Prep Makes Perfect (Grooms!): Bathing, Drying & Prep Work

Prep Makes Perfect (Grooms!): Bathing, Drying & Prep Work

You simply cannot achieve a beautiful groom if the dog hasn’t been properly bathed, dried and prepped according to its coat type. While these are the most introductory parts of grooming—and tasks that most groomers can do with their eyes closed—their importance is often glossed over. Hopefully this article will help you to be mindful of preparing the coat in order to set yourself up for mastering that perfect groom.

Before you begin wetting the coat, take this time to ensure the nozzle is on an appropriate spray setting and that the water temperature is comfortable for the dog. The regular body temperature of dogs is a few degrees higher than a human, so be sure the water feels warm to your skin. 

Fig 1) When wetting the head of the dog, come from behind and let the water roll from the back of the skull forward over the face and ears. This ensures you don’t accidentally spray water into the nasal cavity or ear canal. If you are working with a dog who is prone to ear infections, or just for an added safety measure, you can place cotton balls inside the ears to prevent any water from entering the canal. 

Fig 2) Select a shampoo that is appropriate for the dog’s skin, coat and maintenance needs. Also be sure that the shampoo is diluted appropriately. For this bath, the shampoo is applied through a pressurized shampooing system. Once shampoo has been applied, you can massage it into the coat, making sure it reaches the skin.


Fig 3) Next, apply face shampoo to the dog’s head and face and massage it through.

Fig 4) Begin rinsing the dog, working from the highest point and working your way back and down. This method is preferable for a thorough, efficient rinsing job. You cannot complete a masterpiece if the skin and coat are still dirty or have shampoo residue. Alternatively, a coat that has not been thoroughly rinsed can cause a host of skin problems for the dog. 

Fig 5) To begin drying, give the coat a good “squeeze” all over to help remove some of the excess water. If you squeeze down a leg and soap bubbles appear, give the dog another rinse.

A couple of notes: Some groomers prefer to do multiple baths on a dog. If you are a double washer, go back and repeat steps 2–4 to ensure you are set up for success. Also, if the dog’s coat or skin needs to be conditioned, now would be the time to add a conditioner appropriate for them.

Fig 6) After the dog has been thoroughly rinsed, you can then clean the ears. Any water that might have accidentally gotten into the ear canal during the bath can be dried up with an alcohol–based ear cleaner to prevent the moisture from becoming a full–blown ear infection. Make sure you use a clean cotton ball for each ear, apply ear cleaner and gently wipe. 

Fig 7) Then, use a towel and squeeze the excess moisture from the dog. 

Fig 8) Begin force (or high velocity) drying the dog by beginning with a foot. Work your way up and forward as you dry.

A general rule of thumb is to keep the dryer nozzle the same distance from the dog as the hair is long. So, areas that have longer coat, you would hold the nozzle further away to prevent tangling it or creating whip knots. Also, the drying technique depends on the dog’s individual coat type. For drop–coated breeds such as Shih Tzus, you would want to dry the coat in the direction it is intended to lay. A curly–coated dog, such as a Poodle or Bichon Frise, you would want to dry the coat in an upwards direction. This not only helps stretch the curl out as you dry, but also helps the coat stand up and allows it to have more volume when you are scissoring.

Fig 9) Make sure you are drying every inch of the coat including hard–to–see areas like the back of the dog, armpits and inside the rear legs. A Happy Hoodie was used on this dog to help alleviate the sound of the dryer. It is made of a terry cloth material so it helps absorb moisture as well.

Fig 10) To begin drying the head and ears, remove the Happy Hoodie. For safety reasons, the cone nozzle on the HV dryer should be removed when drying the entirety of the dog’s face. The nozzle concentrates the velocity through a smaller opening, which allows your drying to be more powerful, but it can cause serious damage if accidentally blown toward the ear canal, eyes or muzzle. 

To finish preparing this coat type to be trimmed, it needs to be fluff dried (also known as stretch drying, or heat drying). This allows the coat to be thoroughly brushed out and stretches the wave or curl out so that every hair can be cut to a consistent length. 

Fig 11) A brushing spray is misted on the coat first.

Fig 12) Just as we did with the force dryer, begin fluff drying on a foot and work your way up the leg and forward on the dog. 

It is important to mention here that, while heat is used in this process along with brushing, it shouldn’t be overly hot—keep your hands in between the dryer and the dog’s skin the entire time. If it’s too hot for your hands, it’s too hot for the dog.

Fig 13) There are many tools available to assist you with this process. A regular human hair dryer (on medium heat) was used for this groom. Many groomers will place the hair dryer on their neck or under their chin so that both hands are free. Additionally, there are many gadgets available to help hold the dryer for you (also used here). Some groomers prefer the use of a stand dryer. Also, a soft, flexible slicker was chosen for this coat as the coat is not very thick and a stiff slicker was not necessary.

Fig 14) Once the dog is thoroughly fluff dried, you should be able to comb it out. There are many different styles of combs and combing techniques. For the benefits of this groom, we used a wider–toothed Poodle comb to begin, placing the teeth perpendicular to the skin. From there, you will glide the comb up each leg. This allows you to lift each hair up and out so they can be trimmed to the same length.

Fig 15) Inversely, comb the body of the dog from front to back, top to bottom. If you happen across any tangles while combing, set the comb aside and use your slicker brush to remove them. Be sure to check those hard–to–reach places, such as armpits.

Fig 16) Finish by running your comb through the head, ears and face.

Fig 17) Begin your clipper prep work by using a trimmer on a #40 blade setting to clean out the paw pads. Start by setting your blade just behind the front two toenails on the paw and work from front to back. You can lightly scoop in between the paw pads to get excess hair, being careful not to dig in too far. 

Once you have finished shaving your paw pads, you can take a soft slicker and lightly brush over the pad to see if any additional hairs poke out. Make sure you hold the dog’s legs in a comfortable position when you lift them.

Fig 18) The next step to completing the prep work is to clipper the rectum. Set your trimmer on a #10 blade setting and begin by making a horizontal swipe the width of your blade, just gliding over the rectum. Swipe your blade in the other direction to finish the rectum. When completed, you should have a shaved area the size of about a postage stamp around the rectum. 

Fig 19) Then, using a #10 blade, remove the excess hair from around the lower abdomen. For male dogs (shown here), this includes the area on top of and on the sides of the penis, as well as a small area in front of the penis. For female dogs, this should include the area directly around the vulva.

Fig 20) Using the same #10 blade, lightly skim over the hair on the inside of each rear leg to blend the shaved abdomen into the longer hair of the legs. This blade length can be adjusted based on the sensitivity of the pet’s skin.

Fig 21) Next, trim the toenails to just in front of the quick. If you aren’t sure where the quick lies, take off a tiny amount of nail at a time until you see a small circle appear in the center of the nail—that is the quick.

Fig 22) To round off the sharp edges that can be left after the toenails have been clipped, use a rotary tool to sand off all the way around the toenail. Be sure to buff the top of the nail as well. 

Preparing your grooms in the same order each time will allow you to create a system and be faster in your day–to–day routines. Maybe it isn’t new equipment you need to set yourself apart—take a trip back to the basics and refocus your energy on flawless prep! ✂️

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