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Dog Grooming Guide

Make your pet feel like a million bucks -- and save a few yourself -- with these easy at-home tips.
dog grooming
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Illustration by Julia Rothman

When a trip to the doggy salon is pricier than your kid's haircut, it can feel more like a kick to the pocketbook than a necessity. Doing it yourself is not only cheaper, it's an opportunity to bond with your pet. We chatted with Christina Pawlosky, an award-winning groomer, to learn how you can keep your dog looking his best.

What You Need
Nail trimmer or grinder, dog shampoo, ear wash, cotton balls, towel, blow dryer, scissors, electric trimmer, brushes/combs, dog toothbrush, dog toothpaste

Step 1: Safety First
Trim claws. "If they're long and your dog's resistant, he could accidentally hurt you or himself," Pawlosky says. Use a nail grinder instead of clippers to prevent cutting the quick, which contains nerves and the nail's blood supply.

Step 2: Dental Duty
Clean your dog's teeth at least once a week to prevent plaque buildup and cavities. Choose a toothbrush and toothpaste for dogs. Brush in a circular motion, as you would your own teeth. "Your kids can help with a good-tempered dog," Pawlosky says. "It teaches good hygiene and responsibility."

Step 3: Lather Up
Brush him to loosen dead hair and tangles. Wet his coat thoroughly to the skin and massage the shampoo into his fur, then rinse. Apply special ear wash in ear canals, massage the base of each ear and tip your pooch's head onto a towel to drain. Use cotton balls to absorb moisture, and remove after bathing.

Step 4: Dry Spell
If you've bathed your dog outdoors, he'll most likely air-dry himself. Otherwise, pat him down using a large towel. Finish with a blow dryer on low heat—this also helps straighten the coat for trimming. Brush again to remove any loose hair.

Step 5: A Cut Above
Before grooming, place your dog on a sturdy surface—a covered kitchen counter will do, but you may want to invest in a grooming table (available at pet stores, from $45). Keep your pup safe by restraining him with a leash or with the help of an assistant. Once he's secure, choose your trimming blade. Start with a longer one since you can always trim hair shorter.

A. Slowly run the trimmer over your pup's rear midsection. If he gets fussy, use a firm, authoritative voice ("Sit. I'm in charge.") while continuing to groom.

B. Next, trim his back and down around the legs, then move to the front and continue under the ears, down the neck and over the shoulders.

C. Run a shorter blade across the underbelly to remove any matted fur—be careful not to cut into folds of skin.

D. Carefully trim around private areas, going with the growth of the hair. To finish, snip over eyes with scissors and cut excess fur around the mouth and pads of the feet, where matted hair can become uncomfortable.

A Worthy Investment
Salon grooming can cost $40 to $150 per visit—that's up to $600 a year! DIY grooming requires a $150 to $300 outlay for more than a year's worth of supplies. But after a few sessions, the investment will have paid for itself.

Originally published in the February 2013 issue of Family Circle magazine.