For many dogs and their owners, the regular grooming session can become a battle of wills and one that ends up as a real struggle. It can end up with the dog trying to hide whenever they see the brush coming out and the problems can escalate quickly to the point where there is a real risk of you getting bitten and the dog becoming distrustful of an owner that they had a strong bond with.
It can often also mean that owners put off dealing with grooming because it has become so stressful and dogs can end up more than a bit whiffy, having some serious and uncomfortable matting, overgrown nails or dirty ears that end up becoming infected.
1. Turn a grooming session into a bonding exercise between you and your dog
It is important to introduce a regular grooming session from early doors with a new puppy or adopted dog. It will need to be introduced very gradually and should always be done using positive reinforcement with lots of treats. For some tips for positive training techniques check out our clicker training article.
If it is done slowly, with patience, a gentle touch and with lots of your dog’s favourite treat your dog can learn to love being groomed and it can be a relaxing and bonding experience instead of something you both dread. Include it as part of your dog’s daily massage routine!
Don’t wait until you have to groom them before you start working on getting them used to it.
2. Choose the right brush and introduce it gradually
Some dogs will have short coats that don’t require much maintenance and other breeds will have longer coats that are more prone to tangling and will require daily maintenance. If you are not prepared to put the time and effort in, don’t take on a long-haired breed.
Even for those dogs that don’t need so much brushing, it is always good to get your dog used to being brushed. Not only can it help to lift dead hairs and scurf from the coat but it is a nice way to bond and help them relax.
Some dogs love being brushed from the word go but if your dog is not sure it is really important to introduce the brush and the grooming process very gradually. Start by just giving your dog a really yummy treat every time you bring the brush out. Repeat this over a number of sessions across a few days. You then will want to lay the brush on the floor and wait for your dog to move towards the brush of their own accord before you offer the reward. Then move onto treating them every time you bring the brush close to their body and then you can move onto touching the dog with the brush. When you do move onto actually starting brushing your dog, keep the sessions short and try to avoid tugging the hair. It may seem like this is a bit of a drawn-out process all just to brush your dog’s coat but it is really worth putting in this little extra effort in the beginning as it will hopefully mean your dog grooming sessions will be a pleasure for you both rather than a battle.
Different coats require different brush types
For smooth, shorter-haired coats you may want to use a rubber style brush. Kong Zoom Grooms are often a popular choice.
For short but dense coats you may want to consider using a slicker brush to remove the hair and release any little tangles. Whilst a daily brush is not likely to be required, a brush once a week would likely be beneficial.
Long and silky coat types, like those of an Afghan, will likely need a daily groom to remove any tangles. Start with removing any tangles with a slicker brush, hold the hair at the root to minimise tugging and then brush through with a bristle brush.
Choosing the right type of brush is important. The brush above is a traditional bristle brush
For long hair that becomes easily matted, like a cockapoo, it is really important to try to get into a daily grooming regime. Like with the silky coat type, any tangles will need to be carefully teased out with a slicker brush before using the bristle brush. If any mats have formed they are usually better just cut out but be very careful not to catch the skin when doing this. Don’t let matting get out of control. It can be very uncomfortable for your dog and can start pulling their skin uncomfortably tight. If the matting is very severe your dog may have to have a complete clip down as it won’t be able to be brushed out. Don’t expect miracles from a groomer either, if there is heavy matting they won’t be able to magic this away and they will have to clip your dog down too.
Long hair is even more likely to get matted when it is wet. If you are giving your dog a bath, letting them go for a swim in the river or walking in heavy rain it is always a good idea to give them a quick brush through to get rid of any existing tangles that would likely turn into mats when exposed to the water. Once their hair has dried off, another quick brush can be useful too.
Certain areas are more prone to getting tangled and matted so grooming should focus on these areas. Behind the ears, under the armpits and between the toes are common mat areas. Always make sure you cover these in a grooming session but be gentle as they are sensitive too.
3. Where does all the hair come from? How to minimise the shedding
Most dogs shed, although there are some breeds, like poodles, that don’t. The amount they shed will depend on the breed type, the time of year, if they are pregnant, sometimes their diet and whether they have any underlying health issues. If your dog has shed very little for years and all of sudden they start shedding copious amounts of hair it may be worthwhile visiting the vet just to rule out any possible illness. If the shedding is also accompanied by licking of hotspots on the feet and paws or bald spots appearing them it is definitely time for a trip to the vet.
For dogs that do shed a lot, like labradors, it can be a constant clean-up exercise in the home. Invest in a good hoover and try to give them a regular groom to minimise the amount they will shed.
A lot of people swear by the Furminator tool for working wonders with a shedding coat. You may want to groom your dog in the backyard rather than in the house to avoid lots of loose hair flying around.
Be prepared for lots of shedding from breeds with double coats, like Huskies
4. Giving your dog a DIY haircut – some important considerations
Some dog breeds can benefit from a full clip. It can be helpful for helping them to stay cool in the summer or for dogs that are often in the undergrowth and prone to getting tangles easily. Some people choose to clip their dogs themselves rather than take them to a groomer. Some dogs are less stressed being groomed by someone familiar and in a familiar environment.
It can be useful if your dog is very stressed as you can work on getting them used to being clipped in a much slower and positive fashion than a groomer may have time for. You have the flexibility of doing the groom in a number of smaller sessions rather than one big one, you can get a family member or friend to help with the treat administration and you don’t have to have them restrained on a grooming table if this is one of the things that stresses them out. It also saves cash in the long run too.
Your dog may not end up looking as slick as they do after a professional groom but as long as they are comfortable and happy that is all that matters really.
It is important to make sure that you choose the right equipment too. Giving your dog a clip with human clippers is an absolute no-no. They are not designed to go through dog hair, they are not powerful enough, and they can also sometimes cause razor burn as the length of the blade is different from that on a dog clipper.
Don’t skimp on the clippers as this can be a false economy. If you invest in a good set they should be able to be used throughout your dog’s life and they will be less likely to cause injury as a result of a fault or poor design.
If you are using clippers, take extra care around areas that have more delicate, thinner skin such as on the underside of the neck, on the edges of the ears, on the belly, the thinner lower part of the legs, the paws and the armpits.
If you are trimming with scissors be extra, extra careful as it is so easy to accidentally snip the skin. Not only is this uncomfortable for your dog but it can also make them afraid of being groomed and you may have to start from scratch with your positive reinforcement training to get them to allow you use the scissors on them again.
Don’t scrimp when investing in a set of clippers for your dog. The investment will be worth it
5. Never ever clip a double-coated dog!
We have heard of owners that have double-coated breeds like a Husky or a Golden Retriever and, concerned that their dog will be too hot in the summer, they have clipped their coat off. Sometimes they think it will lessen the shedding. This is the worst thing that you could do.
Doing this can irreversibly damage their ability to regulate their temperature and it also means their skin can be more easily damaged.
The only time when a double coated breed may have to be shaved is if they have suffered from such bad matting that there is no other route to take.
Double coated breeds have a fine, short, light and soft undercoat. This is the layer that sheds and it is also the layer that helps insulate and cool your dog in the extreme temperatures.
The topcoat has much thicker and tougher hairs, called ‘guard hairs’ that insulates them from the heat and protects them from sunburn. If you shave this off not only are they more likely to be prone to sunburn but you can increase their chances of overheating.
Also, after shaving, some double coated breeds coats change irreversibly. The undercoat texture often changes and doesn’t grow back as fully.
The best way to keep this kind of dog cool and comfortable and to reduce the shedding is to regularly bathe and brush them. The only reason a person might need to shave their double coated dog is if the hair is so matted, it’s the only option.
Don’t ever clip down double coated breeds like Golden Retrievers
6. Nail trimming: Spend some time getting your dog used to having their paws massaged!
If you have a short haired dog and they walk regularly on pavements their nails will usually naturally file themselves down. If they are long haired and/or tend to be walked more on grass or other softer surfaces you may have to trim them yourself. It is really important to regularly check your dog’s nail length, particularly if they can be hidden away under dense fur. If they become overgrown they can be extremely uncomfortable and they can become so overgrown that they can turn back in on themselves and start digging into your dog’s skin.
If you start to hear their nails clicking on the floor as they walk this probably means they are in need of a clip. We would always recommend keeping nail clippers as part of your doggy first aid kit.
Nail trimming can be one of the more tricky grooming procedures. Your dog has to have his paw held and you have to have access to the nail. Often this can make your dog feel nervous. This is one that we would always start desensitising your dog to as soon as they come to stay with you. Make a doggy paw massage part of your daily cuddle routine!
Get them used to the clippers first so that they start to associate them with yummy treats before you even start to think about clipping the nail. It is all about patience and rewards in the beginning so that you are setting yourself up for success in the future!
Once they always have an excited reaction to the sight of the clippers then move onto the paws. You want your dog to have an excited reaction to their paw being held and then examined.
Again, build this up gradually. Start with just giving them a treat whenever you touch their paw, then move onto a treat whenever they offer a paw, then move onto holding the paw for a few seconds after they offer it and build up the length of time it can be held. Then move onto starting to lift the fur and touching the nail. All the while, these sessions should be short, fun and always, always with super tasty treats.
Once your dog is eagerly offering a paw and letting you hold it and examine it you can move onto introducing the clippers (which they should also be excited to see).
Once you move onto clipping the nail it is really crucial that you are extra careful not to cut into the quick. This is the blood vessel that runs up the base of the nail. The tips of the nail do not have any quick and this is the only part that you should trim. For dogs with lighter coloured nails, it is easier to see the quick but for dogs with black nails, it is much more tricky. For these dogs only take off the very tip and if their nails do not seem like they are too long don’t bother trimming.
If you are nervous about cutting too far practice being accurate on a matchstick in advance.
If you do accidentally hit the quick it will be uncomfortable for your dog (you may need to start from scratch with your desensitisation work) and there can be a fair bit of bleeding. You can use some styptic powder or cornstarch to stop the bleeding.
If at any stage of your training your dog starts to show signs of being uncomfortable it is really important to just stop and in the next session go back a stage to a point where they are happier and work on this again for a bit before moving on a stage. Don’t ever force your dog when nail trimming, this can become a battle and will mean they are likely to have a more extreme reaction each time you make an attempt and it also increases the chances of an injury.
If you are nervous about trimming the nails yourself, we would always still recommend going through the stages to get your dog used to nail trimming in advance of taking them to the vet or the groomer so that your dog has a good experience there too. If your dog is nervous when visiting the vet have a look at our handy article with some advice for dealing with this
If you hear your dogs nails clicking on the floor it is probably time to give them a trim
7. Ear Cleaning: How to avoid a dreaded ear infection
We would always recommend doing a weekly check for wax or debris in your dog’s ears. If this is left without cleaning it can become infected.
Dogs that love swimming and those with longer ears, like Cocker Spaniels, are more prone to dirty ears and ear problems.
As with the paw inspection, it is always good to make sure your dog feels comfortable with you lifting their ears and looking inside. Always pair this activity with lots of yummy treats.
If their ears are smelly or dirty, cleaning with a gentle dog ear cleaner and a cotton ball is usually best. Try not to rub at the ear but rather just gently lift away the dirt. If you need to clean the inner ear with an ear wash, be careful not to put too much liquid in and then very gently massage the lower ear before wiping away any excess again with a cotton bud.
It is really important not to use an ear cleanser too often (there is a risk it can push debris further into the ear).
If you are noticing a lot of dark or smelly residue and it keeps coming back, your dog is shaking their head a lot or they are having balance issues then it is likely that a trip to the vet will be required to check for a possible ear infection.
NEVER put a cotton bud or other implement down the ear canal. This can be very painful for your dog, it can risk damaging the eardrum if you go too far and it usually just pushes any debris further into the ear which can cause a blockage.
Long eared breeds like Cocker Spaniels can be more prone to problems with their ears and they need more regular cleaning
8. Eye cleaning
Eye infections can be common in long-haired breeds that have a build up of muck and debris in the hair around the eye. Keeping this hair trimmed and clean is really important.
Using a damp cotton ball to wipe away any residue daily should be enough to keep any problems at bay.
Dogs that regularly stick their head out of the car window can be prone to eye problems too. For safety as well as to protect the eyes, don’t let your dog put their head out the window and don’t have a harsh breeze blowing directly into their face.
If you are seeing smelly, crusty discharge, your dog’s eyes are very watery or red then it may mean that there is a problem and we would suggest getting your dog along to the vet.
Breeds like Shih Tzus are more prone to eye problems, make sure the hair around their eyes is regularly trimmed and bathed
9. How to make bathtime fun
Whilst we always recommend that you do not go overboard with bathing, sometimes a roll in fox poo or just general exposure to dirt and grime can mean you have a whiffy puppy that will need a bath.
If you do it too often you can risk stripping the natural oils from your dog’s coat and this is needed to help keep their skin in good condition and to keep coats water resistant. I try not to bath my dog more than once every couple of months.
When you do give your dog a bath you want it to be as pleasant an experience as possible and not one that becomes another grooming regime battle.
If you are putting them in the bath, make sure you have a suitable non-slip mat in there. You don’t want your dog to get a fright or give themselves an injury if they slip. If they are not keen on the enclosed space of the bath, it may be better to start with a bath in the garden (providing the temperatures are not too cold) and someone can hold them and give them lots of yummy treats whilst you bathe them. Check our article on the best types of treats for training for inspiration.
Be careful not to get water down their ears or in their eyes, choose a gentle doggy specific shampoo, some human shampoos can be too strong and strip your dog’s coats of oil, they may also have ingredients that may not be suitable for your dog’s skin.
For dogs with more folds in their skin, like Shar Peis, make sure you clean inside the folds and also thoroughly dry the areas too.
On cold days, make sure you dry your dog off really thoroughly. For puppies and elderly or unwell dogs thorough drying regardless of the temperature is really important.
Make sure you reward your dog for calm behaviour during bathtime
10. If you use a groomer make sure that you choose the right one
If you do choose to take your dog to a groomer, take the time to do your research. Make sure they are fully qualified, ask for a tour of the salon and read the reviews.
The most important thing is to ensure that the groomer has a gentle, positive approach. If a dog is nervous you do not want them to just muzzle the dog, restrain him on the table and force them into the experience. You would want them to let you know if there are any issues and either work with you to help your dog feel more comfortable or recommend another solution.
Some groomers specifically work with nervous dogs. They may allow longer appointment times or arrange with you to do the groom in multiple short sessions. They often work with the dog off a grooming table as being restrained on there can be stressful for some dogs.
Find what works best for your dog and don’t be afraid to choose a different option if you are not feeling comfortable.
Always do your research when selecting a groomer
Gemma is an official dog nut and passionate traveller. Originally from the wonderful city of Edinburgh in Scotland, Gemma is now wandering across Europe with her rescue dog Annie. For ten years Gemma loved being surrounded by all things canine 24/7 whilst she ran a specialist doggy shop. The shop was a great community hub and, along with working closely with local rescues, Gemma provided customer support relating to canine behaviour and nutrition. It was a passion project and one that Gemma felt privileged to have created. She is also studying towards an Advanced Diploma in Canine Behaviour and is a huge advocate of dog rescue and promoting scientific methods of dog training.