Grooming: Choosing the Right Tool for the Job

So you want your dog to look like he or she is fit to compete at Westminster, but there are about 53 million different types of grooming tools at your local pet store. How do you choose?

Dog being groomed
You want to keep your dog looking pretty, but how do you find the right grooming tools among the millions of choices?


Although tempting during shedding season, a dog should never be shaved bald. Doing so can cause sunburn and can interfere with the dog's natural cooling ability. The fur actually traps air which helps the dog cool off.

While shaving the dog entirely is out, clipping the fur very short can be a workable alternative. The short hair will be easier to care for and less likely to pick up burrs when you go for hikes. Look for clippers that feature detachable blades you can use to choose the length of fur you want to leave on the dog. Usually, the lower the number on the blade, the shorter the coat will be when you finish.

If you have a dog whose fur tends toward the unkempt, a so-called "puppy clip" might be the solution. By keeping the coat relatively short, you can avoid matting and knots. If your dog spends a lot of time outdoors, he or she might pick up a lot of mud, bugs, and other organic matter. The shorter cut can minimize this.


Nearly all dogs shed, but those with double coats are especially prone to dropping more fur than they seemingly retain during the spring and fall. There are a number of ways to deal with the avalanche of fur. One of the easiest to use is the grooming mitt. The mitt looks like an oven mitt and usually fits on either hand. The surface may be rubberized or made of cloth, usually with nubs that stick up to trap the hair. By simply petting the dog, you are removing loose fur.

A shedding blade is a loop of metal with a serrated edge, with the ends tucked into a plastic handle. One of the ends can be taken out of the handle to use the tool as a straight blade if desired. Running the serrated edge of the tool over the dog's coat knocks loose the fur that is ready to come out.

Just about any brush will remove loose fur, but the undercoat rake is especially effective. Double rows of teeth remove the undercoat while leaving the top coat alone.

Pet nail clipping
Most dogs don't like to have their feet handled, and are notoriously skittish about nail care.

The best product for removing shed undercoat on the market today is probably the one made by Furminator. Similar to an undercoat rake, this tool removes copious amounts of loose fur and captures it in the teeth of the tool, allowing you to dispose of it easily before it blows away. Many of the other tools remove the fur but don't keep it together, so it gets all over your house anyways. This tool keeps it in a clump so you can pull it out and put it in a trash bag after every couple of strokes.

Do NOT use the Furminator on dogs with very short coats, as it will cause discomfort. Also, if your dog has a very curly coat like a Poodle, it may tangle in the tool. The Furminator de-shedding tool comes in various sizes to meet your needs regardless of how large or small your dog is.

Every-Day Care

On a day-to-day basis, you may just want to brush your dog to clean loose dirt and broken hair from his or her coat. The slicker brush separates and lifts the hair away from the dog's body, giving a fuller appearance to the coat. It removes tangles and distributes the oils from the dog's skin throughout the coat. These are great for dogs with wiry or tough coats.

A pin brush looks very similar to the one you may use on your own hair. It may have metal or rubberized pins. Some are two-sided, with metal pins on one side and rubberized pins on the other. Alternatively, there may be pins on one side and a bristle brush on the other. The bristle side is used for smoothing the coat and making it shiny.

Brushes can be used alone or with any one of a number of sprays meant to de-tangle, add shine, condition the coat, or clarify colors.

Nail Care

There are three primary ways to shorten and care for your dog's nails: files, grinders, and trimmers. The nail file is used like an emery board to shape and shorten your dog's nails - pretty simple.

The grinder does the same thing as the file, but it uses a motorized wheel rather than your elbow grease to do the deed. The noise the grinder makes may be irksome to your dog, so you'll need to take the time to introduce it to your dog slowly.

Nail clippers usually include a guide with a hole in it, and a guillotine-type blade that slides across the guide hole when you squeeze the handles together, snipping off the tip of the nail.

Most dogs don't like to have their feet handled, and are notoriously skittish about nail care. Have your dog lay down on a table, then lean across the dog's back. Your body weight will help keep him or her still and will reassure the animal. Firmly grasp the dog's paw in your non-dominant hand. Position yourself so that you're working from the underside of the dog's foot. Work the clipper with your non-dominant hand and cut the nail at about a 45-degree angle, being careful not to cut too deeply. If you do happen to cut into the quick, stop the bleeding with styptic powder or corn starch.

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