Regardless of the breed of dog you own, a certain amount of grooming will be necessary to keep your dog looking his or her best. Grooming is not limited to bathing and brushing a dog. Proper grooming requires attention to eyes, ears, teeth, feet and nails, in addition to brushing out the coat. The whole grooming process can be done under ordinary circumstances in fifteen minutes a week if problems are dealt with when first noticed. Grooming your dog regularly also makes it easier to spot potential health problems early. Even if you take your dog to a groomer on a regular basis you will still need to do certain basic grooming at home in between trips to the groomer.
At least weekly you should brush your dog thoroughly. This is the perfect time to get down to the skin where you can see any puncture wounds, cuts, or parasites such as ticks or fleas and see any bumps or other abnormalities
If you live in a location where spring and summer bring burrs and foxtails, your dog should be checked daily and a brush run through its coat after every outing. Pay particular attention to checking the inside of your dog’s ears, around the eyes, vulva and anus, as well as between the pads on the feet.
Having the right equipment will make grooming much easier and faster. Different choices of equipment are discussed below.
Short-coated dogs are more likely to shed year round and keeping them brushed will reduce the amount of hair found on furniture, floor and clothes. Brushes, hound gloves or curry combs will all work on short coats.
Long or Double Coats
For a dog with a long or double coat, the coat functions in the winter to repel water and provide warmth, and serves as a thermal cooling layer in the summer. While the undercoat should be stripped out in the spring, clipping a long or double-coated dog to the skin during the summer may make your dog more susceptible to heat stroke.
Some dogs shed seasonally, triggered by changes in light, while other dogs shed year-round. For dogs that would normally shed seasonally, the artificial light in homes can create a situation where the dog sheds year-round but more heavily in the spring and fall. Undercoat rakes do a remarkable job of removing “blown” coat before it lands on your floor or furniture, while pin brushes or slickers are useful when the undercoat has been stripped. A comb is useful for “feathers” on the legs and behind the ears.
When brushing out a double coat it is important to realize that simply running a brush over the top coat or guard hairs will not be sufficient. The proper way to brush a double coat is called line brushing. To line brush a dog, start at one end of the dog and back brush about an inch of hair until you see skin. Using one hand to hold the hair where you have parted it, use the brush in the other hand to thoroughly brush out the undercoat. Move down another inch and repeat until you have completely brushed out both the top coat and the undercoat. The last step is to use the comb to comb through the feathering on the legs and tail. The comb is also useful to comb behind the ears, which is a prime area for mats to start.
Bathing a dog too frequently will remove oils from the skin and often leave the dog with a dry, itching skin. If a dog is regularly brushed out to the skin, baths should be necessary only when the dog has gotten into something particularly disgusting. When bathing a dog it is important to use a shampoo designed for dogs, not people, and to completely rinse all residual shampoo from the coat. Depending upon the reason for bathing, or whether the dog normally has a dry or oily skin, there are several options for shampoos. For instance, dogs with skin allergies often do well with oatmeal or coal-tar based shampoos. Before bathing a dog, make sure the coat has been brushed out carefully. Any mats left in the coat prior to the bath will be impossible to detangle and will have to be cut out. Placing cotton balls in the dog’s ears prior to the bath will reduce potential ear infections caused by water in the ear canal and care needs to be taken not to get soap in the dog’s eyes during the bath.
Dogs possess a third eyelid that will sometimes trap debris. Check your dog’s eyes at least weekly. If the eye seems slightly red or irritated you can use artificial tears to clean the eye. However, if you suspect your dog has something in its eye that is not flushed out with the artificial tears, please take the dog to your veterinarian for treatment. A dog that squints or has a green discharge from one or both eyes needs medical treatment.
Take the time to smell your dog’s ears to learn what normal, healthy ears smell like. Ears should be cleaned as necessary, usually once a month, although they should be checked more frequently. If your dog swims frequently, special attention needs to be taken to ensure that water in the ear canal doesn’t lead to ear infections. For normal cleaning, ear solutions can be purchased at your local animal supply store. Never use Q-tips or other objects that may puncture an ear drum to clean your dog’s ears. Squirt a little cleaning solution in the ear (warm it up first) and gently massage the base of the ear (close to the head). This will loosen up any dirt which can then be removed with a cotton ball. If your dog paws at its ears or shakes its head frequently, it may have an ear infection or ear mites. If the ear smells sour or little black or red spots are noticed on the cotton ball, your dog needs to be seen by your veterinarian.
The nose leather should be soft and pliable. It does not have to be “wet” but a cracked nose or one covered with mucous or a dried crust can be an indication of problems. If your dog has a light colored nose it is at higher risk of sunburn and possibly skin cancer and you should use sunscreen when your dog is outside.
Mouth and Teeth
Teeth are often overlooked in grooming. Dogs can fracture teeth, usually the larger molars at the rear of the mouth. Tartar also builds up on teeth and needs to be removed. At least once a week you should check your dog’s mouth. Look for bumps or anything unusual in the mouth itself, and check the teeth for fractures or other potential problems. Cleaning teeth is not the chore it sounds if you take the time to introduce the dog to it. While you can buy a toothbrush designed for dogs, you can also get good results from a piece of gauze wrapped around your finger. Toothbrushes designed for people are not as effective as those designed for dogs. Human toothpaste is not designed to be swallowed and since dogs don’t rinse and spit out, should not be used on them. I would highly recommend using a toothpaste for dogs as it is beef or poultry flavored and most dogs like the taste.
Feet and Nails
Carefully check the pads of your dog’s feet and between the toes. Use your fingers to feel between the pads and toes and don’t simply rely upon sight to spot potential problems. If your dog has excess hair between the pads, you may need to trim this area. Excess hair will accumulate snow, ice and mud which will cause discomfort and may lead to lameness until the dog is able to remove the offending objects. If trimming the hair is necessary, use blunt scissors. Small manicure scissors that are blunted on the tips are ideal for this task.
Finally, a dog’s nails need to be kept trimmed. Long nails will cause a dog to walk on the back of its feet and not on the balls of the feet as it should. Over time, this will cause the metacarpals of the foot to become malformed and can cause lameness and arthritis. The nail is simply dead tissue and can be removed without causing pain or discomfort. However, there is a blood vessel, called the quick, which runs through the center of the nail. If nails are left untrimmed for a period of time, the quick gradually extends into the length of the nail and it will be impossible to trim the nails back to a good length without “quicking” the dog (making the nail bleed). Regular trimming of small amounts off the nail will force the quick to recede, greatly reducing the chances of quicking the dog.
If you look at the nails on your dog’s foot, you can see where the nail becomes a little narrower, and often makes a hook. This is the portion of the nail to remove. White or light colored nails are easier to trim because you can see the quick and avoid it. With black nails you will need to take more care and very gradually remove small amounts of the nail. If you do happen to quick the dog - don’t make a big fuss over it. The more you fuss, the more likely the dog will resist having its paws handled the next time. Very matter-of-factly reach for the styptic powder or baking soda. A little of either will stop the bleeding.
There are several ways to keep nails short - nail clippers, grinders or a nail file. Nail clippers come in two types. The guillotine clippers have blades that can be replaced, while the other type of clippers will have to be sharpened, which can be a chore. Regardless of which type you prefer, the blades should be sharp as dull blades will crush and splinter nails and cause discomfort in the process. Grinders are more expensive but can do a good job. Care should be taken when using grinders not to overheat the nail and not to grind into the quick. The last option, a nail file, is much slower and more tedious but it does work and may be the best choice if your dog fights having its nails clipped or dislikes the sound of a grinder. Make sure you remember to trim the dewclaws on the front legs. These never come into contact with the ground and will not have any wear at all. Left untrimmed these can actually grow into the skin.
If you are uncomfortable trimming your dog’s nails you can schedule regular visits to your veterinarian or groomer to keep your dog’s feet in the best possible condition.
Article submitted by: © ABC Dog Training LLC