Basic Grooming Skills for Dog Owners

| Mary Bays

Learn tips for nail trims, washing out ears, cleaning teeth, and introducing a brush - so your dog's grooming routine results in a healthier, cleaner pup!


The first few years of a dog’s life are filled with learning important skills. Teaching your dog to behave politely and patiently during basic preventative care and grooming is key to a healthier dog. Preventative care such as ear cleaning, nail trimming, and teeth cleaning can help keep your dog feeling his best and save you money on future veterinary expenses!

Cleaning Your Dog’s Ears

Cleaning your dog’s ears regularly can help to prevent ear infections, however many dog owners aren’t aware that they need to establish an ear cleaning routine. If your dog has excess ear hair or floppy ears, he’s at a higher risk of infection due to a tendency for the ears to trap dirt, moisture, and excess wax build-up. Puppies can also experience ear infections; however, the main cause is often mites rather than bacteria or yeast growth.

Teaching your dog to be patient during ear cleaning can save you a lot of time and hassle. Gently hold your puppy’s chin and exaggerate looking into his ear. Practice touching his ears inside and out – praising him for the good behavior of staying motionless. Once your puppy is comfortable having his ears touched, you can add in touching a cotton ball to his ears.

Once you’re ready to actually clean your puppy’s ears, follow the steps below. All you will need is 3-4 cotton balls and ear cleaner!

Cleaning Instructions:

  • Wet a cotton ball with ear cleaner.

  • Using small circles, transfer the ear cleaner into your dog’s ears. Clean the folds of the ear and then repeat on the other ear.

  • Leave the ear cleaner in your dog’s ears for about 30 seconds.

  • To ensure the ear cleaner reaches all of the ear canal, massage under your dog’s ears where the base of the ears meet the head.

*Tip: You should use enough ear cleaner to hear a “squish” in the dog’s ears.

  • Using a dry cotton ball, remove excess ear cleaner from your dog’s ears using gentle circles.

Brushing Canine Teeth

By six months of age, most puppies have a full set of adult teeth that will need some maintenance to remain healthy throughout a puppy’s lifetime. Giving your dog dental chews and brushing his teeth two to three times a week can help keep teeth healthy by removing plaque and tartar. Start by gentling handling your dogs’ mouth until he is comfortable with you touching around the lips and gums. Then follow the instructions below to introduce toothpaste and a toothbrush.

Tooth Brushing Instructions:

  • Apply canine toothpaste or a paste of baking soda and water to a pet toothbrush or your finger.

  • Gently scrub your dog’s teeth with the toothbrush or your finger to remove tartar.

Photo of a woman holding her dog

Every Dog and Cat Deserves the Pet Insurance of Champions

Get prize-winning care for your pets.


Nail Trimming Made Easy

As most dog owners know, nails left untrimmed can grow too long and break, leading to infections in the nail bed. Teach your dog paw targeting so he is comfortable with you handling his feet. Once your pup is comfortable with you touching his feet, help him to accept the nail trimming tool by “trimming” the air in front of his paws. Remember to praise and reward him for sitting still while the tool is close to his toes.

When it’s time to trim your dog’s nails, you will only need nail trimmers and a willing pup!

Nail Trimming Instructions:

  • Ask for your dog to give you his paw.

  • Hold your dog’s toe with your thumb and forefinger to extend the nail.

  • Using your dog nail trimmers, clip the tip of the nail. Avoid the quick when clipping by avoiding clipping past the curve of the nail.

*Tip: For white nails, the cut surface will turn pink just before reaching the quick. For black nails, the cut surface will first show a gray or white center, then black, and eventually pink right before the quick.

  • Repeat for the rest of his toes!

Basics of Brushing

Whether your dog is hairless or a shedding machine, all dogs can benefit from learning patience during grooming. If your dog has never seen a brush before, allow him to investigate the brush, then move on to touching him gently with it. Puppies may decide this is a game and attempt to attack the brush! If this happens, pause and allow your puppy to investigate the brush further until it becomes less exciting. Praise your pup each time he allows the brush to touch him and remember to be gentle as you start out. Once your puppy is comfortable, lightly run the brush down his body and praise him for being still.

Prevention is Key

Taking time to run through these basic grooming and preventative care skills can make a big difference in keeping your dog healthy throughout his life. Veterinary dental cleanings, treating severe ear infections and fixing broken toenails are all expense veterinary procedures that can often be avoided with some at-home preventative treatments!

Photo of a woman holding her dog

Every Dog and Cat Deserves the Pet Insurance of Champions

Get prize-winning care for your pets.

Mary Bays

Mary comes to AKC Pet Insurance with an extensive background in animal care. As a lifelong animal lover, she has a passion for promoting pet health and wellness. Mary lives in Kentucky with her orange kitty, "Cat" and her dog, " Wubbi".


Related Articles

View All