If you own a Maltese, poodle or other hairy breed, you probably already understand the importance of regular grooming.
But for those of us with short-haired dogs like Labs, pits, and Rottweilers, grooming is an oft-neglected consideration.
If you’re a member of the former, just skip down to the list of tools; I’m going to talk to the members of the latter group for a minute.
Listen up, owners of low-maintenance breeds: I get it – I barely groom myself (I haven’t had a hair brush in a decade, but that’s a different matter).
Who wants to spend time grooming their dog? Grooming your dog kind of seems like vanity run amok. There’s nothing wrong with primping your dog, but it’s hardly necessary. Right?
Well, it turns out that grooming is actually an important part of compassionate canine care. And while some aspects of grooming probably fall into the “discretionary” category, many others are clearly mandatory.
That’s why today we’re helping you learn about the grooming needs of your dogs, the reasons some of these practices are important, and the tools you’ll need to accomplish them.
Your dog will feel better and remain healthier, and I bet you’ll enjoy the end result more than you think!
This guide is pretty big, so feel free to jump ahead to read specific section.
- Grooming 101: The Furry Basics
- The Importance of Regular Grooming
- Dog Combs & Brushes
- Dog Shampoo & Conditioner
- Dog Nail Clippers
- Dog Dryers
- Dog Hair Clippers
- Other Grooming Supplies
Some dogs require only minimal grooming, while others require the whole nine yards.
All dogs require:
- Regular Nail Trimming. Long tails are annoying, painful, and downright dangerous for your dog (imagine getting your own 2 inch finger nail snagged on a rug). Proper nail trimming is essential for all breeds!
- Baths. Not all dogs love baths, but they all do need a good cleaning from time to time. While regular bathing is important, you also don’t want to overdo it, as too much washing can be bad for your dog’s coat and skin.
- Brushing & Combing. Most dogs love having their hair brushed, whether they need it or not, but frequent brushing and hair trimming are essential for some breeds and individual canines.
Different Needs For Different Breeds
The most important aspect of dog grooming? Know your breed!
Long-haired and double coat breeds will need much more fur combing and coat care than short-haired breeds, while dogs with furry, floppy ears will need more consistent ear cleanings. Research the needs and norms of your dog’s breed before getting started.
Most grooming practices are safe and benign, but not all practices are always appropriate for all dogs. You may want to consider giving your veterinarian a quick rundown of your plans before proceeding. Your veterinarian may, for example, recommend avoiding baths following surgery or in the case of illness.
This is not to suggest that you must stick to the norms for your breed. You aren’t required to crop your dog’s ears and tail if you have a Dobby, and in a similar vein, your Cocker Spaniel doesn’t need a long skirt. While many owners enjoy following breed standards, its certainly not required.
You should feel free to groom creatively, as long as your pup’s health and well-being are not compromised. Always err on the side of caution and keep your pup’s health and safety at the forefront of your mind.
There are a variety of ways that regular grooming will improve your dog’s life, and it will also help to improve your life too. Some of the most important benefits include:
- Get Dirt Off Your Dog. Baths help remove dirt, dust, bacteria, fungi and viruses your dog collects on his fur, which will help you and your pup avoid illness. Regular doggie baths also help remove dead skin cells and shed hairs from your pet’s coat.
- Healthier Coat. Baths also make your dog’s coat smell better, as well as feel soft and appear glossy.
- Prevent Mats. Brushing your dog’s hair on a consistent (even daily) basis can help eliminate small tangles before they turn into a big, matted mess.
- Relax Your Pooch. Most dogs love having their coat brushed – many even fall asleep during the process, as long as you’re being gentle.
- Stop Excessive Shedding. Brushing your dog’s hair removes shed hairs proactively, which will cut down on the amount of hair your dog sheds all over your house!
- Alleviate Allergies. Regular brushing also makes life easier for allergy sufferers. Reducing the amount of shed hair and dander in your home can help reduce the number of allergens present, as can bathing your dog regularly.
- Improve Joint Health. Proper nail trimming will not only help extend the life of your floors and furniture, it will help your pup avoid canine-arthritis and other joint-related maladies.
- Bond With Your Buddy. An under-appreciated benefit of regular grooming is that it provides a bonding opportunity for you and your pet. While some dogs don’t like all aspects of the process (which is part of the reason it pays to begin grooming while they are young), many learn to love the one-on-one time with mom or dad.
Best Dog Grooming Tools: The Essentials
Now that you understand the importance of grooming, you’ll need a few different tools and supplies to groom your dog properly.
Keep your pet’s specific needs in mind while shopping. While you probably needn’t purchase professional-caliber products to trim your Yorkie’s nails, your Great Dane’s claws demand high-quality equipment.
Similarly, you don’t need a professional set of clippers to trim your short-haired Chihuahua, but it makes sense to invest in a quality set of clippers for your long-haired collie.
Owners with multi-dog families will also be more likely to require professional grade equipment since they’ll be doing more grooming sessions across several canines!
Combs and brushes are the hammer and screwdriver of your grooming tool kit. Both will get plenty of use as you try to keep your pup clean, mat-free and looking his best. Be sure to use the best comb or brush for the task at hand.
Slicker brushes rely on fine, short and clustered wires to remove small matts and dead hair from your dog’s coat. Slicker brushes are best suited for dogs with long hair or thick undercoats, like golden retrievers, cocker spaniels and poodles.
De-matting combs are unusual-looking tools, that feature a dozen or so sharpened metal teeth, designed to slice through tangles as you pull the comb through the dog’s hair.
Because the blades are only sharp on one side, and they curve away from your dog’s skin, they won’t cause any pain or irritation. While slicker brushes may be able to take care of small mats, dematting combs are key for bigger knots, snarls, and heavy-duty mats.
Glove brushes are flexible cloth or synthetic gloves that are adorned with tiny rubber pegs on the palm and fingers. Gloves allow you to simply pet or stroke your pup to remove some of the dead hair clinging to his fur.
Because they literally turn your hand into a grooming device, grooming gloves can be good for introducing nervous dogs to grooming while providing your pup with a massage!
Rake combs are designed to remove matted portions of your dog’s undercoat (along with the dead skin cells there as well). You’ll need to match the teeth or pins of the rake to your dog’s hair length for best performance.
Be careful that you don’t irritate your dog’s skin by using a rake comb with teeth that are too long.
Some rake combs will cut out chunks of your dogs hair, in addition to removing dead fur – avoid cutting blades if you care about your dog’s hairdo getting destroyed.
Bristle brushes are for removing loose hairs and skin cells from short-haired dogs like greyhounds. Bristle brushes are also great for general grooming on all dogs, as they help distribute your dog’s natural oils to keep their coat shiny, soft, and healthy!
They are available in a wide variety of styles, with varying bristle lengths and spacing. As a rule of thumb, use longer bristles for dogs with longer hair, and vice versa.
Wire Pin Brushes
Although they are best suited for “finishing” work after any significant matts are removed, wire-pin brushes are good for working through the locks of dogs with curly or medium-length hair. They are also the brush-of-choice for dogs with curly hair.
Shedding blades consist of a large, flexible metal loop attached to a plastic handle. One side of the metal loop features a smooth edge, which can help squeegee water from your pup’s coat after a bath, and the other side features small teeth that help remove dead hair.
There are several shampoos on the market that are specifically formulated for canines.
They will help get the dirt and grime out of your dog’s coat as well as his skin, which will make him smell better and give him a shinier, softer coat. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s directions when shampooing your dog, especially as it relates to frequency of use.
Can I Use Human Shampoo On My Dog?
Many dog parents are curious whether or not they can use human shampoo on their four-footed child. This is actually a contentious issue among vets, groomers and owners. Some believe human based shampoos can cause dogs to suffer from skin problems, but others feel dog-specific shampoos are unnecessary.
It is a complicated issue, but the crux of the controversy involves pH – the relative acidity of the skin. Some argue that human shampoos, which are typically acidic, strip a protective layer called the acid mantle from your dog’s skin, leaving him disarmed in the face of bacteria and fungi.
However, some research suggests that dog skin exhibits wildly fluctuating pH levels, and may not have an acid mantle in the first place. Accordingly, the controversy continues. In the absence of clear evidence either way, it is prudent for dog owners to use shampoos formulated specifically for their pet, to avoid potential harm.
If you’re in a bind and need to use your own shampoo on your pooch, it won’t be the end of the world. We don’t recommend making a habit out of it though.
Because you’ll rarely need to shampoo your dog more than a dozen or two times each year, a single bottle of dog shampoo will last a long time, helping to spread out what is already a rather minor expense. If you must use a human shampoo for some reason, try to use one with a neutral pH (close to 7 on the pH scale).
Types of Dog Shampoo: From Dry to Smelly Fur
There is a wide variety of dog shampoos available for owners. Most healthy dogs don’t need to get too particular – any reputable shampoo designed for dogs will get your dog squeaky clean.
However, if your dog has addition medical or skin-related issues, you may need a medicated or specialty formula. A few specialty dog shampoo formulas include:
- Fur Whitening Shampoo. These shampoos are designed specifically for dogs with white colored fur. That snowy mantle can often get dingy and dirty from normal doggy wear and tear romping. Dog whitening shampoo can restore your dog’s majestic white mane to its former glory!
- Shampoo For Sensitive & Itchy Skin. Dogs with allergies (whether flea, seasonal, or food oriented) will often exhibit dry, itchy skin. Other dogs simple have sensitive skin that needs a bit more care. Regardless of why, shampoos designed for dry doggy skin can go a long way when it comes to relieving your pup’s discomfort. Look for shampoos with hydrocortisone and oat protein. Avoid fragrances and dyes.
- Shampoo For Dry Skin & Damaged Coat. Dogs may end up with dry skin and dull coats if they are experienced health issues, or simply from environmental factors such as weather. Dogs with dry skin and fur will benefit from shampoos and conditioners with extra moisturizer. Look for formulas with safflower oil, silk, as well as wheat and oat proteins.
- Stinky Smelling Coat. Some dogs just love to roll in smelly items found in the backyard, resulting in a stinky, unpleasant coat (at least in the opinion of humans). In this case, look for odor-reducing shampoos with vegetable protein extract, which can be helpful in eliminating those smells!
- Flea and Tick Shampoo. Flea and tick shampoo is designed to resolve skin issues that have resulted from flea or tick infestations on your pooch. Look for shampoos with lanolin.
Dog Conditioners: Keeping Fur Hydrated and Smooth
Conditioner – whether designed for human or dog use – is used to help repair some of the damage shampoo and brushing inflict on hair.
Dog conditioner helps replace the layer of oils lost in the washing process, thereby protecting the hair, ensuring it remains hydrated and making the fur feel smoother and softer.
Is conditioner an absolute necessity? Probably not. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t provide real value. If you wash your dog frequently, or your dog has very long hair that is prone to matting, conditioner will definitely help keep your dog looking and feeling his best.
If you are reluctant to extend bath time for your pup (let’s be honest, bath time can be a struggle), consider using a 2-in-1 shampoo-conditioner or a leave-in conditioner, designed to be applied after bath time is over.
Nail trimming is an incredibly important part of the grooming process; unfortunately, it can also be the most difficult.
Not only does the procedure require some degree of skill, some dogs despise nail-trimming time and will go to great lengths to avoid it.
Part of this anxiety can stem from the need to be restrained, and some dogs simply don’t like their paws to be touched. But it can also arise from a negative nail-trimming experience, which is why it is so important to learn the correct way to trim a dog’s nails.
Nevertheless, you must ensure that your dog’s claws remain well trimmed. Because dogs walk on their toes, rather than their feet, overgrown nails can force them to stand and bear weight in unusual ways. This results in discomfort, pain and, potentially, canine arthritis.
Types of Nail Trimming Tools
Accordingly, you must clip your dog’s nails yourself on a regular basis, or have the procedure performed by a vet or groomer.
Fortunately for do-it-yourself owners, several different nail-trimming tools are available on the market.
- Scissors are best used on relatively small dogs. You must keep scissor blades sharp to ensure a clean cut, but their ease of use and superior control make them a wonderful tool for trimming the nails of small, nervous dogs.
- Guillotine clippers are best used for trimming the nails of medium-sized dogs. Like their namesake, guillotine nail clippers require that the entire nail tip be inserted into the gap between the blades. One the nail is inside and aligned properly, you can squeeze the handles together and snip off the tip.
- You can use plier-style clippers on small dogs, but they are most useful for large dogs, with nails better described as talons. They usually feature by-pass metal blades, with a curve built into the cutting surface to accept the dog’s nail.
- Nail grinders are an interesting option for keeping your pup’s nails suitably short, particularly for owners of large dogs.
While some dogs are initially startled by the noise and vibration associated with the grinder, many learn to tolerate the use of a grinder more readily than the use of clippers. Learn the pros and cons of nail grinders vs trimmers, or discover our top picks for the best dog nail grinders.
- Styptic powder is a medication used to stop the bleeding that occurs following an accidental nip of the quick of a nail or an injury. The medication – which may also take the form of a medicated “pencil” – forces the blood vessels near the cut to constrict, which stops the bleeding.
After bathing your pet, you’ll need to dry him off to keep him from getting everything in your house wet.
Additionally, wet dogs have a seemingly supernatural ability to go find the dirtiest patch of floor they can, where they will then roll back and forth, soiling their freshly washed coat with dust and debris (much to the owner’s chagrin).
If you have a short-haired dog, you can just towel dry your pet without much fuss. Some dogs even like the skin-stimulating action of a soft, dog-friendly towel.
But towel drying a long-haired dog may take quite some time, and it is likely to lead to increased matting and tangles.
Fur Dryers: Best For Long and Thick-Haired Breeds
While towel-drying is an option, the tendency to cause tangles means that owners of thick, long-haired, and double coat breeds are best off using a hair or fur dryer.
If you bathe your dog frequently, it’s probably best to invest in a dryer designed specifically for dogs.
What makes a dog dryer different than a normal hair dryer? Dog dryers rely on high-speed air, rather than heat, to dry your pup.
Dog dryers are also designed to be very powerful, with the capability of drying a thick-coated dog without sucking away an entire afternoon. For more info, see our review of the best dog dryers!
Can I Use a Human Dryer On My Dog?
You can use a human hair dryer for your pet, but it’s not a great idea – it’s very easy to burn your dog’s skin using a human hair dryer.
Plus, human dryers take much longer to dry a dog’s fur than a dog dryer does.
If you do opt for a human dryer, use the lowest heat seating possible (or, ideally, no heat at all) and be sure to keep the dryer moving to avoid creating hot spots on your pup’s skin.
If you have the time and desire, you can opt to trim your dog’s hair yourself.
Hair trimmers are the right tool for the task, and they make the job relatively easy.
While you’ll have to practice and learn the finer points of dog hair trimming (and a few breeds are too challenging for beginners), there’s no reason you can’t trim most dogs at home.
While you can use human hair trimmers, clippers designed specifically for use with dogs perform better.
Dog hair is typically much denser than even the thickest human hair, and long-haired or large dogs can dull a pair of clippers remarkably quickly. Because dull blades tend to pull and rip hair, rather than cut it cleanly, it is imperative that you keep the blades sharp.
Most quality dog fur clippers will come with a number of blade guards, which will allow you to trim your dog’s hair to a given length easily. It will also allow you to trim different portions of your dog’s coat to different lengths.
We recommend the Wahl Dog Hair Clipper Kit with various comb accessories, self-sharpening blades, and handy how-to guides!
In addition to the tools required to keep your dog clean and well-trimmed, there are a few other items that can help make the entire process easier.
These tools and items aren’t necessities, but they are well-worth the investment for professional groomers or those with high-maintenance breeds that require frequent grooming.
Grooming Table & Restraints
A dog grooming table serves as a platform to accommodate your dog throughout the grooming process.
They make the entire task of grooming your furry beast much easier, as you can place your dog up at a comfortable working height, rather than having to hold the dog on your lap. This will make it easier to see, brush and trim your dog’s hair, and it will make nail-trimming time easier too.
In addition to the table, you’ll also want grooming supports or restraints help to keep your dog in place while he’s on the grooming table.
Restraints will help keep docile dogs steady, which will make grooming easier, and they’ll keep nervous dogs from biting the hand that trims them, which obviously makes the whole process better for everyone involved!
Remember, grooming isn’t only a need of fancy, high-maintenance breeds – even your lab, pit or mixed breed pooch needs to be groomed to stay healthy and looking great.
Grooming requires some tools and a not-insignificant amount of effort, but your pup will smell better, feel better and stay healthier for your efforts!
What did you think of our list of the best grooming tools? Did we forget something you’ve always used? Did we miss something new and innovative? Let us know your thoughts and reactions in the comments below.