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How often should you groom your dog?

Grooming dogs is an essential part of caring for them and can also be a fun and relaxing activity for both the dogs and their owners. There’s a bit to understand about the individual grooming needs of each dog, so be aware that grooming involves more than just buying a brush and hoping for the best! Read on for some tips on how to groom your furry friend in a way that works for you both.

So, what does grooming involve?

Technically, grooming refers not only to regular brushing, but also to coat clipping, fur trimming, nail clipping and bathing. Some owners manage to do all of this themselves but some focus on regular brushing and outsource other grooming tasks to a professional groomer or veterinary practice. The reasons for using professionals can be lack of time, uncertainty about how to use grooming equipment, difficulty getting dogs to cooperate and concerns about accidents, which can be a real risk to dogs who struggle when being groomed. Clipping and trimming, for example, require a high degree of skill, so the safest option can be to use a professional service.

The importance of grooming your pet

There are many reasons why grooming is important for dogs. Coat care through brushing and combing removes dead or loose hair (which reduces shedding) and foreign materials such as grass seeds, prevents and removes knots that can cause discomfort, and keeps the coat shiny by distributing natural oils. Coat clipping helps dogs with heavy coats to keep cool in hot weather, reducing the risk of heat stress, and removes matts and non-shedding fur (found in Poodles, Maltese Terriers and Schnauzers). Fur trimming improves visibility and prevents fur from irritating the eyes, ears or anus, and from trapping food or causing infection in skin folds (such as around the lower jaw).

Toenail clipping prevents the nails from becoming ingrown or splitting, both painful conditions that can lead to infection. Last, but not least, a bath is the best way to clean the coat of a dog who has been swimming or rolled in dirt or anything foul smelling, and bathing may be advised by veterinarians for treating skin conditions. Importantly, grooming provides the opportunity to check regularly for any changes to your dog that need veterinary attention – these could be lumps, lesions, fur loss, inflammation, signs of infection, grass seeds, parasites (such as ticks or fleas) or any other abnormalities, such as to the eyes, ears, in between the toes or under the armpits. Along with these health benefits, grooming sessions strengthen the bond with our dogs, especially if they include a relaxing massage!

How often should you groom your dog?

Regular grooming is essential for the health and welfare of all dogs, but some dogs have greater grooming needs than others. A common question from dog owners is how often they should groom their dogs. As a general rule, short-haired dogs should be brushed at least weekly, but medium and long-haired pets require daily brushing to keep them comfortable and reduce shedding. Dogs with thick undercoats (double-coated dogs) also need daily brushing, whether their coats are long or short. For dogs who need their coats clipped or fur trimmed, the frequency will depend on the rate of fur growth and the time of year, so this should be discussed with your veterinarian. Toenail clipping should be every one to two months. Dogs who walk a lot on hard surfaces will often wear their nails down, whereas indoor dogs or dogs who walk on soft surfaces are unable to do this. It’s important to regularly check your dog’s toenails to make sure they don’t reach the ground when standing. If they start making a clicking sound as they walk, it’s definitely time for that pedicure!

The dewclaws (on the inside of the front legs, and of the back legs in some dogs) don’t reach the ground so will always need trimming, and generally more often than the other nails. As for bath time, if dogs are washed too frequently, this can dry out their skin, especially if they already have a skin problem. Most dogs should not need to be washed more than monthly. The time to wash your dog is when they need it, in order to remove substances such as dirt, mud or sand, when they smell badly or when your veterinarian advises. Dogs with thick undercoats will need regular bathing to help loosen their undercoat hair.

Setting up a grooming routine

The best way to set up a grooming routine for your dog is to train them early on to expect a positive experience. You can learn about introducing grooming by attending puppy preschool or having the assistance of a trainer who uses only reward-based methods. The RSPCA recommends starting with short training sessions that focus on areas your dog likes to be brushed, such as the head, neck or body, then working towards more sensitive areas such as the belly, feet or tail and rewarding calm behaviour with treats and praise. You should end the session before your dog becomes wriggly or agitated, gradually increase the time spent grooming and the areas groomed as he or she becomes more comfortable. Once you are ready for regular at-home grooming sessions, having treats at hand allows you to continue to reward your dog.

Best way to brush your dog

For single-coated dogs, the best way to brush is to work in the direction of hair growth, starting with a soft brush or wide tooth comb to remove any dirt or debris and loosen any knots. The next step is to use a brush or comb with finer teeth to remove any more stubborn tangles, gently holding the fur at the base to avoid causing pain. If you notice any matts or stubborn knots, these may need to be removed with safety scissors, being careful to avoid the skin, but if your dog struggles or the matt is close to the skin, this is best left to a professional. Having the correct equipment to brush your dog will make it easier for both of you. Long-haired dogs need brushes with longer bristles and combs with long, wider teeth, whereas short-haired dogs need short or soft bristle brushes and combs with fine teeth. All dogs will benefit from a soft massage brush or mitten!

The brushing technique for dogs with thick undercoats (double-coated dogs) should be varied by starting with the undercoat first, brushing in the direction of hair growth to start with and going in the other direction against the skin if needed to gently remove loose fur. Undercoat brushing needs special equipment such a slicker brush for short-haired double coats (such as for Labrador Retrievers, Miniature Schnauzers and Corgis) and an undercoat rake followed by a wide tooth comb for dogs with a long-haired double coat (such as Pomeranians, Pekingese and Rough Collies). After working on the undercoat, you can then brush the top coat in the direction of hair growth using a bristle brush or grooming mitt to remove any loose hairs.

The same principles of training apply to teaching your dog to accept bathing and nail trimming. There are several ways of bathing your dog, but the most important points are to brush your dog first, use warm water, shampoo all over (avoiding the eyes), rinse off thoroughly and preferably towel dry rather than using a hair dryer. Dogs need a shampoo that is specifically designed for them, as human shampoo can damage their skin. Your veterinarian can advise you whether your dog needs a medicated shampoo, so it’s important to ask their advice before bathing a dog with any skin problems.

Your veterinarian can also show you how and when it’s time to trim your dog’s toenails with clippers designed for their size. Toenail trimming takes skill because cutting the ‘quick’ of the nail (where the nerves and blood vessels are located) causes pain and bleeding and can make your dog fearful of future trimming. Some dogs have black nails, which makes it harder to know where the ‘quick’ lies. If you don’t feel confident trimming your dog’s nails, a professional groomer or staff at your veterinary clinic are much safer options.

For all aspects of dog grooming, ensuring you are confident in your technique is important. As well as asking your veterinarian to demonstrate, another great way to develop safe grooming skills is to watch dog grooming videos by from the RSPCA.

Despite our best intentions and all available advice, sometimes our dogs are so anxious about some aspect of grooming that it becomes a stressful and unsafe experience for all! In this case, it’s best to speak to your veterinarian, who will advise whether your dog needs sedation before being groomed and can discuss alternative options to home grooming. These may include mobile hydrobaths, a professional groomer (including one who comes to your home) or your local veterinary clinic. Gentle handling and the use of rewards for calm behaviour are a must, so a recommendation from your veterinarian is a great way to find a reputable professional grooming service.

Bonding with your dog

Caring for our dogs can be a lot of fun, but as with many areas of pet care, grooming can take us on a steep learning curve! Your veterinarian is the best person to advise you about the individual needs of your dog, including whether the safest option is to use professional services for some aspects of grooming. With the right knowledge and equipment, you and your dog should be able to enjoy regular brushing sessions, which will help you to check them all over and identify when they may need veterinary care.

While grooming costs may not be covered by pet insurance, you may wish to consider a policy in case your dog suffers an injury or illness, to help cover eligible vet bills. If you’re with RSPCA Pet Insurance, a portion of first year’s premiums will go towards supporting the RSPCA.

Image of Dr Rosemary Elliot

Dr Rosemary Elliot 

Dr Rosemary studied veterinary science at the University of Sydney after having established her career as a clinical psychologist, and has qualifications of BVSc (Hons), MANZCVS (Animal Welfare), MPsych (Clin), BA (Hons) as well as previously establishing her career as a clinical psychologist. Her experiences during veterinary training fostered an ambition to focus directly on animal welfare and ethics, with a particular interest in animal sentience and the human-animal bond. Currently working in small animal practice, Dr Rosemary combines her psychology background and veterinary skills to contribute to and promote animal welfare, and regularly contributes quality content to RSPCA Pet Insurance's Pet Care blog.