What Good Grooming Is All About

What Good Grooming Is All About

In This Chapter

  • Understanding why grooming is important to your dog’s health
  • Tallying the costs of grooming
  • Determining which dogs (and coat types) need the most and least grooming
  • Figuring out when to do it yourself and when to hire a pro
Grooming . . . the froufrou doggie beauty parlor, complete with bows, silly hairstyles, and nail polish. It doesn’t have to be that way, but grooming is important any way you brush it. Your dog feels as uncomfortable as you do when his hair is all ratty and snarled. But grooming is also vital for his health. And it means more than just a bath — it includes brushing, combing, keeping his teeth and ears clean, clipping his nails, and keeping him in top shape. In this chapter, you get an overview of dog grooming and why it’s so important for your dog’s well-being. You also find out how much time and money it takes to keep your dog well groomed and when to call in a pro.

Big Hairy Deal: Why Grooming Is Important

Your dog isn’t healthy if she doesn’t look good outside. A lackluster coat or one that’s plagued with external parasites and sores is just the tip of the iceberg. If she looks icky outside, she probably feels icky inside, too. A dog’s coat mirrors her health. And her outward appearance can be a signal of internal problems that no amount of brushing can fix.

Keeping clean company

When your dog is clean, you want him around more so you can bond and enjoy each other’s company. Sure, he likes to play in the dirt and roll in distasteful stuff, but he also likes how it feels to be clean, just like you do. In the end, you and everyone around you are less likely to enjoy having a dirty, smelly dog around. A clean, refreshing one is definitely a more enjoyable companion.

Presenting a positive public image

Keeping your dog clean says something about you; it says that you’re a responsible dog owner and that you care for your dog. You may be able to take your dog places where dogs aren’t usually allowed. If it takes only a glance to see that you take care of your dogs and that they’re well mannered, rules can often be bent.
Your dog no doubt will join you on walks outside your home, but you may occasionally do other things together, such as go to special events or even compete in various dog sports and activities. Maybe you want to do some social work, such as visiting the sick or elderly. Your dog could become a therapy dog, but being clean and friendly is crucial under those circumstances. No one wants to pet a dirty dog, no matter how lovable.


Dogs aren’t always allowed everywhere you want to take them, no matter how well behaved and well groomed they are. Sometimes health department regulations come into play, so make sure that you always get permission before you take a dog to a place that doesn’t normally accept them.

Eliminating the spread of dirt and disease

Dirty dogs track dirt into your home and get dirt on your clothing, furniture, and carpet. Ungroomed dogs are also more likely to be infected by internal and external parasites — fleas and ticks — and can harbor dangerous diseases, such as bubonic plague (yes, really), typhus, Lyme disease, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever, which can make you and your family sick. If your dog is ungroomed, she may be carrying fungi such as ringworm that young kids and the elderly can catch. Keeping your dog clean through good grooming eliminates many potential health problems.

Coaching your canine to be groomed

Grooming your dog requires partnership. Although you don’t necessarily need your dog’s full compliance when grooming, it sure makes things easier. Good grooming starts when your dog is a puppy. Getting her used to routine tasks, like being brushed and combed and having her feet handled so you can clip her toenails, is all part of grooming. If you wait until the dog is grown, your dog may fight you, and you may end up with results neither of you like.
Teaching your dog simple cues, such as Sit, Down, and Stay, is important in wise grooming. If you can’t keep your dog in one place, it’s very hard to do anything. Chapter Basic Training and Beyond provides advice for training your dog to enjoy grooming (or at least tolerate it and cooperate).

Determining whether something’s really wrong with your dog internally

Plenty of good reasons exist for grooming your dog. One of them is finding out the difference between a coat that looks bad because it’s dirty and one that looks bad because something is wrong with your dog. Grooming also eliminates various problems associated with an ill-kept dog, such as external parasites or open sores caused by a matted and dirty coat that traps bacteria.
A lackluster coat can be a sign of one or more serious problems, including the following:
  • Poor nutrition
  • Allergies
  • Internal parasites
  • Hormonal imbalances or diseases
  • External parasites
  • Cancer
  • Other diseases

Any one of these problems can severely shorten your dog’s life or, in extreme conditions, kill your dog outright. Grooming your dog helps separate potential health problems from problems caused by not properly caring for your dog.

Considering the Necessary Investment

You may be wondering just how much it costs to have a good-looking dog. You may have even visited the local groomer to find out how much bathing and/or clipping your dog costs. If so, you know it can be a bit pricey. The truth is, when you start grooming your dog, you can take certain basic steps just to get by, all the while keeping an eye out for bargains on good equipment and supplies. It’s not all about money, though. Your time is worth something, and grooming requires some of that, too.
You may find grooming expensive in time and money, or you may find it relatively inexpensive. Much of the cost of grooming depends on the breed, what type of hair your dog has, and whether you’re grooming your dog as a pet or for show. The following sections can help you figure out how much time and money you need to keep your pup well groomed.

The cost in money

The bad news is that good grooming supplies are fairly expensive. The good news is that after you dole out the initial investment for your equipment, you probably won’t encounter that expense again unless something breaks or wears out.
How much does at-home grooming cost compared to a year’s worth of grooming sessions from a pro? Well, if you’re paying from $20 to $50 a month in grooming, you’re paying $240 to $600 a year. You can buy some pretty nice grooming equipment for that amount of money, meaning that doing it yourself pays off during the first year or two, and you’re saving that much every year from then on.
Some dogs need more grooming equipment and supplies than others. For example, a dog who needs daily brushing and regular clipping will need more equipment than a dog with a wash-and-wear coat. (See “Getting Familiar with Your Dog’s Coat” later in this chapter, for more on fur types.)

The cost in time

Think about both the work and the fun factors when you bathe or brush your dog. Grooming your dog is as much a necessity as housetraining your dog or taking him to the vet for an annual exam, but whether it’s a joy or a chore is up to you. When considering doing the grooming yourself, be aware of the following:

– The shorter your dog’s coat, the less grooming he’ll need.

– The smaller the dog, the less grooming he’ll need.

– A dog with long hair or a double coat takes more time to groom than one with a medium- or short-haired coat.

– Different procedures take different amounts of time. A quick brushing with a well-maintained coat takes less time than a bath (see Chapter The Basics of Brushing and Bathing for more).

– The condition of your dog’s coat dictates the amount of time grooming takes. Brushing out a clean dog with a well-maintained coat takes very little time when compared to one with a dirty, matted coat.

– Dogs with wash-and-wear (short-haired) coats can usually get away with once-a-week grooming.

– Dogs with average coats can usually get away with twice-a-week grooming.

– Dogs with high-maintenance coats need to be groomed three times or more per week.

– When some dogs are adolescents or when they’re shedding, they require coat care every day.

When planning your initial grooming session, set aside at least two hours, because you’ll be going more slowly and your dog’s coat may not be in the best condition. Later you can whittle down your grooming sessions to an hour or even a half hour as you get better at grooming and your dog’s coat is better maintained.


If you don’t have the time to groom your dog’s coat into good shape, consider first taking him to a professional groomer and then maintaining the coat after the groomer works it into manageable shape. Your dog’s coat can achieve the proper condition without using too much of your valuable time.

The added investment: Grooming for show

Grooming your dog for show costs plenty more in terms of time and money over what you’d spend on grooming a pet dog. Special show clips and stripped breeds (such as Terriers, whose grooming requires hair removal) usually take a while to develop and maintain. Many coats benefit from special leave-in coat conditioners, bodifiers, and coat dressings. (See Chapter Best in Show: Showing Your Dog for more information on showing your dog.)

Getting Familiar with Your Dog’s Coat

Dogs have some amazing coats, ranging from curly to straight, puffy to wiry, short to long, and every variation in between. Some dogs even come equipped with dreadlocks!
It’s hard to believe that the wolf produced descendants with such wide varieties of coats, but it did. You have to evaluate the type of coat your dog has, and that determines the grooming equipment and supplies you need. The following sections cover differences in the basic types of coats.

Coat types: Single versus double

Dogs basically have two types of coats:

Double coat: Most dogs have a double coat (also called a two-ply coat) that consists of a top coat and an undercoat. The top coat is composed of stiffer guard hairs, which tend to be naturally water repellant. Top coats protect the dog’s skin and undercoat, acting as a natural guard against the elements. The undercoat is a fleecy or downy type of fur that’s shorter than the top coat. The undercoat serves as insulation to keep the dog warm during cold or inhospitable weather. Dogs shed (or blow out) the undercoat twice a year — it’s a seasonal action.

Single coat: Some dogs have a single coat, in which only a top coat is present without an undercoat. Dogs with this kind of coat shed less than their double-coated counterparts.

You can tell what kind of coat your dog has in two ways. The first is easy: Read the American Kennel Club (AKC) breed standard for your breed and look under the Coat listing (www.akc.org). The second way is to part the hairs on your dog’s coat to find out whether it’s a longer, harsh coat combined with soft, downy fur. If so, your dog has a double coat. If the hair is mostly even without an undercoat, your dog has a single coat.
However, both types of coats have different issues when it comes to grooming, so be aware that one type isn’t necessarily better than another. Knowing coat type helps you determine how to groom your dog properly. Knowing whether she will go through a seasonal shed or blow her coat, can avoid surprises when she leaves enough hair on the rug to knit three more dogs her size.
Two types of double coats exist. One is called a natural coat — that is, a coat with two layers. The second is found on longer-haired breeds that have two-ply coats that obviously need more attention.

Defining coat terms

Many funny-sounding words are associated with dog coats. They’re worth mentioning because you may come across them when working on a particular breed or reading a particular breed standard (see Book Meet the Breeds). Peruse these various coat textures and what they mean:

Blow coat: The yearly or biannual shedding that some dog breeds go through. The coat comes out in handfuls during a short period of time.

Bristle coat: A wiry or broken coat, or a bristly coat, such as the one worn by the Chinese Shar-Pei.

Broken coat: See wire coat.

Corded coat: A coat that has dreadlocks.

Crinkly coat: A wire coat found on the Wire (Haired) Fox Terrier.

Curly coat: A coat with curls, like that of the Poodle or the Curly-Coated Retriever.

Double coat: A coat with an undercoat and a top coat.

Guard hairs: See top coat.

Linty coat: A coat that has an unusual soft, downy texture. (Also what your light-colored dog gets when you carry her around while you’re wearing black cashmere.)

Open coat: A sparsely haired coat; usually a single coat.

Out of coat: A dog who has shed his undercoat and is waiting for his new coat to grow in. Out-of-coat dogs usually are not as pretty as when they’re in full coat.

Pily coat: A coat with a dense, harsh top coat with a soft, fur-like undercoat. Usually found in Dandie Dinmont Terriers.

Single coat: A coat that lacks an undercoat.

Smooth coat: A short coat that lays back against the dog’s skin.

Stand-off coat: A long coat that does not lay flat against the body, but stands straight up. (Also the kind of coat your dog will have if you two can’t come to terms with grooming.)

Top coat: The outer coat that protects the dog’s skin and undercoat. Usually harsh and weather resistant.

Two-ply coat: See double coat.

Undercoat: The downy second coat found beneath the top coat, usually shed once or twice a year.

Wire coat: A type of harsh coat that may be single or double with stiff, wiry hairs.

Coat textures

Different coats have different textures. Understanding the texture of your dog’s coat is crucial for proper grooming. Consider these different textures:

Smooth coats: The smooth-coated or short-coated dog has very short hair that lays back against the dog’s skin. A smooth coat can be either double-coated or single-coated, depending on the breed. These coats tend not to be much of a hassle when it comes to grooming — even though they do shed. Dalmatians and Bulldogs have this kind of hair.

Wire coats: The wire coat (broken coat) is wiry on the outside and often has a soft undercoat on the inside, but it can be a single coat. Wire coats are wavy looking, but the hair feels a bit coarse. Think Terrier. Wire coats usually need to be stripped or clipped (removed or cut), adding an extra step to the average grooming routine.

Curly coats: Curly coats are few in number, but you’ll recognize them. They’re the Poodles, the Portuguese Water Dogs, and the Irish Water Spaniels. These curly dogs require extreme maintenance, including clipping and brushing (see Chapter To Clip or Not to Clip: Dog Haircuts).

Corded coats: Dogs with “dreadlocks” need a fair amount of work upfront to prevent the hair from tangling into mats. After the cords are twisted, keeping them well maintained takes time. Dogs with corded coats include the Puli and the Komondor. Poodles can also be corded.

Coat length

Shorter coats generally are easier to groom than longer coats. Check out the other differences in the list that follows:

Hairless dogs: On one end of the spectrum are the hairless or near-hairless dogs. They are lacking when it comes to hair, although some breeds, like the Chinese Crested, actually have some hair on the head or legs (and the Powderpuff variety is a hairy dog). But just because they’re hairless doesn’t mean that you don’t groom them. Although you may not be brushing their hair, their skin requires plenty of attention.

Short coats: Dogs with short coats are pretty much the wash-and-wear dogs. Their coats don’t offer much protection against the elements, so they’re more likely to have problems with cold climates than their furrier counterparts. They may be single- or double-coated. Examples include the Basenji and the Beagle.

Medium coats: A medium coat is not so short that the hair doesn’t give the dog protection, and not so long that the hair tangles or mats terribly. Medium-coated dogs usually are double-coated with a top coat and an undercoat, but unlike long-haired dogs, they’re usually fairly easy to groom. Border Collies and Cardigan Welsh Corgis have medium coats.

– Long coats: Dogs with long coats often are the showstoppers of the dog world, attracting oohs and ahhs wherever they go. But all that beauty has a price. Long-coated dogs often are single-coated and prone to mats and tangles if the hair isn’t kept up. If your dog has a long coat, you can expect long grooming sessions or trips to the grooming parlor. Afghan Hounds and Irish Setters have long coats.

Coat color

Dogs come in a variety of colors — everything from black to white and all shades in between, or so it seems. And their colors come in many different patterns, including bi-color, tri-color, and brindle (mottled with brown and black — often looking like stripes). Colors and color combinations depend a great deal on the breed and whether they are acceptable in the breed standard.
Some shampoos and conditioners help bring out the best in your dog’s coat. When buying supplies, look for ones that make your white dog sparkling white, your black dog glossy black, or your brown dog look his very best.

Having the Proper Tools on Hand

Different coats require different grooming methods, and different grooming methods require different equipment and supplies. Analyzing your dog’s coat should give you some idea of what tools and supplies you need to properly groom her. For example, depending on your dog’s coat, you may be simply brushing and bathing, or you may be clipping or stripping it, too.


Good grooming requires more than brushing, bathing, and possibly clipping your dog. It also involves routinely trimming her toenails, brushing her teeth, cleaning her eyes and ears, and possibly expressing her anal sacs. Chapter Caring for Nails, Teeth, Nose, Ears, Eyes, Face, and . . . Elsewhere covers these jobs.

Choosing a low- or high-maintenance pup

Grooming can be a piece of cake or a nightmare, depending on your patience and the breed of dog you’ve chosen. Although other factors are probably more important, grooming also should go into the decision-making process when choosing a dog.
Which dogs are low maintenance when it comes to coats? Think short and medium coats that don’t need clipping and don’t need a lot of brushing and detangling (but these dogs do shed). Consider this partial list of some dogs with low-maintenance coats:
  • Basenji
  • Beagle
  • Boston Terrier
  • Dalmatian
  • Doberman Pincher 
  • German Shorthaired Pointer
  • Great DaneLabrador RetrieverPointerRottweiler
Why would anyone want a dog with a high-maintenance coat? Well, as you’ve seen, they can be very beautiful. Owners and breeders like that certain look you don’t see with a short-coated dog. The dog’s temperament figures in, too — many people like certain  temperaments that come in a particular package. This list includes some dogs with high-maintenance coats:
  • Afghan Hound
  • American Cocker Spaniel
  • Dandie Dinmont Terrier
  • Keeshond
  • Kerry Blue Terrier
  • Poodle
  • Portuguese Water Dog
  • Puli
  • Samoyed
  • Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier

Knowing When to Call a Pro

You may be ready to invest your time and money in grooming your pooch, but in some situations you need to rely on the skills and advice of an expert. Your Bearded Collie may tangle with a sticker bush, and you may not have the time or patience to pick every last sticker out of his coat. Maybe your Great Dane is easy to bathe and brush but a gigantic pain when you’re trimming his nails and brushing his teeth. Perhaps you adopted a dog who’s never been groomed, and you need help getting his coat into shape so you can then maintain it.
If you’re an honest soul who has admitted to yourself that you have neither the time nor the inclination to do it right, there’s no shame in that. And why should there be? You call a plumber when your sink faucet is spraying water. You have a teacher teach your kids. You buy an airline ticket to fly across the country instead of going to flight school. You pay someone else to do plenty of tasks that you can’t or won’t do, so there’s nothing wrong with hiring a professional groomer for your dog.


Assigning children to groom the dog usually isn’t a reliable alternative to routinely grooming the dog yourself. No matter how much your kids promise to take care of the dog (including grooming), don’t believe them. This task ultimately falls on an adult in the household. Younger children are neither responsible enough to take care of a dog without adult supervision nor capable of tackling the grooming process.

Considering the cost

Most pet owners hesitate to look for a professional groomer because, quite frankly, it’s costly. Yet that’s all a matter of perspective. What’s your time worth? If you take three or four hours to groom your Standard Poodle, paying someone $45 to $65 to bathe, brush, and clip your dog may actually be a deal.
The cost of having a professional groom your dog varies widely depending on where you live and what you want done. Time- and skill-intensive procedures like stripping or clipping coats cost more than a simple bath and brushing. Problem coats (matting and tangles) also add to the cost.
Keep these points in mind when considering the cost of grooming:

– Most groomers charge between $35 and $70 for complete grooming.

– Some groomers charge more or less, depending on the breed, the location (New York City is more expensive than Great Falls, Montana), the size of the dog, and the type of work done.

– Dogs with matted or dirty fur cost more, and so do dogs who need a show trim.

– Groomers add from $8 to $12 for mats and add at least $40 for show cuts, over the average cost of grooming.


Most, but not all, groomers offer baths, brushing, clipping, stripping, ear cleaning, and nail cutting as part of their services. Ask what the full grooming price includes. Some groomers don’t quote a price until they see your dog and can gauge how much work grooming your dog will be.

Looking for a professional groomer

Now that you’ve decided to use a professional groomer, you can easily Google dog grooming with your city name included, or kick it old school in the Yellow Pages under the “Dog Groomers” section. But you may have a better method.

Finding a professional groomer

Finding a groomer is pretty easy. You’re likely to see a shop on the corner in your neighborhood, but you may not be sure whether that groomer is any good. Take these steps to find a good one:

1. Ask your dog-owning friends whether they use a groomer for their dogs or know of one they can recommend.

A good recommendation is worth its weight in gold. If your dog-owning friends praise a particular groomer, go with that one.

2. Ask your veterinarian what groomer he recommends.

Sometimes vets employ a groomer onsite.

3. Look for groomers near you online:

Find a Groomer directory (www.findagroomer.com): This groomer directory is the pet owner’s side of PetGroomer.com (www.petgroomer.com). Groomers list themselves here. You can search by city and state or even by zip code.

BreederWeb.com (breederweb.com/services/dogGroomers.asp): This resource is another good one to use in your search for a groomer.
DexOnline.com (dexonline.com): Use this Internet Yellow Pages site to do a search on dog grooming in your city and state.
Checking into Certifications
Certifications are a mixed bag. Plenty of good groomers who have well-established businesses and do an exceptional job are not certified. A groomer who is neither certified nor professionally trained may have a good reputation and references that check out. If so, that groomer probably is a good bet.

Technical Stuff

A certified groomer is someone who is professionally trained and certified to a certain standard. You don’t know what level of expertise a groomer who hasn’t been certified has achieved. An uncertified groomer may be better or worse than someone who is certified. With certification, at least you know the standard to which the groomer should be able to perform.

Certifications are offered through certain grooming schools and through the National Dog Groomer’s Association of America (NDGAA). You can find out more about NDGAA certification at www.nationaldoggroomers.com.

Screening a professional groomer

After you find a professional groomer you’re interested in using, you need to determine whether that groomer is the right one for your dog. Not all groomers are comfortable with all dogs; some groomers prefer to work only with certain breeds.


Some groomers may use tranquilizers, especially with difficult-to-handle or aggressive dogs. If you don’t know whether a groomer uses tranquilizers, ask. Some dogs can experience seizures when administered certain common tranquilizers. Tranquilizers also make dogs more susceptible to problems caused by changes in temperature, such as hypothermia and heatstroke.

Knowing the right questions to ask

Let your fingers do the walking here. You can prescreen most professional groomers over the phone to find out whether they’re right for you and your dog. Ask these questions:
– What hours are you open for business?

– Are you available for emergencies or after hours?

– How long have you been in business?

– What are your certifications? With what organization?

– How many clients do you see?

– What breeds do you see most of?

– How many of my breed do you see?

– Are you comfortable working on my breed?

– How much do you charge for a full grooming? What procedures does a full grooming include?

– How do you handle difficult dogs? Do you muzzle or tranquilize them?

– Do you use cage dryers? If so, how often do you check on dogs with cage dryers?

– What do you charge for just a bath and brushing? Nail clipping?

– How many staff members do you employ?

– What other services do you offer?

– Do you have an emergency on-call vet? Who is it?

– Do you have references?

Visiting a professional groomer

After you prescreen the professional groomer on the phone, it’s time for a visit. Ask whether you can drop by and check out the groomer’s facility some time. The grooming shop should be neat, clean, and organized. If the shop is especially busy, you may find hair and water on the floor, but overall the shop needs to leave you with a good impression.
Watch how the groomer and staff members handle dogs. Are they gentle and caring, or do they move the dogs around like commodities? Watch body language; you generally can tell whether the groomer is just going through the motions or sincerely likes what she is doing. Although everyone is entitled to a bad day, the groomer shouldn’t take out any frustrations on the dogs.
When you’re convinced that a particular groomer is the one for your dog, make an appointment. You may need one or two sessions to really decide whether the groomer is a good fit.


A dirty or terribly chaotic and disorganized grooming shop may be a sign that the groomer doesn’t have enough staff and may not have time to care for and watch all the dogs, especially the ones in cage dryers (combination kennels/dryers). When that’s the case, you may want to look for another groomer. For the lowdown on the basics of doing your own grooming, continue on to the other chapters in this Book. For the whole story on grooming, check out Dog Grooming For Dummies by Margaret H. Bonham (Wiley).

by Eve Adamson, Richard G. Beauchamp, Margaret H. Bonham, Stanley Coren, Miriam Fields-Babineau, Sarah Hodgson, Connie Isbell, Susan McCullough, Gina Spadafori, Jack and Wendy Volhard, Chris Walkowicz, M. Christine Zink, DVM, PhD