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How to groom your dog at home

If you’re a dog parent whose local groomer has temporarily closed their doors due to the coronavirus pandemic, you might’ve noticed your Very Good Boy or Girl looking, well, a little unkempt. Maybe you even worry about how a lack of regular grooming will affect their health. The good news is, you can still keep your fur baby so fresh and so clean while sheltering in place. Here are tips on how to groom your dog at home.

Have the right tools

Don’t use scissors, since they could injure your pupper, Bernie Machado, owner of Bernie’s Grooming City Dogs in San Francisco, tells Mic. Ann Hohenhaus, staff doctor at the Animal Medical Center in New York City, suggests pet clippers instead, per the New York Times.

Tailor your toolkit to your pupper’s fur type, Machado says. The ASPCA suggests a slicker brush for detangling short-haired dogs, for instance, and a slicker brush for detangling, followed by a bristle brush for smoothing the coats of long-haired dogs.

When in doubt, call your pet supply store or groomer, Machado says. “Part of owning, operating, and running a grooming facility is helping educate people…. Most groomers are more than willing to share their information for what we do and how to do it at home.”

Create a positive space

Leash your dog so they don’t run away from you, but keep them calm by smiling and talking in your perkiest “good girl” or “good boy” voice, Machado says. Tell them how good they’re doing the entire time (yes, even if they shook water all over you). Work slowly and steadily. All of this is doubly important if you have an anxious pupper.

Remember, your dog is an incredibly perceptive creature that can pick up on your energy. “The more the dog feels loved and pampered, the less nervous the dog will be.”

Don’t do more than you feel capable of doing

This is to keep you and your fur baby safe, Machado says. If you’ve never trimmed their nails before, for example, or the thought of doing so makes you nervous, save it for the groomer or vet. (You don’t want to cut them too short, which can be really painful for your pupper.) Again, they’ll absorb your nervous energy, which can make your groom sesh more stressful than it needs to be.

Detangle your dog’s fur before bathing them

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This way, the soap won’t get trapped in the tangles, Machado says. Brush each tangle out in four directions: top to bottom, bottom to top, left to right, and right to left. Don’t brush in the same direction over and over, which can irritate or even bruise the skin underneath. If it takes a while, you’re probably doing it right. “One tiny tangle can take up to 10 minutes,” Machado tells Mic.

Protect their ears

Machado suggests plugging your pupper’s ears with cotton pads before bathing them to prevent water from seeping in and causing an infection.

Use the right shampoo

“You should always use dog shampoo and dog conditioner,” Machado says. Using your go-to shampoo on your dog might seem convenient. If you do, expect them to “get very dirty the next day.” Human shampoo, which has a different pH, will be too mild for your pupper, she explains.

Dog shampoo is available as a face shampoo or body shampoo. You can use face shampoo, which is hypoallergenic and tearless, on their body — but you can’t use body shampoo, which doesn’t have these properties, on their face, Machado says.

Dilute the shampoo

Most people glob on the shampoo straight from the bottle, Machado says. Instead, fill an empty bottle with warm water and about two ounces of shampoo, and mix them together. Gently scrub the solution into your pupper’s fur. “Otherwise, it’s like a big slab of glue” that doesn’t actually clean them.

Focus on the dirtiest regions

Machado says dogs get especially dirty in three areas: their feet, face, and butt— yet “most people only wash the middle of the body.” Also remember to thoroughly rinse their underarms and private areas.

Pluck hair out of dog’s ear, if you’re okay with it

Hair can grow out of the ears of some dogs and needs to be removed so the ear canal can breathe, Machado says. If, and only if, you feel comfortable, gently pull hair from the ear with your thumb and index finger. Otherwise, save it for your groomer or vet.

Save treats for the very end

Giving your doggo treats while grooming them might offer the positive reinforcement needed to make the experience enjoyable for them — but it might also condition them to expect treats from your groomer once they open for business again. Your dog might search the groomer’s hand for treats, which can be scary if they happen to be holding a pair of clippers. Instead, reward your pupper with a treat after everything is done, in your usual, sunny “good girl” or “good boy” voice.

“The most important thing is to enjoy the process,” Machado says. Again, if you’re enjoying it, chances are, so is your pupper, who deserves some TLC, too. “Dogs should feel just like when us when get out of the spa. They should be pampered over, respected, and joyful.”