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Breed & Health Resources

Dog Grooming at Home: Tools and Tips

By Lea Maxwell

Dog getting bath

There’s something exciting about picking up your dog from the groomer all freshly washed, fluffy, and trimmed – maybe even with a cute bandana. But going to the groomer isn’t always possible, so here are the best home dog grooming tips and tools for beginners.

Dog Grooming Supplies

Before you begin grooming your dog, you’ll need a few standard grooming supplies. These are available in your local pet store or online – you don’t need top-of-the-line, professional-grade products.

  • Comb, brush, or shedding rake, depending on your dog’s coat type
  • Dog clippers with a #10 guard at least and shears. Clipper sets start from around $50 and usually include guards, clipper oil, and trimming scissors. Some devices are quieter than others. You may also want to splurge on a cordless, rechargeable option. If you can get the hang of DIY canine grooming, this set will pay for itself in just a session or two
  • Dog nail trimmers with a guard, and styptic powder in case of a nail bleed
  • Dog shampoo. This is worth splurging on – plus, you can dilute the good stuff to make it last
  • Ear cleaning solution and cotton balls. This isn’t part of every grooming routine, but I like to take this step to make sure my dog’s ears aren’t getting smelly build-up
  • A clean work area. Maybe set up a table that you can secure your dog on to avoid hurting your back. I recommend working outside whenever possible to make clean up easier. I usually loop my dog’s leash through something to keep them from running off
  • Treats. Always have a few small treats to offer praise when your dog is sitting patiently while you figure this out

Introduce Your Dog to Grooming

Before you start shaving or clipping, introduce your dog to the new grooming tools for a few days. Without clipping or cutting, let them sniff the tools and give them treats and praise so they build a positive association with the tools.

Also practice touching your dog’s feet with just your hands a few times a day to help them get used to the idea of being touched for a nail trim. If your dog is nervous or unfamiliar with grooming, take extra time with these steps, and don’t hold back on praise and treats when they show progress.

Start the grooming process slowly by brushing your dog every day. If you’re not sure which type of comb or brush to use, ask the vet what is appropriate for their coat. Give them a quick brush every day to remove excess dirt and debris. This also prevents tangles, knots, and matting.

At Home Dog Baths

Dog baths can be a messy job, but the good news is that you don’t have to do it as often as you might think. It depends on your dog’s coat and what they get into, but your dog may be able to go a month or longer between baths. For example:

  • Long coated dogs, like Newfoundlands, may need a bath every 4-6 weeks
  • Thicker-coated dogs, like Labrador Retrievers, should go longer between washings because too much bathing can strip natural oils away from their skin. They can go up to six months between baths

If you’re not sure if your dog needs a bath, check out this checklist to help you decide when it’s time. Regardless of coat, it’s fine to use spray dog shampoo and to spot clean them between baths.

How to Give Your Dog a Bath

When giving your dog a bath, you don’t need to fully submerge them. Just follow these steps:

  1. Get their coat fully soaked
  2. Apply shampoo for dogs – you shouldn’t use human shampoo on dogs
  3. Lather carefully – avoid getting soap in their eyes, ears, & mouth
  4. Rinse thoroughly until no more shampoo comes out of their coat
  5. Towel dry or let them air dry

Pro Tip: Use a hair trap over your tub drain to prevent clogging.

How to Trim Dog Nails

With practice, many pet parents prefer to clip their dog’s nails at home. We’ve got a great how-to article, but my experienced advice is this:

Take your time and work gradually. It’s better to trim a small amount off the very tip of the nail than to over-cut and cause your dog a lot of pain – and possibly cause them to distrust you in the future. Do a few nails at a time, take a treat break, and come back for more later.

When you clip, stop before the pink part of the nail. If your dog has black nails, stop when you see a black dot inside the nail. If your dog’s nails are long, you’ll need to do small trims regularly; this process allows the quick to recede so that it won’t get clipped and bleed. Always give your dog love and rewards after a nail trim because it is not an easy experience for them.

Dog Haircuts 101

You’re probably not grooming your dog to win Best in Show, but there is a lot you can do at home to help them dog look and feel their best while saving a few bucks. It’s important to use sharp equipment and always cut fur when it is completely dry.

  • Go slowly and be careful when you’re grooming your dog’s fur
  • Make sure to keep an eye on where their ears, toes, or other body parts start. Keep your hand near those spaces as a guide to tell you where to stop before you cut too low
  • It’s better to leave fur too long and trim more later on
  • Use shears to trim the fur around their face, ears, and feet
  • If you’re trying to stretch their current cut until you can get to the dog groomer, us shears to take just a little off their coat

Grooming Your Dog with Clippers

If you feel confident using sharp clippers with a guard on, start around the back and neck area and work your way down. Be extra careful in the groin, underarm, belly, and hock area. Make sure the clippers do not clog or overheat. A few tips for cutting your dog’s hair:

  • Not all coat types work well with clippers. If you have a dense-coated dog, like a Husky, a shedding rake will give you better results than clippers
  • If you find any matted spots, don’t trim them with scissors. Talk to a professional about having these clipped
  • You’re not a professional, and it’s okay to stop before your dog’s grooming is complete . Short, regular grooming sessions will be easier on you and your dog

Don’t feel bad if you decide you can’t tackle grooming with the clippers on your own. Most groomers would agree this is a step best left to a trained professional – plus, your dog probably doesn’t mind getting a little shaggy until you can see an expert.

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