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How to Groom Your Dog in 3 Simple Steps

Is your puppy getting a bit too scruffy? Simple spruce-up techniques straight from the experts (including the pro who keeps Martha's pooches camera-ready) will help get your furry friend looking—and feeling—his best.

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Photography by: Cultura RM / Alamy

There’s a reason why your pup is happier when he’s groomed: Clean paws have better traction; mat-free fur feels lighter. While you should visit a professional at least twice a year, at-home upkeep is also important. So start with a bath; once he’s dry, have a friend help stabilize him on the floor or a table. Then follow these steps between appointments.

Step 1: Clean up paws.

Stand either behind your dog or at his side. Hold his paw slightly off the floor. Dislodge any gunk between toes with a comb; clip out mats with pet-specific blunt-edged scissors or an electric clipper with a number-10 blade. To trim, use the same clippers and blade. “It’s safe for beginners, because it won’t cut skin,” says Alex Limato, who grooms Martha’s dogs and owns Stonybrook Kennels, in White Plains, New York. Spread the toes apart with your thumb. Start with the hair between the large paw pad and the smaller ones, trimming in one direction, then the other. Next, use the blade’s inside edge to trim between smaller paw pads. For the nails, use sharp clippers (scissors- or guillotine-style) made for your dog’s size. Clip only the nail tip, where it just curves over, to avoid cutting the quick (the underlying blood vessels and nerves), says ASPCA vet Lori Bierbrier.

Step 2: Trim around ears.

Gently wipe away visible wax and debris with a cotton ball dipped in a pet-specific ear-cleaning fluid. The fur inside the ears of longhaired breeds can get matted, so trim excess with a clipper and a number-10 blade, says Limato. But if you notice hairs inside the ear canal, leave them for your next grooming visit; they need to be professionally plucked.

Step 3: Tidy down under.

Long-haired breeds need a “hygiene cut” to keep their rear areas infection-free. Use blunt-edged scissors or clippers with a number-10 blade. As your dog stands, position his tail up with one hand. With the other, trim at the rectum’s perimeter, working outward to a one-inch radius. For female dogs, clip around the genitals in similar fashion by picking up a back leg; for male dogs, lift the front paws and trim in front. There! All done—and time for a dog treat!