Dog grooming is a term that I used to associate with poofy hair cuts and painted toe nails. I’m not judging; Frankie tends towards the shaggy chic, so it’s just not his style. But I dress Frankie up occasionally, which many people find offensive (Halloween must be hell for them).
To each her own.
But as I’ve learned over the years, dog grooming — and especially the kind you do at home — is about far more than superficials. The regular attention you pay to your dog during grooming sessions is key to his health as well as to your relationship with each other. It can also be beneficial to your own health, though — full disclosure — it is unlikely to enhance your appearance. Quite the opposite when brushing or bathing your dog is involved.
That’s not to suggest that using a professional groomer shouldn’t be part of your routine; certain breeds require care that’s beyond the scope of most people’s skill and energy, and some aspects of home dog grooming of any breed may elude you (nail clipping is my personal downfall). But whether between professional sessions or instead of them, these five procedures are key to any routine.
This is probably the most important thing you can do for your dog for a variety of reasons, the primary being removing tangles and mats that fungi, insects — or in extreme cases, small children — can nest in. The frequency of required brushing depends primarily on the type of coat your dog has. Long-haired dogs can benefit from daily brushing, medium-haired dogs should be brushed weekly, while short-haired dogs can go a month between sessions without tangles becoming a problem.
But that doesn’t mean they should.
Brushing your dog also allows you to become aware of any unusual lumps or bumps early in their development so that your vet can check them out as soon as possible. It has also been shown to have a calming effect, to the extent of lowering blood pressure, on both the brusher and the brushee. And there’s the quality time you’re spending with your pup.
Going slow and using the right tool is important so your dog doesn’t associate the procedure with pain. Pet-oriented retailers offer full lines of dog grooming products geared towards different types of coats and hair lengths.
2. Nail Trimming
Not all dogs need their nails trimmed. Some file their own nails by walking or running on hard surfaces. Pups that don’t pound the pavement, however, and small breeds that don’t weigh enough to successfully self-file need pedicures. Overlong nails can get caught in carpeting or clothing or become ingrown and infected. And just because dog nails aren’t as sharp as cat nails, don’t think being scratched by a dog isn’t painful.
Nail trimming isn’t easy initially, especially for dogs that have black, nontransparent nails. Go too far and you’ll literally cut your dog to the quick — the part of the nail that contains nerve endings and blood vessels. Many different type of tools, from clippers to electric files exist; different people and different dogs may feel more comfortable with one type than with another. Whatever you use, it’s always a good idea to have your vet or a vet tech teach you how to do it correctly.
Bathing can be the most stressful part of dog grooming, for both you and your dog. Frankie isn’t difficult to bathe in the sink, what with being so small, but he stands rigid and shakes, looking pitiful. Which makes me feel terrible.
The jury is out on the frequency with which this procedure needs to be performed. I initially thought it didn’t need to be done very often unless your dog was stinky, which Frankie is not. My vet said every couple of months was fine. But then I listened to an AnimalCafe.co interview with Dr. Marty Becker recommending weekly or even twice weekly bathing for allergy prevention.
So… let your dog’s body odor and your willingness to deal with the procedure be your guide. Whatever the frequency, you should only use a shampoo that is specifically designed for dogs; human shampoos and soaps dry and damage their skin.
4. Ear Peering
Floppy eared dogs and dogs that don’t shed are particularly prone to ear infections, the former because germs like to breed in the dark, moist areas created by those big flaps, the latter because hair growing in the ear canals often mixes with wax and forms unwanted earplugs. Constant pawing at the ears may be a sign that your dog has a health problem (or that he wants you to turn down the stereo). By the time your dog’s ears smell bad and ooze, they’re already infected and require professional care.
No matter what type of dog you have, peer into his ears at least once a week. Many preventative powders and cleaning solutions are available for breeds that are predisposed to ear problems; ask your vet for recommendations. Do not, I repeat not, stick Q-tips in your dog’s ears.
Removing hair from a dog’s ears is not dissimilar to removing it from a human’s ears; plucking and trimming implements are required. As with nail trimming, this is a procedure best attempted only after you have been instructed by a professional or left to a groomer.
5. Crud cleaning
Most dogs get a little crust in the corner of their eyes, just like we do when we get up in the morning. They can’t remove it with their paws like we can, however. I just pick the stuff off with my (clean, I swear!) fingers, but it would be wrong for me to suggest something less than hygienic, so use a moist cotton ball. This is also the treatment for the tear stains to which many small, light-colored dogs are prone. Reddened, swollen, or itchy eyes, on the other hand, might be caused by allergies, conjunctivitis, or parasites; if the whites of your dog’s eyes aren’t, be sure to get them checked.
And — sorry, but yuck — jowly, some wrinkly pooches such as
Chow Chows, Bulldogs* Basset Hounds, and Shar Peis need to have their skin folds wiped out regularly to prevent dermatitis or fungal infections. Use baby wipes or cotton swabs with hydrogen peroxide, then dust with unscented talcum powder.
*My pal Amy at GoPetFriendly.com reports that her three Shar Peis, in different climates at different times of year, never suffered from this problem; I haven’t heard from any Chow Chow or Basset Hound owners but a Bulldog source says it’s a HUGE problem for all her dogs. So I’ll stick with the verifiable until I hear otherwise. Do let me know if you have a breed with this issue. I’m curious now.