The dog grooming dilemma: Do you want to go to a pro or do it yourself? What you decide depends on a number of things, including the type of dog you have, the way you’d like her to look, your income, and the steadiness of your hands with clippers, hair and nail. Most people let a groomer take care of some things and do others themselves.

I have no problem, for example, brushing and bathing Frankie and giving him impromptu haircuts. Expressing his anal sacs — no, not all dogs need that, but Frankie’s a butt scooter — and trimming his toenails? I’ll pass.

But as I mentioned in my last post, at minimum you should brush your dog’s coat, whether between bouts of professional coifs or on your own.


And, yes, you’ll need the right tools for the job, but they doesn’t have to be expensive. Most of the required hair rakes, combs, and brushes cost less than $10. Even with clippers, which are pricier, there’s a point of diminishing returns. If you don’t invest about $250 or $300 for a sharp, smooth-cutting version, you’re likely to give your dog a hairdo that borders on animal abuse (or at least fashion victimhood). But statusy high-tech clippers that run as high as $650 won’t produce better results; in less-than-skilled hands, their cuts can still be unkind.

Each type of coat requires a different set of tools — and a different frequency of use. And mixed breeds may have coats that don’t follow any strict rules for care. This is just a rough guide of what to expect, going from highest to lowest maintenance:


These breeds, which include Afghans, Maltese, Yorkies -– essentially, all the ones that look like trotting mops at dog shows – and several types of spaniels, require constant attention because their fine, cottony hair gets matted and tangled easily. Ideally, you should run a fine-tooth metal comb through your dog’s hair every day, even if it’s just a quick sweep through. Using a wire slicker brush on the hair a few times a week is also recommended, as is seeing a groomer every other month.


Slicker brush

These pups, which include Pomeranians, Shelties, Huskies, Collies, and Akitas, may fool you: Their coats can look fluffy and neat but hide a matted mess underneath. That’s why you have to go below the silky surface to the furry undercoat, using tools like a grooming rake or the FURminator,* a blade tool. You should brush weekly, at minimum, and visit a groomer every three months.  Not only is this a good plan for your dog, but it’ll help with the housekeeping.

Note: One of the reasons that both long-haired and double-coated dogs need to be brushed, combed, and/or raked regularly is that you don’t want their coats to get to the point where they need to be shaved off entirely. Coats don’t always grow back properly, so your dog may end up with endless bad hair days. Worse, while waiting for her body-cover to reappear, your pup may suffer from sunburn, windburn, and insect bites –- not to mention the itchiness and irritation of prickly hairs.  Short haircuts are fine for warm weather but don’t overdo the clip-jobs.

Curly /wavy

Pin brush
Pin brush

Caring for this type of coat can range from the simple brush-and-trims I give Frankie, whose hair is not only wispy but naturally short (it stops growing beyond an inch or so), to the constant vigilance required for poodles and other water dogs with thick, curly mops that grow long and wild if not kept in check. On the plus side, these dogs have only one coat, so what you see is what you get. Brushing with a pin or slicker brush, raking, and then combing carefully usually takes care of the preliminaries, to be followed by clipping as straightforward or fancy as you like.

Short Coated

These trim-haired pups, among them, Boxers, Pugs, Pit Bulls, and dogs with giveaway names like German Short-Haired Pointer, require only a rubber mitt or coarse washcloth for coat care, which is more like a rubdown – more good news for the macho who eschew the frou frou– than a hairdressing session.

Coming soon: More tools, including nail trimmers and vacuum cleaners (sorry, even the best grooming doesn’t eliminate all shedding).

*No, I’m not getting FURminator kickbacks, though I’ve mentioned it in a previous post. And I can’t personally attest to its usefulness. But several  vets I interviewed for a story on shedding recommended it and a number of friends with big, hairy dogs swear by it.

18 thoughts on “DIY dog grooming: Some tips on brushing tools”

  1. I love brushing my dogs, it gives me time to bond with them. I also feel for anything out of the ordinary such as ticks, which fortunately mine haven’t had in almost a year. During the summer I also make sure they haven’t picked up any fox tails and other weeds that like to attach themselves.

    1. Your care and concern are greatly appreciated by your dog. Just like we humans, our pets have sensitivities that too many owners do not take into consideration.

      I discovered that my dog has allergies to certain products that I routinely used for cleaning. So I have had to switch to more natural and environmentally friendly ones. That is of course good for my pet and the earth, but I may not have made the changes, at least not now, except for the health of my dog.

      By learning to groom my own pet, I have discovered many things about animal care in areas where I was clueless. Some of that training cost me tuition but it was well worth it.

  2. I bought a furminator for Jas last summer. It has a blade behind teeth like a hair trimmer and I thought it thinned hair not just pulling out loose hair. Jas’s coat was much thinner and he was cooler. He was very happy to stand while I used it and it got rid of all tangles and matted bits that he wouldn’t let me touch with a comb. It was important not to work too long in one place: I think he would have had bald patches. I haven’t used it during this cold winter as he needs a thick coat just now, but I’ll definitely get it out again for his summer moult.

  3. Can I pitch a couple of inexpensive grooming products that my dogs adore (which makes all six of us happy )? And no, unfortunately, no manufacturer is paying me to promote!
    In the comments section following the previous episode Mary Haight mentioned the problem with keeping desert dogs some color other than dirt grey versus the dull and uncomfortable coat of an overwashed poock.
    Mrs Meyer’s Clean Day make fabulous disposable (sorry, green ones) Gentle Pet Wipes in a clary sage/chamomile scent. These are particularly good with a dog who has been rolled by another, or just a nervous pooch. They clean and soothe at the same time — my dogs line up to be wiped down by them. My only cautions are that they, like most wipes, dry out after you open the package, so use the wipes fairly quickly. Second, the products mey be hard to find. I have had pretty good luck with Cost Plus World Market and A-Jays, an Arizona up-scale supermarket. Mrs. M makes other dog products, too , but I have not tried them. Although I am very much enjoying her line of baby cleaning products, including laundry detergent. I may be long gone from babyhood, but my dry/sensitive skin hasn’t noticed yet!
    My dogs would never forgive me if I did not mention the Zoom Groom — a human-hand-sized brush with rubbery magic fingers. This is not a brush for a seriously matted dog, and I don’t credit it with removing old undercoats.
    But it’s absolutely terrific for the short-hairs who love getting a massage while they are being brushed. My pointer, Miriam, used to go quietly into her kennel and shut the door behind herself when I got out the brushes. Now she barges past the smaller dogs to get her session with the Zoom.
    I am eagerly awaiting the discussion of FURminators, mostly because I bought one yesterday. Ouch. But nothing else has worked on my terri-poo, whose coat loves to mat even when I am brushing him every day. And he hates other rakes and metal-tipped brushes. One of my confusions with FURminator was the almost complete lack of sizing information — nothing to tell me if a Small meant a small dog, or a short-coated one. And no, that is not a stupid question when you consider the curves of a dog’s body. At $30 and up for the tool — on sale — I would have appreciated a bit more data!

  4. When I was in H.S., the neighborhood high school had an after school grooming class, which I took. I had a miniature poodle at the time. We did it all, shampoo, cut, style, and toe nail clipping, which is hard. I declined from painting his toe nails, but the grooming class was fun and it was a way to bond with my dog.
    Now, I have a cat. I brush him everyday, and you can tell because his coat is nice and shiny.

  5. Thanks Edie for making me laugh–again! Yes I have to agree that expressing anal sacs is one of those best left to the vet, but I do clip his nails…which grow really fast. I know people can worry about clipping too far, but there’s a tool out there for just this purpose:) It’s got an infrared light that shows you where the vein is! Bought one for a friend who was squeamish for that reason. It came from Herrington, Brookstone, or one of those types of catalogs. Pricey, though…over $50 I think.

    And thanks to Rebecca for the tip on wipes, because the no scent baby wipes with aloe make Tashi help keep him cleaner, but do nothing for turning the dirty white hair, white again.

  6. I LOOOVE my Furminator. When I took my shetland/shepherd mix Teddy to the vet I was embarrassed that his coat had gotten so thick – the receptionist recommended the FURminator – I’d never think I’d be paying $50 bucks for a dog comb – but boyoboy it did the job – over a couple hours he filled 3 bags full, he was like a sheep, and then I went to work on the white shepherd whose white fur has been the bane of my existence for years, no matter how much I brushed, there was always more. Well, I can tell you IT WORKS> I recommend the FURminator – clap,clap,clap. Take a bow, Teddy and Ellie!

    1. Sorry to be MIA for the comments section today — thanks for all the helpful feedback. The Furminator is clearly a popular favorite! If I run another contest, maybe I’ll get the company to provide a prize.

      Mary, I’d love to know the name of that nail clipping tool. I only know about the plain clippers and the dremmel-style drills, which are a little frightening because of the noise. If you’ve got another option, I’d love to include it.

  7. Thanks for the informative post on grooming tools. Jersey has a short, slick coat and I only need to groom her twice a year, when she is shedding. The furminator is my tool of choice and it works like a charm!

    As for the nail clipping, here’s a nifty tip that works for me since Jersey *loves* to get her nails clipped. I put her leash on & sit her on the couch. For some reason, it calms her down & makes puppy toe clip time less stressful. This also worked on one of my Mom’s dogs that wasn’t a toe clip fan, either.

  8. Your latest post is turning into quite the FURminator love fest isn’t it Edie? Allow me to further the FURminator fan club:

    My life with Jasmine can now be divided into two distinct periods – the “Pre-FURminator” era, and the “Post-Furminator” or “Bliss” era.

    For nine years I have struggled with Jasmine’s aversion to all things grooming related, and with her Alaskan Malamute double coat grooming is a necessity. I have spent a fortune on all manner of different brushes, rakes, combs and blades to no avail. Jasmine would sit still for about four strokes of a brush and then either flee the room or squirm around making further brushing near impossible.

    Then a few months ago while shopping for yet another kind of dematting blade to try I had a chance to chat with a groomer who recommended the FURminator for Jasmine’s thick coat. She won me over when she said she had used one on a Husky a couple days earlier and it performed better than anything else she had tried on that kind of coat. So I ordered a FURminator, and was soon dubiously eyeing the tiny teeth of my new tool wondering how they would ever make a dent on Jasmine’s double coat. But work it did – I’m still not sure how – and not only did I soon have a mountain of Jasmine’s fur brushed out, but even more impressive was how she sat calmly the entire time and didn’t try to flee once, that had never happened before! I was in awe – my only regret was I hadn’t found out about the FURminator earlier. Grooming is now a pleasure, although whenever I try to sneakily use a different brush or comb on thicker parts of her coat Jasmine still bolts…oh and she still howls at the top of her lungs the entire time the hydrobath man washes her (no FURminators available to fix that!)

  9. I must cast another vote for the FURminator. Love it. With just a little patience, our dogs lay on their sides and watch the cast off hair grow into a large pile. We have never trimmed our dogs toenails. The 4-6 miles we walk each day on asphalt, sidewalks, and trails do the job for us.

  10. Do you have any pet clipper recommendations? We’re a brush and comb family for the cats and our dog, but our long-haired cat — for years miraculously mat-free — just developed a couple of huge mats that we’re trying to get rid of. I hope to stay ahead of her from now on, but just in case….

    1. At the risk of sounding like Johnny Cochran, I’d say re: the mats: When in doubt, cut ’em out. Seriously, I don’t know enough about cat hair, long or short, to offer an informed opinion. Maybe someone with an interspecies household out there has some ideas?

  11. Pingback: Vet Tech » The Top 36 Dog Grooming Blogs
  12. Thank you for this great information on on dog grooming tips. I also really like to brush my lab Turbo’s hair everyday. I like to do it because it helps cut down on the shedding and leaves his coat looking beautiful. It also gives me a chance to inspect for anything in his hair on in his skin. When I am done he loves it and takes off running real fast!

  13. What do you suggest for nail clipping? I have 2 Westies and each time I clip their nails, they really resent me. They will remember for at least 24 hours I tortured them with the nail clipper.

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