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How To Groom Your Dog at Home Like a Pro

Written By
10 min read

Updated - Aug 18th, 2022

Key Points

  • A regular grooming routine can help keep your dog’s coat, skin, and teeth healthy.
  • A complete dog grooming routine may include brushing, bathing, ear cleaning, nail trimming, paw protection and teeth cleaning.
  • With the right tools, home grooming can be a totally doable and enjoyable experience.

Keeping your pup looking, smelling, and feeling good requires a consistent dog grooming routine. While some pet parents opt to take their pooch to the groomer’s, others want to try their hand at some at-home puppy pampering. If this sounds like you, you’ve come to the right place!

In this guide, we’ll go over tips, tricks, and must-have tools to help you groom your dog from the comfort of home.

Let’s dig in!

Dog grooming 101

Let’s face it, there is nothing quite like seeing a happy pup waltz out of the groomer’s with a shiny coat and a festive bandana. And while a portion of dog grooming is certainly about freshly shampooed fur and cute accessories, it’s also about maintaining proper hygiene. 

From their paws to their pearly whites, there are so many areas to keep in mind during your dog’s grooming routine. Depending on their breed and health predispositions, some dogs may need more attention in certain areas. For example, the Basset Hound’s long ears are more prone to wax build-up than other breeds, so their ears may need an extra deep cleaning. 

That said, dog grooming needs will vary based on breed, health predispositions, and behavior. As always, never hesitate to reach out to your veterinarian or a professional groomer for backup!

Dog grooming supplies checklist

While there will be some variation depending on your dog’s unique needs, here are a few grooming supplies we recommend keeping on hand:

Fur care

  • Brush
  • Shampoo and conditioner
  • Spray bottle or large glass for rinsing
  • Washcloth
  • Cotton balls
  • Towel

Dental care

  • Toothbrushes, finger brushes, or cotton gauze
  • Toothpaste

Paw and nail care

  • Paw balm
  • Cotton balls
  • Nail clippers
  • Styptic powder to stop nail bleeding

Tip: If you don’t have styptic powder, corn starch will also stop bleeding.

Ear care

  • Ear cleaning solution
  • Cotton balls or gauze

Plus, their favorite dog treats for a special reward!

Tip: When grooming a dog, never use human-made products. Many contain chemicals and additives that can irritate your dog’s skin, dull their coats, or cause a toxicity situation. For example, human toothpaste may contain xylitol, which is very toxic to dogs. Always use species-specific hygiene products for your pets. 

How to select the right dog grooming products

Dog brushes

Brushes remove dirt and spread natural oils from your dog’s skin throughout their coat, giving it that beautiful shine while also preventing tangles and mats. Regular brushing is important for all dogs to keep their skin clean and irritant-free, and also provides a great time to check for fleas and ticks.

But how do you find the best dog brush for your pup? Here’s a quick rundown of the different types:

  • Slicker brushes remove tangles, dead hair, and teases out mats. They’re great for all coat types!
  • Pin brushes are similar to slicker brushes but usually have plastic or rubber on their tips. These work best for dogs with thick, curly, or long coats.
  • Undercoat rakes are similar to pin brushes but often have fewer bristles. These are best for dogs with heavy double coats.
  • Bristle brushes remove dead hair and smooth the coat giving it a nice shine. These are usually best for short-haired dogs.
  • Combs remove tangles and gently tease out mats. These are always good to have on hand when you need to detangle some stubborn knots!
  • Shedding Combs remove dead hair helping reduce shedding. The Furminator is a good example of this type of grooming tool, claiming to reduce shedding up to 90%!

Nail clippers

Trimming your dog’s nails on a regular basis can help prevent cracking, bleeding, and pain in tendons and ligaments. As soon as you hear your dog’s nails click-clacking on the floor as they walk, it’s usually time to clip them. 

Dogs have two types of nail clippers available to them: bladed nail clippers and nail grinders. The best nail clippers for your dog really just comes down to your personal preference. When you have a squirmish dog, you want to be able to get the job done quickly and easily, so choose the nail clippers that help you do just that.

  • Bladed nail clippers look like a mini guillotine or pair of scissors.They are very sharp, and most have a guard to prevent taking too much of your dog’s nail off and hitting the quick.
  • Nail grinders, also called dremels, have rough surfaces like sandpaper to grind small bits of nail down at once. Some are automatic while others are like giant boards that act as a nail file. If your dog isn’t bothered by the noise and vibration, a nail grinder may work well.

Shampoos and conditioners

Any shampoos and conditioners used to bathe your dog should be species-appropriate. Many human products have fragrances or chemicals that can be toxic to your dog, so using gentle, veterinarian-approved hygiene products will keep your pets safe and supply the right ingredients to keep their coat healthy.

Tip: Some dog breeds, such as Poodles, Bichon Frise, and Maltese, to name a few, need special products for their fur that are best left to the professionals. Grooming them at home can be done, but it requires extra care and attention to avoid injury or damage to their coats and skin.

Toothpaste

Again, only use toothpaste that is made specifically for pets! Many human toothpastes can contain chemicals toxic to your dog and may include xylitol, which is extremely toxic for dogs. 

Now that you have all of your pupper products and tools on deck, it’s time to groom your dog! 

Complete home grooming routine for your dog

Step 1: Helping your dog feel comfortable

Grooming should be a fun, comfortable routine for your dog! If you haven’t done it before or have a particularly anxious dog, spend some time using positive reinforcement with training treats to help your dog feel at ease.

You can do this by handling your dog’s paws and toes, rubbing around their face, playing with their ears (this releases serotonin, too!), and rubbing all over their body while you praise them and offer rewards. Be patient and calm, and move forward when your dog is comfortable.

Tip: If your dog is still skittish and reluctant, don’t worry. Some dogs do better when strangers are grooming them, so if this is the case for you, a professional groomer may be in the cards.

Step 2: Brushing your dog

Brush all parts of your dog, getting as far down into their coat as possible while remaining gently. This will help you remove dead skin cells, loose fur, and tangles. Be gentle around sensitive parts like the tummy, head, ears, and bum – and don’t forget their tail! Give lots of treats and praise for your dog’s patience while you do this.

Mats will usually develop where there’s friction, like under collars, behind ears, armpits, and lower legs. If your dog lays down a lot, mats can develop where the fur becomes compacted around the hips and upper legs.

Step 3: Bathing your dog

  • Prep the area with all the supplies you need such as shampoo, conditioner, towels, cotton balls, and washcloth.
  • Spray or wet your dog thoroughly with warm, not hot water. Control the water flow so you don’t get it into your dog’s eyes, nose, or ears. If your dog is prone to ear infections or irritation, put cotton balls into their ears before bathing to help prevent water from getting into the ear canal.
  • Wash your dog’s face with a washcloth and dry thoroughly. If your dog has loose skin or folds on their face, pay special attention to those areas to prevent bacteria buildup. 
  • Massage in the dog shampoo working from head to tail. Don’t be afraid to rinse and repeat if your dog is especially dirty!
  • Apply conditioner
  • Rinse thoroughly
  • Towel dry (your dog will help you by shaking excess water free from the coat) If you choose to use a hair dryer, keep the setting on low and cool settings.
  • Once your dog’s coat is dry, you can comb or brush through their coat as a finishing touch.

Tip: You can bathe puppies once a month after the age of 8 weeks. Just be sure to dry them thoroughly since they have trouble maintaining their body temperature at young ages. You also don’t want to strip their skin of the natural oils that protect them as they mature.

Step 4: Cleaning your dog’s ears

All dogs should ideally have their ears cleaned at least once a month. However, dogs that are more prone to ear infections or excessive wax buildup may require more frequent cleanings. Your veterinarian can advise you on how often your dog needs ear cleanings.

When it comes time to clean your dog’s ears:

  • Prep your tools! You’ll need a cotton ball and a canine-safe ear cleaning solution. You can find most available online or in pet supply stores, but if not, a cotton ball moistened with mineral oil works, too! 
  • Lift their ear flap and squeeze solution as directed into their ear.
  • Massage the base of their ear for about 30 seconds to break down ear wax.
  • Let your pup shake their head! This will help move fluid out of their inner ear.
  • Use your cotton ball to lift any remaining wax and dirt and debris out of their ears.

Tip: Skip the Q-tip! Using a Q-tip can injure your dog’s eardrum and push wax deeper into the ear canal. 

Step 5: Trimming your dog’s nails

Though the thought of trimming your dog’s nails can be overwhelming, it’s important to get it done. Not only does it help prevent pain and injury, but it can also provide some routine bonding time with your pooch.

  • Get your nail clipper ready, including styptic powder, just in case!
  • Inspect your dog’s toes, spreading them apart to look for debris and dirt that can cause irritation.
  • Cut from the top to the bottom of the nail at a slight angle, not from side to side. You want to maintain the existing curve of the nail.
  • Take only a small bit off at a time and monitor closely to avoid hitting the quick!
  • If you hit your dog’s quick, there may be bleeding. Press the styptic powder firmly into the cut’s surface and the bleeding should stop.
  • After you trim all of their nails, you can smooth out the rough edges with an Emory board – or, wrap things up if your pup has had enough!

Step 6: Caring for your dog’s paws

Dog paws are natural shock absorbers. They protect the bones and joints in your dog’s body and offer protection against the elements – so keeping them healthy is a must!

Moisturize cracked or dry pads with products made especially for dogs. Human moisturizers can soften the pads too much or cause skin irritations, making them susceptible to injury.

  • Winter: Rock Salt and de-icing chemicals can cause blisters, infections, and can be toxic to your dog. Wash your dog’s paws with warm water when you return from walks to wash any salt and chemicals away. Winter dog boots can also protect the paw pads and prevent injury.
  • Summer: Hot pavement and sand can cause painful blisters and severe burns on paws. You may want to walk in grassy areas or invest in some summer boots to keep your dog’s paws safe from burns and injury. 

Tip: If you notice your dog licking their paws a lot, it could be a sign of itchiness, injury, or lodged debris.

Step 7: Cleaning your dog’s teeth

More dogs than you think develop periodontal disease, with small dogs being especially susceptible! The best way to prevent it is by cleaning your dog’s teeth daily, or at least 2-3 times per week.

The most effective way to clean your dog’s teeth:

  • Ready a dog toothbrush, finger brush, or some gauze and cover it with pet-safe toothpaste
  • Brush your dog’s teeth making sure to get their gums as well
  • If your dog won’t let you touch their mouth, you can provide dental chews or chew toys that can help remove food particles and scrape plaque off their teeth. When it comes to dog dental health, sometimes you have to get creative!

It goes without saying that a lot goes into home grooming your dog. Although it can feel overwhelming at times, the most important thing is to be as consistent as you can.

It may take a minute for your dog to warm up to a nail trimming or a bath, but they should get used to it in due time. And if not, you can always call in a local groomer – your pup will thank you!

Just like a good grooming routine, a good dog insurance plan can help protect your pup’s health. The last thing you want to worry about is how you’re going to pay for your dog’s care when they’re sick or hurt, which is why Pumpkin Pet Insurance plans pay 90% back on eligible vet bills. Want to see for yourself? Fetch a free quote today!

Writer, Mom of a Fab Fur Fam of Five
Lynn is a writer and long-time Learning & Development Manager at a large PNW retailer. She's also mom to 3 dogs & 2 cats!