Do I Cut My Dog’s Hair Wet or Dry?

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When you think about what goes into cutting a dog’s hair, shampooing probably isn’t one of them. It doesn’t take much time at all to rinse off your pet with shampoo and towel him dry and that’s basically all there is to it. For many of us, this technique is good enough to get the job done. However, if you’re interested in giving your pooch a more stylish look, you might want to consider a different method.


There are two main ways to trim a dog’s coat. The first involves using scissors or clippers (or both) while wet. This technique works well when you need to cut away long tangles, but it can also be tricky because it requires you to keep track of where each cut begins and ends.


When you’re dealing with dogs who have thick coats, it’s easy to lose sight of where you’ve already made cuts. If you don’t make sure to follow up on each pass of the scissors, you could end up making too big of a change between passes. The other common technique is called dry trimming. Instead of having to deal with water during the process, you simply soak the entire animal before beginning the haircut.


You then use clippers and/or scissors to remove unwanted bits of fur without worrying about accidentally slicing through healthy areas. With dry trimming, you’ll only need to worry about how close you come to any sensitive parts of your dog’s body. Although this method takes longer than wet trimming, it allows you to create a cleaner, neater finish.


If you’d like to learn more about these methods, we spoke with three experts who gave their input on which approach is best suited to your particular breed of dog. Read on to find out which technique they recommend.


Wet vs. Dry


Although some people may scoff at the idea of soaking a dog completely with water prior to haircuts, this method has been around for centuries. In ancient Egypt, for example, sheep were soaked before being sheared [Source: D’Lima]. And as far back as 3000 B.C., Sumerian farmers used hot oil baths to soften the animals’ coats so they could be shaved down.


Today, the popularity of dry trimming seems to be growing. Many professional groomers prefer it over wet trimming, claiming that it’s easier to control the blade and provides a better result. They also claim that it’s less stressful for your pet since he won’t be exposed to water. Some even go as far as saying that it will help strengthen your bond with your dog by allowing you to spend more time together.


On the other hand, others argue that soaking your dog before cutting his hair makes sense from a practical standpoint. Not only does it save you money on shampoo, conditioner and rinses, it also prevents your dog from getting wet feet something that would happen if you tried to wash his full coat.


Plus, some breeds are prone to developing skin problems when their paws are submerged in water. That means soaking your dog beforehand helps to prevent them from getting irritated, dry patches. Finally, if you choose to dry your dog after clipping his hair, you can easily apply moisturizer afterward.


In addition to providing moisture, water also serves another purpose: removing loose hairs. Because water washes away those stray strands, it makes it easier to see the natural shape of your dog’s hair. Without water, however, you’ll have to rely solely on visual cues to determine the length of your cut. Since the goal is to achieve a specific appearance, you should always remember to check the final product against a mirror before leaving the house. ­


The Pros and Cons of Each Technique


According to Dr. Jennifer Meehan, associate professor in clinical sciences at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, the choice between wet and dry trimming depends largely upon your individual preferences and the style of coat you’re looking to attain. As such, you shouldn’t feel compelled to stick with just one technique or the other. Rather, try out both approaches until you find the one that works best for your dog.


Because there are several advantages associated with dry trimming, including lower cost and fewer risks (such as slipping), it’s not surprising that many professionals prefer it over wet trimming. One drawback of the latter technique, though, is that you’ll likely have to endure more waiting time. You’ll also have to maintain a steady hand to avoid inadvertently slicing into your dog’s skin.


Whether you opt for dry trimming or wet trimming, it’s important to remain consistent. If you decide to switch between the two, do so gradually rather than going from dry to wet overnight. Doing so could cause your dog anxiety or discomfort.


While the decision is ultimately yours, if you’re determined to give your dog a wet shave, you should know that there are plenty of products available to help you stay organized. Shaving cream, baby oil, petroleum jelly and Vaseline are commonly used to lubricate the blades or provide traction for combing. After applying these substances to your dog’s skin, you can use a wide-toothed comb to gently remove any remaining dead hairs.


As you read earlier, some people believe that soaking your dog before shaving his hair strengthens your relationship with him. On the contrary, Dr. Meehan says that this type of preparation actually weakens your connection. She claims that it’s better to begin with a clean slate and allow your dog to relax before any kind of physical interaction takes place.



It’s true that dry trimming yields a slightly shorter cut than wet trimming, but it also results in a neater finish. Softer coats require fewer strokes and generally take longer to complete, whereas thicker coats benefit from multiple light shaves. Regardless of whether you choose to work with water or without, it’s recommended that you invest in high-quality clippers and combs. Cheap models often break under heavy use or lack sharp edges. Even the highest quality ones can damage your dog’s skin if you’re not careful.


Dry Trimming Techniques


One way to start dry trimming your dog’s hair is by soaking his whole body. To do this, either pour warm water over your dog’s head or fill a tub large enough to accommodate your pet. Then, stand your dog inside the bathtub and slowly immerse him with gentle strokes.


Letting your pooch stand in the water for several minutes will ensure that his entire body is fully saturated. Once you’ve finished bathing him, step back and let him exit the water himself. While he dries off, you can apply a mild soap to his fur to loosen dirt and debris. After your pet has thoroughly dried off, clip away the excess hair with regular-sized clippers or scissors.


Another option includes using electric trimmers to separate your dog’s hair into sections. Groomers typically suggest doing this once you’ve removed all the loose fur from your dog’s legs, neck and chest area. To do this, you’ll need to soak your pet in very hot water for several minutes and then trim his hair with a pair of clippers or scissors. Use caution when approaching your pet’s scalp and face, since you might accidentally nip a small wound or scratch his eyes.


Wet Trimming Techniques


To perform this technique, you’ll need to purchase special wet grooming equipment designed specifically for pets. These tools include round metal brushes, rubber combs, plastic scissoring devices and thin-bladed scissors. Before you begin, prepare your workspace with newspaper or old towels to catch the shed fur. Next, dip your dog’s head into a bowl filled with warm sudsy water. Start by washing his ears and cleaning underneath his chin.


Rinse his mouth with a cloth dipped in warm sudsy water to remove any leftover residue. Using your fingers, massage your dog’s scalp to stimulate blood flow and loosen dirt. Take care not to squeeze or press hard on your dog’s head, especially around his nose, ears and eyes.


Next, start trimming his hair with a single-edged razor tool. Make sure to hold the clipper firmly and evenly across your dog’s fur. Avoid pulling or tugging the clippers too hard. Also, don’t forget to regularly replace the blade on the clippers to ensure their effectiveness. When you’ve finished, rinse your hands with warm sudsy water to remove any traces of soap. Apply a topical anti-fungal treatment to your dog’s skin to prevent infection.


Now that you know the difference between wet and dry trimming techniques, you can pick whichever suits your needs best. Just remember to experiment with each one until you find the one that works best for you and your dog.


No matter which technique you choose, you’ll want to take extra precautions to protect yourself and your dog from injury. First, wear gloves and goggles to shield your eyes and skin from harm. Second, never attempt to trim your pet’s nails. That task falls under veterinary expertise