The Beginner's Guide To Grooming And Cleaning Your Dog
Let’s face it, our dogs are the cutest walking fluff balls on the planet… but your dog will literally become a walking fluff ball if you don’t keep their coat length in check!
March 14th, 2019
No matter what the season, there’s always one thing you can trust: your dog’s ability to get dirty.
Always make sure you are grooming and cleaning your dog on a regular basis!
As a first time dog owner, I was not sure exactly what “grooming and cleaning” entailed.
All I knew was that Yuna was putrid when I brought her home on the first day and she needed a bath pronto.
This article aims to outline the main grooming duties you need to pay attention to with your dog. Along the way, we’ll also show you the associated products you need to have on hand for each task to keep your dog fresh and clean!
This one will be a great starting guide for beginners. Also, many useful tidbits of information and Lab Reports ahead!
Overview of Grooming And Cleaning Your Dog
First off, here is a laundry list of all grooming and cleaning responsibilities if you have a dog.
– Teeth Cleaning
– Nail Trimming
– Fur Trimming
– Ear Cleaning
– Paw Maintenance
Let’s dive deep into each one.
Bathing Your Dog
Baths. Dog seem to love them or hate them. Either way, you’ll have to get used to giving them!
How often should you bathe your dog? Well, it depends, and recommendations vary across the board.
My local Petco suggests a full grooming session (bath + nail trim & buff) every 6 weeks.
Other sources, such as the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) recommend a bath at a minimum of every 3 months.
Ultimately, it highly depends on your dog’s lifestyle. If they live primarily outside or are frequent hikers, they’ll likely need baths a lot more often, sometimes as much as weekly.
With Yuna, I like to give her a bath once every 4 weeks or so. I alternate between giving her a bath myself, and a full grooming session done at Petco by a professional groomer.
Bathing your dog at home requires a few essentials.
First, you’ll need dog shampoo.
Do not use human soap. They may contain chemicals or substances that irritate your dog’s skin.
When choosing a dog shampoo, remember to tailor to your dog’s needs. Perhaps the most important consideration you’ll need to make has to do with your dog’s skin condition.
Dogs, just like humans, can have dandruff, dry itchy skin, or sensitive skin. There are dog shampoos specifically designed to counter these conditions. For example, a dog with sensitive skin should use a gentle, hypoallergenic shampoo (ones with oatmeal or honey are good choices!). For a dog with dry itchy skin, use a moisturizing shampoo (one with tea-tree oil can soothe itchy skin!).
We’ll have another article later dedicated to detailing some of the other considerations you’ll have to make.
For now, picking one based on your dog’s skin needs is perhaps the most important. Also, consult with your vet if your dog has special skin conditions that may require a medicated shampoo.
Before you begin your bath, you may also choose to come equipped a dog bath brush and washcloth (to gently wash your dog’s head and face).
A detachable showerhead is also extremely useful.
And of course you’ll also need towels. Regular towels will do the job, but consider getting microfiber towels–they’re exceptional at drying a wet dog.
Now that you know what you need, here are some tips before and after your dog gets in the tub.
– Before the bath begins, make sure you have towels spread out in the bathroom or over the area you intend to dry your dog.
– Begin the bath by rinsing your dog thoroughly–this includes your dog’s belly, but try to leave the face area dry (Wash your dog’s head and face separately with a washcloth). You should use lukewarm water, not too hot, not too cold.
– Then, squeeze some shampoo onto your hands and rub it into lather. Don’t directly apply the shampoo to your dog–it’ll spread unevenly on your dog’s skin.
– Thoroughly rub the soap around your dog’s neck, shoulders, back, belly, legs, and tail. Be sure to massage deep into your dog’s coat. Do not get the shampoo too close to your dog’s eyes.
– Rinse off the shampoo. Use a damp washcloth to wipe off any soap that you applied to your dog’s face. Continue to scrub and brush your dog’s coat as you rinse. Do not overlook this step because any soap caught lingering in your dog’s coat can cause irritation to your dog. Make sure all that soap is gone!
– When you’re done, do as much drying as you can while your dog is still in the tub. Have them do their full body wiggle with the shower curtain pulled, and really go to town with your towels.
– As your dog continues to dry off, try to keep them in the area you laid out with towels. Dogs sometimes start to dry themselves by rolling around the floor, and you want to make sure they do this on the towel. If your dog doesn’t like staying still, a good way to try and keep them there is with a chew toy they really like–a good bully stick will keep Yuna still for a while.
Some additional tips for baths:
– Even with a big dog, and frequent baths, a bottle of shampoo lasts longer than you think. So really invest in a quality bottle!
– Many people suggest putting cotton balls in your dog’s ears during the bath so no water gets in them. This can potentially prevent ear infections.
– Brush your dog soon after the bath. The bath will have loosened up a lot of your dog’s fur, making it easier to remove.
– Some suggest trimming your dog’s nails first before the bath to prevent slipping in the bathroom. You can also just use an anti-slip mat in the tub.
– Beware of zoomies after bath time! They are fairly common. Because of this you’ll want to be sure your dog is at least somewhat dry before opening that bathroom door!
That’s a general rundown of the bath! Moving on…
Brushing Your Dog
Brushing your dog should occur at least once a week, and definitely more if your dog has a longer or coarser coat.
Regular brushing removes the loose hair from your dog’s coat and reduces the amount of surprise hair you’ll later find all over the house.
You should also check on the condition of your dog’s coat during a brush session. It’s the perfect time to examine whether or not your dog’s skin is too dry, or if the coat is matted or tangled.
There are a few tools you could use to brush your dog.
The first is obviously your traditional dog brush–but these even come in many flavors. Again, we’ll have an article specially dedicated to picking dog brushes, but we’ll introduce them here!
Perhaps one of the most popular varieties is the slicker brush. These contain dense, short wire bristles and are suitable for pretty much any dog, but especially medium to long haired breeds. Note that if your dog has any skin conditions or very sensitive skin, you may want to pick a more gentle brush. Regardless, be gentle. The point of the brush is to remove mats in the coat, not to dig into the skin below.
Another common type is the pin brush. These look like your average human brush, with round pins topping each wire bristle. While common, these pin brushes are often the least useful when it comes to removing mats. Instead, they should be used to finish off the grooming process–and they are frequently used on show dogs to make their coats look glossy and shiny.
If you’ve got a short, smooth-haired dog, consider a bristle brush. This was a recommendation I got from a groomer to use on Yuna who fits this profile exactly. The thinly spaced bristles can help pick up loose fur and is also intended for breeds that shed frequently.
There are also more unique brushes, such as a rake brush. These look like human shaving razors and are designed for dogs with thicker coats such as German Shepards. Be especially gentle when using this. The rakes can severely harm your dog’s skin if you brush too hard. The general recommendation is to pick a brush with rakes that match your dog’s fur length.
Another unique brush is one that we recently started picking up–grooming gloves. Most grooming gloves on the market contain soft, short bristles that line the glove. Certain dogs really dislike grooming, and run away at the sight of the dreaded brush. These gloves turn your grooming session into a petting session, while still getting the job done. Check out one of the reviews we did on a grooming glove set here.
Finally, there are also special flea combs to combat those pesky fleas.
There’s a quick overview of the different types of brushes. As with picking a shampoo, be sure to do your research and pick a brush that suits your dog’s needs.
For the actual brushing session, here are a couple more specific tips.
– Be gentle. No matter what tool you use, you risk irritating your dog’s skin under the coat if you brush too hard.
– Thoroughly brush your dog’s entire body. This does include your dog’s stomach, but because your dog is extremely sensitive here, please be extra gentle.
– If your dog has especially long hair, you can protect their skin by putting your fingers behind the fur and comb it out gently.
– Do everything you can to try and get your dog to associate brushing with a jolly good time! Brushing is an excellent way to bond with your dog, and it should be enjoyable for both of you.
Brushing Your Dog’s Teeth
Now onto another form of brushing–teeth cleaning.
Many dogs hate the toothbrush more than anything else on this list. I find that unless your dog has been exposed to the brush since puppyhood, they are very likely to object to the brush.
However, it’s critical to mind your dog’s dental health. With how much your dog uses his precious teeth every day, ignoring them is just plain irresponsible.
How often should you brush your dog’s teeth? Check out this Lab Report for a general answer.
Most local pet stores sell dog toothbrushes and toothpaste as a bundle. Toothpaste often comes in doggy-desirable flavors (peanut butter etc.) and are completely edible (your dog is incapable of rinsing their mouths anyway).
As with brushes for humans, you should replace your dog’s toothbrush periodically. Every three months is about right–and don’t share toothbrushes among dogs if you have multiple!
Here are a couple tips during a teeth brushing session.
– The first few times, let your dog get away with just sniffing the brush, licking the toothpaste, and just exploring the brush in general. Generously reward any interest in the brush.
– After a couple times, try to see if your dog will let you brush the outer side of their teeth (they’ll likely insist on keeping their mouths shut). If so, great! Continue to reward this.
– After another few brushes, try to open your dog’s mouth and brush all areas of the teeth. You may have to use your other hand, or a friend’s other hands, to prop your dog’s mouth open.
– Remember that progress will be slow. Just the fact that your dog is willing to sit still during the brushing is a huge sign of progress.
– If your dog won’t stay still during brushing after repeated attempts even if you’ve got someone helping you, it may just be that brushing your dog’s teeth isn’t so practical. While not ideal, in these cases, chew toys and dental treats do a decent job at keeping your dog’s teeth healthy.
So far, we’ve covered baths, fur brushing, and teeth brushing. These are perhaps the three main responsibilities you’ll have to perform in the realm of grooming.
Personally, I handle the above three with Yuna quite regularly. The rest of the stuff in this post I choose to delegate to a professional groomer, because I’m wary of making a mistake and hurting Yuna. Just a little disclaimer (and keep this in mind should you choose to do these next ones yourself).
Trimming Your Dog’s Nails
You must ensure your dog’s nails at a reasonable length.
Long toenails are painful! When constantly in contact with rough surfaces, nails that are too long pushes the nail back up against the nail bed. Not to mention, they cause your dog to lose traction on smooth, slippery surfaces.
They’re also just plain uncomfortable. There’s a reason we cut our nails periodically, and there’s every reason for our dogs to follow suit.
As I noted before, I prefer letting my groomer take care of certain grooming tasks, and nail trimming is definitely one of them.
As I admittedly have never done nail trimming myself, I will advise consulting a vet to ensure you buy a suitable pair of nail clippers for your dog. Also, have them demonstrate how to trim them so you do not go into it completely clueless.
While trimming, the following general tips can come in handy.
– Have treats on hand. Nail clipping is an unnatural experience for your dog, and could potentially scare them. Staying positive and praising often with words and treats can help your dog understand that trimming their nails is a good thing.
– Do not attempt to trim the nail in one go–instead, slowly chisel the nail down. Doing so will significantly reduce the chances of your cutting too close to the vein and prevent nail bleeding.
– In the case where you do hit that vein, have some styptic powder or other clotting powder handy. If you do not have any, a household alternative is corn starch.
You should also note that dogs that are extremely active (i.e. you have acres of land where your dog can roam free–jealous!) may not need extra nail trimming. Most city dogs don’t have this luxury and thus their nails do not naturally wear themselves down. Cue the nail trimmer.
Trimming Your Dog’s Fur
Let’s face it, our dogs are the cutest walking fluff balls on the planet… but your dog will literally become a walking fluff ball if you don’t keep their coat length in check!
Also, a dog with a shiny, well-trimmed coat simply stands out in the crowd.
Fur trimming is its own beast, and just like with nail trimming, I prefer to leave this up to my professional.
That said, we’ve still done our research, but once again, it’s best to consult a vet or grooming professional to show you the ropes before you dive into it yourself.
Here are some tips on fur trimming.
– Get a full grooming scissors set. Note that you should not be using a single pair of scissors for your dog’s entire coat. You need a different tool for your dog’s curves, facial area, etc. This article lists the four types of dog grooming scissors you’ll find in a typical set–straight grooming scissors, curved scissors, thinning scissors, and rounded tips safety scissors.
– Make sure your scissors are sharp, and ideally quiet. Scissors that are dull will not get the job done and can harm your dog’s coat, causing pain. Scissors that are too loud could frighten your dog, causing them to pace around. Your dog should be still during grooming to avoid getting injured by the scissors.
– Before beginning, know how long your dog’s coat should be. It should also be thoroughly brushed so there are no obvious mats or knots.
– A full trim takes a long time. It’s likely that your dog won’t have the patience to do it all in one sitting. That’s okay! Be sure to take breaks and avoid stressing out your dog during the ordeal.
– Use a comb to help with getting the correct coat length. Also, it can act as a shield between your dog’s skin and the scissors.
– People generally recommend starting with the easier areas first, such as the dog’s back, and working to tougher, more sensitive areas later.
Cleaning Your Dog’s Ears
Regularly inspecting your dog’s ears is necessary because of how easy dogs can get ear infections.
Even if your dog hasn’t swam in a while, or hasn’t bathed recently, you should check on those ears every week.
If your dog constantly scratches at his ears, or you notice any funny smells or dirty discharge, it may be an infection or worse! See a vet immediately.
Otherwise, it’s still good to completely clean out your dog’s ears once or twice a month.
There are two major ways to accomplish this–dog ear wipes and dog ear cleaning solutions.
Dog ear wipes are great because they’re simple. Thoroughly wipe each year and dry with a cotton ball and you’re done.
Dog ear cleaning solutions can be more thorough in cleaning. Since you’re only using your fingers when using ear wipes, you may miss areas in the inner ear.
Here are some tips for ear cleaning!
– No matter which cleaning method you go for, be gentle. Your dog’s ears are very sensitive and anything that goes into your dog’s ear is very uncomfortable for most dogs. Ears are also relatively fragile and intricate, and damage to them is often irreversible.
– If using a cleaning solution, try to get your dog to lay on his side. Once you drip the solution inside, massage the base of your dog’s ear for ten to twenty seconds just to make sure the solution hits all areas of the inner ear. Your dog may not like it, but this should never be painful. Be sure to thoroughly dry out the ear with cotton balls afterwards.
– As with many other grooming tasks, have treats at the ready. Reward your dog for being willing to sit through an ear cleaning.
Last but definitely not least, we have paw maintenance.
Our dog’s paws go through a lot of different types of terrain every day. Wear and tear on them is expected. It’s up to the responsible dog owner to notice this and act accordingly.
Paw maintenance encompasses a lot of things. It can include nail trimming, as we talked about previously.
It also includes things like trimming the hair that grows between the paw pads (many overlook this!). Or tending to possible cracks and injuries that surface on the paws.
Thus, paw maintenance generally means you need a dog paw cream, as well as a first aid solution if necessary.
Here are some tips for paw maintenance.
– You should ideally be checking your dog’s paws everyday for issues, especially if you notice any limping or irregular walking behavior.
– If you live in a dry area, your dog could develop cracks on their paws. If the cracks are small, consistently use a dog paw cream every night after the final walk. Massage your dog’s paws as you do so, as this can improve circulation. If the cracks are large, use your first aid solution and prepare to see a vet the next day.
– Check if anything has lodged itself in your dog’s paws. Small pieces of gravel or splinters are really painful! Get a vet to remove them if you cannot do so yourself.
– If you live in a snowy area, dip your dog’s paws in warm water after a snow session.
There you have it, a beginner’s guide to grooming and cleaning your dog!
Granted, we kind of took the easy way out of some of the sections, but I’ll update those in the future when I learn more about them.
In any case, I hope this was a good springboard for you to get started with grooming your dog. I highly recommend not leaving everything up to your groomer–simply because these things can be fun to do with your dog and can really help your bonding!
Grooming is more about just keeping your dog looking fresh. Everything in this article also has a lot to do with your dog’s overall health and wellbeing. Never overlook any aspect of the grooming process!