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Grooming and Husbandry - Tips & Tricks

Updated: Apr 8, 2021

I might be the world's worst groomer, so I have spent a bit of time looking for tips and tricks and tools to make at-home husbandry and care a bit easier between trips to a pro. Some of my favorite things are listed below; just click on the photos to get to Amazon to see detailed descriptions. Also, please have discussions with your veterinarian about any husbandry information you read, including this blog. A great source to read intelligent articles about new research is Whole Dog Journal, accessible by subscription or online. Many online blogs and articles are full of sensational information that may be inaccurate, so always discuss information with your veterinarian.

Keeping Still & Busy

Look for a Lick Mat dog toy. Some brands even have suction cups to attach to a vertical surface. You can also just smear peanut butter, cream cheese, or easy cheese on the side of a tub or refrigerator and just wash it later.

Bathing & Ears & Brushing

I love this video series for teaching a dog to love bathtime. The follow up videos for the 2nd-5th session should show up on the right hand menu after you click through.

One of my dogs is a Labrador who tends to get a bit of yeast overgrowth. We have had our share of trips to the vet for ear infections and hot spots. I have managed to cut those trips down quite a bit with two simple items at bath time that my vet said are fine to keep using. (Note: please don't take my success with one dog as medical advice, and be sure to check with your own vet before trying this!) The first thing I do at bathtime is wipe out her ears gently with a cotton ball soaked in apple cider vinegar. I do this ear wipe daily for a week or so if her ears smell sweet and yeasty, or have extra brown gunk building up.

I also bathe her a with DerMagic Shampoo Bar. It makes her smell a bit like Thai food due to the lemongrass, but we have had no hot spots since we started using it a few years back. (If we did get a hot spot, I would not use the soap but would shave the surrounding fur and use antibiotic ointment, then see the vet for further help.) It comes as a bar of soap and I find that it lasts a long while, and I prefer how well it rinses to liquid soaps and shampoos.

For brushing, check with your groomer about proper care of your dog's coat as different dogs do better with different types of brushes. For training purposes, pair the brush with food. You can do a brush stroke, then feed. If your dog runs at the sight of the brush, call me for help.

Growling, or Biting

What if your dog does growl or bite and you have to go to the vet or groomer? First, call me to get some help with counterconditioning and desensitization steps to change how your dog feels. Second, plan to use meds to sedate your dog at the vet or groomer (trazodone, Xanax, Valium,...ask your vet, but avoid acepromzaine.) Third, teach your dog to wear a basket muzzle to keep everyone safe and to keep your dog from having a bite history. This is a nice video that shows how to train your dog to wear a muzzle.

My preferred muzzle is a basket style that allows panting, drinking, and you can feed through the muzzle, too. Be sure to measure carefully for the size you need.

When training, if you think you are going too slowly, slow down some more! You can't go too slowly. This site has tons of great tips for sizing and training a dog to wear a muzzle happily, and here is a great trick to turn a muzzle into a Kong (with supervision!)


Brushing your dog’s teeth is not just about fresh breath, it’s about keeping their teeth and gums healthy. If you neglect the teeth, older dogs can suffer from sore gums, rotten teeth that need extraction, and bacterial infection in the mouth. Daily care can help avoid needing that type of treatment down the road and allows you to notice any injuries in the mouth like cuts or broken teeth. Your dog may require a dental every few years where the vet deep cleans. Dental chews and crunchy bones help keep the teeth clean, but are not a substitute for brushing and dental exams.

Use a special toothbrush for dogs or a piece of gauze wrapped around your finger and use toothpaste made for dogs – never use toothpaste for humans – and brush the outside of the teeth (skip the inside).

You may need to practice brushing the teeth with your finger for a moment, then feeding a treat, to help your dog feel comfortable. Make each session a little bit longer until you can do his whole mouth. If that’s a struggle, you can certainly brush a portion of pup's mouth at a time instead of doing it all at once. Give pup a bunch of treats when finished.


Some dogs keep their nails short by walking or running on pavement but most dogs do not. If the nail grows too long, it can break and bleed or can cause your dog to stand abnormally, leading to orthopedic issues. It’s important to clip the nails regularly because the quick in a dog’s nail, the part that hurts and bleeds if cut, grows longer as the nails grow. Then it’s easier to hit the quick. If you do that, your dog will learn that nail clipping hurts and is scary, so it’s important to stay at least 2 mm away from the quick. Clip at least once per month, and don't forget dew claws.

This diagram illustrates the quick and you can find lots of great visuals online, too:

It’s easier to see the quick in a light nail than in a dark one, so be extra careful with dark nails. In a light nail, the area just in front of the quick is pink. In a dark nail, that area is white. STOP there. For a great image of a cross section of a black nail when you can see the quick starting to get close, click here.

You can also teach your dog to use a nail grinder called a dremel but be sure to pair the sound of the grinder with treats many times first, so your dog isn’t scared by the sound before you even get started. If you use a grinder and your dog has long hair on his or her feet, slip a nylon over your dog’s paw first and poke the nails through or else the hair can get caught in the grinder.

To start teaching nail clipping, pair the sight of the clippers with a treat. My favorite clippers are plier style, not guillotine style. I like to have clippers with a guard that prevents too much of the nail from getting cut, too. Cheap clippers put uncomfortable pressure on the nail without cutting easily.

You may want to have styptic powder on hand to stop the bleeding in case you go too far. (Just take it slow and cut very thin slices so you don’t accidentally do that.) Some people use a bar of soap or corn starch, but I find styptic powder works best. The nail might bleed for up to 10 minutes without it and is a mess, plus it hurts the dog.

Steps to successful clipping – either use the sticky bone described in the first section of this blog post or smear peanut butter directly on the fridge or dishwasher, or ask a second person move the clippers and feed the treat. Repeat each step a few times and feed a treat after each repetition to help your dog enjoy this process. Spend just a few minutes at a time working and take a break if you or your puppy need one. Even if you plan to have a groomer or the vet clip the nails going forward, you should do this training.

  1. Look at the clippers on the ground

  2. Look at the clippers while you touch a paw

  3. Look at the clippers while you hold a paw

  4. Look at the clippers while you hold a paw and separate the toes

  5. Touch the clippers to the paw

  6. Clip one nail – then have a treat party!

For dogs who truly hate nail trimming, you may need anti-anxiety medication and I can also help you train your dog to file his or her own nails. We just need a 2' x 4' wrapped in sandpaper type material.

If any of this seems daunting, please contact your vet or groomer for help, and contact me to help with the training and anxiety part of the equation. There is also a great group on Facebook for grooming using positive methods. Happy grooming!


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