Here's a dramatic before and after that gets me every time:
Dirty, shaggy, shapeless mutt...
...into handsomely groomed, bright-eyed puppy.
This is our dog Charlie. Charlie is about a 4 year old mutt, 'rescued' from an overwhelmed family. We got him when he was about a year old-- we think-- and he was kind of a mess. He was a shaggy, crazy, matted, but loveable guy... and we gave him his first haircut before he even belonged to us. Yup. We groom our dogs ourselves. Or I groom our dogs I guess.
I grew up with cocker spaniels, and my parents always cut their hair on the back deck. Before I got my westie, Winston, I had never thought much about dog grroming, or the fact that my parents had always done their own dogs, but I took him to the groomer once or twice and I was all... uhn-uh. That is highway robbery folks.
Simple bath and grooming for a small dog was costing me $40-$50 bucks a pop. And half the time my westie came back to me looking like a Schnauzer, and I was all, really professional groomers? REALLY? So I started doing my dog's grooming myself, and never looked back at those crazy over priced groomers.
I've been doing my own dogs, my parents dogs, and my friend's dogs on occasion for several years now, and while I am FAR from a professional, I have picked up some skills and a few tips a long the way that I thought I'd like to share with you, if you think maybe you'd like to save yourself the cash and try your own hand at it...
1. Invest a little... You will need to make an initial investment in a pair of good quality clippers and grooming supplies. Most pet pet supply stores should have everything you need. Expect to pay $100+ for a good quality pair. But when you start to divide that cost between hair cuts... they will easily pay for themselves within a year. Even faster if you have more than one dog you are regularly grooming. I have these clippers by Wahl and have been very pleased with the quality/durability... and also they have an extra long cord which is a lot more important than you might think. If your clippers do not come with a set of gaurds, you will want to get those as well. You will also need a good pair of scissors/shears and a comb/brush/matt rake.
2. Do a little research... Before I cut my Westie's hair for the first time I hit the internet and watched several videos on youtube about how to groom a westie. Look up your dog breed, or several dog breeds and get a general idea of what you want it to look like, and how to accomplish that! Sometimes your clippers might come with a book/manual/dvd with instructions on basic cuts, so read through that! You can go to PetsMart and watch them cut dogs through the windows at their grooming salon, witness a few haircuts before you make your maiden voyage.
Have a plan, and even print off some pictures to refer to as you cut.
3. Work Smarter... not harder. Make it easier on yourself. Start with your pooch brushed out and free of matts and tangles. This will make your clippers and/scissors glide right through, and make the whole process easier for both of you.
Any undesirable task is easier in small chunks. If your dog's fur becomes especially matted over time... give him a quick brush out daily, or every couple of days. He will be more comfortable, and it can eliminate hours of painful picking through matts before you every get to the haircut.
4. Chill out... grooming can be strange and stressful for your dog... try to reduce the stressors in the environment for both of you. Play some music that you like. Have some water on hand for both of you. Try to do it in an environment free of distracting or stressful kiddos. Have a spouse or family member the dog likes and trusts on hand to help hold, pet, or comfort and encourage your dog if he starts to get too upset. Try to remain positive in tone, even if the dog is not entirely compliant. You want to make this a positive experience if at all possible-- scolding and frustration will just make them fearful of it.
And treats for everyone when it's done! Some good play time and a rub down, or snacks and a snuggle... whatever you do to enjoy each other, enjoy each other once you are all cut and clean!
5. Suck it up... We cut our dog's hair on the back porch or in the garage in inclement weather, and we keep the shop vac close at hand to suck up the hair as we go. The larger the dog, and the more you are cutting, the crazier and messier that pile of hair gets. take a break every couple of minutes to clean your work space of fallen hair. This will make the process and the cleanup much more manageable and enjoyable!
6. The difference between a good haircut and a bad haircut... is about 2 weeks. Or that's what my dad used to always tell us when we were teenagers. (and who didn't have a devastating haircut in their teen years?) You probably won't perfect the craft the very first time, and if you make a few mistakes, or the pup's ears are lopsided, or you forgot to put the guard on and the pooch is looking a little bald on one side... hair grows back. Give your pooch a little extra love, and yourself a little extra grace for the bad haircut, and give it a few weeks to grow out. Odds are your dog won't even notice, and you will find it amusing/endearing over time. :)
I hope that gives you a place to start, or maybe some encouragement to try something new. Pets are a part of your home and a part of your family, so of course you want to keep them looking great just like everything else! Let me know if you have any questions, or if you do decide to try your hand at some grooming, take before and afters and share them! I'd love to see your handiwork and your furbabies! :)