Why don't dogs like being wet indoors when they love it outside?

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.

1. Brushing

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.

3. Bathing

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.

33 thoughts on “Home Dog Grooming: Five Basics”

  1. My groomer does the anal gland emptying thing as part of her service for the Poodles. I take the other dogs in to her often because I just don’t want to learn how to do this and the veterinarian office charges almost as much to empty anal glands as the groomer charges for the whole treatment.

    1. Good point and thanks for mentioning it! Anal gland emptying is one of the two things I take Frankie to the groomer for — the other being nail clipping. There are people who express their dog’s anal glands but, like you, I draw the line of engaging with Frankie there.

  2. Pingback: Dog Grooming : How to Use Clippers when Grooming a Shaggy-Haired Dog
  3. Great post, Edie, as usual. Lots of people forget that grooming can also be a good time to check for those lumps and bumps, or ear problems, or toenails that are too long and in danger of becoming ingrown. Thanks for the reminder.

    1. It’s a euphemism for Frankie’s many, many bad hair days — thanks to my inexpert wielding of the scissors. Luckily he doesn’t care…

  4. Just the thought of trimming Sadie’s nails makes my stomach clench. So I’ve taken to filing her nails. We’ve worked out a morning ritual. While she’s still a little loopy with sleep and snuggled on her couch, I get out the file and treats. File a little, give a treat. File a little more, give a treat. We do this every morning or every other morning. Once I have her nails filed to where I like them — pretty short — it takes just a few minutes a day to keep them in shape.

    With the exception of “crud cleaning,” all the other aspects of grooming you mention I farm out.

    1. Poodles have the type of hair that needs professional care, I’d imagine — curly hair is tough for humans too! — but it sounds like you have plenty of bonding over the nail trimming routine, which I can’t bear to approach at all. Not to mention all your other bonding routines, of course…

  5. My dogs don’t get full-on baths super often, but with Lilly (because I started as a pup and she is very good about it) … each week …. I brush her (that’s how I found her recently removed lump). I clip her toenails. I clean out her ears. I brush her teeth, and I wipe her down with a damp, kind-of-soapy towel.

    Thankfully, my two don’t seem to have anal gland issues, so those don’t need to be done.

    We’ve always used what I jokingly call … turkey for toenails. It’s usually cheese these days, but you get the idea. I trade her 1-3 tiny piece of food in exchange for each toenail.

    1. As it happens, this post was at least partly inspired by finding a lump on the top of Frankie’s head when I was finger combing/brushing his hair — my usual routine with him. When he has tangles, I add a snip or so to the process — thus his many bad hair days.

      It sounds like you and Deborah have similar nail care routines! I have a similar one for teeth cleaning — which is a whole other topic….

  6. oh dear I must be a bad mother bathe-wise. The dogs get brushed but I just use a dry shampoo from the makers of that miracle de-shedding brush, and so, unless a skunk comes for a visit, which they occasionally will, no baths this year so far…

    1. I rarely bathe Frankie either, Diane, and my vet said he doesn’t bathe his chihuahua very often either. Brushing is far more important!

  7. Great post, Edie. I do give Bella baths (she is not happy, but she forgets about it quickly once it’s over). She tends to get a lot of ear infections, so I’m often cleaning her ears, but we usually have to get ear drops from the vet because cleaning doesn’t seem to keep them at bay, unfortunately. I have to draw the line at nails – I trimmed my dogs’ nails in the past, but I can’t do it with Bella. She’s a bit sensitive about her feet, so it never works out. I rely on the vet for that one.

    I agree on brushing – it’s so important to keep up with all of the lumps and bumps. Though my husband probably thinks I’m a doggie hypochondriac, because I am obsessive about her various bumps and when a new one appears.

    P.S. I remove eye crud with my fingertips too… I’m sure non-dog people would think we’re gross. LOL

    1. I’m lucky with Frankie — his little bat ears flop up and down when he walks, giving his ears a lot of circulation but protecting them from dust ;-).

      Better a doggie hypochondriac than paying vet bills if something progresses, I say! It never really occurred to me that removing eye crud was gross, but then again I’m aware of the really gross stuff — like anal sac expressing…

  8. I definitely rely on the groomer for anal gland issues. I need to get better at #1, considering I have fluffy, curly dogs. As for #5, I often tell my dogs it’s my job as their mama to take care of their eye boogies. They aren’t convinced but (mostly) let me do it.

    1. Ha — Frankie isn’t entirely convinced about the eye boogies either but he has little choice in the matter. Thanks for coming by.

  9. Great post, Edie. In my very low-key grooming practice, I often recommend that clients get used to doing more maintenance themselves. I know they won’t take their dogs to me often enough to avoid matting, ear infections, and other nastiness, but if they can do at least some brushing and cleaning themselves then the dog’s time with me will be much easier!

    And I love your discussion of using treats to desensitize to nail clippers–this is so important! I use treats throughout a session with a dog who’s anxious, so I don’t make the anxiety even worse!

    The one thing I would add is that for ear plucking, the fingers are a gentle and effective instrument. For dogs that need their ears plucked, dusting just the inside hairs with a powder made for that purpose makes them easy to remove. You are right though, that consulting with a vet or groomer is best for this part–it is a bit uncomfortable for the dog, but better than recurrent ear infections (which I think must be one of the iggiest-smelling things a dog can have.

    1. Good advice about the ear plucking, Kirsten — much appreciated. I’m especially thrilled that both a groomer and a vet sanctioned this post. That’s extremely gratifying. I’m sure you’re a terrific groomer.

  10. I’m really lucky with my dogs regarding bathing. Vizslas are low odor dogs, so the only time that Jersey or Dexter get baths is when they roll in something stinky. Nail trimming is a whole other kettle of fish. Dexter couldn’t care less, but not Miss Thing! Trimming Jersey’s nails is a two person job.

    1. Just curious — did you start trimming Jersey’s nails when she was a puppy like you did with Dexter? Or are they very different in personality and Dexter is just fearless?

  11. We add in a three-times-a-week “massage” (in quotations because I suck – repeat SUCK – at it) to our weekly grooming rituals.

    I think everyone and their mother needs to read this article. Why?

    Here’s why: We subscribe to your belief that brushing, grooming, etc helps keeps an eye on your dog’s overall skin health. (IE: you can spot/feel lumps, bumps, bruises, or areas that your dog is being…well…weird about….especially when you know they weren’t weird about them the last time you did your massage/brushing.)

    Ko – unlucky dog that she is – developed a case of the fleas last week. I had just checked her two days prior – brush the teeth, the fur, trim the nails, and also look for flea dirt or anything silly. (What? I’m paranoid. I HATE FLEAS!)
    Nothing. Nada.
    Not a bump.

    Two days later, I patted her on the top of her head and caused an explosion (HOT SPOT!).
    I did another routine check on her and found a … flea. Little shit. I also found flea dirt. In TWO days. It only took TWO DAYS.

    (Btw: I am an idiot, because I only waited one day – instead of the three I was supposed to be waiting – after giving her a bath to put her flea stuff on. The instructions I read to the vet over the phone said this: “Dog must be fully dry.” He said whoever wrote them is an idiot. I agree.)

    1. The fact that you even *try* to massage your dog every day is impressive! And teeth brushing on such a regular basis — I’m in awe. I try to brush Frankie’s teeth more often, but he’s really really resistant.

      But I digress. Teeth brushing is a whole other issue.

      You’re doing an awesome job. And I appreciate your appreciating this post.

  12. I just have to say, as a Shar-pei owner, that I have never cleaned the wrinkles of any of the three I’ve had. Ty actually gets bathed just like Buster, except less frequently, because he hates it and Buster loves it. I will say, though, that I spend a significant amount of time keeping his ears clean. Much more than I expected and that’s pretty yucky.

    1. Fair enough, Amy; I would be up in arms if someone suggested (erroneously) that any aspect of Frankie care was yucky. I wonder if it has to do with the climate you live in — ie., not warm and humid — or with Ty being naturally clean! I’ll qualify to say “many wrinkly dogs”…

      1. Perhaps I’ve just been lucky, but none of the three Shar-pei I’ve had required any additional attention for their wrinkles. Chicago and Philadelphia are both pretty humid climates, so I don’t think that contributed to it – though, I know the humidity makes their ears worse.

  13. Grooming is an ordeal at our house. Jasper hates to be rushed and yet with his long coat he has to be groomed regularly. I think of it as a time to check him over too. Daisy gets a good brushing too, but not as frequently. It’s hard to do it for long when your dog gives you a look that makes you feel like sh*t.

    I also do their nails. I heard Dr. Sophia Yin has a great video on YouTube helping owners with nail clipping for those dogs who hate it.

    For me, the most important thing is checking ears. As a Lab, Daisy is more prone to ear infections, so I keep an eye on them.

    BTW – Pet Sitters often check their clients over and alert clients to unusual growths or spots that should be checked out by a vet. Found a lump on one of my client’s cats that way. She didn’t even know. Thankfully, it was benign, but it’s a good example why grooming is so much more than just grooming.

    1. I know what you mean about “the look”; I do a lot of finger combing with Frankie because he resists more formal brushing (but eventually gets subjected to it). I’ll have to check out Dr. Yin’s video on nail trimming. I’m sure it’s good.

      Wow — you must be a great pet sitter. I don’t think I’ve ever had one check Frankie out like that. I’m just glad when they feed him/give him his shots successfully — and call me when they’re supposed to!

  14. Dog’s nails can be trimmed once every month. If your pet has sharp and uncut nails, they can hurt other pets especially when it is playful.

  15. JJ,

    I’m with you…hate hate hate fleas! Did I mention I hate fleas?! I also have 2 small kids and saw a flea on one when he was playing with Max…omg, I about died! Aaaagh!

    Btw, I sucked at massaging to but was finally taught to do it the right way. Max was relieved, lol. Good luck to ya.

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