Grooming is an important part of your dog’s care, and it’s also a great opportunity for you and you dog to bond. If you’re considering grooming your dog at home or want to do some between-grooming-appointment maintenance, we’ve got some tips to get you started. And here’s one tip before we begin — you may need an extra set of hands.
Make Grooming Fun!
The first piece of equipment you need is not a comb, brush or shampoo — it’s treats. Treats will help make grooming a positive experience for your dog, especially if they are not used to grooming or it has been a while since their last grooming session. Start with short sessions and reward your dog with high-value treats when they remain calm. If they do show signs of stress, stop and try again the next day.
Brush the Hair Away
Brushing helps to remove dirt, dead skin cells, excess hair, tangles and mats. It also helps distribute skin oils which are moisturizing and protective and keep your dog’s skin and coat healthy. Brushing your dog regularly also benefits you, as it means less time vacuuming hair off the couch and lint rolling your clothes before you walk out the front door.
Remove any hair mats first (see the mat section below) before brushing the rest of your dog’s coat. Brush in the direction the hair is growing and remember that, just like for people, brushing dry hair is much easier than wet hair.
Dogs with short hair and no undercoat probably only need brushing once a week, while dogs with long hair or double coats may need brushing three to four times a week. Dogs with double coats (a soft undercoat with a coarser, longer topcoat) typically shed their undercoats twice a year, in spring and fall. You can help them shed their undercoat by brushing them regularly, perhaps even daily.
Removing the undercoat allows air to circulate around the skin, helps the skin stay dry and prevents complications from bites and hot spots. Avoid shaving dogs with double coats because the topcoat protects them from the sun and exposes their skin to insects. For dogs with a single coat, it’s recommended that you don’t cut their hair shorter than 1” for the same reasons.
Dealing with Hair Mats
It’s important to keep on top of brushing to prevent hair mats forming. This is particularly important for older or injured pets who may not be able to reach to groom themselves in all places. Matted hair can pull at your dog’s skin, which can cause pain and irritation.
To remove a mat, hold the hair between the skin and the mat and, using a metal comb, start on the outside and gently pick the mat apart, working toward the center. Avoid using scissors to cut the mat out because you might accidentally cut your dog’s skin. Leave large or difficult mats for the groomer or your veterinarian.
Where’s Rubber Ducky? It’s Bath Time!
A common question from dog parents is “How often should I bathe my dog?” And the answer is always “It depends.” Healthy dogs with healthy skin don’t usually need to bathe very often because they can mostly do the job themselves by self-grooming. For these dogs, every few months should be enough, unless of course they have rolled in something smelly or jumped in a mud puddle. Dealing with mud is a whole other mess — check out our tips on removing mud from your best bud.
If your dog has trouble grooming themselves, they may need more frequent baths, and longer-haired dogs may need baths every 6 to 8 weeks to keep their hair clean. Dogs with sensitive skin typically need more frequent bathing, some maybe even twice a week, and often with a therapeutic shampoo.
Make sure to only use a shampoo designed for dogs, not humans. Dog shampoo has a different pH than human shampoo which can dry out your dog’s skin. Keeping the bath water lukewarm will also prevent their skin from drying out. If your dog has sensitive skin, they may need a sensitive-skin shampoo that is free from soap, fragrance and dye. For some dogs with sensitive skin, veterinarians may recommend a medicated shampoo. And as long as you use the right shampoo for your dog, frequent bathing won’t strip their coat of important oils.
Giving Your Dog a Pawdicure
If it sounds like your dog is tap dancing on the floorboards, it’s time for a nail trim. If this is a new experience for both of you, start by handling each paw (without the clippers) and rewarding your dog with a treat when they remain calm. Then touch each paw with the nail trimmer and reward calm behavior. Try trimming a single nail and giving lots or praise and rewards if that goes well, then progress to more and more nails. If nail trimming is not going well and is stressful for your dog (and you) leave it to a professional.
When cutting your dog’s nails it’s important to avoid the quick — the pink area visible in the middle of light-colored nails. If your dog has dark-colored nails, make small trims until you see a black dot in the center of the nail: this means you’re close to the quick. If you do accidentally cut the quick, pat the nail with styptic powder or cornstarch.
Steer Clear of the Ears
Ears are usually on the list of things not to clean. Dogs have a self-cleaning feature for their ears called epithelial migration. The skin in the ear canal gradually migrates outwards from the tympanic membrane, carrying excess debris with it along the way. So if your dog’s ears aren’t bothering them, it’s best to leave them alone. If your dog does need to have their ears cleaned due to allergies or an infection, your veterinarian can show you how to do it safely.
It may take your dog a while to get used to being groomed, but with plenty of treats and praise, hopefully it will become something you both look forward to. And remember, there are always the professionals if at-home grooming doesn’t work out.
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