A 4-step guide to DIY dog grooming

Dogs will be dogs, and it’s all part and parcel of why we love them (and sometimes, are infuriated with them, say, after one of your dogs decides to crash through the forest only to follow with a roll in the mud right before running into your newly cleaned house…). But because you chose to share your life with a living dog, as opposed to, oh, a stuffed animal, you’ll have to face the task of cleaning them up after any romp through the yuck, as well as just for normal “maintenance.”

You can always pay a professional groomer to do the “dirty work” but if you’re keen on saving some dollars and also spending some more quality time with your dog, you can take on the task yourself. Here is our four-step guide to DIY dog grooming, to help you (and your dog) get in and out of the shower as easily as possible, and back onto the couch for some squeaky-clean snuggle time!

First, gather your tools – you may need to buy a few “professional-quality” tools, which may be somewhat costly at the outset, but will save you money over the long haul. You’ll need:

  • Stainless steel comb – great for tangles; you can get different widths based on the length and density of the coat you’re working on
  • Brush(es) – depending on the kind of dog you have, you may be able to get away with one all-purpose pin brush or slicker brush, or you may need up to 3 or 4 different kinds (those with double-coated breeds or high-maintenance long-haired coats, I’m looking at you), including an undercoat rake, slicker brush, pin brush (or two), mat breaker, and/or a Furminator.
  • Nail Clippers and styptic powder (or quik-stop)
  • Professional Clippers – if you want to take on the fur trimming that almost all dogs benefit from (especially in the hot summer months)
  • Grooming scissors – to trim around the pads of the feet, to keep the anal area nice and tidy, and any other stray hairs
  • Lots of towels – you can use old towels or spend some cash for one or more “shammy” cloth-type towels that soak up multiple-times their weight of water
  • Cotton balls (for ears) and ear and eye cleaning solutions

Dog Marley-Dreads?

If you’re not into reggae (at least on your dog), the first step, before doing anything else – especially turning on the water – is to thoroughly brush him out. Brushing before bathing will get rid of loose hair and any little mats or clumps of dirt or detritus that are stuck in his coat. If you do find any knots or mats, these must be carefully combed or cut out, or they’ll be almost impossible to get out after they get wet.

This is where your mat breaker and/or detangler comes in handy – a mat breaker is essentially a version of thinning shears – it looks kind of like a comb but the “tines” are actually blades that rake out/cut through mats as the fur passes through the blades. Using thinning shears or a mat breaker is preferable to cutting out the mat because you won’t be left with a bald spot. The FUR-minator tool is also a popular undercoat remover in that it has a specially-designed edge that penetrates to the loose undercoat and removes it while leaving the topcoat intact. Many people swear by this handy tool during “blowing coat” season as it really does seem to help make the dog more comfortable, and also significantly reduces shedding and matting.

Our earthbath spritzes are perfect to use as detanglers, in addition to being heavenly scented. You can spritz as you brush out your dog, spraying as you go, to condition the coat and help detangle as you brush.

If you have a short-haired dog, feel free to scroll down and skip this part. But if you do have a longer-haired breed, take a second and read over our description of linebrushing. This technique is the main key to successfully grooming a long-haired or double-coated dog. First, your dog should be settled comfortably lying down on the floor or on his grooming table. He should be used to being groomed, because this will take a bit of time – and if not, start slowly, use treats, and get him accustomed to laying still for longer and longer periods of time until you are done. Divide the dog into large sections (e.g., head, neck and chest, shoulders, each side, his rear end, his underbelly, and legs), and completely brush out each section before moving on. Within each section, using your brush, part the coat either horizontally across the dog or vertically down his spine. Use this part as the base for your linebrushing. As you brush, make sure you brush all the way to the skin and brush the hair up and away from the part. As you go, you can mist the coat with water or a conditioning spritz as you to help detangle and condition the coat.

Linebrushing is, in a sense, the difference between amateur and professional grooming. The biggest problem professional groomers see is when dogs are brought in because their undercoats are so terribly matted yet their owners will be confused because they say they brush them daily. The reason for all of the mats is because they only get brushed on the surface, and never penetrate to the skin.  One good comb-out to the skin will be worth several surface brushing sessions and ultimately, will cut your grooming time down.

Wash and Wear

Your choice of shampoo is very important. Choosing a sub-par product that doesn’t suit your dog’s coat can leave your dog itchy and scratching. All of earthbath’s shampoos and conditioners are specially formulated to be extra gentle to a dog’s skin and coat, while thoroughly cleaning him, leaving him shiny, soft, fluffy, and fragrant. Our creme rinse and conditioner delivers conditioning vitamins right down to the hair roots to make his coat even stronger, softer and shinier.

Let’s face it – when you give your dog a bath, the odds are that you’re probably getting one too! So, make it more comfortable for both of you, and use lukewarm water, and a non-slip surface for you both to stand on.

When you are shampooing your dog, make sure you place cotton balls inside your dogs ears to prevent any shampoo or water from getting inside. Just a little bit could be enough to cause an infection. Wet your dog all over, apply the shampoo evenly over his body, and lather thoroughly. Another method is to dilute the shampoo in a bucket of warm water and gently pour this solution over him, massaging as you go. (This works particularly well for densely-coated breeds). Make sure you rinse him well (when you feel you’ve rinsed him completely, rinse him again) to remove all of the shampoo from his coat. Even though he will try to “help” the drying process by shaking when you least expect it, you can prevent this by simply encircling his snout gently with your hand. A dog starts his shake from his nose, so this little trick will ensure that he literally cannot start the shake until you’ve cleared the area!

If your dog has a long or dense coat which tends to get tangled, it’s a great idea to massage a creme rinse conditioner into his coat after shampooing, and rinse out. You can also finish off with your favorite flavor of spritz. He’ll be super soft and silky when you brush him next time!

Mani-Pedi (and Ear Cleaning) Time

After you’re done shampooing, take a look inside your dog’s ears. Make sure to keep his ear canals free of hair, to allow air to circulate and prevent them from staying moist. You can do this by gently clipping out the hair or plucking the hair with tweezers. Make sure you only grab a few hairs at a time, or it will hurt. If he has particularly dirty or waxy ears, clean them with an ear cleaning solution. Squeeze some solution into his ear, massage the ear base to move it around, then gently wipe it out with cotton balls. Never use Q-Tips in a dog’s ear – if he moves his head, you could injure his eardrum.

Even though you may fear the thought of clipping your dog’s toenails, with a little bit of patience (and practice), you’ll be able to give your dog a nice pedicure, no problem. Go slowly: many dogs hate having their toenails cut, and as a result, twist or pull their feet away, which could wind up in injury.

Use good quality clippers and make sure they’re sharp. Cheaper clippers often crush the nail before they cut, and this hurts.

If you’re new to cutting your dog’s nail, go slowly and conservatively – most people fear cutting into the quick, which grows WITH the nail – which means, staying on top of nail trims becomes important for keeping nails short. If you let the nails grow long, don’t expect to be able to cut them short right away. You can only cut to where the quick ends. Clipping your dog’s nails is relatively easy if your dog has white toenails – you can see the pink blood vessel and avoid cutting into it. Black toenails are harder. It’s better to err on the side of caution, and nibble away at the nail, a little at a time.

If you do happen to cut the quick, you’ll know about it right away – your dog will probably yelp as it does sting, and it seems to bleed a lot! It’s handy to have some styptic powder in your grooming kit for just such occasions. Sprinkle a little on the bleeding nail and it will stop very quickly.

Long haired dogs also look tidier if you trim the hair around and between the toes with scissors.

And if your dog’s paws are feeling rough and ragged, be sure to heal and protect them. Try SheaPet Shea Butter and Aloe Treatment Balm which is a quick relief soothing treatment for dry, cracked noses and paws.