The ultimate guide to grooming your dog

By Lauren Rey

Dog grooming basics

Grooming is an essential part of pet care that goes way beyond your dog just looking or smelling good. Routine grooming helps keep your dog’s skin and coat clean, healthy, and most importantly, parasite-free. There are many aspects to proper pet grooming besides just bathing and brushing. From their teeth to their toes, here’s everything you need to know about grooming your dog!

Getting ready to groom your dog

Before you begin grooming, you’ll want to make sure you have all the right tools in place. Once you have your dog in the tub all suds up the last thing you’ll want to do is step away to hunt down a missing item. At best, you might be chasing down a wet dog torpedo, at worst, your dog could slip and injure themselves. Make sure you have all your items in place before rounding up your pup!

Dog grooming checklist

While every dog may have slightly different needs when it comes to grooming tools and products, the most important thing to ensure is that they are made for dogs. Dogs have sensitive skin that can be easily irritated by human-grade shampoos or conditioners, not to mention they could contain toxic ingredients. A dog’s hair and nails are also quite different from a human’s and require special tools.

Tools for grooming dogs:

It’s also important to make grooming a positive experience for your pup. Bring some treats to reward them for sitting still throughout the process. You can also use an enrichment tool like a lick-mat with some (dog-safe, xylitol-free) peanut butter to keep them entertained or bring their favorite toy into the tub. When done correctly, grooming can be a bonding experience for you and your dog so remember to make it fun!

Dog grooming 101

When it comes to grooming your dog, every owner has a different level of comfort with what they can and can’t do at home. Similarly, dogs have different tolerance levels for different aspects of grooming. While these are some basic tips, if you or your dog are having trouble completing some of the grooming process, don’t be afraid to seek out professional help. Whether it’s getting a nail trim done at your vet’s office or a full bath and haircut at a professional groomer, there are options!


Regular bathing is essential for keeping your dog clean and comfortable. If you don’t have an ideal setup for bathing at home check out your local pet store, many have self-service dog wash stations. How often you should bathe your dog can range from weekly to monthly and depend on many factors including their coat type and how they interact with the outside world.

A Chihuahua that spends most of its time on the couch will undoubtedly need to be bathed less than a rambunctious Rottweiler that rolls in the mud every chance he gets. Double-coated dogs like Border Collies also need less frequent baths.

A general rule of thumb is to bathe your dog when they are dirty but not more than once per week as overbathing can lead to dry skin. If your dog has any dermatological conditions, consult your veterinarian. They may require special bathing techniques or medicated products.

Start by brushing out your dog’s coat to release any knots or loose fur. Use lukewarm water (neither too hot nor too cold) to wet your dog then lather with dog shampoo, rinse, and follow with a dog conditioner. Be sure to rinse well and don’t let your dog lick or drink any of the products.

Bath time is a great opportunity to check your dog for any skin problems or parasites. Perform a flea and tick check and use a flea comb or tick remover tool if necessary. Check your dog’s skin for any lumps, bumps, or rashes. Found something you’re not sure warrants a veterinary visit? Access 24/7 veterinary telehealth services to answer questions via phone, email, or live chat with a 24Petwatch Lifetime Protection Membership.

After your dog’s bath, you’ll want to be sure to dry them thoroughly and brush them. Depending on your dog’s coat and the season, you may only need a towel, or you may need a blow dryer. If your dog has a thick coat or you are in a colder climate, you may want to consider purchasing a dog blow dryer. Some even have brush attachments for different types of coats. Never use a human blow dryer as these can overheat your dog or cause burns.


Brushing your dog is an important part of both bath time and regular maintenance grooming to keep their coat healthy and free of tangles or debris. The type of coat your dog has will determine how often they need to be brushed. Typically, longer-haired or double-coated dogs need more frequent brushings, approximately every 1 to 3 days. Shorter-haired dogs may only need weekly brushings.

There are many different dog brushes on the market to accommodate all types of coats. Short-haired dogs can benefit from both standard brushes and slicker brushes whereas long-haired or double-coated dogs may need a detangler or deshedding brush.

Ear cleaning

Monitoring the health of your dog’s ears and keeping them clean is another important part of grooming. While the frequency of ear cleanings will vary by dog with some needing weekly cleanings and others monthly (consult your veterinarian), bath time is often the perfect time to do this.

Only use veterinary-approved ear-cleaning solutions. Some ear cleaners are to be applied with cotton balls to the outer ear while others are meant to be sprayed directly into the ear canal, always read the label and use as directed.

While cleaning your dog’s ears, check for any signs of irritation or infection such as odor, debris, redness, swelling, or scabbing. Find something concerning but not sure if it’s an ear infection? 24Petwatch Lifetime Protection Membership holders have 24/7 access to veterinary telehealth services to answer questions via phone, email, or live chat.

Nail trims

Trimming your dog’s nails is an important part of the grooming routine but one that many pet owners struggle with. Whether it’s your dog’s inability to sit still or a fear of their feet being touched, nail trimming is often one of the hardest aspects of grooming. Overgrown nails can lead to a host of painful problems so it’s important to find a method that works for your dog. Most dogs need nail trims every 3 to 4 weeks.

There are two main ways to trim your dog’s nails, with dog nail clippers or a nail grinder for dogs (also known as a dog Dremel). Dog nail clippers are often faster and more precise, but a nail grinder can be very helpful for thicker or darker nails that are difficult to trim.

First, you’ll need to identify the quick which is the pink cuticle that contains blood vessels and nerves in the center of your dog’s nail. Dogs with very thick or dark nails can be harder to identify the quick. You can try shining a flashlight under your dog’s nails to illuminate them.

It's very important to avoid cutting the quick as it can cause pain and bleeding (keep a cotton ball and some styptic powder nearby just in case). Trim only a small amount of the nail at a time (at the tip of the nail away from the quick) until the nail is at a length that does not touch the ground when your dog stands.

Similar to trimming your dog’s nails with clippers, you’ll want to first identify the quick and then slowly use the grinding tool to work around it. Grind only a small amount of nail at a time, checking in between to make sure you don’t go too far. It can take some dogs a while to get used to the noise and sensations from these tools so go slow, give your dog breaks, and use lots of treats to make it a positive experience.

Some dogs will have anxiety over nail trims no matter which tool you use. It’s imperative to try and build a positive association with these tools by using “fear-free methods” which can include treats, toys, and other forms of enrichment. Never force your dog to “tough it out” during a nail trim as this can lead to further anxiety or fear of grooming time.

If your dog has extreme anxiety, it may be time to call in the professionals. Make an appointment with your veterinarian. They may have better luck trimming your dog’s nails in the clinic with a team of technicians or they may recommend a calming medication to help your pet relax.

Tooth brushing

Brushing your dog’s teeth is an often-overlooked part of grooming but dental health is just as important as other aspects of your pet’s health. Veterinarians recommend brushing your dog’s teeth a minimum of three times a week.

Use only dog-safe toothbrushes and toothpaste and gently brush your dog’s teeth for a few minutes at a time. If they are not used to this, it can take some time to build up their comfort level. Dog toothpaste is designed to be tasty for dogs and can be swallowed. Never use human toothpaste as it can be toxic.

Optional grooming products

There are plenty of additional dog grooming products on the market to suit specific needs from pet wipes to perfumes. When considering whether to use some of these products it’s always a good idea to consult your veterinarian. Unless you are purchasing them from a veterinary clinic or a reputable pet retailer, some of these items can be unregulated and/or contain potentially harmful ingredients.

Some of the most common optional grooming products include:

When your dog needs a haircut

If you have a dog breed in need of a haircut you may be wondering if that is safe to do at home. That all depends on your dog, your tools, and your level of comfort with the process. Most pet owners find that a simple trim is doable but leave the full haircuts to the professionals.

If your dog only needs a little maintenance trimming you may be able to attempt this with some pet-safe shears or clippers. Be sure to go slow and only trim a bit of hair at a time. If your dog needs a full haircut, shave, or needs hair around its face trimmed, going to a professional groomer is probably your best bet. Certain breeds like Yorkshire terriers and Poodles also have special grooming needs that are usually better addressed by professionals.

Need help finding a groomer? Start by asking your veterinarian for recommendations. Your vet may have a groomer they refer to or some veterinary clinics even have one on staff. You can also ask trusted friends or contact your local breed club. Worried about your dog having grooming anxiety? Search for Fear Free Certified® Groomer in your area.

Final grooming tips

No matter what type of grooming you are doing, remember to make it fun for your dog! Use toys, treats, and enrichment tools to keep your dog happy and engaged. It will make the whole process much easier for both of you.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Some dogs may need two family members to help bathe them or trim their nails and some are better left to the professionals. Taking your dog to the vet for a nail trim or the groomer for a haircut is perfectly fine. The most important thing is that your dog gets the grooming care they need!