Grooming & Bathing Basics
A clean and well-groomed dog not only looks its best, but is often happier and healthier than a dog whose grooming has been neglected. Grooming doesn't mean spending a month's wages on an expensive doggy stylist or spending hours brushing a tangled coat on a wiggling dog. See how regular at-home dog grooming can help keep your dog looking and feeling like the top show dog in town.
Why Groom My Dog?
Before we get to the "How", let's cover the "Why". By regularly grooming your pet, you'll be able to remove tangles and dirt before it becomes a problem by matting or becoming infected. Brushing will also spread natural oils over the coat, protecting your dog against over-drying or other skin conditions. It's also a chance for you to bond with your pet. Grooming doesn't have to be stressful on either of you if it is done regularly to avoid those painful tangles and if you teach your dog to allow you to groom him. Even if you have an older dog that hasn't been taught to accept cleaning, it isn't too late; it just may take a little while for him to get used to it. Be sure to reward your dog for letting you groom him, though some dogs consider a gentle brushing a reward in itself.
Grooming Can Control Shedding
Other than tangles, one of the biggest grooming-related problems is shedding. Grooming won't stop it, but it can help get rid of that extra hair in one shot before it ends up all over your house or clothes. Most dogs will shed their dense undercoat once or twice a year, to anywhere from a few weeks to a couple months. Proper brushing can get rid of this hair for you and keep your dog more comfortable.
You may have to brush your dog every day for long-haired dogs, or just a quick brushing every couple of weeks for short-haired dogs. For longer hair, your "toolbox" should consist of a soft wire slicker brush, a comb with fine and coarse teeth, a universal brush, a mat comb, and an oil-based conditioner. Shorter haired dogs usually only need a slicker brush or flexible pin brush and a nubby glove or coarse rags to clean their faces and stimulate the skin. When brushing, always go slowly and follow the natural direction of the hair. If you come across a tangle, remove it gently by starting at the ends and working slowly towards the skin.
Dog Nail Trimming
At least once a month, you'll need to trim your dog's toenails. It may be safest for you to have your vet or groomer show you the proper technique at first if you aren't comfortable but the scissor or guillotine style nail clippers available usually make this a relatively easy process. Keep a quick-stop solution on hand in case you trim a bit too near the quick. This is the vein that runs into the claw, and can sometimes be difficult to see on dogs with dark nails. If cut, it can bleed and be painful for the dog for a few days. Remember to trim the front and back paws as well as the dewclaw if it is present on your dog.
Cleaning Dogs' Ears
The ears in some dogs can also be tricky to keep clean and healthy. The inside of the ears should be pale pink and dry. If they appear reddish, black, or brown, have a bad smell, or if you notice your dog scratching and shaking his head constantly, it may be a sign of an ear infection or ear mites. Dogs with hairy or droopy ears can be especially sensitive since the hair can keep moisture in their ears. Mineral oil and ear wash can be used to clean the openings and ear flaps, but avoid wetting the inside the ear canal. If you notice any of these symptoms, contact your vet. Ear infections can cause hearing loss if they aren't taken care of early enough.
Cutting Dogs' Hair
Cutting a dog's hair can be the most difficult part of home grooming but new electric clippers and instructional videos available today makes it much easier to extend the time between visits to the groomers. While you are using electric clippers, try to eliminate distractions like the doorbell, telephone calls, or visitors that can excite your dog any more than necessary. Always cut in the direction of the hair growth to avoid cutting your dog's skin and follow the directions for your clippers carefully for proper maintenance and recommendations.
It is generally not recommended to shave your dog completely. This exposes their skin to the cold and sun, and can lead to sunburns and other health problems. On dogs with double coats, try to only cut down to the undercoat so they will still benefit from both coats and to be sure that both coats grow back properly. If you do shave your dog or you have a hairless breed, sweaters and other dog clothing can help protect their skin.
Grooming Safety & Helpful Tips
Dogs are generally affectionate towards their owners. They like to share their toys with you, their affection, and, unfortunately, their bath water. Be realistic when you try to bathe your dog. Even if your neighbor can get away with washing their chihuahua in the kitchen sink, that doesn't mean you'll be able to wash your Saint Bernard in the bathtub. Consider where it will be easiest and safest to wash your dog before you begin. It may not be safe for you to wash a larger dog on a slippery bathroom floor, especially if you have to lift him into or out of the bathtub. During warm weather, you can wash your dog outside if you are able to monitor and regulate the temperature of the water. Even better, some car washes are now installing "dog washes" - usually a special room with hoses, drains, and sometimes even shampoos that you can pay a small amount to use. Check with local car washes in your area; it can save time and effort on the clean-up around your house!
Most dogs only need bathed every 2 or 3 months. If you wash your dog more than once a month, make sure its skin isn't getting dried out or irritated. Use gentle, aloe-based shampoos, skin conditioners, and vitamin supplements if necessary. Before you begin the bath, brush the dog's coat well to get rid of as much of the dirt, dead hair, and tangles as possible. Warm water is best for your dog's bath. Make sure it isn't hot to avoid overheating your dog, especially in the summer months and make sure you soak your dog thoroughly. It can be easy to only wet the surface, especially on dogs with very thick coats, but sprayers and running your free hand backwards through the coat can help. Use an appropriate dog shampoo to lather up and clean your dog. You may find it easiest to work in small sections at a time, as long as you clean everywhere. Don't miss areas like the paws, under the chin, or the genital area. After you have completely rinsed your dog well, getting all of that shampoo out of the undercoat and underbelly, you'll need to at least towel dry your dog as well as possible. Dogs with longer hair should be blow-dried as much as possible. Be careful if you use a blow dryer made for people – these can sometimes be too hot for dogs. Canine blow dryers are available at most pet stores or through a groomer.
While bathing your dog, try to avoid getting water in its face or ears. Not only do they not like it, moisture in the ears or shampoo in their eyes can cause problems in the long run. You can use a moistened coarse washcloth or a sponge to clean its face and ears. Some breeds need extra attention around their eyes to get rid of tear stains or food stains around the mouth. Special shampoos and cleaners are usually available for these dogs, but check with your groomer for some tips.
With some time, practice, and patience, grooming and bathing your dog can be relaxing and fun for both of you. Start early and be consistent and when you say "It's bathtime!" your dog will be jumping for joy instead of running and hiding!