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Dog Grooming Basics for New Dog Owners

Depending on how you approach it, grooming your dog can be a very enjoyable and worthwhile task. It’s a chance for you to spend some time together and foster the bond that you have with your furry companion. It also saves you money, as taking your dog to a professional groomer can cost quite a bit of cash after a while.

When you attempt your first grooming session with your new puppy or older rescue dog, your dog probably won't understand that it is ultimately for his benefit. He is, after all, a dog, and dogs don't come with the knowledge of combs, brushes, shampoo, and nail clippers!

You can, however, make your dog comfortable by minimising the scary and painful sides of grooming as much as possible by giving him rewards and praise for behaving in the right way. You go about this task by desensitising your dog to smaller grooming issues that won't bother him as much, following these simple tips.

6 Dog Groooming Tips

1) Choose a time when your dog is a little tired and maybe a little hungry. You want your dog to be willing to stand still for a while and to accept food from you when you want to initiate a grooming procedure, such as brushing or toenail trimming. However, you don't want your dog so tired that he's falling asleep.

2) Find a quiet place around your house where you can spend some time alone with your dog. 
The room in which you plan to groom your dog needs to be in an out-of-the-way area where neither you nor your dog is distracted.

3) Pet your dog gently all over his body
Observe his reactions as you touch his legs, the sides of his body, his face, his tail, and his rear end.

4) Give your dog small treats as you pet him. These morsels provide a distraction for your dog when you're touching him in areas he otherwise may find worrisome or uncomfortable.

If your dog shows signs of sensitivity or nervousness when you touch a particular area, don't push it. You may be tempted to insist on touching the spot your dog's reacting to harder, but don't. Lighten up on the pressure to find out whether the nervousness continues or abates. If it continues, move to another section of the body that he's more comfortable with you touching. As your dog relaxes, you can try to go back to the sensitive area with a gentler approach.

5) Keep the petting sessions short — maybe one to two minutes, tops. 

The length of these initial sessions isn't as important as the frequency. Intersperse them frequently throughout the day. Gradually increase the length of the petting sessions as your dog relaxes and begins to enjoy them. You can also move the petting sessions into your grooming area, if you haven't done so already.

6) Get your dog used to grooming objects; for example, run a brush or comb through his fur and against his skin. Start with a soft slicker brush, substituting it for your hand and repeating the petting routines described earlier in this list.

If your dog is fearful of grooming procedures, you need to make the petting and brushing sessions extremely short at first. Use treats to coax your dog's attention away from the slicker brush so that he focuses instead on the food you're giving him and the pleasant sensation.

Whatever you do, don't push the sessions any longer than your dog can stand. If your dog reacts adversely to them, start out by holding a treat and letting him nibble at it. While he's distracted, slowly and gently use the slicker brush, praise him when he's reacts positively, and then stop. Work up to longer brushing sessions slowly.

Dog Grooming - Essential Kit:

Good dog grooming equipment is necessary for doing the job right. You don't, however, need to buy the most expensive brands to keep your dog's coat in good condition

What will you need? This very much depends on your dog's breed and hair type. For example, an Alaskan Malamute is going to have different needs than a Staffy

Whatever the breed, this list of basic dog grooming supplies will give you a head start:

  • Comb. A medium-toothed comb is a good all-around comb, but get a fine-toothed comb if your dog has thin hair or a wide-toothed comb if her hair is thick. And get a flea comb for both removing fleas and tangles.
  • Brush. A slicker brush is a good all-purpose brush, but get a curry brush if your dog has short hair or a pin brush if your dog has a long single coat. 
  • pH-balanced shampoo and conditioner made for dogs. If you lack time or the weather is too cold to dry your dog, try a dry shampoo or a daily spritzer for a quick refresh without the hassle.
  • A coat gloss or detangler is optional but helps.
  • Keep plenty of old towels on hand for drying.
  • toothbrush and toothpaste made for dogs. For more advice, check our Puppy Dental Care Guide and Dental Care for Adult/Senior Dogs
  • Dog toenail clippers or Diggerdog Nail File
  • Electric clipper. If your dog has a coat that needs to be clipped, you should invest in a good electric clipper and blades. However some pets get scared of the whirring noise that traditional clippers make, and a dog moving around while you have a sharp object in your hand in close proximity to their body is not safe. You may be able to save your pet a lot of stress by simply switching to a silent pair of pet clippers for dogs.

Please note that it takes years for groomers to learn their trade and clipping is a professional skill that can't be learnt from watching a You Tube video. Your dog's tender tummy, ears, hind legs are all vulnerable to cuts and razor burns so if you don't feel comfortable with the process, don't try using these professional tools at home just to save a few dollars. Your dog will always benefit from the expert care he receives at his local grooming salon.

Bathing your Dog

Just like people, dogs need regular but not frequent bathing. Your dog’s breed and the environment in which he lives and plays will largely determine the frequency of bathing. But once a month is a good rule-of-thumb. Experts recommend that you do not bathe your dog more than once a week.
You can’t use your bath soap on your dog when you give it a bath; use a shampoo that is formulated specifically for dogs
If your dog has a strong aversion to traditional baths or a sensitive skin, a powder or waterless (dry) dog shampoo may be a smart investment.

Dry dog shampoos are powdered products that are designed to be rubbed into your pet's coat. A dry shampoo absorbs dirt, grease and other particles from the fur. They are easy to apply and remove. Simply rub the powder into your dog's coat, wait for a specified duration of time, and brush the dry shampoo out of his hair.

Brushing your Dog

Most dogs love a good brush. Brushing also helps to prevent skin irritation by removing dead hair from your dog’s coat before it mats. And it gives you control over where hair is shed – in the brush rather than all over the carpet and furniture! 

You can brush your dog as frequently as you feel is needed, but the longer your dog’s hair, the more frequently you’ll need to brush. Very long haired dogs may need it daily, while short haired dogs may need it only monthly.

Always brush outward from the skin – never toward the skin from the ends of the hair. And misting your dog’s coat with a grooming spray will help the brush glide smoothly through any mats and tangles.

Nail Trimming

Unless your dog is very active outdoors, his nails need to be trimmed on a regular basis – anywhere from once a week to once a month depending on the rate of growth. But nail trimming is an activity that is often feared by both dogs and owners. 

Here's a picture of a dog nail that doesn't really
need much of a trim. You can see the quick
inside the nail and the angle underneath.
The best way to calm your fears is to ask your vet or a professional groomer to train you in the proper techniques for nail trimming. 

The best way to calm your dog’s fears is to train it from a very young age to be comfortable with the process. And of course, never cut into the quick of your dog’s nails – that will give it good reason to fear the process.

Don’t use your own toenail clippers; use a clipper designed for the purpose. And if you’re just not comfortable with the process, there’s certainly no shame in having the job done by a qualified professional.

Scissors & Clippers

Many dog owners prefer to leave haircuts to professional groomers. It’s a job that really takes some know-how and experience to do properly – particularly for dogs with long, continuously growing hair like the Shih Tzu, Yorkshire Terrier or Afghan Hound.

Here are a few tips for doing the job properly:
  • Bathe your dog first using a good quality shampoo that suits your dog’s skin type
  • Towel dry and brush.
  • Use sharp scissors for around the face and feet.
  • Use electric clippers for doing the cutting on the bulk of the dog’s body.
  • Be sure to keep the blades sharp on both the scissors and the electric clippers. Dull blades are dangerous.
  • Choose a quiet, isolated place for trimming your dog’s hair. A startling noise or sudden visitor during the process may cause the dog to jump – dangerous for the both of you when snipping scissors are involved.

For general guidelines about when to trim and how much to trim, consult with your vet or a professional groomer. Much will depend upon the breed of your dog. Not all long-haired breeds, for example, will benefit from having their hair clipped short in the summertime.

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