Tag Archives: dog grooming

Dog home grooming – what dogs need when

Dog owners willingly shoulder the responsibility of caring for their canines. We all provide food, shelter, walks, training, etc. But the dog home grooming routine varies widely. And should, because the grooming needs of dogs depends on the breed of dog, type of coat, and individual needs of the animal.

Regular bathing

Most dogs, depending on their activity level and how much dirt they roll in, only need occasional baths. The timing varies from a couple of weeks for oily-coated dogs, to a couple of months for short-coated dogs. 

Picture of dog home grooming with a Boston Terrier in the bathtub with soap on her head

The exception to the rule is dogs with skin conditions. We’ve dealt with various ones over the years. The most severe was Ceilidh, our tiny, ill-bred Boston Terrier girl whose system seemed to attack her skin and fur. Ceilidh got medicated baths every week, which kept her skin clear and her fur, minimal though it was, at its best. 

The positives about having to give a dog a weekly bath are that you become expert at it (Fran is the dog bathing guru of the family), and the dog is so accustomed to it that it’s not a big deal. Since the medicated shampoo had to stay on for a while, we learned that it’s smart to reserve a favorite toy for bath time. If your dog only sees this special toy for her bath, it’s a treat, not a trauma.

Doggy facial

All of our dogs through the decades have been flat-faced breeds. Along with that comes a special obligation to keep face-folds clean and dry. We’re not sure if all breeds of dogs require regular face-washing, but it comes with the territory around here. 

Only one of our dogs ever figured out how to use a “napkin” after eating. We used to hand a dish towel over the oven handle and this guy would go over and wipe his face after every meal. We wish all of them would, but we do it manually now. Our guys are messy eaters. And at least two of them munch on mud outside, so faces get wiped, if not washed, regularly.

Tooth brushing

Along with having flat-faced dogs comes fear of anesthesia. While all of our dogs are good breathers and have no particular issues, having to get them “put under” to get their teeth cleaned is scary. 

Veterinary recommendations suggest dogs’ teeth should be brushed as often as people’s. But not even we can keep up a 2X/day schedule. Our dogs get chew toys every day. Regular tooth brushing, with our own formula toothpaste, is once per week. It seems to be working. All of our dogs, from the 3-year-old to the 12-year-old, get good reports at the vet, without ever having a professional cleaning.


Long-coated dogs need daily brushing. And our groomer friends tell us that the biggest problem they see is incomplete brushing. Apparently you have to get all the way down to the dog’s skin to do a good job. If you’re not sure what kind of brush to use for your dog’s particular fur, ask your groomer. They should be happy to recommend the tools that will make their job easier!

For our short-coated dogs (Boston Terriers, French Bulldogs) we use a rubber curry brush, three times a week. And it’s always a surprise to see who’s shedding and how much. You would think that shedding would be seasonal, but it varies widely. One day we get enough fur to joke about making a puppy. The next time there’s barely anything. 


Most of the advice we see from professional dog people says dogs need their nails trimmed about every four to six weeks. We wish that were true for our bunch. They seem to grow like weeds, and we wind up doing nail-grinding almost every week. Our criteria is that dog nails shouldn’t curl, and you shouldn’t be able to hear them on hard floors. We know that’s a bit extreme for most people, but it works for us and our dogs.

Golly (Brussels Griffon) got a toenail torn off twice in her life. On a scale of dog emergencies, it’s a minor one. But it was also messy, painful for Golly, and took quite a while to heal.

Dog home grooming

Sunday morning is our regular time for dog home grooming – nails, teeth, face, ears, bathing if needed. Make it a habit to give your dog a once-over, at least once a week.

How to get consent in dog care

Quite a few years ago we were privileged to have a “behind the scenes” tour of the Lincoln Park Zoo’s Lion House. A dog friend of ours was a zookeeper and it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for animal lovers like us.

We were amazed to be within inches of gorgeous lions, tigers, and bobcats in their off-exhibit area where all of the animal husbandry behaviors were performed. Lately, we’ve seen more examples of animals, both large and small, wild and domestic, being trained to consent in their own care.

The example we’re most familiar with is dolphins. One of our favorite places on the planet is the Dolphin Research Center in Grassy Key, Florida. DRC is actively involved in the “research” part of its name, creatively studying dolphin cognition with training games. One of their most intriguing studies involved recognition of identical objects. We were thrilled to actually participate in one of the training games. Another amazing opportunity.

How does it apply to dogs?

Among the most important training games played at DRC are those practicing animal husbandry. If a pregnant dolphin doesn’t want to stay still for an ultrasound, she can just swim away. Dolphins not trained to let someone draw blood from tail flukes? It’s not going to happen. When an older dolphin needs a nebulizer to get his medication, he needs to understand that the weird object perched on his head is okay. e can just float there while it’s happening.

Recently there’s been growth in the “Fear Free” movement in veterinary care. We’ve seen expansion in the idea of getting dogs (and cats) to consent to treatment and grooming procedures. This can range from getting eyes, ears, and teeth examined, to vaccinations, and nail trimming.

Those of us with small dogs can “make” our dogs comply. But it’s certainly a goal to make it easier on everyone, both people and dogs. We know that the pandemic has made veterinary appointments difficult to come by. And it’s particularly hard on our pets when we can’t accompany them. But there are things you can do to help your dog.

Getting consent in dog care

Boston Terrier shows consent to dog care by calmly allowing nails to be trimmed

A terrific local trainer has the people in her classes bring shirts and socks to class for the dogs to wear. Aside from adorable, it’s a painless way to teach dogs to put their heads into something, and allow their paws to be touched. To a dog, there’s probably not a big difference between putting his head into a shirt, or a “cone of shame.” If your dog breaks a nail, as Golly did a couple of times, they’ll be more likely to leave the bandaging alone if they’re used to something being on their paws.

Similarly, we can all make a game out of touching the dog’s muzzle to look at their teeth. Or shining a flashlight into their ears. These are little things you can do to help your dog understand that nothing bad will happen with grooming or exams. 

Make it treat time

People are using “lick mats” spread with a soft treat like peanut butter to occupy their dogs during bathing. It’s a great idea – turning something that could be stressful into treat time. One trainer teaches her dog to put its chin on a Post-it Note. That won’t work in the tub, but she did use it on the back of a chair while she administered a vaccine.

Dogs are smart, adaptable beings. If they know what’s happening, chances are they’ll trust people that no harm will come. One of our most important lessons to our training students is “never lie to your dog.” Don’t try to trick them. Never fool them. Teach them to know what’s coming and, chances are, they’ll be fine with it.

Dog groomers work hard for the money

Until last year, we really took dog groomers for granted. Most of our dogs throughout the years have been smooth-coated, so we handled the baths, nail trims, etc. on our own. 

The only dogs we’ve had that needed a professional’s touch were Brussels Griffons. Rough-coated Griffs have terrier-type coats, fur that’s supposed to be “stripped” for show dogs, but most of us pet people just get them clipped.

Training for grooming

We’ve been lucky enough to get to know some groomers through the dog sports we play in. Even though Tango was people-reactive and a jerk when Fran got him, he was always good with his groomer, our friend Tammy. Who retired from grooming at the end of 2019. It wasn’t pandemic-related, but it did coincide.

Consequently, we didn’t have a groomer to call who knew Tango. 12 years ago, Fran (and Tammy) went to extraordinary lengths to train Tango to have “groomer manners.” Fran took Tango to the grooming shop for visits, just bringing him in and giving him treats for being calm. 

Then Tammy and the other people at the grooming shop just talked to him and gave him treats. And then Fran just brought him to stay in the grooming shop in a crate. It was many weeks before everyone felt ready for Tango to actually get a haircut.

We learned just this week that many groomers charge for training puppies and dogs to accept grooming. We think that’s a great idea. Haircuts and grooming have to be incredibly stressful and anxiety-inducing for dogs. Allowing the dog the time to become accustomed to the process and get to know the groomer is worth the extra effort.

Leave it to the pros

Grooming is a skill that we freely admit we don’t possess. We took over Tango’s haircuts over the last year. The results have been uneven at best. Some bits are too short, some left too long, overall it’s uneven. But he’s clean, and healthy.

Tango back in the day after seeing his wonderful dog groomer
Tango looked very spiffy after visiting his dog groomer!

We’ve seen some people complain about the prices groomers charge. After trying it ourselves, we completely understand why grooming a dog, even a little dog, costs more than getting a human haircut. Just trying to keep Tango still while we do a “sanitary trim” is educational. 

At 12 years old, we’re not sure Tango would appreciate getting to know a new groomer, so we’ll probably go the do-it-yourself route. It’s given us a deeper appreciation for the skill and professionalism of dog groomers. 

Consult with your groomer

It’s a good idea to enlist your groomer’s help and advice for taking care of your dog. Groomers are often the first ones to notice skin and health issues that may be overlooked in day-to-day interactions. And your groomer may have ideas to help your dog enjoy their “spa” visits more. There may be some training games you can play, like getting your dog to stand on a table, that will make everyone’s life easier.

How we trim dog nails

There are a lot of dog nails in our house. We trim dog nails regularly – we’ve had a log ot practice. Four dogs, each with 16 toenails, in addition to Torque’s two bonus nails – he has dew claws on his front feet.

Just to make our lives more difficult, two of the dogs grow their nails at a great rate – making weekly trims imperative. Fortunately, one of them is the best dog ever for doing nails. The other, not so much.

Scaredy cats

We freely admit that we’re scaredy cats. We cringe at the thought of the damage possible with the squeeze-type guillotine nail clippers. Simon, the angel-for-nails dog, would be fine. But Booker? He has a hard time holding still for a millisecond. 

Booker is a very special boy. Not in the best sense of the word. He tries very hard, but life is difficult. He’s a high-anxiety boy. Touching his paws isn’t a problem. But keeping hold of a paw, positioning a clipper, and making the cut wouldn’t be possible. And we want to avoid horror-movie scenes. Not to mention hurting our boy.

Using power tools

The tool we use to avoid a bloody mess is the rotary power tool. There are lots of manufacturers, ours is made by Dremel. We use a fine-grit (120) sanding drum on the dogs’ nails. 

You might wonder how Booker reacts to that. It took some training (both us and him), and it still takes some patience, but we know we can’t do any major damage and there’s rarely blood.

The handiest hint we can share is to get the “Flex Wand.” It makes the sanding drum remote from the motor – and its whine. It lets you hold the sander like a pen. Not to mention not having to hold a heavy tool while you’re trying to perform a delicate task. 

Getting accustomed

Training the dogs to ignore the sound of the motor didn’t take long – aside from Booker. We just turned it on (placed on a flat surface) across the room and gave them treats. If dogs get a treat every single time they hear a certain sound – they’ll quickly learn to like the sound. Even love it.

Trim dog nails with a rotary tool and sanding drum

Not that our dogs “love” getting their nails done, but they don’t really mind (aside from Booker.) They know they get a treat after each paw. And they know our grooming routine. When we take out the tote bag with the rotary tool, they line up for their turns, and their cookies. It may not be a favorite thing to do, but to trim dog nails isn’t traumatic, either.

Second stage

The other factor, aside from length of the nails, is how smooth they are. Our dogs all use their paws a lot, usually to get attention. And if the dog is pawing at you, you don’t want to get scratched by rough nails. So we use an emery board on all the nails to take off any rough edges the rotary tool may leave. It’s an extra step that not everyone uses, but it makes the dogs’ pawing just naughty instead of painful.

You can find many charts and diagrams online recommending the correct length and angle to trim dogs’ nails. If your dogs’ nails have gotten a bit lengthy, don’t try to take off all the excess at once. A little bit at a time and you’ll get there.

Walking on pavement

We also see advice to walk your dog on pavement to wear down the nails. It’s never worked for us, but we’re also not miles-at-a-time walkers. If you enjoy walking, it’s certainly a great excuse to get out and enjoy the time with your dog.