A beginner's guide to grooming your dog at home

A pro shares tips for matted coats, nail trims and more.

A pro shares tips for matted coats, nail trims and more

(Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

If you're used to taking your pet to the groomer's or pet-store salon every month or two, he or she is now likely overdue for a full groom. The good news is that depending on your dog's grooming needs (and temperament), tackling the task at home yourself — at least for now — might be easier than you think! 

To get you started, we talked to Philip Minaker, general manager at Zen Dog Services in Toronto, about the dos and don'ts of dog grooming. Here are his tips for making the chore easier, and more pleasant for everyone. 

Do start with nails 

One of the key steps for keeping your dog groomed at home is giving them regular nail trims every few weeks, even if it's not a task that either of you particularly enjoy, says Minaker. While some dogs' nails will naturally reduce themselves when they walk on hard surfaces like concrete or pavement, others do require frequent trimming. 

"Most pet stores sell nail clippers in different sizes to accommodate the size of the dog," says Minaker. "Once every four to six weeks is a good time to trim them." Don't forget to cut the dewclaw, a nail that some dogs have on the side of their foot; and, if you accidently nick the "quick" (nerves and blood vessels inside the nail), a dab of cornstarch or styptic powder will stop the bleeding. 

Do keep certain key areas trimmed

If you want to extend the life of an existing cut, or maybe aren't quite ready to take on a full groom yourself, Minaker recommends just dry-trimming the most necessary areas to start. "The face, ears, and hygienic areas should be maintained," says Minaker. Keeping the hair short and clean in these areas can help with odours and prevent infection, and you don't need to use proper grooming scissors for this type of trim. "You can use good craft scissors as long as they're relatively sharp and you haven't used them on other things," says Minaker. 

Do order a grooming kit

For a full-body dog groom, you'll want to buy a pet clipper or packaged grooming kit with different blades. It may take a bit of time and practice for you to get used to the equipment; be sure to read the instructions to know what kind of blade you're using, and how short it's going to cut your dog's hair, says Minaker. And, unless you're planning on continuing to do this regularly, don't worry about getting a very expensive clipper. 

Don't cut a dirty or matted coat

"Step one is to make sure the dog is well brushed — a lot of people don't realize a dog should be brushed before it's bathed," says Minaker. "If there's any matting and [the coat] not brushed out, it is going to become twice as much of a nightmare." You can use various brushes or combs depending on your dog's hair; a wide-tooth comb is recommended for tangles. "Put your finger between the mats and the dog's skin so that when you're trying to brush it out bit by bit, you're not yanking on the furs and pulling on the skin," says Minaker, adding that a dab of human-hair conditioner or pet conditioner might make brushing the clumps out easier.  

Do give Fluffy a bath

After your dog is well brushed, it's time to give them a bath. While baby shampoo is ok in a pinch, Minaker recommends that you use one formulated specifically for dogs, specifically, " oatmeal and aloe shampoo because that conditions the hair and actually helps with the scalp as well." There are also shampoos that address specific conditions like flaky skin or hair shedding. Once bathed, towel dry your dog (or blow dry them if you can) and then give them another brush when the coat is fully dried. Now your dog is ready for a trim!

Do mind your dog's temperament and condition

Try to give your pet a good workout before you do any grooming. "If he's all hyper and you try to shave him, you're not going to have much success," says Minaker. "Take him for a good walk or get him tired from playing, so that he'll be calmer when you're doing it." While you're doing the actual grooming, be as firm as you can, talk in a calm voice, and have treats at the ready. 

Truc Nguyen is a Toronto-based writer, editor and stylist. Follow her at @trucnguyen.

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