Photo: Alla Pogrebnaya (Shutterstock)
When your dog gets a little stinky, shaggy, or long in the nail, you know it’s time to groom them...but it can be hard to find the money or time to bring them to a professional. The semi-good news: Unless the fur situation is wildly out of control, you can do some maintenance grooming all by yourself. The semi-bad news: It’s not highly recommended. Here’s what to consider to make your decision go as well as possible.
Assess your dog’s specific needs
Don’t try to tackle everything at once, especially if some needs are significantly more pressing than others (for example, if your pet’s fur isn’t super matted but their nails are long, just reach for the nail clippers, not the fur clippers). Doing too much at once is bound to stress your pet out, so let’s minimize the time spent doing that.
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“A grooming session with your pet should always start with a thorough review of your pet’s overall health and current skin/coat condition,” said Michelle Wildman, director of differentiated experience at Pet Supplies Plus . “Next, the actual ‘grooming’ process should start with a safe nail clipping and ear cleaning. Every groom should include a thorough bath and brush with quality shampoo that is made for your pet’s skin type and one that helps improve the condition of their skin and coat.”
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If you look your dog over and see that they need a full haircut, but you’re not ready to do that on your own, make sure you communicate with your groomer about what you want the final style to look like—and whether it’s possible with your pet’s current coat condition. Whether you’re doing this on your own or calling in a professional, be realistic: Your pet may never look dog show-ready. Don’t stress them out by striving for something unattainable.
“Sometimes if the coat is too matted, it would be painful to have the pet endure a full comb out, so a close shave is better for the pet despite the ‘look’ afterwards,” said Wildman.
Be patient with your pup
“A lot of people think dog grooming is easy, until they try it at home for themselves. Dog grooming takes a lot of hard work and dedication. People think us groomers just play with puppies all day but there is a lot more to it than it seems,” said Ashley Sacco, a groomer in St. Louis. This won’t be fast, it will take practice, and you and your fur baby will both learn as you go.
“Challenges owners might run into if grooming at home could be anything from an ugly at-home haircut or skin problems from not properly prepping the dog for grooming. I’ve seen some bad cases of at-home grooming where people have cut the dogs with scissors and had to rush the dog to the vet. Using sharp objects on moving targets can be very dangerous if you don’t know what you are doing. Dogs are unpredictable; you never know what can happen working with live animals,” Sacco said.
Wildman said the same thing: “Grooming pets at home can be very dangerous as pets are very unpredictable. They can move without warning which could result in an accident with the scissors or shears.”
Don’t make fast movements, get frustrated if your dog is getting distracted or nervous, or keep going if, at any time, it feels like you’re losing control of the situation. Saving money and time by knocking out a big task at home is great, but not if it puts your pet’s safety in jeopardy.
Maintain your pet’s fur between grooming sessions
Even if your dog hates bath time, it’s important to keep them clean. This is especially true before you groom them. Sacco says she washes each dog twice and makes sure they’re fully dried before trying to cut their fur.
Cleanliness and maintenance are important even when you’re not preparing for a big grooming session.
Sacco said, “Get the dogs in when they are young so they realize grooming is a way of life and not something they are scared of. I recommend frequent visits to the groomer for puppies so they learn to trust the groomers. A dog that only comes to the groomer twice a year for a matted shave-down thinks we are trying to hurt them when in reality we are just trying to help. Dogs that come frequently to the groomers end up loving it and wagging their tails the whole groom.”
That’s true for at-home grooming, too. Don’t wait so long to take care of matted fur or long nails that the process is infrequent and scary for your pet. Tackling these issues often prevents them from getting bad and prevents the experience from being scary for your dog.
“At home, owners should brush their pet’s coat daily with the right tool for their fur. They can also brush their teeth, and keep their nails clipped. When bathing at home, ensure you have the right shampoo for your pet and the right combs, brushes, and other tools needed for a complete groom,” said Wildman, who, we should note, recommends leaving haircuts to the professionals altogether. Sacco does, too, and pointed out that professional groomers take continuing education classes and stay on top of their craft.
But if you insist…
Make sure you have the right tools for the job
Make an investment in the tools you’re using for this. Sacco says that any successful groomer has high-quality shampoo and products, including professional equipment like a table, dryers, clippers, scissors, combs, and brushes.
Here is a pet dryer attachment on Amazon that has three benefits: It’s relatively inexpensive, prevents you from putting direct heat too close to an animal who can’t tell you when they’re in pain, and it’s hilarious-looking, kind of like a spacesuit.
Here is a mat that holds peanut butter and can be suctioned to your bathtub to distract your dog during cleaning and grooming sessions.
Check out this thing you can dip your pet’s paw in to clean it quickly and easily. Instead of shears, which we’ve established are dangerous, try this highly-rated buzzer. You can also get suspended harnesses that keep your dog still, as well as muzzles, but think hard about whether you want your pet to associate you with those, which can be scary and restrictive.
There are a ton of specialty products for dog-grooming, some more niche than others. It might be expensive to amass an arsenal of tools, but you’ll save money in the long run—and not endanger your dog, which is key.
Sacco even has a phrase that sums this idea up: “Humanity before vanity.” Remember to be careful and patient. A bad haircut is temporary, but a bad experience can stick with your dog forever.
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