Grooming Basics to Keep Your Dog in Tip Top Shape

Dog grooming 101Groomers are canine stylists that help your dog look its absolute best. Pet parents enjoy getting their furry companion professionally groomed, but these services are costly. Some owners prefer to handle grooming themselves, but how can they achieve great results at home?

This guide will teach you how to give your dog a professional groom and properly care for your canine's coat—without the expensive price tag.

Advice for Groomers

Are you new to pet grooming? Here are a few tips for home groomers to remember.

  • Establish a Routine Early. Begin grooming your dog as soon as you've adopted it to help them get used to the process.
  • Be Patient. Your furry friend will become comfortable with the process in time. If your pet is agitated or nervous, stop and try again another day. 
  • Select a Bathing Area. Wash your canine companion in a laundry room, garage, bathroom, or outside.
  • Set Grooming Dates. Schedule times to groom your pet. Mark them on the calendar and create digital reminders.
  • Invest in a Grooming Table. This furniture can save time and aggravation when caring for your pet's needs at home.

Create a Grooming Kit

Prepare ahead for your pet's wash days by assembling your tools. Create a kit to keep your tools in one place. Basic kits should contain:

  • Clippers: Purchase professional No. 10 blades designed to protect skin. Choose ones that are low-noise.
  • Clipper and Blade Coolant: Cutting tools can overheat. Use gels to cool down hot blades.
  • Slicker Brush: This tool removes loose hair from a dog's undercoat. Regular use decreases matting.
  • Shedding Blade: The device eliminates shed hairs.
  • Grooming Shears: These scissors cut long hair.
  • Comb: This tool detangles coats.
  • Towel: Select older, softer ones to dry your dog.
  • Nail Grinder and Clippers: Use this to trim long claws.
  • Styptic Powder: This agent stops bleeding in case a nick happens.
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste: Use pet-formulated products to clean teeth and gums.

Place your kit in an accessible, easy-to-find location.

Grooming 101


Regular brushing will keep your pet's coat clean. Weekly grooming removes dirt, grass, and lint from the undercoat. It also spreads natural oils, prevents tangles, and keeps skin clean.

Check for fleas and flea dirt (black specks) before starting. If your dog is infected, see your vet for treatment ASAP. 

Your pet's brushing schedule will depend on its coat and shedding rates. Here are some professional tips:

  • Smooth and Short Fur: Coats require weekly brushing. Use a shedding blade to eliminate dead skin. Polish their fur with a soft cloth. Breeds: Dachshunds, Boston Terriers, Beagles, English Mastiffs, Chihuahuas, and Boxers.
  • Silky and Long Hair: A metal-pin slicker brush will detangle longer coats. After brushing, comb fur. Trim excess fur around the paws. Breeds: Afghan Hounds, Briard, Cairn Terrier, Cavalier King John Spaniel, Black Russian Terrier, and others.
  • Short, Thick, and Double Coats: These pups need frequent grooming. A bristle brush will eliminate mats. Comb through tangles. Breeds: Akita, Alaskan Husky, German Spitz, Icelandic Sheep Dog, and Swedish Lapphund.

2. Bathing

Canines require regular bathing, but not as much as humans.  According to the ASPCA, dog owners should bathe their pets a minimum of once every three months. Avoid daily washing, which can strip natural oils and damage skin.

You may need to bathe your pet more often if:

  • Your dog has skin problems.
  • Your canine spends a lot of time outdoors.
  • Your pet enjoys rolling around outside.

Choose products with quality ingredients to wash your dog. Cheaper shampoos contain harsher chemicals that can irritate skin. Use ones with tea tree oil if your dog has sensitive, itchy skin. 

Can Pet Parents Use Human Shampoo to Wash Dogs?

Don't use shampoos formulated for people on your pets. A dog's skin is more sensitive than ours. Their dermal layer has a normal pH balance of 6.2 - 7.4. The human dermal layer has an acidic pH balance of 4.0 - 5.5. These harsh products corrupt a dog's acid mantle, leaving them vulnerable to parasites, viruses, and illnesses. It can also dry and damage its skin.

"Think your human shampoo is safe to use on your #dog? Think again." TWEET THIS

Natural products are safer to use on your pets, but they're not ideal. Gentler brands contain tea tree oil, colloidal oatmeal, and aloe vera. They won't harm your pet's skin. Colloidal oatmeal can be soothing, but some pets are allergic to it. Monitor them closely and stop using a product if their skin becomes red or irritated.

Bathing Routine

Every dog owner has a funny story about their pet's bath time antics. Some dogs dread getting a bath. Others love it. In any case, keeping your canine clean maintains their health, and bath time helps owners identify potential problems.

Always brush your dog's coat prior to bathing. As mentioned above, a good brush will remove debris from its undercoat. It also removes shed hair and matted fur.

  1. Put your pet in a sink or tub. Fill the area with three inches of warm water. Check the temperature to ensure it's not too hot or cold.
  2. Use a water spray nozzle or pitcher.  Wet your dog's coat. Apply shampoo. Avoid wetting its head and ears.
  3. Apply shampoo. Start with your puppy's neck and proceed to its tail. Repeat until your dog is clean. Use a damp cloth to wash its head. This prevents water from entering its ears.
  4. Rinse. Remove all product with water to avoid mats and dull fur.
  5. Dry your dog with a large towel. Gently rub its coat to remove excess water.

Stay calm while washing your pet. If you're nervous, your furry friend will sense it too.

Special Bathing Tips
  • Shar Pei and Pug Breeds:  Wrinkled and loose skin dogs need special care. Use a damp cotton towel, and clean between folds to prevent infections. Dry well.
  • Puppies and Nervous Dogs:  These canines can nip during bath time. Purchase a floating toy to distract your pet during bath time.

3. Cutting Nails

We advise pet owners to leave nail trimming to the professionals. However, if you feel comfortable tackling this task, you can use a grinder to shorten nails once a month.  Follow these tips at home.

  1. Get your dog acclimated to the nail grinder's noise. They'll be calmer during the process.
  2. How to clip pale nails: Carefully trim until you see the pink area (the quick).
  3. How to clip dark nails: Cut until you see a black dot on the nail's tip (the quick).
  4. Close nail clippers quickly. Slowly cutting nails can cause chipped or split nails.
  5. Use styptic powder to stop bleeding. Even professional groomers can accidentally cut the quick area. Keep this agent handy to encourage healing.

4. Trimming Fur

A fresh cut will make your pet look amazing. To give your dog a trim at home, start by learning about common cuts for your pet's breed.

On wash day, take out your cutting tools. Only use low-noise nail clippers to avoid startling your pet. When trimming fur:

  1. Always start off with a clean, dry dog.
  2. Secure your dog to a grooming table.
  3. Use sharp clippers with a NO. 10 blade to cut their hair. This prevents nicks and injuries.
  4. Don't pull its fur when cutting.
  5. Clip in the direction of your dog's hair growth. It will make it look natural.
  6. Hold your pet to prevent sudden movements. Pick the left or right side. Groom from the neck to the back leg. Finish the other side.
  7. Check your clippers' temperature. Make sure your tools don't overheat. If they do, change blades. You can also spray clippers with coolant.
  8. Trim around the ears. One hand should protect the edges of your pet's ears as you trim.
  9. Clip the fur around your pet's paws. Check its pads to ensure there are no foot issues.

5. Miscellaneous Grooming Tasks

Grooming is more than just brushing and bathing. Your pet has other maintenance needs

  • Express your pet's anal sacs monthly. If you're not comfortable, your vet or a professional groomer can do this.
  • Apply flea and tick treatments every month. Use prescribed treatments to keep your dog pest-free.
  • Wipe down the ears and eyes with a clean cloth. 
  • Examine gums and brush teeth regularly. If your pet's mouth smells really bad or they haven't had a dental examine in awhile, call your vet.

6. Addressing Skin Issues

Your pet's skin and coat reflect its overall health. Does your dog smell bad even after grooming? Is it scratching or nibbling at its body? This could indicate your furry friend needs veterinary attention. Bad odors can indicate health issues. Your pet could have parasites, infections, or even metabolic issues.

Causes of skin issues include:

  • Fleas: Their bites, droppings, and saliva can irritate the skin.
  • Food allergies: Sensitivities can cause skin irritation. Some dogs are allergic to common ingredients like chicken, beef, soy, wheat, and additives.
  • Ringworm: This fungal infection is highly contagious. If you believe your pet has ringworm, take them to your vet for treatment immediately.
  • Mange: This disease is caused by a parasite. Mites bite their host, causing intense itching and inflammation. Mange makes pets extremely uncomfortable. They also lose fur. There are two types: Demodectic and Sarcoptic. Call your vet immediately if you suspect your dog is infected.
  • Grooming products: As mentioned above, only use products designed for pets. Using the wrong ones can irritate skin.
  • Stress or boredom: Your dog may excessively lick or bite their skin if they don't have enough stimulation or suffer from anxiety.

Contact South Boston Animal Hospital if you need grooming advice for your particular pooch or would like to schedule an appointment to keep your dog in tip top shape—inside and out.