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Good grooming will help your dog look and feel their 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 their size, breed, and coat type.

While good hygiene habits are essential for a healthy dog, unlike humans, most dogs don’t require daily hygiene and grooming habits. What is required and how often depends on the breed. For example, the Afghan HoundPoodle, and Komondor — just to name a few — require regular grooming. Breeds such as the BeagleWeimaraner, and Boxer allow more freedom in the grooming department.

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 useful for owners to learn maintenance grooming to keep their dogs looking sharp between visits to the groomer.

One of the best sources of information for grooming can be your dog’s breeder. A 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 weekly brushing sessions will keep the average dog neat and clean, but 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.

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Check with a professional groomer, breeder, or veterinarian to determine which grooming tools you’ll need before making any purchases. 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
  • You can use a slicker brush to remove mats and dead hair or a rubber curry comb to polish smooth coats and remove dead hair
  • Other tools you may need include clippers, stripping knives, rakes, or a hairdryer

With the appropriate brush for your dog’s coat, brush your dog regularly to remove dirt and debris, prevent matting, control shedding, and create a shiny coat. 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 shed more than others. Regular brushing will also help keep shedding under control.

Bathing at Home

Your dog should have regular, but not frequent, baths, depending on their breed and coat type. 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 their ears and a few drops of mineral oil in their 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 (they’ll help you with vigorous shaking!), and then blow dry if necessary.

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Nail Trimming at Home

Your dog’s nails must be 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, especially at the base of the nail, where blood vessels and nerves are located, which 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 nail 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 their 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 them.

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 them to a veterinarian or groomer.

Dog's nails being trimmed.
Remains/Getty Images Plus

Ear Cleaning at Home

You should clean your dog’s ears once a month or more often if they’re prone to ear problems. Clean the outer part of the ear only, using a damp cloth or a cotton ball 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.

When cleaning your dog’s ears, take a good look inside and smell each ear and ear canal. Any signs of severe redness, swelling, debris, discharge (brown or yellow), or a fetid, “yeasty” odor may be a sign of infection and require a visit to your veterinarian. These signs are often more noticeable after a bath or swimming due to the accumulation of moisture. It is important to thoroughly dry your dog’s ears after they get wet.

Eye Cleaning at Home

When cleaning your dog’s eyes, be sure to check for redness or other signs of irritation. Gently wipe away any discharge in the corners with a cotton ball or soft washcloth moistened with warm water. Make sure not to rub the cotton ball directly over the eye and only use products designed for dogs, such as wipes or an eye wash.

Australian Cattle Dog having its eyes checked by the vet.
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Tooth Brushing at Home

Clean your dog’s teeth frequently with a toothbrush and toothpaste designed for dogs. If your dog balks at having their teeth brushed, get them used to it by rubbing their teeth and gums with your finger. Then, put a little toothpaste on your finger and let them sniff and lick it; do the same with the toothbrush. You can also provide dental treats or chew toys that will help clean their teeth. As your dog gets older, they may have a buildup of tartar that requires special cleaning by a veterinarian.

It’s best to brush your dog’s teeth daily, but you should brush them 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 their teeth cleaned regularly. It’s good for your pet and can save you from costly dental work as the dog ages.

Chow Chow getting its teeth brushed at home.
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Dog Grooming Dos and Don’ts

Before grooming your dog at home, it’s essential to 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.

Here are some grooming tips to keep your dog looking and feeling their best:

  • Use a damp towel to wipe any dirt, mud, sand, pine needles, or other outdoor debris from your dog’s coat as needed.
  • Check your dog’s pads regularly to ensure that they’re not dry, cracked, or injured in any way. Excessive hair may also grow between your dog’s toes and become matted or cause other problems. It should be trimmed to be even with the paw pads or slightly shorter. You must be do this carefully to prevent cutting your dog. Use small, blunt-edge scissors or a small, narrow clipper blade only after you speak with your groomer, breeder, or veterinary staff.
  • Don’t use products intended for humans when grooming your dog. Instead, always use veterinarian-approved products formulated for dogs.
  • If you notice any injuries, sores, lacerations, or wounds while grooming your dog, don’t attempt to treat them yourself. Call or schedule an appointment with your veterinarian.
  • In cool or cold temperatures, don’t bathe your dog outdoors, as it can result in dangerous drops in your dog’s body temperature.
  • Don’t 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’re 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!

This article is intended solely as general guidance, and does not constitute health or other professional advice. Individual situations and applicable laws vary by jurisdiction, and you are encouraged to obtain appropriate advice from qualified professionals in the applicable jurisdictions. We make no representations or warranties concerning any course of action taken by any person following or otherwise using the information offered or provided in this article, including any such information associated with and provided in connection with third-party products, and we will not be liable for any direct, indirect, consequential, special, exemplary or other damages that may result, including but not limited to economic loss, injury, illness or death.

Related article: Hot Spot Treatments and Prevention on Dogs
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