Dog grooming tips

A shelter dog posed for a photo after a haircut

Grooming your dog keeps him healthy and is also an important part of your relationship. When you're grooming your dog, you're not only keeping his coat, skin, feet, ears, and teeth healthy, you're becoming familiar with his body so that you'll notice early on if anything is unusual and needs veterinary attention.

When you're learning to groom your dog, be patient and use lots of treats. Start slowly and add more as your dog accepts what you’re doing. If you start getting frustrated, stop and come back to it later. Remember to keep it positive and fun, and take your dog to a professional groomer if needed.

Bathing

How often 
Unless your dog has gotten into something smelly or dirty, he will need to be bathed only every two to four months. Bathing him too frequently will dry out his skin and strip the natural oils from his coat.

Getting started
Make sure to use a shampoo that’s made for dogs. Human shampoo can be too harsh for your puppy’s skin and coat. Put a non-slip surface, such as a bath mat or towel, in the bottom of your tub (or sink, kiddie pool or wherever you are doing your bathing). Lather up the coat, and then rinse thoroughly. Be sure to rinse completely or the shampoo will leave a dull residue on your puppy’s fur. Avoid getting shampoo and water directly in the eyes, mouth, and inside the ears.

Brushing

Regular brushing removes dead hair, distributes natural oils for a clean and healthy coat, stimulates the surface of the skin, gets rid of dead and dry skin, and helps you become familiar with your dog’s body.  

How often
You should brush your dog every couple of days no matter the length of his coat. Sometimes your brushing can have a specific purpose, such as removing hair mats or helping your dog shed his seasonal coat, but most often you’ll be doing general-purpose brushing or combing.

Getting started

  • Choose the right brush. Some brushes are general purpose and others have specific uses. If you're doing general brushing choose a general-purpose brush like a comb, pin-head brush, or the Zoom Groom. If you're planning to remove your dog's dead coat or hair mats use a brush for this purpose, like a shedding blade or a universal slicker brush.
  • Let your dog see and smell the brush, then begin brushing while you reward him with treats and praise.
  • Keep your sessions short at first and increase the length of time as your dog learns to enjoy it.
Feet

How often
Regularly trimming your dog’s foot hair keeps tar, rocks, ice balls, salt, and other debris from geting caught in the feet.  

Getting started
Use a scissors to trim the hair growing over the top of your dog’s foot and around the paw pads so that the hair is level with the paw pads. Do not try to trim in between the toes.

Nails

Since dogs' nails grow in a curve, letting them get too long will cause their toes to splay or twist when they walk. This can be very uncomfortable and can lead to broken toes. Regular nail clipping can prevent this and reduce the risk of torn nails. It can also save on wear and tear of your floors and carpeting.  

How often
Nails should be checked and clipped about every two weeks. If you can hear them click as your dog walks across the floor, it's time for a trim.  

Getting started

  • Pick a pet nail clipper that feels comfortables in your hands, has a clear line of sight to where the blade is cutting, and a sharp blade.
  • Keep a jar of styptic powder handy to stop the bleeding in case you accidentally clip the quick (the vein at the bottom of the nail).
  • Start slowly. In the beginning, let your dog sniff the clipper, hear the sound it makes, and feel it against his paw and nail before you start clipping. When you’re just starting out, it may take a week or longer to do all four paws. Keep the sessions positive and reward your dog with lots of treats and praise while you’re clipping.
  • Clip off the tip of the nail, being careful not to clip the quick. If your dog has clear nails, you will be able to see the quick through the nail. If your dog has black nails, clip off a little at a time, looking at the nail tip straight on after each clip. When you start seeing a pale oval in the tip, it means you are near the vein and should stop clipping. If you clip your dog's nails on a regular basis, you will notice a hook develop at the end of the thicker part of the nail. The hook portion is what can be clipped off.
  • Don’t forget to clip dew claws if your dog has them!  

How to distract your dog while you trim their nails

Ears

Keeping the inside surfaces of your dog’s ears clean feels good to your dog and helps prevent ear infections. Also check the outside surface of your dog's ears for wood ticks, fleas or anything else unusual.

How often
Clean your dog's ears about once a week.  

Getting started

  • Use a cotton ball or a piece of gauze with ear cleaning solution, or a baby wipe wrapped around your finger. Don’t use water because it doesn’t evaporate very easily.
  • Wipe the inside surface of your dog’s ear, going down only as far as your finger easily fits.
  • Don’t use Q-tips or try to put anything further down the ear canal or you will risk causing an ear injury. 
  • If you notice an unusual smell or a discharge coming from your dog’s ears, let your veterinarian know.
Teeth

Regular teeth cleaning will save you vet expenses and eliminate the stress of having your dog anesthetized for cleaning procedures. Dogs can suffer from many of the same dental problems as humans (i.e. cavities, gum disease, tartar buildup, etc.). Bacteria from gum disease can get in your dog’s bloodstream, causing other health problems.

How often
Clean your dog’s teeth two to three times per week.  

Getting started

  • You may need to start by getting your dog used to brushing by rubbing his gums with your finger and then moving on to a brushing tool. 
  • Use a piece of gauze wrapped around your finger, a finger cap scrubber made for pet teeth cleaning or a toothbrush designed for dogs.
  • Use toothpaste formulated for dogs, baking soda or just water. Do not use human toothpaste because it foams too much and can upset your dog’s stomach.
  • You only need to clean the outside surface of the teeth. Your dog’s tongue will keep the top and inside surfaces clean.  

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