Last Updated on December 18, 2021 by Jessica Lauren Vine
Can I DIY my dog’s grooming?
On the road with a dog that requires haircuts.
The prospect of a nomadic life, living in the moment, having new adventures, and seeing and learning all kinds of new things, is exciting! The time leading up to it is an adventure of its own, filled with planning, and for most of us, purchasing what we think we’ll need in order to be comfortable in our significantly smaller, mobile living quarters.
The long-awaited day arrives and you set off, confidently having said goodbye to friends and family, and the life you’ve always known. You’ve got this. You know you are doing the right thing for you. But in the back of your mind remains the question, whatever will I do when in four to six weeks I will need a haircut, and my dog will need grooming?
For me, I planned for this (the dog grooming part) with yet more purchases… of a different sort. My sister-in-law is a professional groomer and had been taking care of our twelve-year-old Labradoodle’s coat for the eight years she’s been our pup. Once my husband and I decided that we were actually going to “do this thing”, sell our home and take to the road, I asked her if she thought I could learn to groom our Sammi. I didn’t want to worry about finding a good groomer in a new town each time, someone that would do a good job and treat her well while in their care. My sister-in-law said yes.
So there it was. At some point, with the recommended gear at the ready and written instructions and diagrams to follow from my quick hands-on lesson, I was going to be cutting Sammi’s coat. Me. I was committed. It was going to now be MY responsibility, and let me tell you, I was not just a little bit scared by the idea of it! Her final professional grooming, the day before we left, was done a bit shorter than I normally prefer it. We reasoned that this would give us new full-timers a little time to settle into the lifestyle first, before needing to put scissors and clippers to the dog.
For many, finding a groomer to trust while living full-time in an RV is not that difficult. You may be staying at one place seasonally, and that gives you time to research reviews, see pictures of client work, read testimonials, and ask for recommendations from the locals. I’m sure that capable and trustworthy professional pet groomers exist almost anywhere, or within a reasonable distance to anywhere, that we would travel.
I hear that many pet store chains offer grooming services too, and if they’ll allow you to be present to ensure your pet’s well-being, that could be a solution. We do have to be careful to not create a situation for our pets that builds additional anxieties and stresses over what they might already be experiencing during travel. They are adapting to many unfamiliar places, where often there are near as many other transient dogs as there are people, and we certainly do not want to add a horrific grooming experience to the mix.
For us, because we planned to be moving on monthly, it was a given that at least every six weeks I’d be searching for yet another reputable groomer and crossing my fingers that it would be a good experience for our dog. That challenge worried me more than the idea of learning how to do this myself.
Grooming My Dog Sammi for the First Time
That said, it was more than ten weeks before Sammi got her first haircut from me. It took me that long to decide I was in the right circumstances to first give her the bath, make sure she was totally dry (with careful, cool air blow drying), and then get her up on the table for her grooming.
Looking back, I see that the delay was me working up my nerve. Because we went this long between cuts, though, I combed her well every few days to make sure she wasn’t getting tangles, or matted underneath her coat, as it grew out longer and curlier.
When I say “table”, I don’t mean the kitchen table. I had purchased a dog grooming stand with the proper height to be kind to my back, has a head-hold to keep her safe, folds flat for storage, and doubles as our grill/smoker table with the addition of a heat-resistant mat.
We all know that space is a commodity in an RV, and it’s my credo that everything we take along must do at least double-duty! I found the table easily in many of the popular pet supplies online stores.
Because as a novice, I didn’t know how long this would take me, I broke this up into three parts. At Sammi’s age, a prolonged time on the table could stress her body, and I thought I was likely to be slow at the cutting end (and I might be stressed too!). I trimmed the hair between the pads of her feet a couple of days before. We both relaxed on the RV carpet outside, and she had her pedicure.
Part two was the bath, on the afternoon before the day that I planned to groom her. This also ensured that she would be good and dry and that I’d detangled her with a comb from the skin to ends of hair after the bath, plus again before I began trimming the next day. I chose to use a mild oatmeal shampoo for dogs because I didn’t want a trifecta of travels anxiety, potential shampoo irritation, and my being the groomer to result in starting any skin issues.
I had also been cautioned that dogs can heat up faster than we do, so my husband monitored the water temp using our outdoor shower hose, to keep it from being too cold, but on the cool side of tepid. A little hot and feeling good to us can be too warm for them. For the same reason, I used the cool button on my personal blow dryer to dry her hair after toweling her off. It took a while to dry and we took a short break before getting back to it, for both of us. It was an overcast damp feeling day, so I dried her in the RV and kept her there to keep her from getting a chill.
Sammi has been groomed by good people her whole life. That made her the ideal client for a newbie groomer like me. She’s the pro in this situation, accustomed to being handled all over, and showed no signs of stress, even at part three, the haircut. She stood patiently and quite still the whole time for all but her head, and even then, was very manageable.
That beard of hers is the perfect hand-grip for keeping her still for that detail work! I spoke to her calmly, touched her where I was going to be working next, and encouraged her with her favorite words, “good girl”, throughout the process. I also placed a hand on her as I moved around the table so that she stayed calm and safe.
I used the trimmer with blade and comb attachment for most of her body and scissored the areas where I needed to be careful to not cut her or wanted a more precise cut. This included from her elbows down to her feet, in her pits, groin and around her bum, the feathery tail, and from the collar up.
Because I had proven to myself that I could groom Sammi, I could choose to leave a longer cut that I prefer and plan to cut every four weeks now instead of six. That had another benefit too since I was using a longer blade comb that held the trimmer away from her skin, there was no chance that I would burn her with it while I was slow and learning, and be aware, it does get hot!
The event concluded with no drama, no injuries, no tears, and no blood. Sammi was beautiful, and I was a happy camper!
You too CAN be your dog’s groomer, if you want to. Not only is this a safe and viable option, but it will serve to increase the bond, obedience, and trust between you and your furry family member.
What You Need to Groom Your Dog in Your RV
- A pet that tolerates grooming well
- Grooming table
- Dog shampoo
- Tepid, on the cool side but not cold, water
- Blow dryer with low and/or cool air option
- Dog comb
- Professional scissors
- Professional trimmer + selection of blades and blade comb guards
- A calm, stress-free demeanor and patience to take the time it takes
Because I’m not a professional groomer, I can’t offer suggestions on what cutting/trimming tools you should buy or give you directions on how to groom your specific breed. You should do as I did and speak with YOUR groomer, the one that knows your pet and his or her idiosyncrasies, what they tolerate, what you need to do the job, and how to go about doing it.
They can even show you how to hold the scissors and trimmer for less hand fatigue and less risk of cutting your pet’s skin. If their priorities are as they should be, I’m sure they would love to help you become your dog’s groomer as you travel, rather than risking its emotional health or bodily injury at the hands of strangers.
They will recognize that you are making the effort to be a good pet parent. Be sure to give them a very big tip on that last grooming appointment as a thank you for their wonderful work with your dog, and for helping you with this. If you’re already on the road, I think a phone call followed by a generous gift card would be the way to go.
You may decide that becoming the groomer for your dog is not for you, but if the thought has crossed your mind, I’m here to tell you that it is not at all the awful or foolhardy task you might expect. Since I started, I’ve even found other travelers that have taken that step, are grooming/trimming their own pets, and are as happy as I am with the decision to do so.
Now, to find that hairstylist for me. That might prove to be more challenging.
Now that you know how to keep your dog groomed while RVing, feel free to check out some of our other articles like How to Live In an RV on a Budget