How to Groom a Dog: A Handy Guide

Grooming your dog can be quite a challenge at times, but it doesn’t have to be. It is a good opportunity, not only to make your pet squeaky clean, but also to bond and give them a quick health check to make sure everything is alright. Here are tips for how to groom your dog.
Yorkie dog being groomed
Yorkie dog being groomed
Yorkie dog being groomed

When it comes to our canine friends, grooming is often seen as a luxury, especially if you have to rely on regular visits to a professional pet groomer. But in most cases, grooming your dog doesn’t require any special skills and can be done at home with basic “equipment”. We’re not talking hair makeovers or artistic pedicures. Just a few simple tasks that can become part of a grooming routine and will soon turn into a relaxing bonding experience for both of you.

As with anything, some pooches are happier to be groomed than others. Make sure to take it slowly, using training treats as a reward, in moderation. A dog is more likely to let you groom them if you start getting them used to it from an early age, a few minutes at a time at first. Keep an eye on your pet at all times, and be sure to never put yourself in harm’s way. Even the most loving of pets has been known to nip when something takes them by surprise.

Before we give you all the easy tips on how to groom a dog at home, here is why regular grooming shouldn’t be seen as dog extravaganza, but a necessary part of a happy, healthy life.

The benefits of dog grooming

There are quite a few good reasons to learn how to groom a dog at home. Here are the benefits of grooming:

  • Maintains a healthy skin and coat
  • Helps detect unusual lumps or scratches
  • Gets the dog more used to handling which can reduce stress of vet visits
  • Boosts dog-owner bonding
  • Removes dead skin
  • Removes dirt
  • Helps to spot and remove burs or grass seeds
  • Quicker to notice pesky ticks
  • Improves circulation
  • Less shedding
  • Makes your dog look extra pretty!

How often should you groom your dog?

Your dog’s breed is usually a good hint. Long-haired dogs such as Yorkshire Terriers or Bearded Collies will need daily brushing to avoid painful mats from forming. Breeds with shorter coats can get away with just a brush a week. Nail clipping and bathing are more “as and when required” activities, but be aware that overgrown nails can cause infections and affect your dog’s walking, so make sure you check them regularly.

How to groom a dog

Nail clipping

Nail clipping is not a common activity among dog owners. Your dog’s nails will get shortened naturally by friction during walking, particularly on pavements and other hard surfaces. Some dogs will have their nails trimmed during vet visits or at the groomers. If your pet needs regular trims and you want to give it a try, get advice first. Ask a vet or vet nurse to show you how to check the length of your dog’s claws and how to clip them without catching the quick and causing a bleed.

Make sure you use clippers designed for dogs as their nails are much thicker than ours, and using something blunt can cause a painful tear. If your dog has clear/white nails you should be able to see the quick of their nail which will be pink. Do not trim the nail too close to this, as catching the quick will be very sore and cause a lot of bleeding. In dogs with dark nails you cannot see the quick, so you should only cut the nails in line with the surface of their pad. However, there is a lot of variation in quick length between individuals so take care as they can be quite long is some pets.

Dog having nails clipped

Hold the paw gently, keep the clippers parallel to the nail and keep a treat handy to reward your dog’s good behaviour. Regardless of nail colour, only trim little pieces at a time – otherwise you may inadvertently remove a large piece of nail if your pet moves suddenly.

If an accident happens during nail clipping, apply pressure using a clean dressing if possible and your pet will allow. If the bleeding does not stop after five minutes, contact a vet for advice. Your pet may need an appointment to check whether any treatment is necessary.

If you notice a torn or broken nail, do not attempt to cut this yourself as it will be extremely sore. However, these should not be left as this can lead to infection, or they can become caught and rip. Your pet will need an appointment with a vet and it is best not to feed them beforehand in case they require sedation for treatment.

Fur brushing

Brushing your dog’s hair will help avoid fur matting and reduce shedding. Your vet may stock a range of brushes and combs designed for dogs or you can visit your local pet shop. You will likely see quite a selection, including rubber brushes, grooming mitts and slicker brushes. Choose the one that is suitable for your dog’s coat and if in doubt ask for advice. Don’t forget to disentangle any knots if you are planning of bathing your dog as shampooing will often cause the matting to get worse.

Teeth brushing

There are special dog toothbrushes and toothpaste that will help keep their teeth clean and their gums healthy. Knowing how to look after your dog’s teeth is one of the most important parts of learning how to groom a dog. Start slowly, systematically and have a treat at the ready to reward their good behaviour. You can start just by using the toothbrush alone, without any toothpaste, as this will help your dog become used to the sensation of having their teeth brushed. However, other pets enjoy the taste of the special dog tooth-paste as it is often meaty in flavour! You should never use human toothpaste as this can contain the sweetener xylitol which is toxic to dogs. If your dog is not tolerating tooth-brushing do not put yourself at risk of a nip. You can speak to your vet for tips, or for other dental care alternatives.

Labrador having a bath

Bath time

Not all dogs like baths and they won’t need one too frequently, but if you find yourself with the task of cleaning a dog who’s just had the time of their lives rolling in the mud or fox poo, here are a few helpful tips. Before dipping your dog in the bath, make sure you have everything you need nearby, from dog shampoo to brushes and towels. Get your dog’s coat knot-free before getting it wet. And wherever you choose to bath your dog, the sink or the bathtub, place a towel or a rubber mat at the bottom to offer your dog a surface they can grip onto. If your dog has sensitive skin, they may need special shampoo that minimises irritation to their skin. If your dog develops a rash or itching after bathing, speak to a vet for advice.

Cleaning their ears

Cleaning the ears is not necessary in most individuals and can cause problems and infections if done incorrectly. However, if your dog has a history of ear disease, a vet may advise regular cleaning to help keep recurrence at bay. You will need cotton wool pads, ear cleaner, a towel and, if possible, a second pair of hands. Put a few drops of ear cleaner into their ear canal, massage the base of the ear to make sure the solution gets evenly distributed inside and wipe away the outer surface of the ears with the cotton wool pad. Use a different pad for each ear to avoid spreading bacteria. Never poke anything into the ear, such as an ear-bud, because this can cause damage and inflammation particularly if your dog suddenly moves their head. For a step-by-step guide, check out our handy article how to clean a dog’s ears.

If your dog is still a puppy, make sure you have a look at our puppy grooming article for more advice. And since grooming is a good opportunity to give your dog an overall health check, here is a checklist with things to look out for while bathing or hair combing your dog.