Depending on your dog’s coat, he may need regular grooming with clippers or scissors. If you decide to do it yourself, be sure to do it safely.
Grooming your dog is necessary for his health and well-being. Trimming, bathing, brushing and combing keep his hair and skin healthy, and reduce the risk of itching, irritation and other skin problems that can make him uncomfortable and unhappy. How often you groom your dog depends on the type of coat he has. Dogs with long, thick or multi-layered hair need more grooming attention than those with short, single-layered coats.
The next question is whether to take your dog to a groomer, or look after his coat yourself. If you decide on the latter, and clipping or trimming is going to be involved, you need to know what you’re doing in order to avoid injuring him. I learned this the hard way.
Problems with scissors and clippers
My English cocker spaniel, Blizzard, is a groomer’s nightmare. He literally gave one groomer a headache with his incessant barking. Another groomer told me to give him a sedative before bringing him to his next appointment. So I decided to home-groom Blizzard. I’d watched groomers do their thing, and didn’t think it looked difficult. I searched online and ordered a grooming table and clippers. Once they arrived, I printed out photos of perfectly coiffed English cockers.
I secured Blizzard to his new grooming table and turned on the clippers. All was going well — waves of overgrown hair fell neatly to the floor. My shaggy friend was starting to once again to look like a member of his breed. I next picked up the scissors and began trimming his long ears. Then my teenaged son yelled, “Mom, he’s bleeding — his left ear!” In my exuberance, I had mistaken a piece of Blizzard’s ear for hair.
The vet cautioned me about using scissors on my dog, but otherwise seemed unperturbed. “I’ve seen a lot worse,” he reassured me. Thankfully, Blizzard didn’t require stitches.
My story came as no surprise to dog groomer Nicole Kallish. She routinely fixes home haircuts gone badly. “People just pick up the scissors and start chopping,” she says. And while it’s true that scissors are potentially more dangerous than clippers, Nicole cautions that an amateur can also do damage with clippers, when loose folds of skin catch on the blades.
Holistic veterinarian Dr. Judy Morgan says that one of her biggest pet peeves is when people use scissors on their dogs’ coats. “I sew up too many lacerations,” she says. “People use scissors to cut off mats and lots of times cut too close to skin. I have even done it to my own dogs.” Dr. Morgan has since learned how to groom her own dogs, but nevertheless prefers to drive a two-hour round trip to a professional groomer every six weeks. “They do a much better job than I do,” she says.
If you are going to groom your own dog, Dr. Morgan adds that investing in the right grooming tools and learning how to use them correctly are essential. Most vets and groomers are willing to teach you how to use these tools. See sidebar for tips on clipper and scissor safety.
Now that I have learned how to use scissors and clippers safely around Blizzard, I plan to continue grooming him on my own. I go slowly and carefully, breaking up the process over several days. Home grooming saves me money, is less stressful for Blizzard, and has become an enjoyable bonding time for both of us.
Good grooming = good health
Along with clipping and trimming, of course, bathing, brushing and combing are also important aspects of the grooming process. “Grooming is not just about looks, but good health,” says Dr. Morgan. “It also gives you the opportunity to look for lumps and bumps, flakiness or crusting — anything that could be painful or might be an early warning sign healthwise.”
“Brushing and grooming are so important for our dogs’ health,” agrees KC Theisen, director of animal care issues for the HSUS. “It also reinforces the bond between you and your dog.”
- A bath might not be at the top of the list of your dog’s fun things to do, but he will definitely feel better afterwards. “For dogs that have allergies, pollen is very irritating to the skin,” Dr. Morgan says. “Dogs will lick their feet all the time trying to get the pollen off. The more often you bathe the dog, the fewer allergic reactions he will have.”
- Regular brushing or combing keeps the coat shiny and healthy, gets rid of dead hair, and reduces dander and other skin problems. Use a soft-bristled brush that won’t scratch his skin.
- Keep his face clean. Eye irritations can lead to eye infections. [Editor’s note: see page xx for tips on safe face and eye cleaning.]
- Keep his nails trimmed. Use the correct type of nail trimmer for your dog, and avoid cutting into the quick (the pink part of the nail). If you’re uncertain, ask your vet or groomer or show you how to clip nails.
- Pick up your dog’s ear flaps and take a peek underneath, looking for irritation, redness or discoloration. Gently clean if necessary.
Tips for using clippers and scissors
- Purchase good quality clippers that are right for your dog’s coat type. Your groomer can help you zero in on a good product.
- Get your dog used to the sound of the clippers before using them. Turn them on nearby and note his reaction. Don’t try to use them on his coat until he is accustomed to the sound. Use praise and rewards to help him associate the clippers with a pleasant experience.
- Keep in mind that clipper blades can get hot. You don’t want to burn your dog, so turn the clippers off every so often and touch the blades to test for heat. If they get too hot, switch to other blades or let them cool off before continuing.
- Practice holding the clippers and choose a hand position that feels comfortable and gives you maximum control.
- Start carefully, by using the clippers on the outer coat first, in a relatively inconspicuous area. Be sure you’re adept at using the clippers before going closer to the skin.
- First and foremost, use scissors that are especially designed for dog grooming. Kitchen scissors are a no-no. You can get a variety of grooming scissors, from the most commonly-used straight grooming scissors, to thinning scissors, curved scissors for shaping the coat, and scissors with rounded tips for safely trimming around the face and paws.
- Scissors are usually used for removing hair that the clippers can’t access. This often means sensitive areas such as around the head, feet, tail, etc.
- Make sure both you and your dog are calm and relaxed before beginning.
- Work slowly and carefully, and be sure to use your free hand to determine exactly where his hair ends and his skin begins, before doing any trimming. This is especially important when ridding the coat of mats.
Donna Jackel is a longtime journalist specializing in animal welfare. Her work has appeared in regional and national publications, including the Chicago Tribune and Yes! Magazine. She lives in upstate New York with her human family, two cats and two dogs.