How to Bathe and Groom Your Dog Like a Professional

by K Marie Alto November 26, 2021 9 min read

How to Bathe and Groom Your Dog Like a Professional

One of the endless challenges of being a dog parent is grooming. You can spend hours meticulously bathing and grooming your pooch, and the moment you let them go, they're off to the races. It's only a question of what they get into first; something smelly? Something dirty? Something that tangles and mats their fur? Sometimes it seems as though they love nothing more than undoing your hard work, only to present themselves to you as proud as can be.

Despite this tendency, grooming is still important. Bathing and grooming your fur baby helps to keep their fur soft, their skin healthy, and their scent more pleasant. While you don't have to go all-out with professional-level details and tools, you can do a lot at home to make professional grooming a special occasion rather than a weekly visit.

As a general rule of thumb, thorough, comprehensive grooming should be done around every 6-12 weeks. Dogs with thicker coats should be bathed more often, while dogs with shorter hair can go longer between baths. And, of course, you'll want to wash them any time they come home smelling bad or having rolled in some nonsense out on their walk.  

Know the Purpose of Grooming

Grooming is about more than making sure your fur baby smells nice and clean.

Purpose of Grooming There are actually quite a few purposes.

  • Smells. Getting rid of the stench of whatever they last rolled in is part of it, but also after a good bathing any remaining underlying scents may be a sign that help alert pet parents about infections or other more serious issues.
  • Inspection. Bathing and brushing your fur baby gives you a chance to check them over for problems like cuts, scrapes, skin infections or rashes, ticks, or lumps. Many of these are normally hidden in their coat and will be invisible until they become larger problems.
  • Health. Brushing your fur baby stimulates blood flow to their coat, which helps keep it healthy and shiny. It also keeps their skin free from irritating environmental “stuff” that get stuck in their fur.
  • Bonding. Spending time with your fur baby, handling them, and generally enjoying their presence – even if they're a little averse to some parts of the grooming process – is still part of the bonding experience and can be therapeutic to you both.

You can also do things like trimming their nails to prevent possible damage; to both their feet and your floors. After all, dogs don't have hands to do this themselves.

Pick Your Products

Grooming a pooch requires a handful of specific tools.

Pick Your Products

Some of them we have recommendations for, while others you're free to pick what works best for your home and your situation.  

  • A tub. Some people bathe their dogs in their bathtubs; others prefer a pet tub to prevent fur from clogging the drains. It comes down to the space you have available as much as anything else.
  • Shampoo and conditioner. Dogs have different coats and need different kinds of shampoos and conditioners. You may also consider an alternative to shampoo if your dog has sensitive skin or you want to avoid using harsh chemicals on them.
  • Brushes and combs.  You'll want a variety of brushes and combs for different purposes. We prefer 100% natural boar bristle dog brushes to remove loose hair and stimulate the production of your dog’s natural skin oils. Natural dog bristle brushes do a much better job than synthetic brush bristles as they closely resemble your dog’s natural hair structure. Additionally, they are made of the same compound your dog's hair is made of; keratin. The unique structure and material of boar dog bristle brushes help to distribute the oils more evenly from the skin to the rest of your dog’s hair. If your dog has mats start your session with a pin brush with round pins. Word of caution here, we highly recommend avoiding the use of so-called slicker brushes at home (leave that to professional groomers). Before you ever slicker brush your dog, we recommend you slicker brush your head first. We promise you will never try it on your dog after that. For most types of coats, we recommend using these two brushes together as part of your routine DIY dog grooming.
  • Clippers and scissors. Any pair of hair trimmers can work well for trimming away excess fur between the toes, around the eyes, and wherever else your fur baby needs a haircut. You'll also want a set of professional nail clippers to trim their nails when necessary.
  • Accessories. Depending on how well-behaved your fur baby is, you may need some grooming accessories; to protect them and yourself. Aprons and gloves, eye protection, a harness or leash, and/or a bath mat; these can all be essential for some pet parents, and optional for others. You'll also want a towel or two on hand to help dry your fur baby off, so they don't catch a chill.

Don't worry about getting everything right the first time. You'll develop a system, figure out what your fur baby likes and doesn't, and build up a supply of tools over time.  

Step 0: Gather Your Supplies

Before you start grooming, it's a good idea to get everything you need in one place. There's nothing quite as annoying as having to go fetch a set of clippers or a bottle of shampoo once you've already hosed down your canine companion, and that's not to mention their tendency to follow, dripping everywhere.

Gather Your Supplies

So, determine what level of grooming you want to do (are you trimming their nails? Are you trimming fur?) and gather the tools and supplies you'll need for that process before you begin.

Step 1: Brushing

The first step to the grooming process is thoroughly brushing your fur baby. Brushing removes debris, mats, loose fur, and other excess "stuff" from your pooch's coat, which serves several purposes.

First, it gives you a chance to inspect your dog for any potential fur or skin issues. A thorough brushing can be calming as well, and sets the stage for the grooming to come. You also remove all of that excess fur and grime, so it doesn't go down your drains or need cleaning up later when it's wet.  

Brushing Your Dog

Take this opportunity to prepare your fur baby for any potential issues they may have with shampoo and conditioner. Some people like to put cotton balls in their dog's ears to prevent water or shampoo from getting in. Others might recommend a drop of mineral oil in the eyes to help keep shampoo from irritating them. It really depends on how careful you are, how sensitive your dog is, and how much they squirm around while being bathed. If you use cotton balls, don't stick them in deep, and don't forget to remove them later!

We have a grooming guide for poodles, but many of the tips will also apply to most medium- or long-haired dogs. That said, it's a good idea to look up any specific grooming tips for your breed so you know if there are any common concerns or issues you should watch for.

Step 2: Tooth and Claw

Before bathing, you can take this opportunity to handle a couple of trickier parts of grooming: teeth and nails.  

Like humans, dogs need their teeth cleaned. Unlike humans, they don't have opposable thumbs or the understanding of dental hygiene necessary to do it themselves.

Brushing Dog Teeth

You can help with some dental-focused dog chews, but nothing will substitute for brushing their teeth. According to VCA Animal Hospital:

"Like us, it is ideal to brush your dog's teeth at least twice daily. For many dogs, once brushing becomes a part of their daily routine they will begin to expect and enjoy it. Brushing three times a week is the minimum recommendation to help remove plaque and prevent tartar accumulation."

Trimming nails, meanwhile, is a little different. You definitely don't need to do that every day! It will depend on your dog, how quickly their nails grow, how they walk, and what surfaces they spend most of their time on. Generally, you will want to trim nails every 1-2 weeks. We have a guide on how to trim nails while avoiding the quick, which many people have told us has been very helpful to them.

You can also wait until after you've washed your fur baby to trim their nails if you find that it's easier with clean paws.  

Step 3: Shampoo

The bathing step will make up the bulk of your grooming time but, thankfully, doesn't need to be done every day. Different dogs have different bathing schedules, so be sure to learn what works best for your pooch.

When bathing, make sure to use lukewarm water. Hot water can overheat your fur baby or even scald their skin, while cold water can chill them and is generally unpleasant. You'll want a bathing system with a hose sprayer or a pitcher on hand for rinsing more easily, whatever is most convenient for you.

Shampoo with Dog

The first thing you need to do is rinse your fur baby all over. Get their fur wet, working slowly from neck to tail, ensuring thorough coverage. Once that's done, you can apply shampoo. The shampoo you pick should depend on your dog's skin type; for example, you might want an oatmeal-based shampoo for a pooch with sensitive skin or skin problems. Likewise for a conditioner.

Take time to slowly lather up the shampoo, working it into the fur and skin. Don't use your nails, though, to avoid scratching or causing skin irritation.  

Rinse out the shampoo, then do the same with the conditioner. Some dogs don't need a conditioner, while others benefit from it. Some, particularly those with longer or curlier coats, can also benefit from a detangler to keep their fur from matting. Again, it all depends on your dog's breed, coat type, and activity levels.  

Step 4: Drying Off

It's important that you dry off your fur baby to prevent them from getting chills. Your dog's first instinct will be to shake off excess moisture, and you can allow that as long as it's not going to coat your bathroom in water (the apron is nice here).

The two main ways to dry off your pooch are with a blow dryer or with a towel. Some dogs don't like being manhandled with a towel; others hate the noise of a blow dryer, while some love the warm air! Try both and see which your fur baby prefers.

Drying Off Dog

If you choose to use a blow dryer, keep it on the lowest heat setting and hold it at least six inches away to avoid scalding their skin. Keep in mind you don't want to completely dry them off; blow-dry until they're just very slightly moist. Over-drying can dry out their skin and lead to skin irritation.

If you choose to use a towel instead, use a combination of patting, rubbing, and wrapping to absorb as much moisture as you can. You should be able to get your fur baby entirely dry this way, though you may need more than one or two towels to do it.

Step 5: Brushing, Again

Once you've bathed your fur baby, go over their coat with a brush again. This serves to ensure there are no lingering mats, tangles, or clumps, that there's no left-over shampoo, and to finish removing shed fur.  

Brushing Dog Again

You can also take this time to do any trimming you want. Depending on your breed and their coat, you may want to:

  • Trim between the toes, to avoid bacterial build-up, clumps, or infections. Just like with other skin folds on your dog, this is a cozy spot for bacteria and yeast to grow. Regularly applying our anti-yeast and antibacterial Hydrate & Repel Organic Paw and Fur Balm will help keep ticks, fleas, bacteria, and yeast away while ensuring your pup’s feet are always hydrated and smelling fresh. There's nothing like fresh smelling paws 😊
  • Trim around the eyes, to avoid eye irritation and potential vision problems.
  • A more complete haircut, to prepare for summer.

This is also the opportunity to trim nails if you didn't do so before bathing your fur baby.  

Step 6: Finishing Touches

Once you're done with all of the above, you can put a few finishing touches on the process. Rewarding your fur baby with a treat for their good behavior can be a great way to make future grooming sessions less stressful for you both. Some people also like to use a doggy-safe cologne to add a pleasant scent to their coat.

Grooming Finishing Touches

We highly recommend using a hydrating paw balm on their toe beans, to help hydrate and soothe their paws. This can help heal dry skin, prevent future skin cracking, and protect their sensitive toes from the elements, especially when the ground is hot as well as during the winter months when low humidity causes dry and cracked toe beans.

To prevent cracked toe beans, apply a moisturizing balm at least twice a week during moments of low activity. If your pup already has cracked toe beans, apply it twice a day over a seven-day period. Then twice a week for maintenance. We always recommend pet parents look for USDA certified organic options. Other options advertised as natural or organic (but not certified) may contain toxic substances hidden in the “natural” ingredients used.  Learn how to purchase a safe paw balm for your dog.

 We've covered all of the bases with this DIY dog grooming guide, but if you want a more comprehensive resource, why not check out our Dog Grooming 101 guidebook? It's a 50-page book written to be both simple and comprehensive, covering everything from nose to tail.  

Did you enjoy this guide?  You can check out many more dog and cat care guides here.

Now to you, the readers. Do you have specific questions about grooming or bathing your fur baby? Additionally, are you using any other bathing and grooming methods? Be sure to leave all your thoughts and questions in the comments section down below! We'd love to hear about all your stories and will gladly answer any questions you may have!

K Marie Alto
K Marie Alto

K. Marie is an animal lover, wife, kitty mom, dog auntie, writer and co-founder of Toe Beans, a proud American family-owned online boutique pet supplies store focused on the improvement of the life of furry family members via pet parent education, better products, and advocacy. She has over 20 years of experience as a pet momma. She loves sharing her personal journey and experience as a pet parent via her blog and Facebook page where she currently has more than 19K followers (@furrytoebeans) and counting :-).

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