Your Guide to Grooming

Grooming is an important part of your dog's health program. "Grooming" is a word used to describe shampooing, drying, hair cutting, nail trimming, ear cleaning and anal gland expression. Mats are removed and dead hair brushed out. Not only does grooming make your dog clean and odor free, but it also stimulates the blood supply to the skin, giving your pet a healthier and shinier coat.

Grooming can also help you bond with your pet, but you need to know what's involved. You may be able to perform some grooming, but want to leave the tougher aspects to a professional. Or you may find that you have the right knack to do it all. Here are some things to think about:

Who Will Do the Grooming? The first question to ask yourself is do you do it yourself or find a professional? The answer to this question lies in the time, money and equipment that you own to groom and the cooperative personality of your pet. Please see the related article on how to find a professional groomer.

How Often? That all depends on your pet. Factors include: his hair coat, hair length, how often he gets dirty, where he lives (if he is indoor or outdoors most of the time), shedding cycle, and any underlying skin problem (please see our related article, "Top Medical Reasons for Grooming Your Dog"). Some dogs need baths only a couple times year while others need weekly grooming. It is beneficial to brush your dog about twice a week. Bathing your dog every month or two isn't unreasonable, but some dogs will need more frequent cleanings. A good rule of thumb is to bathe your pet only when his coat gets dirty or begins to smell "doggy."

When Do You Start? Start regular grooming when you first bring your dog home and make it a part of his routine. Praise your dog when he holds still and soon he will come to enjoy the extra attention. Get him used to having his paws handled while still a puppy. Once you start using the nail trimmers, go slowly: Try trimming just a few nails in one sitting. Maintain a regular schedule and be persistent. Your pet will eventually develop patience and learn to cooperate.

What Tools Do You Need? That depends on your dog's hair type and length. Purchase a good-quality brush and comb and get your dog used to being handled. Types of hair coats include a long double, long silky, short smooth, short double, short wiry, curly or hairless. Some breeds have special grooming needs, so ask your vet or a professional groomer for advice on particular equipment necessary for your pet. Certain grooming supplies (see related articles) work best with the different coat types, such as slicker brushes, curved combs and rakes.

If you decide to handle all aspects of grooming, you need to know how to thoroughly take care of your dog's hygiene. The following gives you a good description of what good grooming is all about.

Brushing and Combing. Many dogs maintain a healthy skin and hair coat with minimal assistance; others – especially some longhaired or curly-haired breeds – require regular brushing. For most dogs, a good brushing once or twice a week will keep the hair coat in good condition and minimize shedding all over your house!

Dealing with Mats. Removing hair mats is fraught with potential complications. Many mats are firmly attached to the skin, so you must be extremely careful not to cut the skin as you cut off the mat. Many small mats can be removed with a thorough brushing. If mats remain, try to make the mat smaller by brushing the hair near the mat. Once you are sure that the mat can only be removed by cutting the hair, then go for the scissors. Clippers are the safest and best way to remove matted hair. Unfortunately, most people do not own clippers and must make do with scissors. Be very careful. For severely matted pets, it is easier and safer to see a groomer for professional help.

Clipping. This is best done using a professional clipper. Follow instructions that come with the clippers. Keep blades sharpened. Clean blades with a professional lubricant. Every breed has "standards" for how they should look. For your dog's "standard", consult a book at the library for pictures or pay attention to how your pet is clipped when he comes back from a professional groomer. Do not use any sharp objects like scissors around you pet's eyes and face.

Bathing and Shampooing. Before using any shampoo on your pet, protect his eyes with a drop of mineral oil or eye ointment. Do not use human shampoo since the pH for a dog is different than for you. Bring your dog into the tub. If you have a bathing tether, attach one end to his collar and the suction cup to the bathtub. Ladle the warm water over him. If you use a sprayer, use it on low and hold it gently against his coat so the spraying action doesn't scare him. When he's thoroughly wet, apply the shampoo on his back and work it gently through the coat for about 10 minutes. Be careful not to get soap in his face or mouth. Use a washcloth or sponge to clean and rinse his face, and a soft brush to clean the paws, between toes and nails. When bathing your dog, make sure to rinse all the soap out of his coat. The rinsing cycle is very important. You want to do it twice to make sure all the soap is rinsed off. (Leaving soap on the dog can cause an allergic reaction.)

Skin Care. Skin problems including fleas, ticks and mites or allergies and infections are common among dogs. Most conditions are manageable with early detection and treatment. If you notice excessive scratching, hair loss or flaky skin, contact your veterinarian. If your pet is continuously exposed to fleas and ticks, speak to your veterinarian about products to minimize the impact of these parasites on the skin. Remember that a consistently poor hair coat with lots of skin flaking may indicate a deeper medical problem. Your veterinarian may prescribe a shampoo to combat your pet's problems.

Drying. After a bath, gently squeeze out excess water and finish drying him with towels. You can dry your pet with a clean absorbent towel, a dryer or let him dry naturally. You can also let him shake off much of the excess water but you may want to wait until he is outside. Hold his head still until you get him outside. He cannot shake if you are holding his head securely. If you use a hair dryer, keep the heat and blow force on low. Special care must be taken not to over heat your pet or burn him if you are using a dryer. Remember to dry the inside of the ears with cotton balls to prevent infection. Keep your dog away from any drafts until his coat is completely dry.

Nail Trims. Dogs' nails can get very long and eventually get caught on something, causing a painful torn nail. While trimming nails is a painless and simple process, it takes practice and patience to master the skill. Two important factors are knowing where to trim and having the right tools. Have your veterinarian show you how to do it the first time. If you are ready to trim, using a nail trimmer for pets, cut the nail below the quick at a 45-degree angle, with the cutting end of the nail clipper toward the end of the nail. In dogs with dark nails, make several small nips with the clippers instead of one larger one. Trim very thin slices off the end of the nail until you see a black dot appear towards the center when you look at it head on. This is the start of the quick that you want to avoid. Trim nails so that when the animal steps down, nails do not touch the floor.

Anal Gland Expression. Anal glands are small scent glands that sit on each side of the rectum. Some groomers express the anal glands on a regular basis. If your pet is not having problems with them (pain, scooting, constant licking), then we suggest that you leave them alone. Although not often easy to do at home, you can learn to express your pet's anal glands. Take a thick paper towel or tissues and gently grasp the area around the anal gland. Squeeze the area and usually the content of the anal gland will be released. You may want to ask your veterinarian to show you how to do this before you try it yourself.

Ear Care. Those long floppy ears are endearing but they cover your dog's ear canal creating a moist warm environment that lacks air circulation. This can cause your dog to suffer from chronic ear infections that can be difficult to cure. Cocker spaniels and golden retrievers are just a few of the breeds that suffer from this common problem. Notice any discharge, redness or swelling. If you suspect an ear infection, see your veterinarian for evaluation and treatment.

Eye Care. Small amounts of discharge can accumulate on the inside aspect of the lower lid, similar to people. Clean any matter from the area around the eye. Before using any shampoo on your pet, protect his eyes with a drop of mineral oil or eye ointment. Some dogs have a chronic problem with drainage from the eyes. This problem may have many causes. Check with your veterinarian to help rule out any medical conditions that can be solved. If the drainage is persistent, make sure you keep it wiped away. Skin and fur that stays constantly moist can discolor and become infected. Eyes without sufficient tears or lubrication can become dry and lead to a variety of eye problems.

Tooth and Dental Care. The end to any good grooming includes checking your dog's mouth and teeth. Dental disease is common in dogs. Checking the mouth frequently can help you spot trouble before it becomes a big problem. Your veterinarian can show you how to keep your dog's teeth clean with brushes and toothpastes designed specifically for dogs.