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Good grooming will help your dog look and feel his best. Routine grooming sessions also allow you to examine your dog’s coat, teeth, eyes, ears, and nails for signs of problems. How often you need to groom your dog depends on his size, breed, and type of coat.

While good hygiene habits are essential for a healthy dog, unlike humans, most dogs do not require daily hygiene and grooming habits. What is required, and how often, depends on the breed. The Afghan HoundPoodle, and Komondor — just to name a few — require regular grooming (but are certainly worth the effort), whereas breeds such as the BeagleWeimaraner, and Boxer allow a bit more freedom in the grooming department. Hygiene such as teeth brushingear cleaningnail trimming, and brushing are most certainly an essential aspect of regular dog care, regardless of the breed.

Professional dog groomers, professional dog handlers, and some veterinary technicians are well trained in grooming, so you can be assured that your pup is in good hands. However, it’s certainly useful for owners to learn maintenance grooming to keep their dogs looking sharp in-between visits to the groomer.

One of the best sources of information for grooming can be your dog’s breeder. An AKC responsible breeder will often have a wealth of knowledge on all topics related to their breed, including grooming tips and equipment needed to do a good job.

Brushing at Home

Several brushing sessions a week will keep the average dog neat and clean; daily attention is even better. Brush all the way down to the skin, letting the massaging action stimulate blood circulation and loosen and remove flakes of dandruff.

The kind of equipment you need depends on your dog’s coat texture and length. Longhaired dogs need pin brushes, which have long, round-ended stainless-steel or chrome-plated pins. Short-, medium-, and some long-coated breeds need bristle brushes. There are also slicker brushes for removing mats and dead hair; rubber curry combs to polish smooth coats and remove dead hair; clippers, stripping knives, rakes, hair dryers, and other grooming tools.

When brushing, always check for burrs and other stubborn plant material; mats, which most frequently form behind the ears and under the legs; and any cuts or scrapes on the skin itself.

All dogs shed, though some definitely shed more than others. Regular brushing will help keep shedding under control.

Bathing at Home

Your dog should have regular, but not frequent, baths, depending on the breed and coat of your dog. Too-frequent washing removes natural oils and causes the coat to become dry and harsh.

When necessary, use a mild shampoo formulated for dogs. Stand the dog in a tub or basin, and put cotton balls in his ears and a couple of drops of mineral oil in his eyes. Wet the dog with warm water and apply shampoo from the neck back. After lathering and scrubbing, rinse your dog thoroughly with warm water. Rub vigorously with a towel (he’ll help you with vigorous shaking!), and then blow-dry if necessary. Comb or brush as required.

Poodle standing wet in the bathtub.

Nail Trimming at Home

Nails must be kept short for the feet to remain healthy. Long nails interfere with the dog’s gait, making walking awkward or painful. They can also break easily. This usually happens at the base of the nail, where blood vessels and nerves are located, and precipitates a trip to the veterinarian. If you can hear the nails clicking on the floor, they’re too long.

To trim your dog’s nails, use a specially designed clipper. Most have safety guards to prevent you from cutting the nails too short. You want to trim only the ends, before the “quick” which is a blood vessel inside the nail. (You can see where the quick ends on a white nail, but not on a dark nail.) Clip only the hook-like part of the nail that turns down.

Many dogs dislike having their nails trimmed. You can make it a painless procedure by getting your dog used to having his feet handled in puppyhood. Start trimming gently, a nail or two at a time, and your dog will learn that you’re not going to hurt him.

If you accidentally cut the quick, stop the bleeding with some styptic powder. If you find it impossible to clip your dog’s nails, take him to a veterinarian or groomer.

Ear Cleaning at Home

You should clean your dog’s ears once a month, more if he’s prone to ear problems. Clean the outer part of the ear only, using a damp cloth or a cotton swab soaked in mineral oil. Never force anything into the ear. Some dogs need the hair plucked just inside the ear to keep air circulating; ask your veterinarian if this is necessary for your dog.

Eye Cleaning at Home

Clean slight discharges with a moist cotton ball. Do not put anything irritating in your dog’s eyes.

Tooth Brushing at Home

Clean your dog’s teeth frequently with special toothbrushes and toothpaste desgined for dogs. If your dog balks at having his teeth brushed, get him used to it by rubbing his teeth and gums with your finger. Then put a little of the toothpaste on your finger and let him sniff and lick it; do the same with the toothbrush. Make sure to provide chew toys that will help clean his teeth. As your dog gets older, he may have a buildup of tartar that requires special cleaning by a veterinarian.

Anal Sacs at Home

Anal sacs are located on each side of your dog’s anus; they are glands that exude scent when your dog has a bowel movement. If you notice your dog scooting along on his rear or licking or scratching his anus, he may have impacted anal sacs. Ask your veterinarian how to treat an anal sac problem.

owner brushing a puppy's teeth

Dog Grooming at Home Tips

What to Do

  • Obtain the right tools: the mentors listed above will help guide you in the purchase of the right nail trimmers, a styptic powder used to stop nail bleeding such as Kwik Stop, teeth cleaning tools, brushes, wide and fine-tooth combs, shampoos, and even blow dryers if needed. They can also help you learn about proper tables used for grooming and even a grooming arm that will hold your pup in place.
  • Use a brush that is intended for the coat of your dog breed. For example, bristle brushes are preferred for short-haired breeds and sleeker types of brushes are preferred for long-haired breeds. Check with your professional groomer, breeder, or veterinarian to ensure you are using the best option before making your purchase.
  • With the appropriate brush for your dog’s coat, brush your canine companion every other day (even short-haired breeds) to remove dirt and debris, prevent matting, control shedding, and create a shiny coat.
  • Use a damp towel to wipe any dirt, mud, sand, pine needles, or other outdoor debris from your dog’s coat as needed.
  • During your grooming session, check your dog daily for ticks, or more than once per day during tick season. Ask your veterinarian to train you on the safest method for tick removal. There are tools available for purchase that can help make removal easier. Your groomer may also be able to help you. The more quickly a tick is removed from a dog, the better.
  • Check your dog’s pads regularly. Not just for cleanliness but to ensure that they are not dry, cracked, or injured in any way. Excessive hair may grow between your dog’s toes. It can become matted or cause other problems. It should be trimmed to be even with the paw pads or slightly shorter. This must be done carefully to prevent cutting your dog. Small, blunt-edge scissors or a small, narrow clipper blade should be used only after being taught proper procedures by your groomer, breeder, or veterinary staff.
  • Keep your dog’s nails trimmed. Your vet and/or groomer can show you how to safely trim nails. If you do not feel comfortable doing it on your own, it is usually a quick and inexpensive trip to a groomer or your veterinarian’s office. Some dog owners find rotary trimmers a safe alternative to clippers, but it takes more time and your dog will likely require training to tolerate this method.
  • Before you start trimming nails, make sure you have easy access to a product that will stop the nail from bleeding if cut too short, such as a styptic pencil or a cauterizing powder, like Kwik Stop. Nails should be trimmed regularly to keep them and the quick (which supplies blood to the nail) from growing too long. Regular trimming can help keep the quick shorter and decrease the chances of cutting it when you are trimming the nails. If your dog has dark toe nails, it is especially difficult to identify where the quick ends. You may want to seek guidance from your veterinarian before trying to cut dark nails on your own.
  • Is your dog a breed that has hair covering his eyes? If so, clean with a damp cloth and keep the hair trimmed. Make sure the cut doesn’t cause hair to fall into your dog’s eyes and irritate them.
  • Wipe the inside of your dog’s ears weekly with a moist cotton ball or soft cloth. At the same time, you should take a good look and smell each ear and ear canal. Any signs of severe redness, swelling, debris, or discharge (brown or yellow), or a fetid, “yeasty” odor may be a sign of infection and requires a visit to your veterinarian. This is often noted shortly after a bath or swimming due to the accumulation of moisture. It is important to thoroughly dry each ear after they get wet.
  • Daily brushing of your dog’s teeth is best, but you should brush your dog’s teeth at least a few times per week. Plaque starts to build up after 48 hours. You can also try wrapping your finger with gauze or a washcloth. Wipe the teeth and massage the gums. Dental problems in dogs can lead to other problems, including serious health issues such as heart disease, kidney disease, and more. Get your dog accustomed to having his teeth cleaned regularly. It’s good for your pet and can save you from costly dental work as the dog ages.
  • Always use veterinarian-approved hygiene products on your dog.

English Cocker Spaniel being brushed by a girl.

What Not to Do

  • Do not use “human” beauty and hygiene products such as shampoo, conditioner, and toothpaste on your dog. Many human toothpastes contain xylitol, which is toxic to dogs.
  • Avoid clipping your dog’s nails unless you’ve been taught the proper technique, feel comfortable doing so, and have proper dog nail clippers or a rotary trimmer and products to stop bleeding should it occur. Clipping too short can cause extreme pain and bleeding.
  • If you notice any injuries, sores, lacerations, or wounds of any kind on your dog, do not attempt to treat them yourself. Call or schedule an appointment with your veterinarian.
  • Do not try to clip or shave your dog’s hair by yourself without proper training. Grooming professionals have the tools and knowledge to safely groom sensitive areas. In addition, they know the grooming needs of your breed.
  • Keep your household scissors in the drawer where they belong. Do not attempt to cut mats out of your dog’s coat yourself. One wrong movement from a nervous pup could result in serious injury. Often, the best way to remove a mat is using your fingers, some dog conditioner, a couple of different types of combs, and a lot of time and patience.
  • Do not spray your dog with non-veterinarian approved scents such as perfume. Dogs are far more sensitive to fragrance than humans and many products contain dangerous ingredients. Fragrances can result in respiratory problems for sensitive dogs.
  • In cool or cold temperatures, do not bathe your dog outdoors, as it can result in dangerous drops in your dog’s body temperature.
  • While grooming, if you notice any foreign objects in your dog’s eyes, ears, nose, mouth, or paw pads, do not attempt to remove them yourself — always consult a veterinarian first.
  • Do not attempt to express your dog’s anal sacs yourself. This is better done by a groomer or vet, but your veterinarian can train you in the correct way to do it if you are so inclined.

When you combine home grooming and hygiene with regular professional grooming visits, your dog’s coat, nails, teeth, ears, eyes, and paws will be clean, healthy, and odor free — making everyone in the household happy!

Related article: Treating and Preventing Hot Spots on Dogs
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