The dog grooming dilemma: Do you want to go to a pro or do it yourself? What you decide depends on a number of things, including the type of dog you have, the way you’d like her to look, your income, and the steadiness of your hands with clippers, hair and nail. Most people let a groomer take care of some things and do others themselves.
I have no problem, for example, brushing and bathing Frankie and giving him impromptu haircuts. Expressing his anal sacs — no, not all dogs need that, but Frankie’s a butt scooter — and trimming his toenails? I’ll pass.
But as I mentioned in my last post, at minimum you should brush your dog’s coat, whether between bouts of professional coifs or on your own.
And, yes, you’ll need the right tools for the job, but they doesn’t have to be expensive. Most of the required hair rakes, combs, and brushes cost less than $10. Even with clippers, which are pricier, there’s a point of diminishing returns. If you don’t invest about $250 or $300 for a sharp, smooth-cutting version, you’re likely to give your dog a hairdo that borders on animal abuse (or at least fashion victimhood). But statusy high-tech clippers that run as high as $650 won’t produce better results; in less-than-skilled hands, their cuts can still be unkind.
Each type of coat requires a different set of tools — and a different frequency of use. And mixed breeds may have coats that don’t follow any strict rules for care. This is just a rough guide of what to expect, going from highest to lowest maintenance:
These breeds, which include Afghans, Maltese, Yorkies -– essentially, all the ones that look like trotting mops at dog shows – and several types of spaniels, require constant attention because their fine, cottony hair gets matted and tangled easily. Ideally, you should run a fine-tooth metal comb through your dog’s hair every day, even if it’s just a quick sweep through. Using a wire slicker brush on the hair a few times a week is also recommended, as is seeing a groomer every other month.
These pups, which include Pomeranians, Shelties, Huskies, Collies, and Akitas, may fool you: Their coats can look fluffy and neat but hide a matted mess underneath. That’s why you have to go below the silky surface to the furry undercoat, using tools like a grooming rake or the FURminator,* a blade tool. You should brush weekly, at minimum, and visit a groomer every three months. Not only is this a good plan for your dog, but it’ll help with the housekeeping.
Note: One of the reasons that both long-haired and double-coated dogs need to be brushed, combed, and/or raked regularly is that you don’t want their coats to get to the point where they need to be shaved off entirely. Coats don’t always grow back properly, so your dog may end up with endless bad hair days. Worse, while waiting for her body-cover to reappear, your pup may suffer from sunburn, windburn, and insect bites –- not to mention the itchiness and irritation of prickly hairs. Short haircuts are fine for warm weather but don’t overdo the clip-jobs.
Caring for this type of coat can range from the simple brush-and-trims I give Frankie, whose hair is not only wispy but naturally short (it stops growing beyond an inch or so), to the constant vigilance required for poodles and other water dogs with thick, curly mops that grow long and wild if not kept in check. On the plus side, these dogs have only one coat, so what you see is what you get. Brushing with a pin or slicker brush, raking, and then combing carefully usually takes care of the preliminaries, to be followed by clipping as straightforward or fancy as you like.
These trim-haired pups, among them, Boxers, Pugs, Pit Bulls, and dogs with giveaway names like German Short-Haired Pointer, require only a rubber mitt or coarse washcloth for coat care, which is more like a rubdown – more good news for the macho who eschew the frou frou– than a hairdressing session.
Coming soon: More tools, including nail trimmers and vacuum cleaners (sorry, even the best grooming doesn’t eliminate all shedding).
*No, I’m not getting FURminator kickbacks, though I’ve mentioned it in a previous post. And I can’t personally attest to its usefulness. But several vets I interviewed for a story on shedding recommended it and a number of friends with big, hairy dogs swear by it.