Do-It-Yourself Dog Grooming: A Pretty Pet for Less

by Reader Contributors

DIY Dog Grooming Tips photo

Dog grooming can be a do-it-yourself project for most breeds of dogs so forget the overly-priced pet grooming pros. Keep your pet costs well within budget while keeping Fido well-groomed with these tips and tricks.

Dear Dollar Stretcher,
We got our kids a rescue dog for Christmas. She really needs some grooming. She needs a haircut and her nails trimmed.

After calling around, I was shocked at the prices! Can dog grooming be a do-it-yourself project? We don’t want anything fancy. What’s the best way to do that?

DIY Dog Grooming Tips

We asked our frugal readers to share how they keep their furry family members looking their best. Read on for their Do-it-yourself-dog grooming tips.

The Book on Dog Grooming

When I was a child no one ever took their dogs to a groomer. It was always a DIY project. Get a book that teaches you what you need to know or find some videos online. It’s not that difficult.
Darlene (via Facebook)

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Grooming Starts With a Clean Dog

Yes, you can certainly do a bit of grooming yourself. There are thousands of do-it-yourself dog grooming videos on YouTube. Look up specifically “cutting a dog’s toe nails” and watch to see how it’s done. A pair of nail clippers will cost less than $10. It’s easier if you have two people when doing this. One stands and holds the dog upright with their belly out and head up while the other clips. If your dog objects, use treats after every other nail. Tiny bits of sliced cheese work very well. A larger dog can be held in a person’s lap on the floor.

Watch a few of the grooming videos using clippers. A professional set will run about $150, but after you groom your dog yourself three times, the clippers will be paid for. Your dog won’t look “professionally” groomed, but the fur will grow back and the dog doesn’t care. And practice makes perfect. The more you do it, the easier it will be.

One major thing to remember is to groom a clean dog. Always give the dog a bath (lather twice) before and be sure s/he is completely dry before clipping. This will save wear and tear on your clipper blades.

Brush Up on Safe Handling of Dog

I had a mini-schnauzer that I groomed for years. It takes some practice. I had my mother-in-law show me how, but my dog always received compliments. That was before YouTube though. When I was thinking about getting a west highland terrier, that’s the first place I went to see how involved the grooming was. There were many videos, and most of them were really good.

Don’t be afraid to get in there and do it; it’s only hair. Just make sure you brush up on safe handling of your dog and the shears/clippers, always watch out for overheating, and be patient with your dog (and yourself).

Dog Grooming Can Be Stressful

No dog requires professional grooming. Get a dog shampoo that is gentle and effective. If the dog has a skin problem, get one that will help the issue. If they have long hair that tangles, use a conditioner or de-tangler. Use a sharp pair of scissors with a blunt tip if you need to cut hair or invest in a hair trimming electric razor. If the dog has a short smooth coat, just shampoo and rub dry. If the dog is fearful of water, use a dry shampoo and make it a fun time by petting it into his/her coat. Brush it off with a gentle brush.

Get the best trimmer you can afford. It’s a tough job and having the trimmer break after three nails is miserable. Reward the dog during the trimming after every few nails. I use a bit of peanut butter. It takes them a few seconds to lick it off their lips. We both need the break.

Some dogs will need the hair in their ears plucked regularly to avoid mats and major ear infections. Poodles and long hair breeds are prone to this. Check online for a website ( or at the library for a book on grooming your breed or combination of breeds.

Have some fun with the hair cut. Enjoy the process, and as you practice, you will get better. Just be careful not to clip skin when doing the odd spots like ears, toes, tail, and face. Trim just a bit at a time. You can always cut more off later. Stop when the dog seems too stressed. If they have never been groomed, use a collar and leash and have someone hold the dog while you speak gently to the dog.
Jeanne in Marilla, NY

Learning From Professional Groomers

For dog grooming, I would start by searching YouTube tutorials on the subject, as well as doing a Google search. If you have trouble or if something is unclear, I would pay for a groomer the first time, but stay, watch, and “help.”

Ask questions, but remember to respect that this is their profession, so don’t overstep your bounds by being obvious in your gleaning of information. By being watchful, you’ll probably find ways they help the dog stay calm or how to trim fur when the dog is in an odd position.

If you’ve done your homework beforehand, this should just help you clarify things. As with anything, the first time might not be so pretty, but it should get better with patience and practice!

Good Dog Grooming Includes Nails

Get a good quality dog nail clipper. The cheap ones are inferior and could hurt the dog or scare it by not doing an efficient job. When I first got my rescue dog, he hated having his nails clipped. Now he tolerates it with lots of praise and his most favorite treat, namely chicken bits. Also, don’t cut too short. There is a quick, which is very sensitive and will bleed if cut. This is not helpful in the long-term goal of getting the dog to tolerate getting its nails clipped, so err on the long side, especially if the nail is dark and you can’t tell where the quick starts.

I have my dog give me his paw voluntarily. He does it for the treat. Clip a few nails, saying “good boy” after each one. Do it as quickly as possible before he gets anxious. Then give the treat immediately after, even if you are only able to do a few nails at a time. The treat helps them associate something positive with nail clipping. Most rescue dogs have been through a lot and may have a lot of fear or distrust of people. They might overreact to mundane things. Or just take the dog for long walks on concrete surfaces to wear down the nails naturally. As for a haircut, I have no tips. Mine is a Chihuahua and nearly hairless!

Practice Home Maintenance

Unless you need your dog to look dog-show perfect, I would suggest splurging on a professional grooming as your starting point and then follow that as your guide. This is similar to a tip I read about women’s haircuts, which suggests getting a great professional cut and then letting a discount salon or beauty college keep it trimmed, following the shape of the original style. If it works for people, it seems like it would work just as well for Fido or Fifi!

Invest in the necessary tools (clippers, etc.) and give your dog a quick trim whenever the fur is starting to get a little long, but before it gets too out of control to handle yourself. Regular brushings and baths will also keep him/her looking good. Of course, this tip will be a lot easier with a dog that has a simple, unfussy coat than for a fancier cut, like a poodle.

You may still want to take him/her in once in a while, but you won’t have to do it as often.

Reviewed March 2023

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