We may earn a commission from links on this page.
Grooming your dog can be scary for them and difficult for you, but it just has to be done. Once a dog gets too smelly or shaggy, there’s only one way out: bath time. Professionals cost a lot of money and aren’t always necessary for maintenance, so you can do this yourself. You just need to know how to groom your dog the right way, for both of your sakes.
Prepare your dog for grooming
The first step in not traumatizing the dog when you groom them comes long before any bathing, shaving, or nail-clipping: You have to train and prepare your pet for the big moment.
“Remind them that everything is okay,” says New York-based dog groomer Heather Faulds. “Basically, pet them, reassure them that this is okay, take it slow, and show them the tools.” Letting your pooch sniff and examine the tools you’ll be using can go a long way. If you’re using a harness, for instance, leave it around for them to sniff for a day or two before strapping them in. If you’re using a distracting toy, like the ones you attach to the bathtub wall so they focus on that instead of their bath, try using it in a dry setting first so they really like it and don’t associate it with the horrors of bathtime.
Faulds says she goes the extra mile to make animals feel comfortable, baby-talking them and going really slow if a dog is feeling scared. Use the same techniques you use when trying to acclimate your pooch to anything new: Positive reinforcement, a calm tone, and lots of patience.
Assess your dog’s specific grooming needs
Don’t try to tackle everything at once, especially if some needs are significantly more pressing than others. For example, if your pet’s fur isn’t super matted but their nails are long, just reach for the nail clippers, not the fur clippers. Doing too much at once is bound to stress your pet out, so take it slow.
Your pet may never look dog show-ready. Don’t stress them out by striving for something unattainable.
“A grooming session with your pet should always start with a thorough review of your pet’s overall health and current skin/coat condition,” says Michelle Wildman, director of differentiated experience at Pet Supplies Plus. “Next, the actual ‘grooming’ process should start with a safe nail clipping and ear cleaning. Every groom should include a thorough bath and brush with quality shampoo that is made for your pet’s skin type and one that helps improve the condition of their skin and coat.”
If you look your dog over and see that they need a full haircut, but you’re not ready to do that on your own, make sure you communicate with your groomer about what you want the final style to look like—and whether it’s possible with your pet’s current coat condition. Whether you’re doing this on your own or calling in a professional, be realistic: Your pet may never look dog show-ready. Don’t stress them out by striving for something unattainable.
“Sometimes if the coat is too matted, it would be painful to have the pet endure a full comb out, so a close shave is better for the pet despite the ‘look’ afterwards,” Wildman says.
Be patient grooming your dog
“A lot of people think dog grooming is easy until they try it at home for themselves. Dog grooming takes a lot of hard work and dedication. People think us groomers just play with puppies all day but there is a lot more to it than it seems,” says Ashley Sacco, a groomer in St. Louis. This won’t be fast, it will take practice, and you and your fur baby will both learn as you go.
“Challenges owners might run into if grooming at home could be anything from an ugly at-home haircut or skin problems from not properly prepping the dog for grooming. I’ve seen some bad cases of at-home grooming where people have cut the dogs with scissors and had to rush the dog to the vet. Using sharp objects on moving targets can be very dangerous if you don’t know what you are doing. Dogs are unpredictable; you never know what can happen working with live animals,” Sacco says.
Wildman says the same thing: “Grooming pets at home can be very dangerous as pets are very unpredictable. They can move without warning which could result in an accident with the scissors or shears.”
Don’t make fast movements, get frustrated if your dog is getting distracted or nervous, or keep going if, at any time, it feels like you’re losing control of the situation. Saving money and time by knocking out a big task at home is great, but not if it puts your pet’s safety in jeopardy.
Recommended grooming tools
Make an investment in the tools you’re using for this. Sacco says that any successful groomer has high-quality shampoo and products, including professional equipment like a table, dryers, clippers, scissors, combs, and brushes.
To make this as easy as possible, pick up items like these before trying to groom your pooch:
There are a ton of specialty products for dog-grooming, some more niche than others. It might be expensive to amass an arsenal of tools, but you’ll save money in the long run—and not endanger your dog, which is key. If your pooch has an overly negative reaction to any of these tools, try something else or just take them to a pro.
Sacco even has a phrase that sums this idea up: “Humanity before vanity.” Remember to be careful and patient. A bad haircut is temporary, but a bad experience can stick with your dog forever.
Maintain your pet’s fur between grooming sessions
Even if your dog hates bath time, it’s important to keep them clean. This is especially true before you groom them. Sacco says she washes each dog twice and makes sure they’re fully dried before trying to cut their fur.
Cleanliness and maintenance are important even when you’re not preparing for a big grooming session.
Don’t wait so long to take care of matted fur or long nails that the process is infrequent and scary for your pet.
Sacco says, “Get the dogs in when they are young so they realize grooming is a way of life and not something they are scared of. I recommend frequent visits to the groomer for puppies so they learn to trust the groomers. A dog that only comes to the groomer twice a year for a matted shave-down thinks we are trying to hurt them when in reality we are just trying to help. Dogs that come frequently to the groomers end up loving it and wagging their tails the whole groom.” Faulds agrees, saying it’s best to start bringing a dog to the groomers when they’re still a puppy, so getting clipped, primped, and washed becomes a normal part of their lives.
That’s true for at-home grooming, too. Don’t wait so long to take care of matted fur or long nails that the process is infrequent and scary for your pet. Tackling these issues often prevents them from getting bad and prevents the experience from being scary for your dog.
“At home, owners should brush their pet’s coat daily with the right tool for their fur. They can also brush their teeth, and keep their nails clipped. When bathing at home, ensure you have the right shampoo for your pet and the right combs, brushes, and other tools needed for a complete groom,” says Wildman.