Dog Grooming Checklist

Dog Wet2By Sharon Billings, CVT
Associate Veterinary Information Specialist

All dogs benefit from regular grooming care.  Perhaps you prefer to leave some, or all, grooming up to the professionals.  Or maybe you’re a do-it-yourself person and like to take care of the easier items at home.  In this blog post, we move beyond the hair brush and touch on a few other grooming basics to keep your dog looking and feeling great!

Tooth Brushing:

Do:  A healthy mouth can add years to your dog’s life!  The “gold standard” is daily gentle brushing with soft nylon bristles.

Don’t:  Dogs will most likely swallow rather than spit out the toothpaste when we brush their teeth.  Don’t use human toothpaste; instead, use toothpaste formulated especially for your dog.

What You’ll Need:  Dog toothpaste, soft nylon bristle toothbrush.  Note:  see our earlier blog post for a step-by-step guide to tooth brushing.

Before you start:  Consult with your dog’s veterinarian to ensure your dog’s teeth and gums are healthy enough to start a tooth brushing routine.

Nail Trimming

Do:  Keeping nails trimmed to an appropriate length helps avoid pain and injury that can occur when too-long nails prevent paws’ joints from flexing normally while your dog walks.  So, what’s an appropriate length?  You should be able to slip a plastic credit card beneath each nail when your dog is standing; if the card won’t fit, the nail is too long.

Don’t:  Avoid waiting a long time until nails are overgrown and then removing a large amount of nail all at once; this increases the risk of cutting into the sensitive quick (blood supply within the nail) which results in a painful, bleeding nail.  Aim for removing tiny amounts frequently instead.

What You’ll Need:  Nail trimmers (available in many styles) and styptic powder or gel (to stop bleeding, just in case)

Before you start:  Your dog’s veterinary professional can provide recommendations for trimming techniques and the best choice of nail trimming tools for your dog.


Do:  Regular bathing not only makes your dog’s coat look, feel, and smell terrific; it also helps keep the coat and skin healthy by removing excess oil and debris.  Water should be tepid to lukewarm but not hot or cold.

Don’t:  Did you know that dogs’ skin has a much higher pH than humans’ comparatively acidic skin?  Never use a human shampoo to bathe your dog; instead, use a shampoo formulated for dogs.

What You’ll Need:  Hair brush, dog shampoo, drying towels.  A walk-in shower is a plus for larger dogs but a bath tub can work (or a sink for small dogs).  Consider investing in a spray shower attachment to fit your sink or bath tub faucet.   Another option:  some pet food and supply stores with grooming facilities have do-it-yourself bath stations for a small fee.

Before you start:  Consult with your dog’s veterinary professional to identify an appropriate shampoo for your dog.  If your dog has no particular skin issues, your veterinary professional may recommend a gentle oatmeal dog shampoo but if your dog has skin issues your veterinarian will recommend a formula that will meet your dog’s specific needs.

Ear Cleaning

Do:  Regular ear cleaning removes wax and debris from the outer ear canal.  Regular ear cleaning can go a long way in preventing painful, costly, and potentially damaging ear infections!

Don’t:  Applying ear cleaning liquid to a potentially injured or infected ear may make a bad situation worse.  If you suspect your dog has an ear infection (head shaking, pawing at ear(s), or diminished hearing) or if you see / smell anything abnormal in the ear(s), check in with your veterinary professional before attempting to clean your dog’s ears.

What You’ll Need:  Ear cleaning solution, cotton balls or gauze squares, towels but NO cotton swabs!

Before you start:  It’s important to use the correct technique when using liquid ear cleaner in your dog’s ears.  So, to prevent injury and make sure you’re doing a thorough job, ask your veterinary professional for a demonstration!

Other Smelly Stuff

Do:  Yes, we’re talking about anal sacs here.  The anal sacs contain a very smelly liquid that is normally squeezed out during defecation.  Some dogs never need help emptying their anal sacs. But if the anal sacs become too full the result can be pain, inflammation, impaction, and infection (abscess).  So, for those dogs whose anal sacs don’t empty sufficiently on their own, routine anal sac expression (emptying) may be in order.

Don’t:  If your dog is scooting / licking / scratching or if you see signs of swelling, inflammation, or discharge do not attempt an anal sac expression at home as there is risk of rupture; this is a good time to call on the professionals for assistance!

What You’ll Need:  Paper towels or newspaper (to catch drips on the floor), disposable gloves, lubricant such as KY Jelly, and waterless shampoo (or just take care of this right before bath time).

Before you start:  If you decide you’d like to take care of this grooming item at home, consult with your veterinarian first.  Depending on your dog’s temperament, this may very well be a two-person job and it does require a specific technique to prevent anal sac injury.

One final note:  When establishing any new routine, remember the benefits of consistency and positive reinforcement.  Use lots of praise and treats to reward your dog’s patience and cooperation.  Before you know it, you’ll have a well established grooming routine that helps you keep your dog in tip top health!