppy home, begin picking him up and handling him everywhere. Handle his paws, inspect his nails, touch and look into his ears, lift his lips and inspect his teeth, stick a finger in his mouth and gently rub, and lift his tail to inspect his hindquarters. This will accustom him to being touched.
Try your best to ensure that anything related to grooming is a positive experience. We will expand more on how to make sure grooming is fun for your dog later, but note that socialization is a big part of it. Puppies need to be socialized with humans at an early stage for many different reasons, and one of those is so that you’re able to groom them without running the risk of frightening or angering the dog.
Although, you should not be poking and prodding your puppy too much before he is groomed. This can lead him to feel tired and stressed about being fussed over this much. Don’t associate prodding your dog constantly with grooming, and tone it down gradually as he ages.
The best age to begin learning how to groom a dog is around 6 months old. At this age, they are old enough to understand the importance, and are at an impressionable age where things will stick when it comes to routine. However, it’s your job to keep up with this routine, with grooming at least once every two weeks – even if there is nothing to groom, play around with a brush a little.
With puppies, the key is to calm him down first. Gently restrain him for a few seconds and then give him a treat. Lower your voice and stroke him until he’s lulled into realizing that this is not playtime — at least, not in the way he’s become used to it.
Grooming a moving dog is dangerous. There are a lot of attractive but sharp objects. Calm him down by easing him into a quieter atmosphere. The “settle” command is a good one to teach and then use. By mastering that command, you and your dog will have an easier, more productive grooming session.
If your dog is jumping, barking, acting wild, or in general overenthusiastic, repeat the command “settle” in a calm, firm tone of voice. Don’t be too loud — just say it firmly and clearly. Keep repeating it.
While you’re repeating the “settle” command, do not engage with your dog physically. Simply stand there calmly and do not react, even if he is jumping on you. This is a time where you do not want to make eye contact.
Even giving your puppy the evil eye won’t help the situation, so avert your eyes and wait his behavior out until he’s done. He’s probably going to keep jumping or barking just to get some attention, but if you don’t reward the negative, attention-seeking behavior and remain neutral, he will calm down eventually.
Once he’s calm, reward him with a treat or praise delivered in a relaxed way so he won’t get excited again. Repeat this time after time until he begins to associate the command with the behavior expected. Once he’s achieved that, learning how to groom a dog will become much easier.
Your puppy may also be acting this way because he doesn’t have a clue as to what you’re trying to do, and is curious about what’s going to take place. If you find that this does not work for you, and your puppy is still moving around, there is a trick that you can do to help get your puppy more familiar with what you’re about to be doing.
Professional pet groomers allow dogs to see, smell and, sometimes, touch the grooming instruments. You’ll see a demonstration of this in Samantha’s video above on teaching your dog to enjoy grooming. This helps dogs of all ages become more familiar with the grooming tools, and they will be able to see that you’re not trying to play with them.
If your puppy tries to grab, say, the nail clippers and pull them out of your hand, firmly tell him no, and move on to what you were doing, or planning on doing.
Grooming senior dogs
Older dogs might be more nervous. If he hasn’t grown up being groomed, he’ll probably be a little intimidated. But because older dogs are less likely to be as excitable and rambunctious as puppies, calming him and making him feel at ease will likely be less work on your part.
Pet him and speak soothingly. Once he’s relaxed and seems calm and serene, start the grooming process slowly. You also need to check for signs of your dog becoming stressed out or frightened. If he has never seen the grooming tools before, or has never been on a grooming table, you can imagine he might become frightened.
Do your best to calm him down, but if that does not work, do not attempt to groom him whatsoever. If you push your dog too far and groom him anyway, this will damage his mentality and cause him to be afraid of the grooming tools, table, and even you in the future.
You can try massaging your dog if he has aching joints. Warm water and a massage will probably feel good, and may help Fido relax before grooming. Make sure to talk to your vet about how to proceed. Not all dogs like it, especially if they have sensitive muscular or joint areas.
A Dog’s Behavior Is the First Place to Start
A very important warning before we go any further with learning how to groom a dog: the most dangerous behavior a dog can exhibit during grooming — or at any other time — is aggression. Mild growling and slightly bared teeth might simply be his way of warning you about his discomfort at being groomed, but it’s a sign that your dog doesn’t recognize you as the leader in this situation and is warning you to back off.
There’s also a second stage of aggression where Fido will let you know very clearly that he will attack if you go any further. He will have his eyes fixed on you, and his mouth will be stretched and clenched while he growls at you with fully exposed teeth.
Stop. Move back slowly and put down any grooming tools you are holding. It’s extremely important that your dog sees you putting down the pet grooming tools. Once you do, put your hands up so he can see that all of this is over, and you must leave it at that.
When he seems to have calmed down, move toward him slowly, always ready to back off again if necessary, and unhook him from any restraints. This is no time to try to enforce your command. Keep in mind that this may not be a behavioral problem on his behalf, but that he does not like grooming whatsoever.
Do not blame him for his actions and the way he reacted. If you have a dog with long hair, overgrown nails, or any grooming that absolutely must be done, bring him to your vet. There are vets who will lightly sedate your dog to get rid of the problem. For example, if your dog has bad matting, to the point where it’s down to the skin and causing pain, your vet will lightly sedate him and get rid of the mats for you.
Aggressiveness needs to be dealt with immediately by a certified dog trainer, and we recommend that you participate in the training. A certified dog trainer will know how to retrain your dog to control his aggression and then will transfer pack-leader status to you when retraining has been successful. Once the aggressive behavior has been extinguished, you can try to learn how to groom a dog again with the advice of the professional.
Until you’ve both had professional training in handling aggression, don’t groom your dog. Let me say that again: don’t groom an aggressive dog, even if it’s your pooch. Have a professional do the grooming and warn the pet groomer that your dog may be aggressive.
Bring your own muzzle so that your dog is not forced to use what may be an unsanitary muzzle, one owned by the groomer or grooming shop and used on any dog who needs one. These muzzles have the scent of other scared and/or aggressive dogs embedded in them.
Keep in mind, if your dog becomes the slightest bit aggressive at the salon, you will get a call to come back and pick him up. Professional groomers will not risk their safety to groom an aggressive dog, and you will need to bring him to a vet as soon as possible. Because the vet will need to sedate him, you’ll only want to do this if there’s an issue with your dog’s fur, nails, ears, or other areas that are causing him pain.
How to Handle Your Dog During Grooming Sessions
Of all the things in the world, you are what your dog finds most comforting. He will look to you if he’s in any kind of distress, and it’s important to make sure you know how to respond in a calm, constructive manner. Your dog will take cues from you.
We’ve all experienced times when dogs refuse to do what we want them to do. Be ready — this will probably occur repeatedly when you’re first learning how to groom a dog. Your dog may obstinately refuse anything and everything you want him to do, but handling this behavior is part of learning how to groom a dog.
This cannot be stressed enough. If your dog is showing signs of fear, anxiety or extreme stress, you need to stop and give him some breathing room. Remember to give him small breaks in between procedures, and if he does not calm down whatsoever, stop the grooming and let him be.
Firm, clear instructions and expectations
Be prepared to handle your dog firmly. Dog grooming involves things like running water, sharp dog nail clippers, scissors, other strange tools, and soaps and conditioners that may feel strange. Many of these unfamiliar things can represent potentially hazardous situations for both of you.
You have to be confident and know that you can control your pooch, especially when he is confronted with tortures he already knows he dislikes.
Allowing your dog too much freedom is dangerous for both you and him. He doesn’t understand what can hurt him or you, and his behavior can be unpredictable. Set boundaries, and remind him that you are the boss and he must listen to you.
Don’t be rough. Try to make grooming sessions a pleasant experience for both of you, but let him know you’re in control and he must do as you say.
Whenever he looks at you with a look that says, “am I okay?”, simply smile, pat him on the head, and get back to grooming. Do this as frequently as you have to, as he is asking you if what you’re doing is okay. He will feel more safe and secure knowing that you are acknowledging him in such a way. However, if he begins to struggle, be sure that you are firm when you tell him to stop.
Establish your leadership
Leadership is the key to controlling your pet when learning how to groom a dog. If he’s been properly trained, you shouldn’t have to show dominance. He should already know that you’re in charge. But this can be a frustrating time, new to both of you, and important parts of training can be lost or at least overcome in this frightening situation.
You don’t have to yell, and of course, you wouldn’t hurt your dog. What you do need to do is remind your pet that you are the leader and he must listen no matter what. Continue to encourage positive behavior and reward your dog when he does things right.
In most circumstances, you shouldn’t avoid or move on to the next step if he has done something he shouldn’t or refused to do something he should have done. Ignoring a problem will only make it more difficult to fix in the future.
When you see that your dog would rather die than get wet or have a bit of his hair cut, do not force him. There’s a fine line between expecting Fido to follow your commands, tolerating his behavior because you see that he’s scared, and handling him if he becomes aggressively angry.
When your dog is ignoring you
If he’s ignoring your commands, this may be more than a grooming issue. If you’re at a point in the grooming session where you can stop, take him out of the grooming area and take steps to reinforce your role as leader. If he’s scared, end the grooming session right away.
Continuing while he is scared will damage how he views you, and will traumatize him further. Again, do not keep going, stop immediately whenever he becomes scared.
Be consistent with grooming
Dogs are creatures of habit, and it’s easier to get their cooperation if they know this activity is part of a regular routine and it’s done the same way every time. Consistency gives your dog a chance to learn and understand how the process works and will ensure that he understands what is expected of him at any particular point.
When learning how to groom a dog, quickly develop your own system for handling your pooch with the most efficiency, and stick to that system. Hold him the same way every time you clip his nails. Always put him in the same position when you’re cleaning his ears or brushing his teeth. Consistency is key!
Don’t back down — rules are rules
A dog who thinks he can have his own way presents a danger for everyone involved in the grooming process. One of the biggest problems professional and home dog groomers face is a spoiled dog. A dog who has been taught that he can do anything he wants is every pet professional’s nightmare, so make sure you address this at the very beginning.
A word of warning
If you use a professional groomer, be alert for sleepiness or lethargy after grooming. That may sound odd, but it’s not. While a dog might act a little playful after being at the groomer’s, sleepiness can be a sign that he or she was given a sedative without your permission.
If that’s the case, your dog could be in danger. Giving a dog a sedative without the owner’s permission is dangerous. This wouldn’t have been an issue years ago, but it has surfaced lately. If you take your dog to a professional groomer, make sure you specify that you do not want him sedated, and be alert to his behavior when you bring him home.
How to Make Dog Grooming Process Fun?
Unfortunately, dogs do not understand all of the health benefits of grooming, and they can protest, strenuously at times. They might hate the water, the buzzing of clippers, the touching of their paws and nails, the wiggling around in their ears, or the brush in their mouth. More than likely, they’ll hate all of it, and it’s not difficult to see why.
To decrease the potential for grooming disasters when you’re learning how to groom a dog, attempt to make it as fun for him as possible. It takes creativity and imagination to find ways to calm Fido so he can enjoy the grooming session. Nobody knows your dog better than you do, so use your best techniques to calm him before you begin grooming him.
Go slowly — no sudden moves — and communicate calm and confidence to him throughout the process. This is crucial in the beginning. Don’t be afraid to play with your dog for a little while before, after, and maybe even during grooming (if it’s safe). Be aware of the tone and volume of your voice when you issue commands. Have treats ready and reward good behavior. Don’t yell or punish.
Mind games when grooming your dog
Use a small mind trick on your dog, but don’t mess with his head. This will confuse him and, more often than not, cause him to become distressed. Dog’s are smarter than you think, and they will eventually figure out that you are just messing with them, which is cruel.
Take some hints from the great psychological masters and teach your dog to associate grooming with something he really likes (aside from you, of course). Using positive reinforcement when teaching a dog to endure grooming is the best way to accustom him to it.
If you need to, review positive reinforcement techniques before you begin grooming and continue to use them each time you groom. Use rewards to encourage your pooch to do what you want him to do.
Dog psychology is a fascinating thing. Dr. Stanley Coren, Ph.D., did a study on the effects of positive versus negative associations on a dog. In the context of grooming, an example of negative reinforcement could come in the form of punishing your dog when he acts up during grooming (whining, nipping, running around, wreaking havoc in general), while positive reinforcement is based on rewarding your dog when he follows your command and behaves appropriately.
Dr. Coren found that dogs react better to positive reinforcement than to negative. He distributed questionnaires to 364 owners and asked about their behavioral method for training their dog. His survey indicated that dogs perform far better when they were positively rewarded than when they were negatively punished.
Their behavior and obedience improved when they were given a “prize” after doing something correctly. So, science proves it – positivity is the way to go with your pet, not just when learning how to groom a dog, but in all of dog training as well.
Try dog treats when grooming
If your dog likes a certain type of dog treat, have that treat ready when you’re learning how to groom a dog. Give it to him at the very beginning of your grooming session so that he’s immediately at ease and every time he does what’s expected of him but not when he doesn’t.
If you also give him a treat when he misbehaves, he won’t learn which behavior is right and which wrong. Keep the positive association between grooming and treat time clear, but be reserved if you notice that there’s a pattern between behavior and treat.
Try having a treat in your dog’s line of sight, so he knows that it’s there for when he’s being good. This will show him that you are prepared to give him more, but only if he is good while you are grooming him.
However, treats aren’t for every dog. If your dog has a weight problem or some other issue that requires him to take it easy on the snacking, there are some healthy options for treats that are organic and delicious.
Try psychological rewards
Build up your dog’s ego. Talk calmly and soothingly, praising him and reassuring him about how well he’s behaving. Dogs read our cues very well. If you rush the grooming session or if you’re silent, your dog may become uneasy. But if you praise him and give him treats, he may assume that grooming is actually a good time. I mean, who doesn’t like being fed and told how awesome you are? Starting this psychological association early will save you a world of trouble as you progress in your dog’s grooming care.
There’s a distinct way you should give praise if you’re rewarding a dog for being calm versus trying to coax a nervous dog. If your dog has finally managed to sit still for a second and you want to reward her for it, make sure the praise is given in a pleasant, even tone.
You want your dog to be calm and collected, and if you are too excited and vocal, he might become overly enthusiastic as well. If your dog is fearful or nervous, adopt a kinder, more coaxing tone of voice like one you would use with a child. If he’s scared, he won’t be rational, so assuring him that everything is alright and he’s okay is an important step to keeping him calm and safe during grooming.
Other tips for calming down a nervous dog include ignoring hyper behavior — no treat, of course. If you reward your dog for his hyper behavior, he will continue it.
Exercise lets out a lot of pent-up energy, and if your dog is impossible to work with, getting him outside and moving will help take the edge off his overabundance of energy. It might be worth taking the time and delaying grooming just to do that.
Problematic Behavior You’ll Encounter and What to Do About It
As a dog groomer, you will often face dogs who misbehave. Even your own dog whom you’ve trained and groomed for years can occasionally throw a fit. You should know how to deal with this and take the most appropriate course of action in those situations.
All dogs will suspect something fishy, but their reactions will be different. Your goal here is to find a way to counteract their inappropriate behavior effectively and get the grooming session started, unless they show signs of being fearful or overly stressed out.
It’s foolish to think your dog will cooperate with you when you’re just learning how to groom a dog. It is during these first grooming sessions that you will find out your pooch’s true character and just how stubborn he can be. It’s not his best side, nor would it be ours, but it’s one we all have.
If you have a dog sitter
There are dogs who will sit down and refuse to stand no matter what. He will stubbornly avoid being moved by placing his behind in one spot and “playing dumb” when you command him to stand. Stand? What’s that? He’ll look at you innocently, but he won’t move.
He’ll make every other kind of movement though. He’ll duck his head or turn away when you try to wash his face or his ears. He’ll tuck his chin into his chest and refuse to let you get to his throat and shoulders.
There’s no magic technique when learning how to groom a dog who sits and refuses to stand. You can use restraint loops for your washtub or dog grooming table. One loop goes around your dog’s neck, and the other goes around his waist, just in front of his hindquarters. This prevents him from sitting and holds him in place while you’re grooming him.
Or you can try an end-around, by washing him in sections. We’ll give more detailed washing instructions later, but the principle of washing a sitting dog is to let him sit while you work on all of him except his belly and the insides of his back legs. First soap his back from his neck to the end of his tail.
Wash around his neck and collar area and then the top of his head. Put him in a gentle headlock if necessary and wash his face. Don’t allow runoff from the top of his head to run into his face or eyes, but the cloth you use to soak up the run-off will contain enough water to wash his face, and hopefully he’ll think you’re drying his face rather than washing it. Then wash his chest.
If you should happen to get water in his ears, grab a cloth and wipe them out immediately. You should never, ever, wash your dog’s ears while he is in the bath. If too much water gets into the ear canal, or any at all, and you do not immediately get it out, you’re risking an ear infection. You should be cleaning your dog’s ears separately with either a wash cloth or some cotton balls.
Now wash his belly. Gently encourage your dog to stand up by placing your arm underneath his belly and lifting. He will be eager to sit down as soon as possible, so work quickly with one hand while holding him up at the belly with the other.
Repeat the above if you think he needs to be washed again. If not, rinse him all over, starting at the top of his head — make sure you’ve rinsed out all of the soap residue. When you’ve finished rinsing the top half, lift him in the same manner as you washed him and rinse his belly and the inside of his back legs.
Apply conditioner and rinse it out, following the same steps you used as you washed him. Be sure that you rinse him thoroughly this time, especially his belly and the insides of his back legs, and then rinse him again to make sure. Soap and conditioner can be very irritating if left in your dog’s coat.
If your dog lies down
You know what’s worse than a dog who sits during grooming? A dog who lies down. Similar to obstinate sitting, your pooch will lie flat on his belly the minute you put him into the washtub or onto the grooming table.
Picking up a dog from a prone position is not as easy as picking up one from a sitting position, and chances are he won’t like it. But you can’t do much grooming when your dog is lying down flat in the tub or on the table.
Before you go any further, check with your vet to see if this is a physical problem, or just a case of not wanting to participate because of being sleepy. To remedy this, you could consult an animal behaviorist and spend what will probably end up as a great deal of time training him. While he definitely needs the training, you have to get him clean in the interim.
Forcing your dog to stand by picking him up and then watching as he immediately lies back down as soon as you let go with one hand to reach for something you need is very frustrating. I bet you’ll get tired before he does. Until you and your “exhausted” dog get that training, you can use restraints as described above with sitting dogs and wash him in much the same way.
The kamikaze dog
With some personality types, using grooming loops might just push your dog over the edge…literally. Once you get your dog on the table and attach the loop around his neck, the suicidal dog will start hanging himself by pulling as hard as he can, sometimes right off the table.
Neck restraints tighten as the pressure is increased, and with most dogs, this is enough to get him to stop pulling, but the suicidal dog would rather die than endure another minute — or even the first minute — of grooming. At this point, you may question his intelligence, but his fear and Adrenalin are such that he probably won’t notice the pain. Make no mistake — he’s hurting himself.
The best way to approach this type of behavior, is to stop immediately and call the owner. Or, if this is your dog, stop immediately. If you bring a suicidal dog into a professional grooming salon, you will get a call from the groomer to come back right away.
This type of behavior is not accepted in a grooming salon, and you should never attempt to groom a dog who is trying to harm himself during the process. Even though he may need work done, keep him out of the salon. Nothing good will come from this behavior at all.
If grooming is absolutely necessary and cannot be avoided, bring your dog into the vet and let him or her know what is going on, what can be done to help, and what you can do for your dog. Ask about a sedative, or another solution that could do the trick.
The jumper dog
Some dogs are brave enough to attempt the great escape with a Steve McQueen-like jump. The minute you put him on the grooming table or in the tub, he’ll find a space through which he can jump straight past you and run for dear life. What’s even more frightening (and again may make you question your dog’s intelligence) is that he will do this every time you manage to get him back in place.
Just like the suicidal dog, your dog may not be aware that he’s been placed in the grooming loop and that if he jumps while it’s around his neck, it can cause serious injuries or even death. He can also be seriously hurt simply by jumping off something too high. Watch out for this behavior when grooming your pooch.
The best way to deal with a dog trying to do a Steve McQueen, is to wait and see if he will calm down. Waiting out this behavior is all you can do. If the behavior continues, however, you should not groom the dog. You should never turn your back on a dog with a noose on a grooming table, but you cannot always have your arms around him to keep him from jumping, especially during the grooming process.
If he does not stop, you’ll need to watch him constantly — never take your eyes off him — and firmly stop him from jumping as soon as you see the warning signs. Perform your grooming sessions in a way that you can always be close and stop him from jumping.
Behavior You May Think Will Help
Some dogs do behave in ways that allow even the first-time groomer to sail through a grooming session with ease. Strangely though, this type of behavior needs to be addressed properly as well for your dog’s comfort and to ensure smooth grooming sessions in the future.
There are several types of dog behaviors that your dog can express which one might consider positive, at least in comparison to the problematic behaviors discussed above. They are the result of your dog’s perception of you, how you have trained him, and what he expects from this grooming session.
It could be that your pooch will take the very first grooming session pretty well. But, if you have not acknowledged his good behavior with lavish praise and treats, he’ll make sure to turn your future sessions into a trial of your skill and his determination and athletic ability. It’s very important to reward your dog’s positive behavior.
You may be wondering, “why is my dog responsive to commands the first time he’s groomed?” While you may be thinking that this is a good thing and is a sign of easy grooming in the future, it could actually be a negative sign. Does your dog fit into one of the following categories?
The dog might be afraid of you
Dogs who act very submissive or fearful of you can be very easy to groom, but this behavior is not healthy. If your dog is really scared rather than submissive, his fear may eventually turn into aggression. Fearful submission to you is not what you want.
Once your dog goes into submission because he is scared, you need to stop right away. By going further at this point, you will only traumatize him and make him scared of you, period. Nothing good will come of that, and he will turn aggressive toward you soon after.
Do everything you can to make your dog more comfortable:
- Go slowly — no sudden movements, don’t try to intimidate him by staring him in the eyes, and don’t yell at him or threaten him.
- Pet him, talk soothingly to him, rub his belly, scratch his ears, and use treats and positive reinforcement.
- Introduce each grooming step slowly but with confidence.
- Be very gentle and patient.
- Try to turn the grooming session into a pleasant experience for your dog so that he’s not as afraid at the next grooming session.
- Try to coax him into enjoying the experience rather than tolerating it out of fear of you.
“Oh, boy! Recess!”
Some dogs enjoy the grooming session so much that they play the whole time. Consider yourself lucky. Humor him occasionally when he acts like this, but stay strict in terms of what you need to accomplish and the commands he needs to follow.
If your dog acts as if this is a new game, play with him for a short time before the grooming session. Take a break in the middle to play a little as well. Save the best and longest games for last, so that the memory he takes away from the session is good. Your pooch will be more likely to associate grooming sessions with fun, making the following sessions easy.
A dog who doesn’t care, who seems oblivious to the whole grooming process, can be a tad boring, but he’s every groomer’s dream. Many groomers try to train dogs to behave like this, and if they’re professional groomers, they’ll sigh with relief when grooming a dog whose owner has taught him this response.
If your dog has this type of behavior, you need to watch him closer than you think. He may be trying to enter his happy place because this is too much for him. If his breathing is too slow or too fast or he is slightly trembling, stop immediately.
He will not move much and will seem to be off in his own world – calm and dreamy. He will follow your commands easily, and sometimes you won’t even need restraints to hold him (but make sure you have some restraint device available just in case he’s playing possum). Take care, however, not to startle the oblivious dog. If you suddenly wake him from his dream state, he may respond with an attempt to escape or with aggression.
Dog Grooming Supplies You’ll Need
Grooming your dog is not something you just walk into with your bottle of dish washing detergent, a hose, a brush and comb, your blow dryer, and your dog. An effective, stress-free, and productive grooming session requires preparation. You need to know what to expect, how to prepare your dog for the process, and have the right supplies on hand.
The equipment you use is just as important as your technique, so be sure to look for well-made and high-quality products. It will help you avoid hurting your dog, which will interfere with grooming now and in the future, and prevent damage to his coat.
In general, there are several manufacturers of reliable and well-reviewed products. In my opinion, you can generally trust Andis, Four Paws, Wahl, Oster, FURminator, and Safari.
Grooming Combs, Brushes and Specialized Tools
A good brush and comb are the most basic tools for dog grooming. There are many different types of dog brushes on the market, and some do more than simply brush. Bristle brushes can be used on all dogs while pin brushes (brushes with wire bristles, some of which have a cover over the tip of each bristle) work best on long or curly coats. Slicker brushes help remove mats.
You can easily find combination bristle and pin brushes, one type on each side of the head of the brush.
Combs are generally used in the final stage of grooming to remove loose hair and fleas. The teeth can vary in length among different combs, and the distance between the teeth of a comb can help you determine which will work best for your dog. Generally, a coarse comb works well with long-haired breeds while a fine comb works best with the smaller breeds or ones with fine hair.
Make sure you use the correct brush for your dog’s coat type. If you make the wrong selection, you may end up causing your pet pain. For example, if you use a bristle brush on a dog with short hair, it’s going to irritate his skin.
A detangling or de-matting tool, also known as a rake, is a must for medium to long-haired dogs and for some short and curly coats. A mat rake generally has several tines placed at an angle so that the tines can get between the mat and the dog’s skin.
A razor blade behind the teeth slices through the mat, making it easier for the comb and brush to tease out the tangle. The use of a detangling spray during regular brushing helps keep mats from forming while de-shedding tools remove hair that brushing may have missed.
Dog Hair Clippers
A set of good dog clippers is a necessity for dog grooming if you plan to do more than brush and comb your Fido’s coat. Clippers come in two types: electric and silent. In my opinion, electric clippers require the most research before you choose a set. Do not buy the cheapest set you can find. Believe me, you’ll suffer for it in time, frustration, and your dog’s fear and perhaps even injury.
A professional set of electric clippers can be quite expensive; however, a quality set made for home use does not cost quite as much and usually pays for itself relatively quickly by eliminating the need for expensive professional grooming. Clippers with a silent mode help ease your dog’s fear of the noise made by electric clippers.
You’re going to have to constantly watch the clipper blades, because they will get hot. The best way to keep tabs on how hot the clippers are, is to touch the blade with your hand every couple of minutes during the grooming process – too hot for you, too hot the the dog, plain and simple.
Silent clippers, one type of which look likes a pair of scissors with a comb attachment, are a little more labor intensive. While they don’t make noise, it takes longer to completely clip your dog. During this time he may become restless. But, for the dog who is afraid of the sound of the motorized clippers, this option causes much less anxiety and allows you to finish the job without terrorizing your pet. They’re great for quick touch-ups too!
As an aside, don’t clip your dog’s coat to the skin. A dog’s coat helps protect him from sunburn and acts as a temperature-regulator to prevent him from overheating (or freezing for that matter). If your vet advises that your dog be clipped drastically, this should be done by a professional groomer to prevent injuries.
“A dog’s coat is kind of like insulation for your house. Insulation stops your home from getting too cold in winter, but it also keeps it from overheating in summer—and your dog’s coat does the same thing”. – Dr. Louise Murray, Vice President of the ASPCA Animal Hospital (Source)
Once you have clippers, you will also need to begin looking at clipper blades. If you have a dog with short hair, skip this part. If you have a dog with long hair, or a dog with hair that grows out and requires shaving, then you will need to look at the different types of clipper blades.
10 and 15 blades are the standards when it comes to clipper blades. A 10 blade is used for areas such as the face, the anal area, ear area, paws and the legs. A 15 blade is used for the body. Next, you will need to look at finishing blades. An F10 is used to finish the area of the dog that you used the 10 for, and the F15 is used for the places that you used the 15 blade on.
You need to use the clippers on the dog before you bath him, not after. Once you have shaved the dog to your liking, give him a bath. Now, get your finishing blade going. Clipping with a finishing blade after a bath will help you get all of the spots that you missed, which you would not see before you gave him a bath.
A bottle of Dawn? Won’t that do? After all, it’s used on birds whose feathers are damaged in oil spills. In an emergency, Dawn appears to be fairly safe to use as a shampoo for dogs — but only in an emergency. There are some chemicals in it that bother me a little, but I have found no reports of any bad effects from its occasional use.
Used repeatedly, however, soap that isn’t specifically made for dogs will strip the coat of the natural oils that keep it shiny and controllable.To go more in depth on the matter of using Dawn, one must take into account a dog’s pH balance. If their pH balance is not kept at the perfect rate, the dog runs the risk of having skin related issues, such as dandruff and even skin infections. For this reason, it’s imperative that you use a product made specifically for canines.
Dogs have a higher pH than humans, so they need a differently formulated shampoo. There are many, many good shampoos, conditioners, and whiteners made specifically for dogs. These shampoos have been developed with a dog’s needs in mind and come in varieties designed to suit those needs.
You can find combination shampoo-and-conditioner products, shampoos for itchy skin, shampoos to help prevent fleas and ticks, deodorizing shampoos, shampoos specifically for puppies, and many others designed for general or specific problems.
Never, ever use human shampoo on your dog. This will greatly put your dog’s pH balance off, and can damage his skin or cause him to get a rash or an infection. Distressing your dog’s pH balance will make him itchy and cause him to scratch. Once he begins to scratch his skin endlessly, you’re going to have a problem, and you can probably figure out what will happen from there on.
There are some shampoos and conditioners that come in a concentrated form that you dilute. If you want to save money and still get a good shampoo, this is an option to consider. I found them difficult to use, especially as I did not have a conversion chart to tell me how many ounces of shampoo to use and how much water.
It was also rather cumbersome to pour the concentrate into a measuring cup from the gallon bottle and then pour the required amount into a container, add the proper amount of water, and then stir until the two are completely blended. To me, the difficulty was not worth the lower price, but you may feel differently.
However, if you are looking for an option that helps fit your budget, you can always use baby shampoo. Any brand is gentle, hypoallergenic, and will guarantee a clean like any other brand, specialty or not, would. Keep in mind that this is the only human shampoo you can use for dogs, because it’s specifically designed for sensitive skin.
Many dogs are allergic to certain ingredients in shampoos and other coat-grooming products. Avoiding an allergic reaction may take a little experimentation on your part. If you use anything new during grooming, closely examine your dog for signs of irritation, which don’t necessarily appear immediately after use.
If an allergic reaction does appear, donate that product to an animal shelter and try the next one on your list. If you’re inclined to, keep a record of the ingredients in any product causing an allergic reaction, and at some point, you should be able to pinpoint the specific ingredient or ingredients causing the reaction.
Pet Hair Dryers
You can use your “human” hair dryer to dry your dog after his bath; however, make sure the air isn’t too hot for his skin. To avoid too much heat in one area when we dry our hair, we move the blow dryer around, drying in one area until it’s hot and then moving it to another area while the first cools down. Your dog can’t tell you when the air from the dryer is too hot, and he may end up with irritated skin or even a nasty burn.
Always use your dryer on the lowest temperature and lowest force settings. When I have to use a human blow dryer, I place my hand between the blower and my dog with my fingers splayed for about half the time I’m drying him. This helps me keep a check on the temperature and also calms my dog.
Blow dryers for humans, even at the maximum setting, are not forceful enough to completely dry your dog. This is especially true if he has an undercoat. It’s important to make certain your dog is dry.
Wet dogs who are “air dried” are prone to matting, smelling bad, contracting fungus and other skin problems, and attracting dirt much more easily. There are dryers made especially for pets, which fall into one of three types: cage dryers, stand dryers, and force dryers.Cage dryers dry your dog by directing air into a cage in which your dog has been placed. There are cage dryers that are quieter than other dryers, a bonus for the nervous dog, but you will definitely need to do some shopping around to find one. However, their air flow is less strong than others, increasing the time it takes for a dog to dry.
You must be extremely careful with a cage dryer if you are going to use one. There have been negligence cases in the past where dogs have been left in a cage dryer for too long, and were dehydrated. There are also cases where dogs have died as a result.
Stand dryers are designed for hands-free drying, which allows you to continue the basic grooming process — brushing and combing — as your dog dries. Like cage dryers, they also have a heating option.
Force air dryers dry your dog by blowing the water from his coat with a high-powered blast of air and take only a few minutes to dry a dog completely. They are air-only dryers, having no heating element.
Dog Nail Clippers
An important part of learning how to groom a dog is clipping or grinding your dog’s nails to a proper length.
There are two types of nail clippers for dogs: scissors, which trim the nail just like cutting through fabric, and guillotine, which fits over your dog’s nail and has a blade that travels up until it’s at the place you want to cut the nail. Press the handles together like a hole puncher, and the nail is cut.
A nail grinder that uses a rotating shaft covered with a sandpaper-like material is also available. Many dogs don’t like the grinder due to the noise it produces and the strange feeling of vibration on the nail.
Some owners are too afraid to clip their dog’s nails themselves, but I can assure you, it’s not a big deal if you’re careful. All you have to do is look at the nail properly, and clip very slowly. Once you get to a dot on the inside of the nail, stop. You’ve almost reached the quick, and if you go any further, you’re dog’s going to have a bad time.
Dog Grooming Table
A grooming table is not an absolute necessity when learning how to groom a dog, but it makes working on your pet much easier. You can use a regular table if you want, but tables designed specifically for grooming have more options to make grooming easier. Depending on the model you purchase, the height of a grooming table can be adjusted hydraulically, electrically, or manually.
Grooming tables have arms with several reposition-able hooks and poles on which you can connect restraint devices — loops, leads, and nooses that will hold your dog upright and still while you work on him. You can buy grooming tables with arms and posts already built in, or you can get just the arms and posts that will attach to almost any table by means of C-clamps. This is a good option if you already have a table.
Adjustable Nozzle for Your Hose or Faucet
This is a must if you’re bathing your dog outside (only on warm days, please). Faucets for garden hoses generally have a heavier, more forceful spray than inside faucets, and it’s difficult to control the amount of force. You could easily hurt your dog, especially if he’s a small dog.
An adjustable nozzle controls the flow of water, reducing your dog’s fear and possible injury, and allows for different types of stream. An adjustable nozzle for inside faucets is handy, but not quite as necessary. You can generally control the stream and pressure of indoor faucets with the knob. You can probably direct the stream better with the inside faucet as well.
Even if you have a small dog, just a simple detachable shower head will do the trick here. I have a medium-sized Labrador/Pitbull cross, so using one of these works wonders. They work well for small breeds too, as long as the hose of the shower head is long enough to reach your dog. If not, you can buy hose extensions at your local hardware store. This option is a lot cheaper than using something specifically designed for grooming, so unless you’re willing to spend the extra money, this option’s a good one.
Restraint Devices for Grooming Dogs
Unless they come with the grooming table or with the arm, you’ll also need the restraint devices mentioned above to keep your dog still and in the position you need on the table or in the bath. Common devices are loops, harnesses, leads, and nooses.
There are other devices to consider that are designed to keep your dog from escaping or to protect you and him from his aggressive behavior. However, if you have an aggressive dog, you really shouldn’t be grooming him anyway! Considering what I’ve already told you, you can now understand that learning how to groom a dog is something that cannot safely be done with every pet.
Step-by-Step Guide on How to Groom a Dog
We’ve covered a lot of ground and still haven’t begun the actual conversation on how to groom a dog yet. If you haven’t already guessed, you’ll soon learn that there is a lot more to grooming than just washing your dog. Some tasks you do before bathing, some after and with some it doesn’t matter. But first, a note about our ability to groom dogs safely.
It’s important to take honest stock of your physical condition and abilities before grooming your dog. Do you have vision problems that prevent you from a clear view of the areas you’re grooming? Some of us have hands that tremble slightly, especially when we’re under pressure. Do yours? Is it difficult to snip a small mat out of a lock of hair because you can’t see it clearly or your hands shake too much to clip in the correct place?
While many grooming procedures don’t require special abilities, there are many that are performed on very delicate areas where the slip of a tool could be painful and result in serious and perhaps permanent injury. If you’re in doubt about whether you can safely handle these procedures, don’t experiment.
There’s no shame in asking for help or to be taught how to do something, nor should you be hesitant to employ a professional groomer to do these things for you. A little embarrassment is better than injuring your dog.
Besides, there are many parts to learning how to groom a dog that don’t require sharp tools or chemicals, and you can do those as much as you want. You can also do the important things — calm your dog, comfort him, show him affection, play with him — all the things that mean so much to him and are so much more important than who trims his hair or clips his nails.
Brushing between baths is very beneficial for you and your dog. It removes dirt, parasites, dandruff, and dead hair from your dog’s coat. It also stimulates blood flow to his skin, enhances the secretion of natural oils in his fur, and helps spread them through his coat.
Regular brushing is an absolute must for long-haired dogs to find and prevent tangles, mats, and damage to the skin and fur that might not be as obvious as with a short-haired dog. If left untreated, mats and tangles can become very painful for you pet. After a period of time, the mats will begin to go straight down to your dog’s skin.
Long-haired dogs require longer brushing sessions and more baths. If you let it get to this point, it will be impossible to cut them off. From there, you will have to shave the mats off, which will hurt your dog further. This is why daily brushing is so important. Besides the above benefits, brushing helps with shedding – a constant struggle for dog owners.
Immediately prior to his bath, you need to get all the mats and tangles out of your dog’s hair before you do anything else. The bath, clipping, and detailing processes will go much more quickly and easily. Using a detangling spray can make it easier to brush out mats if they aren’t very large.
Bigger, more tightly tangled mats may require the use of a mat rake. Be very gentle. If you find that you’re tugging and pulling on his fur, ease up. You don’t want to hurt your dog. That’s a good way to convince him that bath time is definitely not fun time.
When brushing, start at your dog’s head and work your way downward. Be very careful around the ears and head. When you’re grooming the fur in delicate areas, use a fine-tooth comb and put your hand between the comb and the dog’s skin so that you don’t risk causing any abrasions or lacerations.
To remove a tangle, isolate the knot and start separating it until you find the precise location where the hair has begun to tangle. Start working at the mat with your fingers. If you’re unable to untangle the knot, you may need to cut it out.
If your dog has a mat on his underbelly, you can try to untangle it very gently. Keep in mind that you may have to take your dog to a groomer if you can’t gently remove the mat. The skin underneath the hair is very sensitive and easily hurt.
Brushing around sensitive areas
The ears, eyes, head, and anus are very delicate and sensitive areas on a dog. When brushing the hair around those areas, be very gentle. It’s easy to injure your dog when grooming these parts of the body.
Dog’s Ear Care
Keeping abreast of the condition of your dog’s ears is vital when learning how to groom a dog. The ears can be a hotbed for some pretty nasty microorganisms. If you suspect your dog is suffering from an ear infection, consult your vet as soon as possible.
Signs of infection include:
- a bad smell coming from the ears
- constant pawing and scratching in that area
- whimpering or other indications of pain when his ears are touched
- a discharge coming from his ear
Another way to tell whether or not your dog is having an issue with his ears, is to watch the way he walks. If he is walking lopsided, even if it’s the slightest bit, bring him to a vet right away. This may be a sign that his balance is off because of an inner ear problem.
If your dog has ear flaps that hang down over his ears, he may have more issues than dogs whose ears are smaller or stick up from the head. Dogs with allergies may also have more issues. Your veterinarian should be able to advise you if your dog may be more prone to ear trouble and how often you should be cleaning his ears.
If your dog has excessive earwax, take him to a groomer to have it removed. If the ear discharge is brown or black, you may be dealing with ear mites, and your dog will likely require special treatment. This is something that only your vet can determine.
Hair in the ears
As long as you are especially careful, you can remove your dog’s ear hair yourself. All you have to do, is wind the hair around your fingers, if it is long enough, and give it a good pull. This will not hurt the dog, but if you are uncomfortable doing so yourself, then have your vet or your groomer do it for you.
Excessive hair in your dog’s ears is never a good thing. This can lead to ear infections, and it needs to be removed. However, you can trim it if you feel that your dog is calm enough for you to do so with scissors.
Anatomy of the canine ear
In order to understand how to groom a dog, you have to understand the anatomy of their body. The major structures of a dog’s ear are the ear flaps, the ear canal, the eardrum (or tympanic membrane), the middle ear, and the inner ear. The anatomy of the ear is very delicate and intricate. That intricacy can lead to some problems in terms of cleaning and infection.
It’s important to clean the ear flaps to help prevent infection, which could cause injury to the skin and fur around his ear. There are cleansers made specifically for a dog’s ears, and you can use them to keep the ear flaps clean.
Pour some on a cotton ball or a soft cloth and gently rub the inside of the ear flap and around the ear near the face. Redness or irritation of the outer ear flaps or the skin around the ear can be a sign of infection in the ear canal. If your dog is also whining or scratching at his ear, report this to your vet as soon as possible.
As long as you are frequent with cleaning the ear flap, your dog’s precious ears should be just fine. If you have been playing outside with your pooch for awhile or you went for a long walk in the wind, it’s good to clean them right after. Routine upkeep will help keep any problems away.
Dogs have a very long, thin ear canal that makes a 90° turn before it reaches the middle ear. It’s very difficult to clean any of the canal except the part just inside the outer ear, and you shouldn’t try. Inserting any kind of implement into the ear canal can lead to some serious and painful consequences for your dog. Cleaning his ears too deeply or too harshly can cause injury.
How to clean your dog’s ears and when not to do it yourself
Dogs aren’t big fans of having their ears cleaned. While a certain amount of resistance is to be expected, if your dog is very actively fighting having his ears cleaned, take him to your vet. He could have an infection or some other issue causing pain or discomfort.
If it’s merely an avoidance of the procedure, gently restrain him by wrapping your arm under his torso and around to hold his head against your chest. Make the cleaning quick, but make sure you’re thorough.
Using baby wipes, or a brand of wipes specifically for your dog’s ears (hypoallergenic wipes are a great choice) is a great way to clean the ears in just a few seconds. All you have to do is put a single finger in the wipe, have it wrapped around your finger, stick the wipe in your dog’s ear canal, and move it around. This will help to keep the ears clean and infection-free!
Ear cleaning solutions
Again, always clear anything you use on or in your dog’s ears with your vet. You can make your own ear cleaning solution. One part white vinegar to one part of water is good for chronic yeast or bacterial infections. Another homemade ear cleaning solution is a mixture of one part hydrogen peroxide to one part water. Never use alcohol to clean your dog’s ears. If your dog has an ear infection, his ears may smell due to the build up earwax and other infectious substances trapped in there. This cleanser, as well as the other ones mentioned here, will reduce that smell and have your dog back to his old self in no time.
Preventing ear problems
There are a few things you can do to prevent ear problems when learning how to groom a dog. Water is one of the major culprits for the development of ear irritation and infection. If your dog is a swimmer, put a cotton ball in each ear before you let him out.
Do this gently. You don’t want to push it into his ear canal. Placing it firmly in front of his ear canal can prevent water from entering the middle ear where it’s likely to cause problems. For the same reason, insert cotton balls into his ears before a bath also.
There are also products that will help water evaporate from your dog’s ear if you suspect some has collected there. A small amount of a witch-hazel-based ear wash poured into the ear can help the water evaporate.
Dog’s Eye Care
A dog’s eyes can get gunky (yes, that’s a very important medical term), and it’s important to thoroughly inspect them on a regular basis. It’s best to do this in bright light. The signs you should look for are:
- overproduction of tears
- red eye lining
- white eye lining
- closing of one eye
- uneven pupils
- wet, stained fur around the eyelids, usually caused by tears
The lining of your dog’s eyes should be pink. If you suspect any kind of eye injury, immediately take your dog to the vet. Do not try to clean or doctor his eyes at home, especially when you’re just beginning to learn how to groom a dog.
Wipe around your dog’s eye with a water-damp cotton ball, being careful not to touch the eyeball itself. Wipe outward, starting at the inner corner of the eye. There are eye care products on the market that can reduce redness, irritation, and, in general, keep the eye area clean.
When to call in the pros
Stains, dirt, and other harmful matter can form in the area beneath a dog’s eyes, leaving unsightly stains and possibly causing damage to the eye. These stains are from bacteria, not tears, and can lead to cherry eye, a condition of the third eyelid in which a red bulge forms in the inner corner of the eye. It’s thought to be a congenital disorder, and while it’s not life threatening, it does need to be treated by a vet.
The eyes are delicate, and if you’re not completely comfortable about grooming near your dog’s eyes, it’s best to let a professional handle it. This is important to note for beginners who are just learning how to groom a dog. If your pup is skittish or just plain impatient, don’t be afraid to seek professional grooming help.
Accidental contact with a tool or one or more of the liquids you’re using could result in painful, damaging, or even permanent injury to his eyes. Consult with your vet if you suspect anything might be wrong with your dog’s eyes.
Dog’s Anal Glands
This is one of the most despised tasks for owners who are learning how to groom a dog, but it’s important that you do it. While bathing your dog, check his anal glands. They secrete a liquid substance that, according to some researchers, is what dogs use to recognize each other while smelling each other’s behinds. But sometimes, those anal glands get clogged and cause your pooch pain and discomfort.
You need to “release” or “express” those anal glands to expel the liquid. It’s an important part of grooming and should be done when you bathe your dog. Watch the video below for a step by step guide on expressing the anal glands of a dog.
Dog’s Nail Care
Trimming your dog’s nails before bathing him is a good idea. Not only does this need to be done on a regular basis anyway, trimming them before his bath will lessen injury to you if he scratches you by accident (or decides that scratching is an acceptable form of protest).
It can be nerve racking for those just learning how to groom a dog, but you’ll be a pro with a bit of experience. Once again, the rule of thumb is to take it nice and steady. Nail clippers have to be sharp, and if your dog is skittish or impatient, or senses that you are, his anxiety might translate into jerking his paw back or twisting around so that his nail is accidentally cut into the quick or another part of his body accidentally snipped.
If your dog is not familiar with nail cutting, take extra time to comfort him. He may be nervous about letting you hold his paw. Take it slow. Familiarize him with the touch of the instrument and make very gradual movements until his nail has been cut. Praise him and reward him for letting you do it.
Trim no closer than two millimeters away from the quick. The quick contains blood vessels and nerves. If you clip your dog’s nails so short that the quick is exposed, he will suffer a very painful injury that will make it difficult for him to walk normally for a while — days, not hours. This is why it’s imperative that you maintain a reasonable distance from the quick.If your dog has clear or translucent nails, the quick will be easily visible as a pink oval extending up the nail into the paw. Even with darker nails, the nail material isn’t so thick that it would prevent light from getting through completely. If your dog has dark nails, you can shine a flashlight behind the nails so that the quick stands out.
The best way to ensure that you do not clip the quick, is by clipping the nail gradually. Whether your dog has clear or dark nails, there is a way to do this right. Begin by cutting small slivers of the nail. Clip the nail until you get to a darker spot.
No matter what color your dog’s nails are, the inside of the nail is white. Once you hit a dark spot, stop right there. Behind that dark spot is the quick, and you should go no further from there.
Be prepared for accidental injuries while trimming dog nails
It happens. Even the most careful groomer can make a mistake and you, as someone just learning how to groom a dog, will make them too. Staying out of the quick when you trim your dog’s nails can be difficult, especially if Fido has black nails or he jerks or struggles while you’re cutting.
If you cut into the quick, be ready with styptic powder – a powder that helps to clot the blood – to stop the bleeding immediately. Once an accident happens, you need to stop. Imagine, your hairdresser accidentally cuts your ear and blood starts going everywhere. Are you going to want to continue? No? Well, neither does your dog.
Stop! If you don’t have styptic powder on hand, flour can work too. It won’t work quite as well as styptic powder, but it will do in a pinch.
The dewclaw is a separate nail from the nails of the main part of the dog’s paw. It sits higher on the leg, usually just above the largest pad in the dog’s foot and below the carpal pad located in approximately the equivalent position of the human wrist.
There are different schools of thought about dewclaws. Some advise removing them in almost all cases; others think they should never be removed unless they become painful or damaged. Sometimes in show dogs, the dewclaw is removed to meet breed standard.
The dewclaw in some breeds never touches the ground while in others, it’s an aid in traction and speed while running. If the dewclaw never touches the ground, it isn’t ground down by friction as the other nails are. It probably will need to be checked and clipped more often than the other nails.
If it does touch the ground, check it often for splits, cracks, and length just like the nails of the main part of the paw, and trim it when you trim his other nails. Dewclaws are trimmed in the same way and with the same considerations as your dog’s other nails.
Dog’s Dental Care
Did you know that dog teeth brushing is not only a matter of your pet’s dental hygiene and preventing bad breath, but it also affects his whole body health? Poor dental hygiene in dogs and potential gum disease can contribute to many serious health conditions, including heart disease, according to AVDC.
You’ll also need the right equipment, which includes a dog-specific toothpaste and a toothbrush that’s made for dogs. Never use a human toothpaste on dogs, since the components will be toxic.
Most people assume that all dogs have bad breath, but that’s actually a common misconception. Most dogs already show signs of periodontal disease by age 3. The buildup of plaque and tartar in their mouth fosters the growth of bacteria, which leads to bad breath. Learning how to brush a dog’s teeth can drastically reduce the smell of his breath.
If you don’t care for your dog’s mouth it could lead to conditions including:
- destruction to and loss of the gum tissue and bone around the teeth
- fistulas (holes leading from the oral cavity to the nasal passage)
- osteomyelitis (bone infection)
- weakened jaw bone
- bacteria entering the blood stream and having a negative effect on the heart, liver and kidneys
Sadly, periodontal disease in dogs is the most common health condition found in adult canines? The worst part is that this is a completely preventable disease.
If you have never done this before, it can be intimidating to learn how to brush a dog’s teeth. Your Fido likely won’t be happy with this procedure at first, nor is he going to be excited every time you take out his doggy toothbrush, but if you ease into things gradually, he’ll eventually learn how to tolerate the whole process of brushing teeth.
How to brush your dog’s teeth
When brushing a dog’s teeth, it’s best to do it during a time that he is relaxed and calm. You’ll have a much harder time doing it if he’s full of energy. I try to do it after a play session when my dog’s are tired. I wait until they’ve been relaxing for at least 15 minutes and then we begin brushing.
When you’re just beginning, or rather when you dog is just beginning, you’ll need to ease him into the brushing process very gradually. Start by simply touching the outside of his mouth. When he’s completely comfortable with that, you can start putting your fingers in his mouth. Use one finger to rub his teeth and gums.
In the beginning you’ll want to try these steps multiple times per day. The more often you can do it the better. If you try to work with him every few hours throughout the day for multiple days in a row, he’ll associate what you’re doing and eventually allow you access to his mouth.
Once you’ve gained your dog’s trust and he allows you to access his mouth, you can begin working with the toothpaste. Put a little bit on your finger and let your pup lick it off. When he’s completely comfortable with the toothpaste, you can add in the toothbrush.
You’ll need to hold your dog firmly but gently. Tip him onto his side and gently hold him. Don’t apply pressure. This could make him feel intimidated. Do not place your arm or leg over your pet to hold him down, and don’t try to restrain him in any way. If he gets up to leave, let him. You can try again at another time when he is feeling more comfortable.
Start by brushing one or two teeth at a time – whatever your dog will let you do. The front side of the back teeth and the canine teeth should be your first priority.
Dogs have a rough tongue. It helps scrape some of the plaque off of the interior of their teeth. The interiors still need to be brushed, but in the beginning you can focus on the outside of the teeth and the canines.
You want to apply slight pressure and move the brush in small circles. Just like when you brush your own teeth, if you apply to much pressure you could damage your pet’s gums. Brushing at a 45° will allow the toothbrush to clean the gums and teeth properly.
Toothpaste formulated for dogs, which you need to be using, does not require rinsing like toothpaste for humans. Once you’ve brushed your pet’s teeth for about 2-3 minutes, you can simply let him lick the remaining toothpaste off his teeth and your task is finished.
Dogs with Special Grooming Needs
Special needs dogs can take a variety of forms, but the most common are those with behavioral issues or those that are sick or elderly. You’ll have to take special care when learning how to groom a dog with these types of special needs. Keeping them safe and avoiding further injury must be your main concern.
Grooming Dogs with Behavioral Problems
A dog with chronic behavioral problems, perhaps caused by abuse or anxiety, is still groom-able with a few reservations. Abused dogs often have many issues surrounding their behavior. It’s understandable, given that they were often neglected or physically injured.
It’s not always easy for them to readjust to being treated kindly, so when learning how to groom a dog that has previously been abused, remember that he or she might be averse to loud noises and physical contact. He might cower or even react aggressively if he feels threatened. While that makes things a bit more challenging, your dog does need to be groomed for his or her own health.
However, with that said, do not groom your dog if it’s too much for him, especially if he has been abused. You don’t want to make his trauma worse, do you? Of course not. If grooming needs to be done, and it’s not just a dirty coat, bring your dog to the vet for grooming. Make your dog’s first impression with grooming a success.
It’s likely that you will need to spend extra time comforting and making your dog feel at ease with the grooming process. Remember, positive reinforcement is the best way to go. Provide him with plenty of treats and encouraging words.
Don’t make any sudden movements that might scare or frighten him. If your dog is fearful, it’s important to maintain a quiet environment for him where there aren’t a lot of people or noise. Sudden movements, loud noises, raising your voice, or giving commands that are too sharp will likely frighten your pet and make him averse to grooming (and to you, in general).
Talk to your dog calmly and slowly. Start by gently brushing him and see how he adjusts. If he doesn’t like being brushed, go back to comforting him. This could take a while, but it will be worth it.
Learning how to groom a dog is a great way to bond with your canine companion. Instead of looking at his behavioral problems as a roadblock to grooming (which they can be), take this as an opportunity to work on building the relationship between you and your dog while trying new tactics. The alternative is to refrain from grooming him at all, which is highly inadvisable.
Grooming an Injured Dog
Injury may cause certain parts of your dog’s body to become sensitive or in need of extra protection or care. Keep the grooming process very gentle and soothing. If your dog has an injury, avoid getting it wet or cleaning it with any substance other than one that your vet has provided or approved.
Consider cooling agents. Depending on your dog’s injury, the uncomfortable area on his skin could become overheated, and you need to ensure that you don’t use water that’s too warm. For example, if Fido has an injured limb, you could purchase wound bots for him.
Grooming a Senior Dog
Many elderly dogs have trouble with arthritis or osteoporosis. Make grooming time into something that eases that pain. Pay attention to the water temperature, and make sure it’s warm enough to relax his joints. Lather and massage very gently. Rough handling can be painful for an elderly dog, so take great care to avoid any harsh scrubbing, especially on the joint areas.
You may want to consider using a harness to lift him into the tub or shower area. Carrier harnesses are a secure way to lift up your dog without risking further harm or pain. You can also create a walk board for your elderly dog by using a wooden plank. However, if you know for a fact that your senior companion is too old to be groomed by an amateur, bring him into a professional grooming salon, or to your vet.
How to Give Your Dog a Bath
You have all your supplies, and you’ve read the chapter on dog behavior during grooming. Your dog is calm and a little tired from playing. You’re ready to go. Let’s do this!
We’ll lay out the steps one after the other in a quick rundown and then we’ll go into more detail and make a few product recommendations. If necessary, see the section on basic supplies you will need for further explanation.
Did you know that bathing a dog too often can result in skin irritation? When bathing, check your dog for skin irritation that may indicate he’s being bathed too often. Most house dogs can get by with a once-a-month bath, while dogs who are outside a majority of the time may need more frequent bathing.
Choose a Place to Bathe Your Dog
A good place to bathe your pooch is a must when learning how to groom a dog. First, you must decide whether you will bathe him inside or outside.
If you choose to wash a dog outside, look for a confined place where there will be less chance of him escaping from you and sustaining an injury. It needs to be an area that won’t be ruined by soap and a great deal of water. A landscaped area or a garden of any type is not a good idea.
By the same token, a muddy area is obviously not a good choice either. A place that’s easy to clean and not too near an area where people have to walk is considerate. It’s a plus if it’s located near your trash containers. A running water supply with a hose or a container to fill with water and pour over your dog is a necessity.
If you are going to bathe him outside, make sure the temperature is one that won’t make him feel chilled after he’s wet. Think of it this way, would you stand outside in a bathing suit, soaking wet, while there’s a breeze? Probably not, and you’re dog doesn’t want to go through that, either.
If you choose to wash your dog inside, you’re going to need a dog bathtub, your own bathtub, shower, sink or dog grooming tub with a removable shower head or attachable hose. If you use a bathroom tub, you’ll probably have to bathe your dog while on your knees, an awkward position for keeping him in place and reaching all areas that need to be washed.
If you use a shower, make sure there’s room for both of you. Keep in mind that in a shower, you’ll get as wet as your dog (but you probably will anyway). If your shower has a door rather than a curtain, it will be much easier to contain your pup.
The shower method is not recommended, unless you have a removable shower head. The falling of water all over the place will most likely freak your pet out. If your dog is not one to be too skittish, try out the shower method for a quick rinse after you have already washed all of the soap off, just to see how he reacts.
Gather Your Tools and Products
Make sure you have all the things you’ll need — shampoo, conditioner, scissors (blunt children’s scissors are the best for preventing injury), cotton balls, towels, washcloths, a hair dryer, treats, a toy, a pair of tweezers or forceps and nail clippers. Oh, and your dog.
Put cotton balls in your pet’s ears. They don’t need to be pushed into the canal, just enough to keep water from draining down into his ears. Alas, remember to remove his collar.
Check the water temperature. If the water is too hot or too cold, your dog will be miserable. Experiment with different temperatures between “not too hot” and “not too cold” to see which your dog likes or at least which he objects to the least. Most dogs prefer lukewarm or room-temperature water, but surprisingly, others prefer the water a little cooler.
Okay, get your dog and get him into the tub. No easy task, you say? Perhaps you need to devote a little more time to behavioral training. In the meantime, however, I think he went that way. Until he gets used to it, you may need someone to help you wrangle him into the
Start by spraying water on your dog’s back. Once you’ve caught your dog, wrestled him into the tub, and secured him there, you can begin the actual dog washing. You need to wash from the neck down. This prevents soap and water runoff from getting in your dog’s eyes and ears.
If you get water in your dog’s ears at any time, ensure that you wipe them out immediately using a small cloth or a wipe. Any water that lingers in your dog’s ears could lead straight to an infection, and I’m sure you’re not about to take that risk.
Make sure the nozzle attached to your hose is set for a gentle spray and begin spraying your dog’s back. Too strong a spray may scare or even hurt your dog. The sprayer has adapters that connect to almost any faucet, allowing you to bathe your pet wherever it’s most convenient for you.
Now it’s time to wash and rinse. Once he’s thoroughly wet, work the shampoo into his coat with a gentle massage motion. Keep massaging until there’s soapy lather covering his body. Be sure to get to his skin to remove accumulated oil and clean around the hair follicles. Blocked hair follicles can cause painful cysts and growths.
Rinse your dog, and if you think it’s necessary, repeat the shampoo process. The fur on some dogs can accumulate enough oil to interfere with the shampoo’s job. Once you’ve finished shampooing, you can use a conditioner or other product designed for your dog’s coat type.
Now for the final rinse. Using the sprayer, thoroughly rinse the soap out of your dog’s coat. Run your fingers through his fur, making sure the water gets to his skin and into and around all parts of his body. It’s important to remove the soap completely to avoid irritating your dog’s skin. You can rinse more easily and thoroughly by using a hose, which allows for a fuller range of movement.
Check his whole body to make sure there’s no soap left. Got it all? Then rinse again to make sure. The best way to check for soap left on the fur, is to grab the skin on the back and raise it. Don’t worry, this won’t hurt your dog, and you’ll be able to see and feel if there is soap leftover over that you need to wash off. If there is soap left behind, rinse off.
Drying Your Dog After Bathing
Be as thorough with drying your dog as you were with the washing process. Being cold and wet are as unpleasant for your dog as it is for us. And who likes the smell of a wet dog?
It’s almost as bad as his odor before you bathed him. If your dog has long hair or an undercoat, it’s especially important to dry him thoroughly. Water can remain near his skin for a longer time, promoting irritation and possible fungus growth.
First, dry your dog with a towel. That will remove the excess water and make the rest of the drying process faster. You should invest in a microfiber towel that is specifically designed for drying pets. They’re soft, even for sensitive areas like the face, and are made to absorb a lot of water without dripping all over the floor.
If he’s okay with loud noises, you can use a hair dryer to speed up the drying process. Just be very careful about the dryer that you use. Human hair dryers are not safe for dogs unless they are equipped with a few key features. You can watch my quick video guide on choosing a safe dog dryer if you have questions.
You can use both the towel and the hair dryer to cut drying time in half.
If your dog is not accustomed to the noise of the dryer and the feel of warm air blowing on him, this is not the time to time to try to reduce his fear. You can do that later at a less traumatic time. Settle for the towel and then air dry him. Just remember to keep him confined while he dries to prevent him from finding the dirtiest, smelliest area to roll in.
Clipping Your Dog’s Coat
After the bath and drying, it’s time to trim your dog’s coat. It’s important to bathe and brush your dog first, so all the tangles and debris are out of his fur before you get the clippers out. It’s also imperative that your dog’s fur is 100% dry before you begin his haircut.
Whether you want to keep it simple or go wild, your dog’s hairstyle should, above all, be one that keeps him comfortable and happy. The weather is a big factor in the type of hairstyle your dog will have — warm weather requires a cooler hairstyle, whereas cold weather allows for more growth.
This style is pretty basic. Even though it has the word puppy in it, any dog looks stylish in this cut. It’s a simple all-over do, but it requires upkeep every two weeks or so. It all depends on how fast your pup’s hair tends to grow back.
With a puppy cut, your dog’s hair is uniform with all hair the same length, usually approximately 1¾–2 inches long. It’s a standard, no-fuss cut. On most breeds, groomers prefer to leave the hair on the face longer than the hair on the body.
The lion cut
This style has a lot of flair. The hair around the head and neck is kept long, like a mane, while the rest of the hair is cut short.
Completing the lion look is a little tuft at the end of the tail. This style is especially popular among Pomeranian owners whose dogs pull off the miniature lion look quite authentically.
The cool cut
Warm weather can make a dog hot and uncomfortable, and having long, thick hair makes it worse. Your dog’s size determines the way in which his or her hair will be cut.
For large dogs, the cut should be short all over, even a little shorter than the puppy cut. Smaller dogs can be given a shorter cut (but no closer than one inch from the skin) making for a cooler summer.
Different Dog Coat Types
There are tons of different dog breeds, and it would take hours to go over all of them. Instead, I’ve listed basic categories of coat types and how to identify them. Your dog’s coat type will be the biggest factor in deciding how to groom a dog.
Obviously, some coat types are easier to groom than others. In fact, some coat types don’t require much grooming at all. Unfortunately, some coat types require extensive grooming.
Double coat or single?
A double coat consists of a topcoat and an undercoat. The topcoat has stiff, probably water-repellent hairs that protect your dog from the outside elements. The hair of the undercoat is shorter and softer hair and is shed twice a year.
Popular dog breeds that have a double coat include:
- Chow Chow
- Sheep Dog
- Icelandic Sheepdog
- Korean Jindo
- Alaskan Husky,
- Alaskan Malamute
A single coat does not have an undercoat. Single coats are usually easier to groom than double coats although a two-textured coat (as we’ll discuss below) can make things more difficult. Dogs with single coats also don’t shed profusely twice a year the way double-coated dogs do; however, they usually shed a little all year round.
Since they originated in warm climates, single-coated dogs tend to get colder during the winter. Examples of single coated dogs include:
- Afghan Hounds
- Portuguese Water Dogs
Smooth or wiry?
A smooth coat lies flat against the skin and is smooth to the touch. A Chihuahua is an example of a smooth-coated breed although Chihuahuas come in both long-coated and short-coated varieties. Smooth-coated dogs can have either a topcoat or a double coat, but they’re usually fairly easy to groom except for shedding, usually dependent on whether the dog has a single coat or a double coat.
A wiry coat is a single coat with two-textured hair that is coarse to the touch. The outer part is rough, but the inner part is soft, a difference that can be seen by simply looking at the coat. The most common breed of dog with this type of coat is the terrier.
Rarities: dreads and curls
Dread and curly coats are less common, especially the dread (or corded) coats. The Komondor and thePpuli both have corded coats. The fur on a dreadlocked coat is twisted into locks and requires extra upkeep to ensure that these locks don’t become gnarled tangles. While dreadlocked coats generally form on their own and derive from a coat that is already tightly curled, they can also be hand separated.
This is often seen in dog shows where the owners dread their dogs’ hair specifically for the presentation effect. Corded coats get dirty easily and require a lot of maintenance. Debris can easily accumulate in the coat especially if the dog lives in an area where he goes outside frequently. To avoid cleanliness problems, owners often tie up their dog’s hair into little ponytails so that it is kept up from the mud.
Curled coats require a lot of upkeep. President Obama’s dog, Bo, a Portuguese Water Dog, has a curly coat, but lucky Bo has his own personal groomer! Curly coats can be either double or single coated, but either one requires a dedicated owner. Wavy coats, a variation of curly coats, are slightly less work because their curls are less dense. Curly-coated dogs can either be long haired or short haired.
Real Grooming Emergencies and What To Do
As Scooby Doo would say, “ruh-roh Raggy.” There are things that can go wrong when grooming. We’re all human, and since most of us are not professional dog groomers, we’re sure to make the occasional mistake. Whether due to lack of knowledge or because of dogs who decide to go rogue and run at the thought of getting clean, you will surely suffer through your fair share of grooming mistakes.
Most at risk for injury during grooming are your dog’s sensitive areas — nipples, nails, and genital and eliminatory system areas. Nipples are especially sensitive in a female dog who has just whelped. They’re swollen and sensitive, making it easier to scratch during normal brushing and worst of all, accidentally clipping them while trying to remove a mat.
Nails, as previously discussed, have a vessel- and nerve-filled quick that can be punctured if the nails are trimmed too short. A dog’s anus and anal glands are sensitive as well, and lacerations or abrasions in that area can cause serious pain and bleeding, as can too vigorous washing in the genital area.
Screaming and panicking are the worst things that you can do in this situation. Stay calm. Dogs absorb and reflect our emotions, and panicking will terrify your dog as well, increasing the risk of further injury and mayhem. One of you has to stay calm and rational – you’d probably be the best bet.
The following instructions for treating injuries are not given to upset or scare you. Being prepared for any eventuality is part of being a responsible dog owner. Injuries can happen at any time, and having a plan in advance is much better than handling it on the fly.
Now, let’s talk about some of the issues that you may face while trying to groom your pooch.
If you have a bleeding wound, immediately apply styptic powder, which should cause the blood to clot and the bleeding to stop. If it does not, follow the instructions below.
If you don’t have any styptic powder on hand, flour will work just fine to clot the blood. Chances are you already have some laying around your house, it’s inexpensive, and a pro groomer’s secret weapon, unless they have a specific product to stop blood if the quick is cut during the trimming of the nails.
Blood that won’t clot? Actions here should be directed to first stopping the bleeding, immediately after which you should take your dog to your vet or an animal emergency center. If blood is spurting from the wound and the wound is on the tail or a leg, apply a tourniquet immediately. Your dog can bleed to death quickly with this kind of injury.
Wrap a piece of cloth between the wound and your dog’s heart and tighten it until the bleeding stops. If nothing else, you can use your belt or your dog’s leash as long as it’s not a chain leash. Immediately take your dog to your vet or an animal emergency center.
If you don’t make it to your vet or an animal emergency center within 30 minutes, loosen the tourniquet for two or three minutes every half hour until you arrive.
If you have a great deal of blood but it’s not spurting from the wound and it won’t stop within ten to fifteen seconds after an application of styptic powder, apply pressure to the wound using a towel or other cloth and go immediately to your vet or animal emergency center.
Stopping bleeding is imperative, but it’s followed closely in importance by preventing infection. If you have taken your dog to your vet or an animal emergency center, they will apply antibiotics and give you instructions for continuing to medicate your dog at home, either with a topical salve or a pill or liquid or both.
If it’s a minor wound that doesn’t need emergency treatment, consult with your vet about the best way to prevent infection. Your vet will probably want to see your dog to ascertain the best way to treat it. Again, this will probably require that you administer medication of some kind at home.
Burns are a slightly different story. First, you’ll need to determine whether the burn is a first-degree or second/third-degree burn. The skin will still be intact if it’s a first-degree burn. (Think bad sunburn.) Second- or third-degree burns require immediate veterinary treatment.
Be sure to call your vet if your dog is burned, even if it is a first-degree burn. The application of any kind of ointment is dependent on the degree of the burn. Ask your vet is if there is any ointment appropriate to use on your dog’s burn.
You will probably be able to handle a first-degree burn yourself. Quickly run a gentle stream of cold water over the burned area, and then apply a cold compress for 15–20 minutes.
If it’s a first-degree burn, the skin will be intact, and you can apply a non-oil-based solution. Do not treat a first-degree burn with oil-based medication — check the ingredients. Make sure there are no foreign objects in the wound and cover it with a clean, dry bandage. Contact your vet if it doesn’t seem to be healing.
Apply non-oil-based solutions to INTACT skin only. Skin that has been broken could indicate a second- or third-degree burn and needs immediate veterinary attention.
Once you have treated your dog’s injury, calm him down and take a break from grooming for the rest of the day. It may be a good idea to take him to a professional groomer to finish this grooming, but not until well later on in the week, or when he seems to be okay. This will be a vulnerable time for him, mentally and physically.
This doesn’t have to be the end of your grooming days. You can still salvage your grooming efforts through patience, understanding, and comforting. Your dog has developed a negative association of grooming with pain, and though that is disadvantageous, it doesn’t have to be permanent. Try to calm him and if grooming becomes really contentious, don’t push it.
In many respects, calming your dog is like calming a child. He’s scared and probably very confused. De-escalate the situation by removing the dog from the area in which you’ve been grooming him and give him treats.
Like with an aggressive dog towards grooming, let your scared pup see you put the grooming tools down or away, hold your hands straight up in the air to show him it’s all over, and stay back for a couple of minutes. Let him fully assess the situation on his own.
Change the location of the next grooming session and spend extra time beforehand talking pleasantly to him and giving him treats and toys. Think of it as your chance to make a second “first impression.”
Nutrition and Grooming: How Are They Related?
Nutrition and grooming might seem totally unrelated, but they aren’t. What your dog eats has a lot to do with the health of his or her coat and skin. Whatever goes into the body eventually affects all parts of the body, so it’s important to be cognizant of what you’re feeding your dog (and how much).
If your dog is overweight or obese, he or she has an increased risk of skin and coat diseases. Around a quarter of overweight dogs also develop joint problems, which can make it more difficult to groom your dog because of the increased risk of causing him pain during the brushing, bathing, drying and clipping processes.
The health of your dog’s coat (how shiny, how soft and how manageable it is) is in part determined by what he or she eats. Nutritional deficiencies can cause serious problems for a dog’s coat.
It’s important to choose a dog food that has a substantial amount of fatty acids, as it aids in the health of skin and hair growth. The health of your dog’s skin is intrinsically linked to how healthy his coat is. Itchy or flaking skin can be very uncomfortable for a dog, so make sure that he has a balanced diet.
Avoid low-fat diets if your dog doesn’t have a weight problem. Fatty acids are essential to maintaining a robust coat and healthy skin.
Much in the same way that humans take vitamins, minerals and other supplements to increase their health, dogs benefit from such additions to their diet too. They add a boost to the nutrition they from their food that aids coat and skin health. Fatty acids and other vitamins are great for making a dog’s coat sleek and shiny. Just remember to check with your vet before adding them to your dog’s diet.
Grooming At Home vs. Hiring A Professional
While some novice groomers may think they’ve found their dream job, others may find it time consuming and somewhat tedious. After all, there are many more enjoyable activities they can share with their dog, and the time spent grooming takes away from time that could be spent playing and training.
Some loving dog owners may give grooming a few honest tries, fail despite their best efforts, and hire a pro. Dog grooming is hard and requires patience and consistent control. On the other hand, by grooming your pooch yourself, you save money and enrich that animal-human bond you have developed with him.
Remember, however, that you will spend time learning how to groom and then spend more time learning to do it right and cleaning up the mess. If you have a long-haired dog, it can easily double the time needed to do the job well. Additionally, you’ll spend money buying grooming supplies; however, the investment in supplies will pay for themselves in terms of the cost of grooming, and you will need some of them for that regular grooming you should be doing anyway.
Groomers know dogs well. They’ve studied the canine body, and they have more experience with canines than most of us will get in a lifetime. Because of their education, experience, and the variety of dogs they see, professional groomers often discover abnormalities and potential health issues more quickly than owners.
Then again, a stranger might not be as caring and patient with your dog as you nor as attentive. Abnormalities may slip by. Even with the best intentions, a professional who has already groomed ten dogs that day probably won’t be able to be as attentive to your pooch as you’d like him to be. When you groom your dog yourself, you’re more attentive and more alert to problems.
With the pet industry hitting new records year after year, dog grooming is being offered in a multitude of formats. You can have your pooch professionally groomed any way you want and just about wherever you want.
You can have a groomer drive up to your house and groom your pooch in your driveway, take him to a professional working in salons or out of their homes, or use a groomer who works out of a vet’s office or out of a boarding facility.
I even saw a do-it-yourself grooming location that was one bay of a carwash. I guess you could wash your dog and your car at the same time. There are plenty of options, which is why some dog owners can get confused about which option is best.
The truth is, it’s all up to you and your personal preference. What options are located in your local area? What option is most convenient for you? And most importantly, which groomer do you and your dog like the best? Be sure to meet with and/or test out multiple groomers before making your choice.
Let’s break down all of these pros and cons so it’s a little easier to figure out…
Dog grooming salons
These are the most popular choice, primarily because they’re the first thing dog parents think of when discussing professional dog grooming services. These salons vary from very small operations to huge, full-blown pet grooming salons, and many of them require an appointment.
The salons generally have one or more professionals on staff who not only provide services but also supervise other, less-experienced employees in grooming-related tasks. They usually know the best cuts for your specific breed and are up-to-date on the latest styles in the dog fashion world. If asked, they will offer their opinion as to the best cut for your dog and the best shampoo and other products, especially if your dog suffers from allergies or skin conditions
Professional grooming salons offer a wide variety of services, usually divided into packages of services you can choose for your dog, and personnel will suggest which service package is the best for your dog depending on factors such as how long it’s been since your dog has been groomed, the general condition of his coat, special considerations he will need, and so forth.
On the other hand, however, a pet salon can be a chaotic environment with dogs waiting to be groomed, customers coming in and out to leave or pick up their dogs, stressed and noisy dogs, and dogs in every stage of grooming. You probably will not feel your dog is getting the individual attention you want him to have.
A good grooming salon will give your dog nothing but the attention that he deserves, to himself and to his body. If your dog has any special requirements, such as a strong dislike for loud noises, ensure that you mention it to the groomer before you leave your dog with her.
With all that they offer, professional grooming salons can be one of the more expensive options despite their almost assembly-line feel.
Mobile dog groomers
Mobile dog groomers are slowly and quietly surpassing salons in popularity. They are usually just as well trained and knowledgeable as salon professionals are, and they come to your home fully equipped and so are more convenient. There’s reassurance in knowing your dog is only a few steps away in the event of an emergency, and he is in a much calmer environment near his home and without the presence of other dogs.
Mobile dog grooming is generally a one-man operation, at least in terms of who actually does the grooming at your home. Because he can set his own schedule and because there’s an absence of noise from a number of dogs waiting to be groomed, it’s usually more relaxed, and he can spend more time with you and your dog to ensure he does the job you want done.
The disadvantage, however, is that without the daily contact with other groomers, he may not be as up-to-date on the latest trends. And because it’s so much more convenient for you — you never have to leave your house or clean dog hair out of your car — you will find mobile dog grooming more expensive than salon grooming.
Pet store grooming salons
Many pet supply stores, especially the nationwide chain stores, offer grooming now, and many times the grooming can be done while you wait. There is an advantage in that you can see your dog and be assured of his safety.
The disadvantage is that he can see you and so may be more excitable with your presence. This could make it difficult for him to settle down properly.
In general, the groomers at chain pet stores may not be as trained and accomplished as those you might find in a salon or as mobile groomers, and often they are simply young employees. But unless you’re having your dog groomed for show or some other special occasion, the enthusiasm and tireless energy of these young employees can’t be beat for getting your dog clean.
Your vet’s office
Often, grooming services are offered at your vet’s office. Many dog parents prefer these groomers due to their proximity to emergency services should they be needed. Since your dog is at your vet’s office, information about his health and social history and any special conditions he might have are readily available.
If you have a good, long-standing relationship with your vet, you can often authorize emergency measures in advance, saving the time it takes to locate you and explain the problem in order to get your permission to treat your dog. Groomers at vet’s offices are usually more aware of conditions that can affect dogs and are more adept at finding them while grooming your dog.
Another advantage is the possibility of combining your dog’s grooming session with a routine check-up, a time saver for many dog owners. Many groomers in vet’s offices also offer à la carte services. It’s much easier to stop by the groomer and have nails clipped before or after a vet visit than it is to make a special trip to have minor grooming details done.
You are unlikely to get show styles or up-to-date fashions from a groomer in a vet’s office. What you will get, however, is a clean, well-groomed dog who has been well taken care of and checked for possible health problems.
Should your dog be too fearful or aggressive to groom yourself or to bring to a groomer’s, bringing your dog into your vet’s office to be groomed is a great option. They can give your dog a small, slight sedative to help him calm down, without fully knocking him out, to get the job done. However, this is usually only done if your dog has a problem that needs to be taken care of immediately, such as matting down to the skin.
Home-based dog groomers
Home-based groomers, usually a one-person operation, are professionals with their own equipment who work out of their home. Like the mobile groomer, it’s easier to develop a personal, one-on-one relationship with a home-based groomer. This groomer is likely to have knowledge about your dog and can tell you if he notices things that have changed since your last grooming session.
Show dog groomers
Not only are there different kinds of places to take your dog to have him groomed, there are specialized types of groomers. Show groomers work exclusively with show dogs and sometimes with only one dog group or even with only one or two breeds of dogs within that group. Quite often, show groomers are affiliated with professional dog handlers, people who show other people’s dogs in competition rings.
These people are very skilled at grooming dogs in general but have chosen to limit themselves to the particular breed or breeds they consider their specialty. They are very expensive and unless the dog is being shown in competition, not a viable option for dog parents.
Kennel groomers work exclusively for a boarding business where their primary job is to groom a dog resident who is leaving the kennel. This is not a groomer you would normally choose right off the bat, but if you like the grooming done on your dog after his stay at a particular kennel, consider speaking to the groomer or the owner about having your dog groomed there on a regular basis. Normally these professional dog groomers work only with dogs who have stayed at the kennel, but you can always ask.
Costs of professional grooming
Like any other purchase, you will want an estimate of the cost of professional grooming. While some groomers have a set price for each service they perform on your dog, others take into account the size of your dog, the length of his hair, the condition he’s in when brought in, any special health conditions, any special services you want, and your dog’s personality in general — how easy or difficult he will be to work with.
Although the groomer may quote you a very rough price, you won’t get anything but a ballpark figure until they’ve seen him. Don’t be shy about discussing these details with your groomer. They usually want you as a customer, and they know how confusing the process is to first timers.
Dog grooming prices vary by the type of groomer, the type of establishment, the services you want, and your locale. Groomers in the bigger metropolitan areas will charge more while you can expect lower prices in other areas. Prices in middle America are likely to be less than the prices on either coast.
You can always request additional services. These additional services will be offered before a grooming session begins, and the costs will vary depending on the location, your dog, and type of groomer or grooming salon.
Becoming a Professional Dog Groomer
Maybe you like grooming so much you want to do it yourself. That’s a great idea! Just know that you need the proper certifications and accreditations. You can become certified either through a school or through an apprenticeship.
There are tons of dog grooming schools you can go to that will teach you the precise ways to groom each type of dog. Dog grooming is an industry that is projected to grow 15%. Once you’ve received certification as a licensed groomer, you can begin work.
The road to that goal starts with learning the basics, grooming your own dog and perhaps those of your friends and relatives, moving on to the advanced tricks of the trade, and finally becoming a pro. It’s a time-consuming venture but rewarding for anyone in love with dogs.
If you decide to become an independent professional dog groomer, you will also have to learn how to run a business, either alone or with a partner. Start out working in an established business, learn the tricks of the trade, create a business plan, and then venture out on your own. Being an entrepreneur is no easy task. Solo professional dog groomers have lots of new things to learn.
To finish our guide, I’ll do a quick rehash of some of the Frequently Asked Questions people tend to ask when learning how to groom a dog. This will also serve as a quick refresher course. Remember, as I mentioned in the beginning, the best thing that you can do is to read this guide in its entirety and then use it as a reference guide when you’re learning how to groom your dog.
There are some great tips in this guide that will help you to groom your pooch quickly, effectively and – most importantly – safely. The videos included this guide show you how to use specialized tools and train your dog to fee comfortable while being groomed. Reading the FAQ’s and then trying to “wing it” is not only going to leave you confused and frustrated, but could also lead to you hurting your dog.
1. “What do I do first?”
When learning how to groom a dog – brush first. Get out all the tangles and then you’ll be able to move on to the second procedure — bathing. It’s important to get the mats and gnarls out of your dog’s fur so that they’re not worsened by the grooming process.
Start at the top of the dog and work your way down. The sides of the dog will be the easiest to brush, but take extra care when you get to the more sensitive parts — ears, eyes, mouth, anal glands, etc. For the sensitive areas, you need to use a fine-toothed comb like the ones we recommended.
Always brush in the direction that the hair is going, and make sure you don’t get too close to any areas that could be injured during it. After you do that, move on to bathing, drying, and then clipping. Those are just the steps in general. You don’t have to follow them exactly. If you want to clip after brushing or make other changes, that’s fine too.
If there is a knot in your dog’s hair, isolate it and try to work through it with your fingers. If you can’t work it through, you may need to snip it out with a small pair of scissors. If that’s the case, try to cut out as little hair as possible. Whatever you do, don’t just ignore a mat. It will only make the situation worse and lead to an even bigger problem.
2. “Uh-oh! I hurt my do. What do I do?”
If it’s bleeding, use a clotting powder immediately. If you do not have a clotting powder available to you at the moment, get some flour and press it onto the wound. This will immediately clot the blood. If the wound won’t stop bleeding, you may need to apply a pressure pad or even a tourniquet to your dog.
Take a piece of gauze and press it firmly onto the wound, covering it and wrapping it to staunch the flow of blood. and take your dog to your vet or animal emergency center immediately. Cutting to the quick of the nail can be solved quickly by applying clotting powder or flour, too. Any injuries to the eyes, ears, or rectum require an immediate vet or animal emergency center visit.
If your dog has been burned, ascertain whether it’s a first-degree, second-degree, or third-degree burn. If Fido has a first-degree burn, the skin will be reddened and sore, certainly, but intact with no bodily fluids (blood or pus) seeping out. A second-degree burn will show blisters, deep redness, and will look almost shiny or scaly. A third-degree burn, the most serious, will have skin that is black, white, brown, or almost yellow and will appear leathery. There may not even be any pain if the nerve endings are destroyed.
While a first-degree burn is manageable, the other two are not and require immediate veterinary care. If your pet is burned while you’re learning how to groom a dog, hold the affected area under a stream of cold water and then cover it with a cool compress for 15–20 minutes. Call your vet during this time and explain what happened.
If you have ointment, ask your vet if that is an appropriate salve for the burn. As long as the medication is not oil-based, it can be applied to a burn — with your vet’s approval, of course. The most common cause of burns is from overheated clippers, which is why it’s important to look for self-cooling clippers.
If your dog’s been injured during grooming, he or she is likely to be shy for a while. Stop the grooming process and spend time comforting and calming him. While a grooming injury is certainly problematic, it doesn’t necessarily have to mean the end of all grooming sessions. It means that you’ll probably have to spend a little more time giving him treats, talking softly to him, and comforting and calming him.
3. “How short should I clip my dog’s hair?”
That’s really up to you. The blade length you choose should be tailored to fit your dog’s particular coat type and texture, i.e., whether he is double-coated, single-coated, corded, or curly-coated. Two inches is the standard cut length on long-haired dogs, but if it’s particularly cold or warm outside, you may want to lengthen or shorten that cut accordingly.
Unless your vet advises, do not clip your dog any closer than one inch from his skin. If he advises that your dog needs a drastic hairstyle such as shaving, you’ll need to take him to a professional groomer. Shaving requires expertise that people just learning how to groom a dog don’t have.
4. “My dog won’t stop freaking out while I’m grooming him. What should I do?”
When learning how to groom a dog, remember that positive reinforcement and a calming voice go a long way. Bribe your dog by giving him treats to start the grooming process. Make the connection between grooming and a reward, delicious treats, and praise.
For example, if your dog’s favorite thing to do is to play with a certain chew toy, give him that toy before and after grooming. Post-grooming, throw an “after party” where you give your dog treats and play with him. With that experience in mind, he’ll associate grooming with a reward.
If this does not work within a few minutes, stop and end the session then and there. You will be putting your dog under too much stress if you continue from here. Watch the video included in this video for more tips on how to train your dog to enjoy grooming.
5. “When should I seek professional help?”
Seek professional help for anything involving the ears, eyes, or rectum. If there’s ear hair, take your dog to the vet to see if that should be tweezed. If you feel overwhelmed or confused, don’t be afraid to give your vet a call. It is recommended that you seek help on the rectal area especially. Dog owners might not be too keen on the idea of grooming there (especially if you’re new to learning how to groom a dog), and if that’s the case with you, you can have a professional take care of it.
There are certain conditions that require you to seek professional help. As I stated before, grooming is a good time to look for any issues with your dog’s coat, skin or body. If you feel lumps under the skin or some other irregular growth, that could mean that your dog has a tumor (be it fatty or worse).
Check under your dog’s fur for anything that looks like it could be troublesome — wounds, rashes, irritation, growths, etc. If you spot something, call your vet immediately. It’s best to catch these things early so that treatment can start before the situation grows worse.
And most importantly, seek professional help any time you have a question, are confused or just plain worried about something having to do with your dog. Hopefully, this guide has helped you with your questions about how to groom a dog. Refer to it whenever you need answers about a particular tricky problem or if you need advice on your next step, but when in doubt, ask a professional.