dog getting a bath

The Most Important Do’s and Don’ts When Grooming Your Dog at Home

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Countless dogs have been injured, killed, or allowed to escape while being groomed at big-box pet store chains PetSmart and Petco. Animals are handled hurriedly and often carelessly—these businesses’ priority is profit. So, what’s a responsible guardian to do? While choosing a local, reputable groomer is an option, consider grooming Bella at home, where she feels safe and comfy.

dog getting a bath

Before giving it a go, make sure you’re aware of important best practices for at-home grooming and that your vet has given your dog a clean bill of health. Follow these do’s and don’ts to ensure your canine friend’s well-being during pampering.


1. Groom regularly. ✅

Do you have long hair? Imagine if you put off washing and combing it for weeks or even months—yikes! Some dogs can develop painful mats and skin problems, which you may not notice right away. Certain breeds—including shih tzus and Pomeranians—should be brushed often. Dogs’ nails should be trimmed regularly, too. Overgrown nails can pose a risk to dogs’ well-being, and trimming nails that have grown out can be unnecessarily stressful and uncomfortable for your dog. When dogs are uncomfortable, they’re much less likely to cooperate.

2. Be patient. ✅

Dogs can sense your stress, so make sure that you’re calm and relaxed, too, and you’ve set aside plenty of time for the grooming session. Go slowly and pay close attention to what you’re doing and your dog’s reaction. Watch for signs of stress, such as trembling, whining, or panting that’s not heat-related, and take a break if needed. Be extra cautious when using scissors and nail clippers. If your dog tends to panic and won’t stand still, try grooming more often, like once a week, and just do a little bit at a time. When clipping your dog’s nails, just do a few at a time if needed. And be sure to give lots of praise, petting, and treats. Make it a positive experience. With kindness and patience, your dog will eventually get accustomed to the process and feel more comfortable.

3. Choose a safe, well-lit place for grooming. ✅

You need to be able to see what you’re doing, and you also want a safe, nonslip surface so that Fido and Bella don’t slip and fall. Don’t tether your dogs during grooming—that can lead to terrible accidents. Of course, if they love being brushed, brush them anywhere and as often as possible—this can be a great bonding experience. You can even use brushing as a reward after a grooming procedure that they’re not so fond of.

4. Use appropriate dog-grooming equipment. ✅

Speaking of brushing, are you using the right brush? Depending on your dog’s fur and skin type, a special brush might be necessary. Research online, or ask your veterinarian what kind of brush is most appropriate for your dog’s coat. Similarly, make sure the nail clippers, scissors, trimmer, etc. are all high-quality and appropriate to your dog. If you’re unsure, don’t hesitate to ask your veterinarian for suggestions.

5. Be mindful that long-haired or double-coated breeds require extensive maintenance. ✅

“Long hair don’t care” does not work for dogs. Without regular brushing, these dogs can quickly develop mats on various parts of their bodies, such as behind the ears, behind the front legs, and in front of the hind legs. Routinely check your dog’s coat. Dogs with long fur on their paws could benefit from having that clipped before the nail trimming.

6. Know your limits. ✅

Despite your good intentions and best efforts, your dog might still refuse to remain calm and stand still during grooming. If this happens, consider asking a reliable friend to help you during grooming, or talk to your veterinarian about natural calming supplements. For nail trimming, you can always ask your veterinarian for help if you’re unable to do it safely at home.


1. Don’t rush. ❌

Would you appreciate it if your hair stylist or nail technician were in a rush? No. And Bella wouldn’t, either. Hasty grooming can cause stress and even result in life-threatening mistakes—just ask PetSmart.

2. Don’t restrain Fido by gripping his fur. ❌

This, like tethering, should never be used during grooming.

3. Don’t use scented shampoo. ❌

Perfumed bath products can irritate dogs’ sensitive skin and noses. Choose an unscented shampoo, like this one from 4-Legger.

4. Don’t bathe your dog too often. ❌

Give Bella a bath only when necessary, such as when she’s gotten dirty or smelly by rolling in something—washing dogs’ coats strips them of their natural oils and can cause skin and temperature-regulating issues. Make sure bath time takes place in a warm setting, as bathing in cold weather can cause a dog’s body temperature to drop. Always towel-dry your dog—a blow dryer can be terrifying to dogs and also cause them to overheat.

5. Don’t overwhelm your dog by trying to do too much at once. ❌

If your dog grooming to-do list includes a bath, fur trimming, nail trimming, toothbrushing, and more, don’t make the mistake of trying to squeeze this all into one session. Instead, divide grooming tasks up into more frequent, shorter sessions. And end each one on a high note—don’t wait until your dog is becoming stressed or restless. You want Fido to walk away thinking, “That was fun!”

6. Don’t cut nails too short. ❌

Trimming nails too short is painful and can agitate even the calmest pup. Dogs’ nails contain a blood vessel called the “quick.” Cutting into the quick can result in a great deal of bleeding and pain. If you’re not sure where the quick is, just cut off the tips of the nails, and do it more frequently. If your dog’s toenails get “hooks” on them, just trim them off. Never try to trim nails while Bella is jumpy—wait until she settles down. If your dog finds nail trimming particularly stressful, try trimming just one nail at a time. If you’re new to trimming your dog’s nails, ask your veterinarian to demonstrate the procedure before you attempt it yourself.

7. Don’t use nail clippers with a guard. ❌

Some canine nail clippers come with a guard designed to prevent over-trimming, but the downside to them is that they will block your view. Use your finger as a guard instead, or clip Fido’s nails with his paws resting on a hard surface, such as the floor or a table. This will act as a guard. Make sure you purchase quality clippers, like these from Millers Forge.

8. Don’t forget to clean your dog’s ears. ❌

Don’t use Q-tips unless your veterinarian recommends it. Instead, use an ear cleaner to clean your dog’s ears periodically if they need it—this will help to prevent painful ear infections. Try this ear cleaner from Halo, or ask your veterinarian for a recommendation. Just remember not to let your dog’s ears get wet during bathing. Water and shampoo in the ears can cause painful and dangerous infections.

9. Don’t neglect your grooming tools. ❌

Toenail clipper blades should also be sharpened regularly and replaced at least every few years. Dirty or dull blades won’t cut well and can pull and tug at your dog’s nails.

10. Don’t give up. ❌

It might take a while for you and your dog to get comfortable with home grooming, and that’s OK. But, if you feel a professional groomer is what your furry friend needs, choose a local groomer who comes highly recommended, preferably a mobile grooming service that can groom your dog at home if available. Research your options online—read through ratings and reviews. If you’re unsure, ask your veterinarian for a reference. And make sure the groomer you choose will allow you to stay with your animal companion throughout the grooming process.


Remember, you are your dog’s biggest advocate and protector. By becoming a knowledgeable, confident groomer, you’ll avoid the heartbreaking injuries and fatalities that seem to be common at places like PetSmart and Petco. Help us spread the word:

Have you had a nightmare experience with grooming services at PetSmart or Petco? Use #PetSmartGroomingNightmares or #PetcoGroomingNightmares to share your animal companion’s story on Facebook—urge your family, friends, and followers to stay away from these big-box pet store chains.

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