Bathing, brushing and trimming your dog between grooming appointments is a great way to keep his coat in tiptop shape. Check out these tips to keep him looking and feeling good.

Grooming your dog has a lot of benefits. It helps keep his coat and skin in good condition between appointments with the groomer. It can be a wonderful bonding experience for both of you. It’s also a great way to get to know your dog’s body, so you’ll notice right away if he develops any lumps, bumps or other problems. By following the guidelines in this article, you’ll help ensure a safe, stress-free home grooming experience for you and your dog.

1. Invest in the right tools

Make sure you have the right equipment and that it’s kept in good condition. Dull clippers or the wrong brush will pull your dog’s hair and complicate the process.

Below are a few basic tools you’ll need, but keep in mind that products may vary depending on your dog’s coat type and length – ask your groomer to help you select the best grooming tools for your own dog.

  • Brushes and combs – To get started, a de-matting comb and quality slicker brush (see below) are important tools for the at-home grooming kit.
  • Shampoo – Use all-natural pet shampoos free of chemicals and synthetic fragrances. Don’t use human shampoos or cheap commercial products. Harsh detergents can cause dry hair and skin irritation. A natural shampoo is also less likely to cause an issue if it accidentally gets in your dog’s eyes (see sidebar on page xx).
  • Scissors and clippers – Avoid kitchen scissors and cheap human clippers, which aren’t powerful enough for a dog’s coat. It’s best to use scissors and clippers designed specifically for use in dogs.
  • Blow dryers – Dryers designed for dogs blow room-temperature air, and some even offer low-noise options for pets with anxiety. A human dryer is too hot for a dog’s skin, and can cause burns — unless it has a “cool” setting, in which case it’s fine.
  • Nail trimmers – A guillotine-type trimmer is the best for a dog’s nails. Stay away from human nail trimmers, which can split his claws.

2. Choose the best place for bathing

Kitchen sinks or washtubs placed on a table are easiest for bathing small dogs. A tub or shower works for a larger dog, but avoid bending over while you wash him. Put a towel or bathmat on the floor and kneel to take the pressure off your back.

A rubber bathmat on the bottom of the tub will prevent your dog from slipping. Gather all the tools you’re going to need before you start bathing him, including a towel, so you don’t have to leave your wet dog unattended in order to retrieve something.

Kitchen sinks or washtubs placed on a table are easiest for bathing small dogs.

3. Use positive reinforcement

It’s important to be patient with your dog while you’re grooming him, especially if he isn’t used to it yet. Have plenty of healthy treats on hand to reward good behavior, and give him lots of love. Developing trust is an important aspect of the grooming process so never punish any signs of fear. Using soothing tones to coax him during moments of hesitation, and don’t ever force him or use physical restraint.

4. Relax him with essential oils or flower remedies

High quality essential oils are a great way to induce relaxation during grooming.  Try massaging diluted lavender oil or flower essences into your dog’s coat before grooming. Some companies make all-natural shampoos that contain calming essential oils – examples are Mellow Dog Shampoo by Show Season, or LifeFORCE Dirty Dog Shampoo Bar.

5. Take it slow

Some dogs love being pampered, but others don’t. Get him used to new experiences like the sound of clippers and the feel of his feet being handled. If your dog is less than eager to get in the tub, scatter a few waterproof toys inside it and offer treats if he hops in. If the sound of running water is causing him anxiety, put a couple inches of water in the tub beforehand and use a cup or pitcher for rinsing.

Secondly, don’t underestimate the time it takes to groom a dog. Set aside a couple hours for the procedure. Take it one step at a time, and move slowly through the parts that make you – or your dog – nervous. This is especially important when you’re trimming his hair or clipping his nails.

6. Groom him regularly

Set up a schedule so you’ll remember to groom your dog regularly. A routine will help him get used to the process and feel more comfortable about it. Even if you only bathe him occasionally, weekly brushing will help prevent mats and/or dirt buildup. Regularly wash his face with all-natural doggie wipes or a damp cloth to prevent tear stains, and invest in a natural waterless shampoo or detangling spray to freshen up his coat.

Aside from these simple maintenance tips, feeding your dog a high quality diet will help keep his skin and coat healthy and make grooming easier. Supplements like essential fatty acids and antioxidants help prevent dryness, hotspots and other skin conditions.

7. When in doubt, call a professional

If you’re not feeling confident about grooming your dog at home, ask your groomer to teach you how to do it. If you’re still not comfortable with your abilities, or your dog is resisting the process, skip the DIY grooming and leave it to the pros.

In most cases, though, with time and patience, along with the right tools, methods and lots of positive reinforcement, most dogs learn to tolerate and even enjoy being groomed, both at home and at the salon.

Tool terms

Slicker brush: The fine bristles are especially useful for removing loose hair from the undercoat, and preventing mats and tangles.

De-matting comb: These are designed to gently pick away mats without painful hair-pulling (pictured at left).

Common grooming mistakes

  • Cutting the quick of your dog’s nails can cause pain and bleeding. Make sure your dog is sitting still before trimming, and don’t cut too much from the nail. If you do snip the quick by accident, give him a treat right away and apply gentle pressure until the bleeding stops.
  • It’s wise to keep shampoo away from your dog’s face, but splashes happen. Even a natural shampoo, will be uncomfortable if it gets in his eyes. Gently flush his eyes with water or a mild saline solution.
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