How to Groom a Dog Step-by-Step Instructions to Keeping Your Pup Clean

How to Groom a Dog

Like people, dogs feel happiest and healthiest when bathed and clean. Follow these 5 steps to grooming your dog, and your pup's coat will be shiny and fluffy--and clean!

Is your dog looking shaggy and unkempt? Like you, your dog feels happiest – and healthiest – when clean, fresh smelling, and well maintained. While you can take your dog to an expert for grooming, learning how to do it yourself will be a big savings, and may even be more convenient, too. Follow these steps to keep your dog looking fresh and healthy.


Step 1: Get Your Supplies

This potentially wet situation will go smoother if you gather up supplies first. You'll likely need:

  • a dog brush or comb
  • shampoo
  • lots of clean towels
  • bath mat or non-stick mat for bottom of the tub
  • optional: a leash, pet nail clippers, Q-Tips, cotton balls, alcohol, blow dryer

Of course, if you're going to be bathing your dog, you'll also want to make sure you're wearing casual clothes that you don't mind getting wet or grubby.


Step 2:  Brush Through Fur

Combing your dog will help you to get rid of your pet's extra hair, leaving you less to wash, and will also remove any knots and matted fur. Brush in the direction the hair grows, and cover the dog's entire body. While bathtime can be uncomfortable for some dogs, many will enjoy being brushed. You can also use a fun bath toy such as Snowman Loofa to reduce stress while bathing.


Step 3: Get Your Dog Wet

Place your dog in a tub, and get started by thoroughly saturating your dog's fur. You can use a pitcher or plastic container to pour water over you dog, or try using a handheld showerhead to get your dog's coat thoroughly wet. Test the water before it hits your dog – warm water, which is neither too hot nor too cold is best.

Tip: A non-stick bath mat will help keep your dog from sliding around in the tub. If your pet is squirmy and doesn’t enjoy bath time, putting on a leash may help you keep your dog relatively still while being washed.


Step 4: Time for Shampoo

Once all of your dog's fur has been thoroughly moistened, shampoo them up. Make sure not to get shampoo in your dog's eyes, ears, or mouth, which can be irritating and painful. It's easiest if you apply shampoo and massage and rub it in a little at a time, working through each area of the dog's body. Make sure not to apply too much shampoo – you want lather, not overflowing bubbles. Work the shampoo through all of your dog's hair.

Once your dog is all lathered up, use warm water to rinse all the shampoo off. Make sure it's all removed.

Tip: If someone can help you with the bath, have your assistant hold onto the dog's head. Instinctively, your dog will want to shake his head, which can make you, and your surroundings, wet if you don't prevent it. If you’re without a helper, do your best to hang on to your dog’s head yourself.


Step 5: Dry & Brush

Now it's time to dry off your dog. Use towels and rub along your dog's fur. You can also lay a towel on the floor, and your dog will most likely helpfully rub his body against the towel.

You can also cautiously use a blow dryer to dry off fur, but be very careful, and only use the lowest setting of the blow dryer or the cool air function. It’s very easy to burn a dog if the blow dryer is on medium or high heat. Brush through your dog's fur again to help it dry and keep it tidy.


Step 6: Clip & Clean

As you’re finishing up with your dog’s beautification, now is a great time to clip your dog’s nails, clean their ears, and wipe off any tear stain marks or snotty nostrils. Ta-da! Your dog’s spa day is over, and they are clean, refreshed, and have sleek, shiny fur. Dogs can be brushed daily, and can have baths as often as twice or three times a month.


Puppy Grooming for Beginners

Different breeds and types of dogs have different grooming needs. Taking care of a puppy’s grooming not only makes them look pretty, it can also keep them in good health. A few areas of every dog that should be tended to, regardless of breed, are coat, claws, ears, and teeth.

Keeping your dog’s coat clean will help you to be aware of any sudden dullness, which could indicate a greater health issue. Keeping knotty fur and matts at bay will help keep puppies comfortable, and their skin free from irritation. Cleaning ears can help stave off bacterial infections. Regular brushing can keep a host of later-life issues at bay, like periodontal issues and even stomach problems. Cleaning a puppy’s teeth early on in a dog’s life will help them get used to the strange sensation.

Some grooming practices are more for humans than for the puppies themselves. Remember to groom for health first, and for style second.

How to Groom a Puppy's Coat


All dogs need brushing, some more than others. Long haired breeds should be brushed at least once a week if not more. Matts should be attended to, as they can be painful when they get tight and begin pulling on the dog’s skin. Regular brushing will prevent matts from forming. Medium and short haired dogs can be brushed less often, but as often as person and pet would like. Brushing is the easiest way to take care of your dog’s coat, and it’s a great way to bond with your dog in a low-key interaction.

There are all sorts of different brushes that suit different coats. Brands are usually marked with what type of coat they’re best for, to make it easy to decide which one is best for you.


We may be inclined to bathe more frequently those lucky puppies who are allowed on furniture. Although we all want pleasant smelling couches and beds, we should avoid bathing puppies more than once a month. Dogs at all life stages can become irritated and itchy if they’re bathed too often. It’s important to allow a puppy’s natural skin oils to be present, and not to constantly wash them away.

If spot-on flea treatments are being used, it’s important to remember to wait four to five days either before or after bathing to apply the treatment. This will allow a puppy’s natural body oils time to regenerate. The natural skin oils are what carry the pesticides into the puppy’s layer of subcutaneous fat, and they need time to rejuvenate after a bath in order for spot-on flea treatments to be effective.

A natural and gentle dog shampoo should be used. Overly harsh, scented, or chemical shampoos should be avoided. Human shampoo should never be used on your puppy since the pH balance is not right for a dog’s skin.

Bathing can be done in a tub, or outdoors with a hose. Water temperature should be about what you’d use to bathe a human baby, or a bit cooler. Most groomers recommend lathering at the neck, and working down toward the tail. Use a washcloth to clean the puppy’s face, and avoid getting soap or much water in the eyes or ears.

Cleaning a Puppy's Ears

Gently turn the flap of your puppy’s ears back to expose the ear canal, if necessary. Wipe ears with a damp towel. Don’t jam your finger into the ear canal, but do wipe in all the little nooks and crannies right at the opening of the ear. Jenna Stregowski, RVT says, “Signs of an ear infection can include odor from the ears, frequent shaking of the head, redness of skin inside ears, excessive scratching at ears, and excessive ear discharge or debris.” Look for these signs when you’re cleaning your dogs ears, and be sure the ears are dry when you’re done. Wet ears can end up causing these problems. Stregowski adds that, “Using an appropriate ear cleaner, you can release wax and debris from the canal and help dry the ear,” which will help prevent infections.

Ear cleaning can be done at bath time, around once a month.

Trimming a Puppy's Claws

For dogs who spend a lot of time walking outside, especially on paved surfaces, regular nail trimming may not be necessary. Some dogs will never need any of their nails clipped. Rule of thumb, no pun intended: claws should be about flush with the pads of your puppy’s feet. If they’re slightly longer, and no one seems bothered, you can probably skip clipping. If they’re longer than the pads, and your puppy seems find them to be getting in the way, it could be time for a trim.

Some puppies only require the dewclaw to be trimmed - that’s the claw on the higher up thumb-type extra toe. Some dogs have it, some dogs don’t. If the dewclaw becomes too long, it may get caught on things, and might need occasional trimming.

The single most common problem people have when trimming claws is that some tend to treat doggie claws they way they’d treat their own nails. Don’t make the same mistake! Dogs have a “quick,” a blood vessel that runs down into the nail. You want to trim only the portion beyond the quick, otherwise you’ll hurt your dog. Cut small slices from the tip of the nail only, at a forty-five degree angle, avoiding the quick.

Brushing a Puppy's Teeth

Brushing your dog’s teeth can be about as fun as taking your dog’s temperature. They avoid, you chase, rinse and repeat. Dental care is one of the most important aspects of canine health, and also one of the most forgotten. It’s unpopular, probably because it’s even less convenient or enjoyable than baths, for pets and their pet parents alike. However, starting with tooth brushing early will get both you and your pet used to the chore. Finger toothbrushes make the task more manageable.

Removing plaque from a puppy’s teeth through regular brushing will save both time, pain, and money later on down the line. Brushing a few times a month should be often enough in most cases, especially if your puppy likes to chew on raw bones or rawhide. Some hard treats and toys are also designed to help remove plaque, unbeknownst to puppy, while they chew.

5 Winter Tips for a Well Groomed Dog

Cold weather increases the fur quotient in most dog homes. While extra coat helps keep your dog warm and protected, fur also acts like a dust mop that traps and carries debris and smells into your home.

A grimy dog’s paws track dirt into your house, stain carpets and smudge your pillows. Doggy odor from dirty fur or pungent breath makes snuggling with them unpleasant. The smell gets into everything, from their bedding to your carpet. Besides being unsanitary and obnoxious, poor grooming impacts your dog’s health.

Healthy fur protects dogs from bad weather, but dogs can’t comb and brush themselves to stay well groomed. Eyes, ears, teeth and toenails also need attention. These 5 tips offer you a can-do plan for your well-groomed dog.

Set up a schedule

Dogs thrive on routine. Find a time that’s convenient for you and put it on the calendar. It’s much easier and takes less time to maintain good grooming than to perform “damage control” for mats, grungy hair or torn nails. Hang an old towel near the door for paw-wiping and drying wet fur each time they come inside, and schedule brush sessions in front of the TV after dinner, for example.

Give the sniff test

Wet fur has a distinctive odor but a bad smell from your dog’s ears or mouth could point to ear infection or tooth problems. If they smell with dry fur, your dog may have an issue with anal glands. Ear, teeth and anal glands (under his tail) generally need veterinary attention.

Petting for Health

Fur can hide a host of problems. Generally your veterinarian only sees your dog at their scheduled checkups or if they have an obvious problem, but you live with them all year long. Petting feels great to your dog and doubles as a home health checkup. Every time you pet them, let your fingers find fur mats, lumps and bumps, or make note if they flinch so you can tell your vet about a sore joint, for example. Don’t forget to check for overgrown claws on those fuzzy feet and keep nails trimmed so they don’t split.

Comb & Brush

Choose a comb or brush that best suits your dog’s coat type. Smooth fur may do well with a bristle brush or just a chamois cloth can work to polish short hair. A comb that reaches through thick fur works well for luxurious double coats. Remember that you don’t have to comb and brush the entire dog all at once, and you can divide up the job over a week if your dog won’t sit still for the whole process. Pay special attention to mat-prone areas behind the ears, in the “arm pits” and under the tail.

Dunk Your Dog

Small dogs can be bathed in the sink, but larger pets require the tub. Wear old clothes because you will also get wet. A shampoo designed for your dog's or puppy’s sensitive skin is best—human shampoos can cause allergic reactions when they dry the skin. After you’ve soaped and rinsed your dog, rinse them again. And then twice more to be sure all the soap is gone. A conditioner helps reduce the drying properties of baths. Finally, be sure you keep your dog warm until they're completely dry. Dogs may get grubby in the winter and need a bath, but they also are prone to chills and must be protected from drafts.

Amy Shojai is a certified animal behavior consultant, consultant to the pet care industry and the award winning author of 23 pet care books.

More on Keeping Pets Clean and Happy

Homemade Shampoos for Dogs
Cleaning Your Dog's Teeth
Bathing a Pug's Wrinkles

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian or other qualified professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard or delay seeking professional advice due to what you may have read on our website.

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