Do you take your dog to the groomers? If you do, did you know you could as good as or better than a professional groomer and at the same time save yourself money and create a bonding experience for you and your dog? That’s what I want to talk about in this post – how to groom your dog from home.
Before we start, I want to talk about breed specific grooming quick. There are so many breeds of dogs and it’s impossible for me to get into how to groom each specific breed to the standard of that breed. What I will say is there is a lot of breed specific grooming information online, if your dog is a type that needs a specific haircut or if you want to learn what people do for your specific breed of dog.
So, this post is about general grooming of dogs not one specific breed. I’m not a dog groomer. I did take some classes at one time when I was considering opening my own grooming shop but ultimately I decided against it.
My dogs are Chinese Cresteds – both hairless and powderpuff varieties. In this tutorial, I am grooming my powderpuff. She has what I call her winter coat at them moment – I shave her down to a pony cut in the spring and let it grow back out all summer and fall so she has hair again for winter. It’s not quite as long as a powderpuff’s’s full coat would be, but I’d say her hair is about 3″ long.
Okay, so if you have a specific breed of dog and you want your dog groomed like that breed is normally groomed, take a quick look online to see what you need to do. For example, poodles get a specific cut – but there are different varieties of poodle cuts and some people don’t do any special cut at all. The same goes for other breeds like Yorkies. If you want a haircut done on your dog, you can most likely learn how to do it online.
When I got my first hairless Chinese Crested, I wanted a groomer to cut his hair for the first time and then I planned on doing it myself when it needed done again. After taking him to one groomer that gave him a skin infection because they didn’t properly clean their clippers and then another who barely cut his hair at all, I decided to jump in and do it myself. His first hair cut was done with my husband’s cordless hair cutters and I just followed the diagram I found online. I was super nervous but it was so easy and I’ve groomed all my dogs ever since.
I have complete faith in you that if you put your mind to it, you can give your dog a haircut yourself. Just do a search online to learn how to do the cut for your specific breed and try it. The worst case is you mess up and have to wait for their hair to grow back.
Alternatively, you can take your dog to a groomer for the cut and just bathe him in between if you’re not comfortable cutting your dog’s hair. The choice is yours!
Gather Your Supplies
Before you start anything, you need to put everything together where you will be using it. This will make it less stressful for both you and your dog. Depending on your dog’s breed and coat type, you may not need this whole list, but this is what I use for Ivy, my powderpuff.
- Greyhound Comb – A metal comb with or without a handle; one end of the teeth are closer together and the other end the teeth are further apart. This type of comb is for longer hair breeds as it’s easier to get all the way down to their skin to get all the tangles and dead hair out.
- Pin Brush – This is just a regular brush, sometimes they have a bristle brush on the opposite side and sometimes they don’t. Make sure your brush has the little plastic balls on the ends of the bristles so you don’t scratch your dog’s skin.
- Clippers – You don’t have to use clippers, but they are really useful in cleaning up the hair around your dog’s paw pads and between their toes if they have medium to long hair along with doing breed specific hair cuts.
- 2 Dog Towels – Old towels I don’t care about. I like using 2, one for the initial drying and one to wrap my dog in and snuggle her post bath before combing and drying her.
- Dog Shampoo – Don’t use human shampoo, it’s too harsh for your dog’s skin and fur. I look for a good quality shampoo that’s gentle and doesn’t contain sodium lauryl sulfate. All natural ingredients are a plus. My absolute favorite dog shampoo is Tropiclean Spa Fresh Pet Shampoo, it smells like warm vanilla sugar and I’m obsessed.
- Doggie Face Wash – This one isn’t necessary but it’s awesome if your dog gets tear stains or gunky eyes. I use Tropiclean Spa Tear Stain Remover. It’s tear free and though the bottle says it’s blueberry scented, it smells just like the shampoo – warm vanilla sugar, soooo good! Only use face wash that’s formulated for dogs – never use human soap or face wash.
- Dog Conditioner – Necessary for dogs with long hair that tends to tangle and mat but not for short hair breeds. I use Tropiclean Spa Nourish Conditioner. As with the shampoo and face wash, make sure it’s made for dogs.
- Detangling Spray – Necessary for dogs with long hair but not for short hair – this will make brushing/combing out their hair post bath easier on you both. I have a bunch but the one I use the most is called The Stuff for Dogs.
- Blow Dryer – I only blow dry my powderpuff girl, especially in the winter when she has a full coat. It takes a long time for thick and long hair to air dry and you don’t want them going outside when they’re still wet. I just use my hair dryer for this part, I rarely use it for myself and it’s not super fancy but it works. You do want it to have an adjustable heat setting and adjustable power setting though.
- Training Treats – Whatever training treats or small treats you have available will work fine.
During the getting ready phase, I’ll usually turn on some music and sing along and just generally make it a happy occasion. Now I’ll put the grooming supplies where I plan on using them – towels, shampoo, and conditioner by the sink, before and after bath stuff in the living room.
After everything is ready to go, take your dog out for a potty break. This is especially important in the winter since you don’t want to have to take your dog outside before they dry and even if you plan on blow-drying your dog, you never dry them 100% with a blow-dryer.
Now you’re ready to get started!
Step 1: Brush or Comb Out Your Dog
This step is really important for long or thick hair breeds that tend to mat or get tangles. If you bathe your dog before removing the mats and tangles, they will get even tighter and will be harder or even impossible to get out without cutting them out.
Really take your time on this step. Make sure you get behind their ears, under where their collar sits, and in their arm pits. Those are the areas that more commonly get tangled. Remove as much dead fur as possible in this step, it will make the next steps easier.
If you dog has particularly tough tangles or mats, I have some tricks for you. First, to avoid causing your dog pain, hold the fur below the tangle – next to the dog’s skin – while you work. That will prevent you pulling on your dog’s skin which is painful. Next, start from the ends of the fur and work your way down towards the skin to break up the tangle.
If the tangle still isn’t budging, take a pair of scissors and carefully cut straight into the tangle. Make sure you keep one hand on the fur next to your dog’s skin so you don’t accidentally cut them. Try making 2 or 3 cuts and then try to comb it out again. This will help break up the tangle without having to cut the whole area off. If it is a particularly bad tangle, just repeat those steps until it is all out.
Remember, this is quality time for you and your dog. You don’t have to be all business while you are brushing them out. Pet them while you brush and talk to them. I talk to my dogs all the time and honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if they talked right back sometimes. Even if your dog doesn’t understand what you’re saying, they pick up on your mood and body language.
Step 2: Hair Cutting and Trimming
If you are doing any hair cutting on your dog, now is the time. If you’re not, just skip ahead.
For my powderpuff, I don’t do the traditional full muzzle and neck shave when she’s in a full coat. Her skin is so sensitive and she hates it so I take the easy way out and just trim by her eyes where she has problems with tear stains. Then I just blend that into the fur on her muzzle so it looks a little more even and natural.
I also trim the fur around the pads of her feet and in between her toes since she’s got really hairy feet. This step makes it more comfortable for your dog to walk on slick flooring since they’ll get a little traction with their paws rather than just sliding around on all that extra hair. In Ivy’s case, this step also makes life easier for me since there’s less fur on her paws to get caked in mud when she digs.
This step can be done with scissors or clippers, I’ve used both but I prefer clippers since it goes faster and looks more even. Whatever you choose, just be super careful since your dog could move while you’re working so you always want to keep their safety in mind. Always cut away from your dog’s eyes so if they move while you are cutting, you don’t have to worry about poking them in the eye.
When you’re done, just quickly brush out the area you were trimming to remove any extra hair.
Step 3: Bathing
Now on to the main event!
Before turning on the water, check out your dogs ears. Are they large or floppy? If so, you may want to put a cotton ball in each ear to keep water from getting inside. If you do or don’t do this step, remember to avoid getting water in your dog’s ears as it can lead to ear infections.
Start by completely soaking your dog’s coat.
If you are using doggie face wash, we’re going to start with that. Squeeze a little out (you don’t need a lot) and rub your fingers together. Now gently work into a lather on your dog’s face, particularly under their eyes where they get tear stairs and that gunky eye residue.
Even if your doggie face wash is tear free, still try to avoid their eyes, nose, and mouth. I let the face wash sit on her face while I shampoo the rest of her body.
Now we move onto the body. Squeeze out some shampoo and rub your wet hands together. Starting with the top of your dog’s head at about ear height, massage the soap into their fur and work into a lather. Work slowly to make sure you are thoroughly soaping up your dog, moving down their neck to their chest, torso, and tail. Make sure you get their belly and private areas. Then go back and work down each leg, making sure to thoroughly wash their feet. Add more shampoo as needed.
After your dog is all lathered up, it’s time to rinse. Start with their head. If you used face wash, carefully rinse their face without getting water up their nose. Now, gently hold your dog’s head up so their nose is pointing into the air. Let the water run down the back of their head being careful not to directly get water inside their ears.
Next, move on to rinsing the rest of their body. I’ve found that holding the spray nozzle (or cup if you don’t have a sprayer) in one hand while rubbing with the other hand helps to make sure you’re getting all the soap off. After all the shampoo is rinsed off, rinse their whole body again. This helps you make sure there’s no shampoo residue left behind which can make your dog itch.
The next step is conditioning if you are going to use conditioner; if not just move onto the next step. Grab your conditioner and squeeze some out. Rub your hands together and working the same way you did with the shampoo, work the conditioner into your dog’s coat. After going over their whole body, the waiting time begins. This will vary depending on your specific conditioner but the bottle will tell you how long to wait.
While we wait for the conditioner to penetrate, I usually rub and pet my dog which helps make sure the conditioner is worked in well and also keeps her preoccupied since by now, she’s had enough with bath time. Giving some training treats here and there helps as well. When the time is up, rinse thoroughly just like you did with the shampoo. I only rinse really well once with the conditioner.
The last step in bathing is to towel dry your dog. Before you reach for those towels though, squeeze out the extra water from your dog’s coat. Be gentle! Make sure you don’t skip their legs and feet. By doing this step before towel drying, you will cut down drying time and how wet your towels get.
I also give my dog a minute or so to let her shake herself off as this also helps cut down the drying time and mess. I’d rather her shake off extra water while she’s still in the sink, then on the floor where I’ll have to clean it up. At this point, I’m more than likely pretty wet since my powderpuff isn’t a fan of the rinsing process and tries to escape the water. I do keep a towel handy though and hold it up when she shakes off to try to avoid being directly hit with her splashes.
After getting all the excess water off, use your first dog towel and dry off your dog. If you dog has long hair that tangles, try patting their fur dry rather than rubbing it to prevent getting tangles (or more tangles since getting a few seems to be unavoidable with some coats).
Using the second dog towel, I wrap my dog up and snuggle her like a baby. She does her E.T. impression and we hang out for 5 minutes or so. This helps her de-stress from the bath and it’s more bonding time for us. During this snuggle time, we’ll usually just relax on the couch.
After about 5 minutes or so of towel snuggling, I’ll unwrap her and let her go wild. I don’t know if all dogs do this or if my dogs all happen to be crazy, but after towel drying they get a case of the zoomies. By now, she’s running around the house and drying herself on the couch and rugs. I give her a few minutes to burn off some of the crazy before the next step.
Step 4: Combing and Detangling
Now we’re going to tackle the post bathing grooming. First up is detangling. For this step, I use the second dog towel we were using for post bath snuggle time and lay it on the floor. You could use a dry third dog towel, but my floors are hardwood and dry towels just slide on the floor. By using the damp towel, it has a little grip and stays in place a little better.
So the first step is to spray your dog with detangling spray. Hold the bottle about 8-12″ away from your dog to avoid getting too much spray in one spot. When you spray near their face, make sure you avoid their eyes, nose, and mouth. I like to shield my dog’s face with my hand to make sure over spray doesn’t hit her. I don’t directly spray her head at all, but I will spray a little on my hands and work it into the long hair on her ears.
Evenly coat your dog with the detangling spray, but don’t use too much. Using too much detangling spray will leave a gross, sticky residue and you will have to rewash your dog to remove it.
If your detangling spray has silicone in it like the one I usually use, make sure you have your dog over the towel and don’t get the spray on your floors. It will leave a slippery residue if you don’t put a towel down first.
Now that your dog has an even coat of detangling spray, use your fingers and work it into their coat. Be careful not to cause more tangles. After working the spray in with your fingers, it’s time to comb through your dog’s coat. Just like before the bath, go through and make sure you remove any tangles caused by the bath and towel drying. The detangling spray will help you work through their coat pretty quickly.
If it’s summer or if you don’t want to blow dry your dog, you can stop here. If it is winter and you live in an area that gets cold in the winter, I highly recommend you blow dry your dog at least a little to speed up the drying time.
Step 6: Blow Drying
Before turning your blow-dryer on your dog, check the settings. My blow-dryer has a cool, warm, and hot setting for the heat and then high, medium, and low for the power. For Ivy, I’ve found that using medium heat on high power works best. Never use the hot setting on your dog as it can burn them. I recommend starting out at the low power setting because it’s quieter and less air is blowing out and see how your dog reacts. If your dog is OK with that, you can bump up the power.
It’s important to keep the blow-dryer moving and never leave it in one spot. If you don’t keep your blow-dryer moving, it can burn your dog. I also test the heat out on myself. If I can’t stand to have the air blowing on my hand or arm, I know it’s too hot for my dog.
Ideally, you would blow dry your dog while brushing their fur with a brush. This rarely works for me because my powderpuff likes to roll around on the floor and my lap while I dry her. If your dog is like mine, what I do is use my free hand to finger comb through her fur. Then I periodically turn off the blow-dryer and brush her fur out and go back to the blow-dryer.
I just alternate blow-drying and brushing until her body is about 80% dry. Never try to fully blow dry your dog since it increases the chance that they can get burned plus it can dry out their hair. Ivy loves getting her body dried but isn’t a huge fan of getting her legs, chest, and head done. So what I do is after her body is about 80% dry, her legs and chest are at least 50% dry and I let her go.
After blow-drying, run a comb or brush through your dog’s fur again to smooth it out and get rid of any tangles caused by the drying.
Step 7: Other Miscellaneous Grooming
Your dog is now clean, but I want to go over some other grooming that you may want to do before calling it quits.
Take a look inside your dog’s ears. Do they look clean or dirty? Did you accidentally get water in their ears? This will sound gross, but smell your dog’s ears. Do they have a funky smell? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you should probably clean your dog’s ears.
For this step, you will need ear cleaning solution made for dogs. All you have to do is hold your dog’s head to one side and squirt a little ear cleaning solution into their ear. Rub the base of their ear to work the cleaner in there. Now let go of your dog’s head. They will probably shake their head and that’s OK. Now take a clean cotton ball and wipe any extra ear cleaning solution from their ear. Don’t stick the cotton ball into their ear canal and don’t use q-tips to do so either. If your dog’s ears were dirty, use the cotton ball to remove any dirt that was removed by the cleaning solution. Repeat if necessary.
After doing one side, move onto the other ear and just do the same thing.
I don’t do nail cutting on the same day as bath time. All of my dogs despise nail cutting time and I feel like it’s too much stress on all of us to do it at the same time. This may not be the case for you and your dog though so go ahead and cut those nails if they need it.
There are two types of nail cutters for dogs, one looks like a weird pair of scissors and the other is a guillotine style. I only use and recommend the scissor kind. This is because both sides of the scissor kind are sharp and when you squeeze it, it will cut both sides until the blades meet. The guillotine style just has one blade and puts more pressure on your dog’s nail when cutting it.
I also feel that it’s easier to position the scissor style correctly with small dogs.
Before starting the nail cutting, I always make sure I have some quick stop within reach. After cutting dog nails for years, I’m pretty good at it and rarely cut too close which causes bleeding; but there’s always a chance for accidents. If you don’t have any quick stop, flour will work but it’s messier and doesn’t stop the bleeding as fast.
Doggie Cologne or Body Spray
Some people like to spray their dogs with doggie cologne. If you would like to, now is the time since we’re all done with your dog’s grooming. This part isn’t necessary since most dog shampoos, conditioners, and detanglers have a scent so your dog probably already smells good.
Step 8: Take a Picture
You’re all done grooming your dog, take a few minutes and snap pictures! Congratulations, you just groomed your dog all by yourself at home. Great job!
I love taking pictures of my dogs after they’ve been freshly groomed since they look so fluffy and pretty and they never seem to stay that way for long.
If you have any questions about the grooming process feel free to post them below. If you have any breed specific grooming questions, post them as well and I’ll do my best to help you out with them. As I said above, I did take some training for dog groomers so I do know a little about other breeds.