Dog grooming is necessary not just to make your dog look good, but also as an important aid to skin health and hygiene, and in order to keep parasites under control.
Grooming enhances your relationship with your dog and, although it takes time, patience, and sometimes a little effort, it should be pleasurable for both groomer and groomed. Start grooming pups from five to six months of age, although wiry-coated breeds can be trimmed lightly around head and tail from about four months. First baths may be given at three months of age or when puppies arrive from kennels.
Dog Grooming Tools
THE HAIR OF THE DOG
A dog’s coat comprises two main kinds of hair, the coarser, primary (or guard) hairs of the outer coat, and the softer, shorter, secondary hairs of the undercoat. The hairs are rooted in skin follicles to which are connected sebaceous glands, which produce oil to give the coat its gloss and some degree of waterproofing and insulation. The five main types of dog coat are long, silky, smooth, non-shedding curly, and wiry. There are also some oddities, such as the almost hairless Mexican Hairless Dog, and the Hungarian Puli, which has a dense coat twisted into cords.
A coat hair grows to its optimum length, stops growing, and is then pushed out by a newly growing hair and lost, in a process that goes on continuously all over the dog’s body. A natural balance of hairs in the three different phases is always maintained. Most breeds (but not Bedlington Terriers, Poodles, or Kerry Blues) moult to change their coats twice a year, usually in spring and autumn. In moult, a greater loss of hair occurs, under the influence of changes in environmental temperature and length of daylight acting through the dog’s hormone-producing glands. Sometimes a dog will moult almost constantly, and this may be due to its body being deceived by artificial factors, such as central heating and indoor lighting. Diet and hormone irregularities may also be involved.
SELECTIVE GROOMING AND BATHING
Following what’s mentioned above, selective breeding has produced a great variety of coat textures and densities. Smooth, short-haired coats such as the Boxer’s are easiest to maintain. Once or twice weekly, with a rubber brush, work against the lie of the coat to loosen surface dirt and dead hair, then remove this debris with a bristle brush. Coat conditioner may be used to add sheen, although a chamois cloth is usually just as effective. Regularly groom short-haired breeds with dense undercoats, such as the Labrador Retriever, removing mats and tangles with both brush and comb. Long topcoats with dense undercoats, such as those of the St. Bernard, need gentle but vigorous and frequent brushing.
There are occasions when it is necessary to bath a dog, especially if its coat has been contaminated with oily or malodorous substances. Medicated shampoos are a treatment of choice for a variety of skin conditions. Bath the dog in a sink or bathtub, preferably outdoors if the weather permits. Place cotton wool in the ears to prevent water from getting in, and provide a rubber mat for the dog to stand on. Use warm rather than hot or cold water. Make the experience as pleasant as possible, by offering foods rewards by keeping still. Lather the dog well, but avoid getting shampoo in any body opening. Thorough rinsing is crucial, especially under the forelegs and between the hind legs – where shampoo might accumulate and possibly cause skin irritation. You will be pleased with the results, but your dog’s inclination will be to roll about and cover itself with natural environmental smells.
A flexible, non-irritating brush is used to remove dead hair from the coat. It has no sharp tips that might potentially scratch, damage, or irritate the dog’s relatively thin and sensitive skin. Most dogs like to be brushed along their heads and backs. They are sensitive about their feet, and particularly sensitive about their tails and anal regions.
Massaging the skin
A firm but pliable rubber brush penetrates through the coat and gently stimulates the skin. It loosens and lifts dead skin and other debris that are subsequently brushed out of the hair. Most dogs like this stage of grooming because it is enjoyable.
Combing removes the finest tangles and is carried out only after brushing has broken down any large mats of hair. This is the most delicate part of grooming. Take care that while combing you do not scratch, pull, or otherwise cause skin discomfort. Grooming should always be associated with pleasure, not pain, and should finish with a suitable reward.
Clipping the nails
The trained dog willingly permits its nails to be cut. Inspect the feet each time you groom your dog. Spread the toes and check between them, looking for accumulated debris or matted hair. If the nails are too long, trim them carefully, avoiding cutting the living tissue, or “quick” . A vet will show you exactly how to do this. Always reward good behavior.
Teeth and gum care
Look inside your dog’s mouth each day, checking your odor, inflammation, and debris. At an early age, train your dog to allow you to brush its teeth and gums with a soft toothbrush, and either dilute salt water or special canine toothpaste, available from a vet. Avoid using toothpaste made for humans, since most dogs dislike both its taste and foaming sensation.
Check your dog’s eyes daily, cleaning away any mucus that builds up in the corners with damp cotton wool or tissue. Lift the ears and check for wax, odor, or inflammation. Never push a cotton-wool bud into the ear, since it may push unseen wax or debris down towards the ear drum. If your dog has facial wrinkles or excessive lip folds, check these for odor or accumulated debris.
The anal region should be inspected for accumulated debris or inflammation. If your dog drags its bottom along grass or carpet, it is likely that its anal sacs are causing irritation and need emptying. A vet will show you how to do this. Routinely clip away excess hair from around the anus to prevent unnecessary soiling.