So Fresh and So Clean: Top Grooming Tips for Your Dog

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Keeping your dog healthy means paying regular attention to bathing, grooming, and brushing. Even dogs with short hair will benefit from this often overlooked aspect of his health. For longhaired dogs, owner grooming is essential if matting is to be avoided. In general, grooming helps to remove flakes of dry skin, dirt, and debris from the hair coat. It also removes shed hairs and helps to stimulate sebaceous glands that condition the dog’s coat.

Grooming is an important aspect of your pet’s health care throughout his life. As your pet ages, taking an active role in grooming becomes even more important. Older pets often groom less, may have trouble cleaning those “hard to reach places,” or may develop skin conditions that require extra attention. You will have to take a more active role in keeping your pet clean and monitoring for any changes in skin and coat that may signal medical problems.

Whether he’s a puppy or a senior citizen, grooming does more than just make your dog look and smell nice. Regular grooming will also help your dog stay healthy and feel better. Now that you know why to groom, here are some tips on how to groom.

The Right Shampoo

You’ve probably seen that expensive dog shampoo at the store and wondered, "Why can’t I just wash my dog with the same shampoo I use?" Quite simply, human shampoos and dog shampoos are not created equal, as dog skin and human skin are not alike.

People skin is more acidic than dog skin, and people have sweat glands and dogs don’t have them on their haired skin. Thus, a shampoo that’s too acidic (because it’s pH-balanced for humans) and/or too harsh (because it’s designed for those with moister skin) can lead to dryness and irritation, the most often observed outcomes of an inappropriate shampoo selection.

But there are more perils than just these. The skin is, after all, a major organ that plays a huge role in immunological defense. By drying the skin we’re stripping the oils and the top layers from an animal’s skin, thereby compromising the body’s natural barrier against infection. And when these defenses are disrupted, the skin — indeed, the entire dog — can become predisposed to infections (usually by the yeast and bacteria that live on the surface of the skin).

The Right Brush

Consider your dog’s hair coat before selecting any grooming tool. Short-coated breeds are best groomed with a soft bristle brush. The brush will pull up any dead hair or skin and distribute natural oils throughout your dog’s coat. The soft bristles are also gentle on the underside of dogs, where the hair coat may be thin and in some areas may even be bare. Brushes range in size, type of handle, and bristle. Choose one appropriate to your dog’s size and coat and one that fits in your hand comfortably.

Medium-coated dogs require a bit more than just brushing. Coats of medium length should be first groomed with a slicker or wire brush to pull up dead hair or undercoat. A slicker brush contains small metal pins set into a rubber backing. They may have a plastic coating on the tip for comfort. A wire brush has small thin wires that are angled at the tip and do an excellent job of combing out loose hair and undercoat. Comb your dog first, and then finish with a good brushing to distribute oil. Some grooming tools are double-sided containing both brush and comb.

Long-coated dogs need the most grooming attention to keep their coats beautiful and healthy. These pets should be brushed every day, just as you would your own hair. If you are attempting to groom a neglected coat, you may want to begin with a mat rake. Mat rakes and shedding combs are designed for loosening matted hair and removing it comfortably, provided it is not matted down to the skin.

Dealing with Mud

Does rainy weather have you cringing in anticipation of your dog dragging in mud? First, take a look at the areas your dog frequents; is there any ground cover? Is there anything you can use to cover the mud? Straw can be messy in and of itself, but it can also cover the mud, is inexpensive, and is biodegradable. Another more expensive, but permanent, solution is to build a patio between the yard and the back door. Ten feet or so of flagstones or concrete can make a huge difference, especially when you top it with outdoor matting made specifically for messy situations. These carpet-type mats (as compared to small welcome mats) have stiff bristles or rubber teeth that are made to get the mud off of shoes or boots and do just as good a job on paws.

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