Groomer-to-the-stars Jess Rona knows how to make any dog look photoshoot fabulous. Here are her tips, whether you're styling your pup for Instagram or just a walk around the block.

By Madison Pincombe
January 12, 2021
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If anyone has perfected the dog Instagram post, it's Jess Rona.

The celebrity pet groomer and owner of Jess Rona Grooming—whose clients include Katy Perry and Jane Lynch—was kind enough to talk to us not only about her unlikely journey to producing Haute Dog on HBO Max but also how to make our own dogs look Insta-fabulous.

The keys to success? Some confidence, must-have tools, and a partner to help you nab the perfect pic. Or you can try your hand at Rona's trademark: the slo-mo doggie blowout video.

Keeping Pups Calm

Rona considers grooming to be an exercise in working with a dog's energy. "People are always like, 'How do you get your dogs to stay so calm in these videos?' and it's all energy," she says.

Rona recommends that owners adopt a no-big-deal, confident attitude. "If your dog is kooky bananas, just brush one leg, act like no big deal, give [them] a treat, and ignore," she says. Over time, if you keep up with that, your dog will realize that grooming is truly no big deal.

When dogs see that she's not phased, they tend to remain calm, she says. She recommends placing your dog on a counter for grooming to make sure they're calm and not distracted. Putting a yoga mat down on the surface helps make sure they're not slipping around. Rona also avoids baby-talk because she believes this energy can flow through the dog and escalate throughout its life.

Use These Essential Tools for Regular Maintenance

To really stay on top of their dogs' looks, pup parents should brush their pups every day and make sure to check between their toes, the belly, and armpits. Rona emphasizes that dogs shouldn't have a harness or sweater on all the time because it will matt up their coat. Take off their collar and accessories while brushing.

A flicker brush is necessary for dogs with fluffy coats, but the brush size is important. "Don't get a teenie tiny brush for a huge poofy baby," Rona says.

Rona also encourages owners to only comb for finishing work. Check your work with a comb, and have a light hand. "The minute you snag a tangle, it hurts and you lose the trust of your dog," she says. You can get a dematter if you want to take it to the next level.

"Also, we're in a crazy time right now," Rona says. "If your dog's bangs are out of control and you're scared to cut them, put them up in a top knot." Rona uses Paws and Tails silicone hair ties to achieve adorable puppy top knots.

Doggie Blowouts

Rona is an expert in doggie blowouts and they feature prominently on her Instagram account, which has 193,000 followers. "Short and sweet: A doggie blowout is when you fluff and poof a coat to make it straight and really fluffy," she says.

A blowout can be great for a dog because a groomer can use it as an opportunity to check the dog's skin and make sure it's healthy. They can also check for mats and tangles. "If you're just brushing through without any air, you're just brushing the top of the coat," she says. "When I brush and fluff during a blowout, I'm able to see what I'm doing and it ends up being less painful.

"Plus, how snuggly and cozy is a fluffy dog?" Rona says.

Executing a Colorful Look

On Haute Dog and in her own grooming, Rona embraces colorful looks as part of giving a dog extra glam. Thankfully, the evolution of dog hair dye has come so far. "The way I describe it is a conditioner with pigment in it, that's all it is," she says.

If you want to play with color at home, Rona suggests three brands: O Paws, Crazy Liberty, and DYEX. Espree Bark Art Blow Pens are a great water-based, non-toxic marker option, she says. You flip the marker, blow a little color out, and brush it through your dog's coat.

According to Rona, the key to a colorful look is making it elegant. "Sometimes people go a little nuts and it looks craft project-y and sloppy," she says. "Make it artful. Make it beautiful."

Photographing Your Pup

And once your grooming session is complete? Time for the photo op! From years of Instagram experience, Rona has nailed down the process of photographing dogs at their best. Here are her tips:

  • Use a squeaky toy, but don’t squeak it until you’re set up.
  • Clear the background and make the space look beautiful.
  • Frame the photo so that your dog’s head isn’t cut off.
  • For groomers: Don’t have your dog on a tight leash looking scared. Make sure the dog has a happy and calm expression.
  • Have someone stand behind you for the dog to look at.
  • Once your shot is set up, squeak the toy and capture the photo.
  • You can also ask questions like “Do you want a treat?” and “Do you want a walk?” to get the dog’s attention. Keep calm so they don’t jump up to go on a walk. (Make sure to follow through if you’ve offered walks or treats once the photo shoot is done. Don't welch!)