Written by Ella White
Whether your canine companion is a social media star in the making, a trusted working dog or a beloved family pet, basic grooming is essential. Who doesn’t love a dog who looks and smells amazing? More importantly, keeping their coat in tip top condition ensures your furry friend is comfortable, healthy and happy. Not every dog needs a weekly appointment at their favorite groomer though, there’s plenty you can do yourself at home.
While professional examinations to make sure your dog’s fur, teeth, eyes, nails, and other areas are all in good health is essential, there are some basic grooming practices that you can pick up at home to keep them looking fresh between trips to the salon.
Though most dogs don’t need to be washed and brushed daily to maintain good hygiene, they do still need regular care to stay healthy and clean. From trimming their coat to clipping their nails and cleaning their teeth, eyes, and ears, there are plenty of small elements that go into a full dog grooming session that you might not have considered.
Overgrown nails, shaggy fur, and unclean teeth and ears can cause pain and discomfort, and in some cases lead to poor health including infections. If you’ve got a double coated dog, you’ll know just how easily that undercoat can get matted. A matted coat doesn’t just mean it’s pinching and pulling the skin (which is very uncomfortable on its own), it also means air isn’t circulating properly which can lead to rashes and infections. While vets and professional dog groomers are professionally trained in these areas, it can still be useful for dog owners to learn the basics too – just in case you can’t get an appointment at the parlor.
How often your dog needs to be groomed, and the kind of grooming they require, will depend on the size, age, and breed of your dog. Short- or smooth-coated dogs will likely only need to be brushed once a week, while longer haired and rough-coated dogs will need more regular care.
Hair cuts, nail trimming, fur shedding, and other grooming practices will also need to be carried out every four to 12 weeks depending on your breed, time of year and lifestyle. If your dog only walks on grass and mud, their nails won’t wear down as naturally as they would if they’re mainly walking on paved or concrete sidewalks.
For dogs who blow their coat, they’ll usually shed in cycles (typically twice a year as the seasons change). If your dog is shedding, you’ll probably want to brush them out more frequently.
Giving your dog’s coat a thorough brush and even a shampoo at home is fairly easy – you just need to know how to keep your dog calm and patient throughout the process. Regular exposure and training from a young age is usually the best approach but even older dogs can learn new tricks. You can buy lick mats and suction toys which when covered in a light coating of (dog friendly) peanut butter, fish oil or some fat free yogurt, make great distractions for dogs not used to home grooming.
When it comes to trimming their hair, it can feel a little more daunting. Though there is no reason why you can’t trim your dog’s coat at home, most owners prefer to take them to a professional to avoid mistakes or injury. It’s important that you own the correct tools and avoid using human hair clippers, which are not designed to deal with dog fur and can cut their skin easily, or leave patches exposed.
If you are grooming your dog from home, make sure to only use warm water, and pick a room that won’t become slippery when wet and that your dog can leave easily if they want to. Do not continue grooming your dog if they become distressed. If it’s your first time attempting a home dog groom, spend some time watching a few YouTube videos to get tips for your specific breed or your dog’s coat type.
The first thing you’ll want to hand is treats – especially if they don’t like being brushed or bathed. Rewarding them for their cooperation and encouraging them to behave using treats is a must for all breeds. We’re a big believer in positive reinforcement training here at Front of the Pack, when it comes to a home groom, it’s definitely the best approach.
The kind of brush you need will depend on the type of dog you own, and their fur:
An approved dog shampoo is essential for washing – don’t use human products that often contain harsh chemicals. If your dog needs tick or flea medication, you can also get shampoos that help kill parasites.
For nail clipping, you will be able to find specially designed dog nail clippers in most pet stores. Do not use human clippers, and invest in styptic powder to prevent bleeding if you do cut to close. If you’re nervous about cutting your dog’s nails or they don’t like the nail clippers, you can buy pet nail grinders which gently file the nail down reducing the risk of nipping the nail quick.
Hair scissors and a pet fur trimmer will both be needed for cutting your dog’s coat at home. However this is not advised without thorough training.
A dog toothbrush and toothpaste are needed for regularly brushing your dog’s teeth at home. As their mouths and teeth are a different shape to human teeth, you will need a specially designed dog toothbrush that works for their mouth. Never use human toothpaste on your dog as it often contains xylitol which is toxic to dogs.
Brushing your dog’s coat isn’t just about removing dirt and knots. It’s about improving the condition of the skin by increasing natural oil production. So make sure your brush gets all the way down to the skin and gentle massages beneath the fur. This helps prevent dryness and dandruff by increasing blood circulation.
Keep an eye out for matting and other objects like grass seeds that might be stuck in the fur and will require a specific brush – like a slicker – to remove. Brushing your dog regularly is a good way to get to know their body, so you will notice any changes, cuts and scrapes, or other issues sooner rather than later.
If your dog sheds and is in shedding season, you will need to brush their fur more often than usual – ideally daily.
Before you wash your dog at home, make sure they have been thoroughly brushed and their fur is free from matts and foreign objects. Place them in the bath tub or basin and wet their fur with lukewarm water. Most dogs will be more inclined to shake when their heads get wet so try to keep their head as dry as possible for as long as possible. You might want to put cotton balls in their ears and mineral oil near their eyes to keep the water out.
Then, massage dog shampoo into their coat starting at the neck and working backwards. Lather for at least five minutes and scrub any areas that are especially in need of a clean. Then rinse, making sure that all shampoo residue is completely removed from the coat.
Towel dry any excess water from their coat, and give them room to shake it out themselves. Avoid using a human hair drier unless they’re used to it and never use it on a hot setting. You can buy grooming dryers which don’t get too hot and are designed to blow the water out the coat more than evaporate it.
Then give them one final brush with a bristle brush for a smooth finish.
Long nails don’t just sound annoying as your dog walks around your house. They can also be painful, get in the way of their walking, and can even crack and break close to the nerve. You shouldn’t be able to hear your dog’s nails tapping on hard flooring so, if you can, it’s probably time for a trim.
Dog nail trimmers usually come with safety guards to prevent them from being cut too short. The ‘quick’ of a dog’s nail is where the blood vessel begins inside the nail, and can be identified more easily on white or light nails than on black nails.
To avoid cutting too short, only trim the hooked part of the nail that turns downwards. Because most dogs don’t like having their nails trimmed, you might only be able to cut one or two at a time before they’ve had enough. If you do trim their nails too short, use styptic powder to prevent bleeding.
If your dog’s eyes are prone to weeping or discharge build up, wet a cotton ball with warm water and wipe the area around the eye. Repeat as needed, but always avoid using products or chemicals near their eyes.
Most dogs need their ears cleaned at least once per month. Use a moist cloth or cotton swab, and wipe down the outer ear including any wrinkles in the skin. Do not put anything inside their ear, and if you think their inner ear needs cleaning, speak to your vet or professional groomer.
Like humans, dogs' teeth should be brushed daily. Be sure to use a toothbrush and toothpaste designed especially for dogs. Before using a brush for the first time, you might want to help them get used to the sensation of having their teeth brushed by gently rubbing the teeth and gums with your finger.
Use a small amount of toothpaste and let them taste it. Most doggy toothpaste is designed to smell and taste appealing to them. Then work up to using the toothbrush. You can also give your dog chews and toys that help to promote a healthy mouth.