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Dog grooming


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Related Terms
  • Bathing dogs, blow-dryer, brushing dogs, burns, clippers, combs, contact dermatitis, dermatophytes, dew claws, ear care, eye care, grooming dogs, hair care, haircuts, hot spot, matting, moistdermatitis, moisturizer, nail care, otitis externa, otitis media, quick, ringworm, scissors, shedding.
  • Note: Dental care is an important part of dog grooming and is covered in a separate monograph.

  • Dog grooming is the regular cleaning and maintenance of a dog's hair, nails, ears, eyes, and teeth for good health and an appealing appearance. Brushing, bathing, nail trimming, hair cutting, and ear cleaning are all parts of a grooming routine. More elaborate grooming techniques may be used on certain breeds, such as those with easily tangled hair or those that perform in dog shows.
  • The recommended frequency of grooming varies with breed, age, health, and other circumstances. During the summer, for example, long-haired dogs may shed more frequently and require more frequent brushing and hair trimming. Other dogs may spend most of their time outside and need frequent bathing. Dogs with floppy ears may develop ear infections if their ear flaps are not cleaned regularly.
  • Owners may groom their own dogs or hire a veterinarian or professional groomer.
  • Professional groomers may be required to obtain a groomer's license in the state in which they want to practice. Some states, such as New York and Massachusetts, have attempted to pass laws regulating pet groomers. A Massachusetts bill introduced to the state legislature in 2009 provides a definition of a pet groomer and creates a Board of Registration that regulates groomers.
  • The National Dog Groomers Association of America, Inc. (NDGAA) offers classes and certification in professional dog grooming.
  • According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for professional pet groomers is excellent, due to an increase in the pet population and demand for groomers' services, including grooming pets in their homes (mobile grooming). The U.S. Department of Labor states that the median wage for nonfarm animal caretakers, which includes pet groomers, was $9.40/hour in 2009.
  • About 45.6 million U.S. households own dogs, with 77.5 million total dogs owned in the United States, according to the American Pet Products AssociationT (APPA). In 2010, pet owners spent an estimated $3.45 million on pet services (such as boarding and grooming), which was up from $3.36 million in 2009. The APPA estimates that dog owners each spent an average of $66 a year on groomers and grooming aids in 2009-2010.
  • A trend among owners is to purchase more elaborate grooming equipment, aids, and services, according to the APPA. Some groomers may use an electric toothbrush to clean a dog's teeth, followed by a rinse with mouthwash. Also, owners may use disinfectant wipes on their dogs' paws instead of towels.
  • Another growing trend in the pet industry, according to the APPA, is the use of mobile and self-service grooming shops. Mobile grooming services are vans that travel to the owner's home for added convenience. Grooming may be performed in the van or inside the home. This may be a less challenging option for owners with dogs that do not travel well. At self-service grooming salons, owners have the tools they need for grooming but pay less than they would for a professional groomer.

Theory / Evidence
  • General: Regular dog grooming is part of a healthy dog's lifestyle, but it may be challenging for owners for several reasons. Dogs may struggle during grooming (possibly hurting themselves or their owners) or they may run away. Hiring a professional groomer or seeing a veterinarian may be costly.
  • Grooming for health: Regular grooming is part of keeping dogs healthy, according to the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA). Grooming encourages good hygiene, helps owners become familiar with their dogs' anatomy, and may help owners notice animal health problems more quickly.
  • Hair: Brushing helps maintain healthy skin and coat, according to the AAHA. It prevents the build up of odors, dead skin, hair, and oil. Brushing down to the skin stimulates blood circulation and prevents dandruff buildup, according to the American Kennel Club® (AKC).
  • Brushing provides an opportunity to check the dog's skin for cuts or bruises. Black specks may indicate the dog has fleas.
  • Shedding is the loss of dead or damaged hair due to a natural process. Some dogs (e.g., dogs with longer hair) may shed more frequently. Warmer temperatures may also encourage shedding. Shedding is normal for many healthy dogs, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). In some cases, excessive shedding may indicate a health problem and require consultation with a veterinarian.
  • Shedding dogs may require more frequent brushing to prevent hair buildup, which may cause matting and other hair problems. There are also vacuums specifically designed for vacuuming dog hair. If a thick-haired dog retains too much heat during the summer, an owner may shave the dog's coat, leaving about an inch of fur to protect from sun exposure, according to the AAHA.
  • Nails: Nails that are too long may put pressure on the feet and cause foot problems that may interfere with normal walking or standing. Long nails may break, exposing the blood vessels inside the nail. Long hair between the toes may cause pain when tangled, according to the ASPCA.
  • Light-colored nails may be easier to trim than dark nails, which hide the quick (blood vessels running through the nail) and make it more difficult to avoid. Dew claws are the claws located on the inner part of the pad that do not touch the ground. They are attached to the paw by loose skin, according to Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine. If they are not trimmed regularly, the dew claws may curl into the paw. Claws on the dog's rear feet may not require trimming as often as front feet claws.
  • Ears: Proper ear cleaning and grooming may prevent ear infections, which are often caused by an overgrowth of bacteria and yeast in the outer ear. Otitis externa, an external ear canal infection, is a common infection, but, according to some studies, is difficult to treat. Dogs with ears that hang or hairy ear canals may be at greater risk of developing ear infections.
  • Ear grooming involves removing dirt and excess ear wax from the ear flap, keeping the ear canal dry during bathing, and preventing hair from falling into the ear canal during trimming.
  • Grooming for aesthetics: Owners may also groom their dogs for aesthetics to improve the way the dog looks on a daily basis or to prepare the dog for exhibition at a dog show. This type of grooming may be performed by a professional groomer or the owner.
  • It may involve more frequent grooming to maintain the dog's aesthetic appearance or additional grooming procedures. For example, the dog may have its hair curled or cut to create a particular shape. Owners may use products, such as hair sprays or hair gels, to achieve a certain look.
  • Dog shows: Many dog shows rate dogs based on their health, behavior, and physical appearance. Judges may expect that dogs are not only well groomed but also aesthetically pleasing during an exhibition.
  • Challenges: Grooming may be challenging for owners with dogs that do not like being handled or manipulated. According to several canine organizations, it is common for dogs to dislike nail trimmings. The dog may become aggressive, whine, bite, or run away. There are several techniques for relaxing and restraining dogs during grooming. Alternatively, owners may decide to visit a professional groomer or veterinarian if the dog is too difficult.
  • Relaxation: There are several methods for getting dogs accustomed to nail trimmers and helping them relax during the process. The AAHA suggests finding a quiet space to trim nails when the dog is relaxed. Paw massages and petting may relax the dog. The owner may trim fewer nails so that the process is shorter. Praise and treats after the trimming may put the dog at ease. Handling a dog's paws early in life and often may get the dog accustomed to nail trimmings.
  • Restraint: The proper restraint technique holds the dog in position without making the animal feel frightened. If too much restraint is applied, dogs are more likely to resist and potentially harm owners or themselves, according to Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine. The owner applies gentle pressure while restraining a dog, which is reduced to reward the dog if it stops struggling.
  • Restraint begins with having the dog in a comfortable position. A dog may lie on his side or belly or sit down. The owner speaks in a soothing voice to relax the dog. The owner may choose to place a muzzle on the dog. (A muzzle is made of plastic, cloth, or leather and has a closed or open end where the dog's mouth fits. Straps behind the head secure the muzzle in place.) A muzzle may reduce struggling.
  • The owner has several restraint options, depending on the dog's position. If the dog is lying on its belly or side, the owner may drape an arm over the dog's upper back and shoulders or lean his or her chest across the dog's back. The owner may also straddle the dog's back.
  • If a second person restrains the dog, the owner has free hands to perform grooming. A second person may place his or her forearms across the dog's flank and hold the limbs, while the dog is on his side. A person may also straddle the dog while the animal sits, holding the jaw shut or lifting a limb.
  • Professional help: An owner may also hire a veterinarian or professional dog groomer. Some groomers make home visits with mobile vans. Others have shops with the necessary amenities. Shops may require proof of vaccination or refuse to service sick animals. De-matting dogs with excessively tangled hair may cost extra.
  • Groomers may not be required to be licensed, although some groomers may attend a professional grooming program. The National Dog Groomers Association of America, Inc. (NDGAA) offer certifications and professional development.
  • Appointments with a professional groomer begin with the groomer's inspection of the dog and an interview with the owner to determine what he or she wants. Next the groomer clips or shaves the dog, depending on what was discussed with the owner, followed by a nail trimming, ear cleaning, bathing, and hair drying.
  • Grooming equipment that is not regularly disinfected may carry dermatophytes, or fungi that cause skin infections, such as ringworm. There is conflicting evidence as to the cleanliness of veterinary clinics and grooming shops and their equipment. Some studies demonstrate that most grooming equipment at veterinary clinics and grooming shops is disinfected, while others demonstrate that there is a risk of infection. There is some evidence that infection by dermatophytes is common in dogs. Ringworm may cause skin lesions in dogs.


Author information
  • This information has been edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (

  1. American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA).
  2. American Kennel Club® (AKC).
  3. American Pet Products AssociationT (APPA). .
  4. American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals® (ASPCA).
  5. Bagcigil AF, Ikiz S, Ozgür NY, et al. Recovery of dermatophytes in pet grooming tools from veterinary clinics and pet grooming salons. J Small Anim Pract. 2010 Jan;51(1):39-42.
  6. Khosravi AR, Mahmoudi M. Dermatophytes isolated from domestic animals in Iran. Mycoses. 2003 Jun;46(5-6):222-5.
  7. Logas DB. Diseases of the ear canal. Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract. 1994 Sep;24(5):905-19.
  8. Mancianti F, Papini R. Isolation of keratinophilic fungi from the floors of private veterinary clinics in Italy. Vet Res Commun. 1996;20(2):161-6.
  9. National Dog Groomers Association of America, Inc. (NDGAA). .
  10. Natural Standard: The Authority on Integrative Medicine.
  11. Rosychuk RA. Management of otitis externa. Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract. 1994 Sep;24(5):921-52.
  12. University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine.
  13. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  14. Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

  • General: Dog grooming is part of a healthy dog's lifestyle and may prevent infections with improved hygiene. Grooming includes cleaning the eyes, ears, hair, and skin regularly or as needed.
  • The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) suggests grooming when a dog is relaxed and for short periods of time (5-10 minutes). The owner may lengthen grooming time as the dog becomes acclimated. Gently handling the dog's feet, ears, tail, and stomach also helps the dog become accustomed to being manipulated during grooming.
  • Dental care: Dental care is the regular examination and cleaning of the teeth, tongue, gums, mouth, and lips. Owners may inspect their dogs' mouths for abnormalities, such as bumps, redness, or fractured teeth. Teeth cleaning with toothpaste and a toothbrush made especially for dogs usually follows. The American Association of Animal Hospitals (AAHA) recommends daily brushing, if is possible. Some chew toys, rawhide bones, treats, and dry dog food support ongoing dental health by preventing plaque buildup. Owners may also take their dogs to the veterinarian for general dental checkups.
  • Brushing: The frequency of brushing and the type of hairbrush used vary with the dog's hair length, thickness, and shape. Short-haired dogs may require weekly brushing, whereas long-haired dogs may need daily brushings to prevent hair from becoming matted or tangled. Brushing is done in a full motion from the skin to the hair's end.
  • The American Kennel Club® (AKC) recommends using pin brushes on some dogs with long hair. Pin brushes have long metal pins with rounded tips that may or may not be coated. Some long-haired dogs and some short-haired dogs may require bristle brushes, depending on their coats. Other types of brushes are slicker brushes (wide, flat, or curved brushes with short pins) to remove excess hair, rubber curry combs (brushes with small teeth on concentric oval surfaces) to smooth short hair, and rakes (long and narrow brushes with small teeth) to remove mats.
  • A dog with short, smooth hair is brushed with rubber curry combs, then bristle brushes, and is then polished with a cloth. Dogs with short hair that easily mats and long-haired dogs are brushed with slicker brushes, then bristle brushes, and are finished with a comb.
  • Bathing: According to the AAHA, regular brushing may reduce the amount of bathing necessary to maintain a clean, healthy coat. Some dog breeds that instinctively like water may enjoy bathing, while others may not. Knowing a breed's natural tendencies may help an owner anticipate a dog's reaction to bathing. Deciding how often to bathe depends on the breed and hair type, according to the AKC. The ASPCA recommends bathing dogs every three months, or more frequently if necessary.
  • Prior to bathing, the dog is brushed to remove excess hair, distribute oils evenly, and smooth any matted or tangled hair. Gently placing a piece of cotton in each ear (not inside the ear canal) may prevent water and soap from getting inside. The owner may apply eye ointment or drops to prevent soap from getting in a dog's eyes, which may damage the corneas. Some dogs may have large folds of skin that need to be kept dry and clean.
  • Next, the bath area is set up. The most appropriate location depends on the dog's size and energy level, as well as what is available. A tub, basin, or sink that is large enough to fit the dog comfortably is important for indoor bathing. Outdoor bathing may be performed without a tub, in an area with adequate drainage, such as a backyard or driveway. Bathing also requires a water source, which is nearby and easily accessible while the dog is being bathed. Sources of running water include a hose, faucet, or showerhead. The owner may also wish to use a bucket filled with water.
  • A towel or rug on the floor in front of the bathing area may prevent the dog and owner from slipping during or after bathing. Closing off any exits or putting up a temporary fence may prevent the wet dog from running away before the owner finishes bathing the dog.
  • The groomer wets the dog's hair thoroughly with warm water, avoiding the eyes, ears, and nose, and applies the appropriate amount of shampoo based on its instructions. A dog shampoo cleans the dog's hair and skin during bathing. Dog shampoo may be purchased at a pet supply or pet grooming store. According to the AAHA, human shampoo should not be used on a dog, as it may irritate the dog's skin.
  • The shampoo is worked all over the dog's hair from the neck to the hind quarters, and the head is left for last. The dog is rinsed thoroughly, avoiding the eyes, ears, and nose, and dried with a towel and blow-dryer (if the dog will tolerate it, taking care not to get the dryer too close to the dog's skin). Lastly, the owner brushes the dog to remove tangles and smooth out the hair.
  • Hair cutting: There are many tools available for cutting a dog's hair. The appropriate scissor depends on the dog's hair and the desired type of cut. Scissors may be curved, blunt, or straight. Shears are often long, straight, and pointed scissors, which may be used to cut longer hair. Blunt scissors may be used to trim hair around the eyes. Thinning shears, stripping tools, and clippers may be used to shave hair.
  • Clippers are electric or battery-powered tools that may have adjustable speeds and removable blades for different hair lengths. Clippers may have additional attachments, such as combs and trimmers. Disinfectant solutions and lubricants are available to keep clippers clean and working efficiently.
  • Ears: Depending on the dog's ear shape, cleaning may begin by lifting up the dog's ear flaps and visually inspecting the interior, which is pink when healthy. (If the owners sees any other colors, smells unusual odors, or notices unusual behaviors, the AAHA recommends taking the dog to a veterinarian for an examination.)
  • The ear flap is cleaned with a cotton ball, which may be soaked in mineral oil. The owner may also use a commercially available liquid cleanser, following the individual product's instructions. The AKC recommends cleaning a dog's ears monthly, or more frequently if required. Hairs inside the ear may also require gently pulling with the fingers or a hemostat, an instrument for pulling out dog hair, if a veterinarian recommends it.
  • Eyes: A cotton ball is swept gently from the eye's corner to outside to remove dirt, without touching the eyeball. Long hair around the eyes may be trimmed with blunt-tipped scissors.
  • Some dogs may experience tear staining (tears dye the dog's hair a dark color). Some commercial products are available to remove tear stains. Any discharge may also be cleaned with a damp cotton ball. Owners may want to consult a veterinarian if their dogs experience staining or discharge, as this may be a sign of a health problem.
  • Nails/feet: The AAHA states that dogs' nails are trimmed when they are long enough to touch the ground when the dog is standing on a flat surface. This may be as often as every week or two weeks, according to the AAHA. Nail clippers specifically designed for dogs are available for purchase at pet supply and grooming stores. Dogs' nails are different from human nails in that they have a large blood vessel called the quick running through them. Cutting the quick while trimming a dog's nails may make them bleed and may also be very painful.
  • Owners may clip all nails in one sitting or spread them out over several days or hours. Only the part of the nail that hooks down is trimmed. If the nails bleed, a styptic powder for dogs may be applied to stop the bleeding.
  • There are two common types of nail clippers for dogs, the guillotine clipper and the scissor clipper. With the guillotine clipper, the nail is inserted into a closed ring and a blade is clamped down, cutting off the excess. The scissor clipper is usually used for nails that are so long they curl. To use the scissor clippers, the groomer puts the nail inside the clippers at a right angle to the nail.
  • The owner begins by spreading the dog's toes and looking for dirt. Remove debris or foreign objects with a pair of tweezers. The nail is inserted into the clipper, just below where it begins to hook. The clippers' handles point to the floor or ceiling, depending on comfort. The handle's screws face the dog, and the cutting blade faces the owner. The cut is made at a slight angle. The nail should then be smoothed with an emery board. The hair between the toes is brushed with a small brush or comb and trimmed flush to the pads with blunt-tipped scissors.
  • If the pad skin is cracked or dry, a moisturizer formulated specifically for dogs' pads may be applied. Ice or salt may build up on dogs' feet during the winter months, requiring cleaning with a damp cloth and shampoo, if necessary.

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The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.

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