A grooming primer

Rudiments of grooming



Introduction

Sassy has a double coat of thick, soft fur, and it's floating in dandelion-tufts all over the house, drifting under furniture in wispy dust rhinos, garnishing dinner plates, and adhering to clothing.

Brutus has short hair that drops off where he sleeps.

Freckles generously spreads her Dalmatian hairs wherever she travels, all day, all week, all year.

Long-coated Lad is matted to the skin, his hair twisted into thick felt pads, his tender hide raw and fleabitten.

Each of these situations could be helped by regular grooming sessions with the family pet.

"Grooming" conjures up pictures of expensive salons for poodles or Shih Tzus or images of the prestigious Westminster Kennel Club dog show. The family Sassy or Freckles or Lad certainly doesn't need fancy haircuts or expensive baths with hot oil treatments. However, failing to groom the dog is akin to neglecting to comb a child's hair and wash behind his ears.

A long-coated dog should have her hair brushed and combed several times each week. A double-coated dog should have dead hair combed from the coat to hasten shedding and prevent hairy tumbleweeds from infesting the house. Even a short-coated dog should be brushed or rubbed down a couple of times a week to keep skin and coat healthy.

Much grooming can be done at home. A brush suitable for the dog's particular coat; a fine-toothed comb for soft, silky hair and flea control; a rubber mitt or coarse washcloth for short coats are minimal tools necessary for the job. Owners who can manage may also want a pair of clippers for trimming dog toenails.

The first step in home grooming is to teach the dog to accept the attention. The best strategy is to start when the pet is a puppy, teaching him to accept the handling of all his body parts and to stand and lie on his side by command. Use hands, a soft brush, or a coarse washcloth to groom a puppy. If the puppy has a tough time staying still, place a mat on the kitchen table for traction and work with the pup on the mat.

If the pup has grown up ungroomed, he can still be taught to stand or lie still and accept this necessary attention. As with any training effort, you will often need more patience to teach shy or fearful dogs than confident or dominant dogs.

When grooming a dog with a tangled coat, work gently to avoid irritating the skin. Comb the outside of the tangle, gently progressing towards the skin, just as you would comb a child's snarled tresses. If the coat is severely tangled or matted, work in short sessions and praise the dog frequently for accepting the sometimes irritating or painful combing. Or consider taking the pooch to a professional for an evaluation of his condition and possible clipping.

Dogs may shed dead hairs continuously, particularly in dry winter household heat. Double-coated dogs generally shed massive amounts of hair twice a year. Undercoat shedding often begins on the haunches and proceeds forward until the entire coat has molted. You may notice a dullness to the hair before the tufts begin to emerge from the coat. Full shedding can take a month or more, particularly in the heavy coated breeds.


Be prepared

All dogs need grooming, but some dogs need more grooming than others.

Baxter’s owners did not realize that their dog should be combed frequently and completely to prevent kinks and knots caused by intertwining of hairs or by dirt, grit, or vegetative matter in the coat. Mats can pull tender skin and cause pain and lead to hot spots or wounds to irritated skin and eventual infection, general skin outbreaks, or fungus or insect invasion.

Shaving may be the only solution for felted mats, but it must be done carefully to avoid nicking the dog or further irritating already inflamed skin.

Breeds that need frequent grooming to prevent mats and keep their coats healthy include Cocker Spaniel, Afghan Hound, Otterhound, Bernese Mountain Dog, Great Pyrenees, Newfoundland, Samoyed, long-coated St. Bernard, Maltese, English Toy Spaniel, Pomeranian, Shih Tzu, Yorkshire Terrier, Silky Terrier, Australian Terrier, Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier, Bichon Frisé, Chow Chow, Keeshond, Tibetan Spaniel, Tibetan Terrier, Finnish Spitz, American Eskimo, Bearded Collie, Belgian Tervuren, Old English Sheepdog, Collie, Briard, and Shetland Sheepdog.

However, all dogs need some grooming. Although they are unlikely to develop mats or tangles — except around the ears or on the feathered legs of some breeds — medium-coated and short-coated dogs do need periodic grooming to keep coats and skin healthy. Grooming during shedding helps move the process along, lessen the hairy tumbleweeds in the family room, and encourage the growth of new coat.


Start with puppies

Good grooming habits begin with puppy care. All puppies should be taught to sit, stand, or lie down to have their bodies checked over and their hair combed.

Grooming provides bonding time. In the wild, wolves and other canines groom each other as part of the social interaction of the pack or family group. Dog incisors (the front teeth) are an effective comb; the little nibbles they etch on the bodies of pack mates stimulate the skin and have a calming effect. Puppy owners can also use grooming as pleasurable time with their new family member.


Tools

Pet supply stores have a dizzying variety of tools and products to assist in dog grooming. There are combs with fine teeth, combs with medium teeth, and combs with coarse teeth, combs with handles and without. There are brushes with short metal pins, brushes with slanted metal pins, brushes with flexible plastic pins, oval-shaped brushes and rectangular brushes. There are shedding blades for thick-coated dogs that shed gobs of undercoat and nubby gloves for smooth-coated breeds.

There are shampoos and rinses and gels and whiteners and conditioners and supplements to clean and soften coats.

A basic home grooming kit for a long-coated dog should include a soft wire slicker brush, a comb that has both fine and coarse teeth, a Universal brush and mat comb for dealing with the tangles that do form, and an oil-based conditioner that is applied before brushing or combing the coat. The mat comb has long teeth that are inserted into the mat rocked in a sawing motion to loosen the hairs.

A kit for medium-coated or short-coated dogs should include a slicker brush or flexible-pin brush. Bony dogs should be brushed with a soft brush or one with blunt bristles. Feathery hairs on the legs, ears, and tail should be combed. A nubby glove or coarse rag is suitable for grooming faces and for stimulating the skin and conditioning the coat on short-coated dogs.


Bathing

Ginger doesn’t need frequent baths. In fact, frequent baths can dry the natural oils in canine skin and lead to constant scratching, which in turn can lead to bacterial infections and oozing hot spots.

For dogs that get bathed more than once a month, aloe-based shampoos and coat conditioners and foods and supplements with Omega fatty acids help maintain coat oils and skin health.

Daily examination

Even if Ginger doesn’t need daily grooming, check her thoroughly to make sure she has no cuts, sores, fleas, rashes, bumps, ticks, or hitchhikers in her coat or dirt in her ears. Remove fleas with a fine-toothed comb and drop them into a container of soapy water. Remove embedded ticks with tweezers or protected fingers and drop them in a vial of alcohol. (Grasp the tick body, rock it back and forth, then pull firmly.) Carefully remove vegetative matter such as grass awns, seed casings, or thorny twigs with fingers or comb.

During this daily exam, check Ginger’s feet and ears, look at her teeth, and feel for cuts or tumors.

Shedding

Dog hair grows and dies just as human hair does. Some dogs — particularly hard-coated terriers and Poodles — hang on to their dead hair, thus requiring special grooming to remove it. Other dogs give it up quite readily, all over the house. Double-coated dogs generally drop their soft undercoats twice a year and lose their guard hairs once a year, although some individual dogs might shed constantly or only every 10-12 months. Shedding can take anywhere from three weeks to two months. A warm bath helps accelerate the process and daily (or twice-daily) grooming can help control clouds of hair that scurry into corners and under furniture.

Shedding is controlled by hormonal changes that are tied to photoperiod (day length) and is influenced by level of nutrition and general state of health. In addition to natural biennial shedding, a dog may drop its coat after surgery, x-rays under anesthesia, and whelping puppies.

Double-coated dogs that shed heavily are Akita, Alaskan Malamute, Keeshond, Siberian Husky, Samoyed, Norwegian Elkhound, Collie, Great Pyrenees, Kuvasz, Newfoundland, St. Bernard, English Toy Spaniel, Pomeranian, Belgian Sheepdog, Belgian Malinois, Belgian Tervuren, Australian Shepherd, German Shepherd, Smooth Collie, Shetland Sheepdog, and American Eskimo. The Dalmatian sheds constantly, and many dogs shed a moderate amount of hair.

Owners should be aware before purchase that a long-coated dog, purebred or mixed, will require grooming throughout its life. If the inclination to groom or the time to do so are not part of the plan, provisions should be made for professional coat care for the dog. Otherwise, a dog that can do with a lick and a promise is a better choice as a family pet.


Skin

Healthy skin is certainly a consideration for a well-groomed dog, and healthy skin begins with a good diet. Again, the choices are legion. The rule of thumb is thus: If your dog does well on the food you buy, if his skin and coat are healthy, if he has energy and enjoys life, if he is maintaining his optimum weight, if his intestines are working well, if the food is highly digestible and thus leaves little manure to clean up, keep on keepin' on. But if the dog's energy level is low, if his coat is dull and his skin dry and itchy or sore, if a vet check shows no thyroid or other medical condition to account for the anomalies, consider switching the diet or supplementing with fatty acids.

Grooming is essential for healthy skin, not so much for keeping it clean, but for making the owner aware of any problems that may be developing. Flea allergies can cause severe skin problems, so daily examination of the dog during flea season is a must. Contact allergies can also cause skin to break out. Irritated skin leads to scratching, which can open the skin to staphylococcus infections. An ounce of prevention is definitely worth a pound of cure for the dog and the pocketbook the antibiotics for skin infections are among the most expensive medications, and the cost of treatment can be dollars a day for a couple of weeks or longer.

Skin irritations and infections can crop up overnight, so keep a close eye on the situation. Groom daily for fleas and ticks if Lad has had a problem. Use a fine-toothed comb to check for fleas, then flick the tiny insects into a container of warm, soapy water. Remove ticks with protected fingers and drop in a vial of alcohol. Treat the house for fleas as well; modern controls for these pests use genetically altered natural insecticides, growth inhibitors, and drying agents that are both environmentally friendly and less toxic to people and pets.


Ears

All dogs should have their ears checked periodically. Dogs with droop ears are especially susceptible to fungus and bacterial infections and should be checked at least weekly. Veterinarians can prescribe cleaning agents for ears to dry them out.

Infected ears can also lead to further complications. Not only is the dog painfully uncomfortable, he may cause a hematoma by breaking a blood vessel while shaking his head in response to the discomfort. The hematoma may dissipate on its own if Rover stops shaking his head -- or it may grow and require lancing and stitching.


Feet

Dogs should have their toenails cut every two to three weeks. A dog that wiggles during toenail clipping will sooner or later be nipped to the quick, and the next time the clippers come out of the closet, he'll head for the hills. So teach the dog to stand or sit still and offer his paw, clip a tiny bit off each nail a couple of days in a row, or have the vet or groomer do the job.

Dog nails have a quick that can be seen as a darkening of light-colored nails but is invisible on dark nails. The quick has a nerve and blood supply; nicking the quick not only hurts the dog, it causes profuse bleeding, so keep a quick stop product on hand or use flour or cornstarch to stem the tide.

Include an examination of the dog's feet into a grooming session to make sure there is nothing stuck between the pads. Seeds from some grasses can stab into the pad, pebbles can get stuck, chemicals used on lawns can burn, and fungus can cause irritation, which lads to licking, which can lead to hot spots and infection.

A home-grooming session can be a boon to the dog-owner relationship. Dogs naturally groom each other to reinforce pack behavior and show subordination., and you can take advantage of this behavior. Spend 10-20 minutes every day or two, depending on the dog and the season of the year, and you'll increase the bond with your pet immeasurably along with insuring that you'll keep his skin and coat healthy and be aware of any subtle changes in condition.


Choosing a groomer

If you decide that you have neither the time, inclination or physical ability to groom your dog, Greater Cincinnati has dozens of professional groomers who can do the job. But the choice is far more complex than a digital walk through the Yellow Pages.

Selection of a groomer should be done with at least as much care as choice of a barber or hair stylist, for you must be pleased with the results of the "haircut" and the dog must be treated with care while at the shop.

Many veterinarians have incorporated grooming into their clinics, so you may start there. If your veterinarian is not associated with a groomer, he may have a list of recommended groomers. Other sources of recommendations include friends who own pets, boarding kennels that don't have their own grooming service, pet supply stores, shelters, and purebred breeders.

If you own a Poodle or a terrier, the selection may be a bit more difficult, for these breeds have special grooming requirements that take more time and expertise.

After getting some recommendations, make a few telephone calls and ask questions about services and costs, pick-up and delivery, and use of tranquilizers to calm the dog. Most groomers will not use tranquilizers; however they will handle a dog that has been tranquilized by the veterinarian or owner if they know that the drug has been given. If your dog is geriatric or has a chronic medical problem, ask about special handling.

Visit the groomers who answered your questions without the dog. Make sure the shop is well-lit, that the groomer and assistants handle the dogs gently, that old or arthritic dogs are treated with special consideration, and that the shampoos and flea and tick products meet your needs.

If the shop is part of a boarding kennel, find out what vaccinations the kennel requires. If routine vaccinations, including Bordatella, are not required, be aware that Cactus may bring home more than a new hairdo.


The owner's responsibility

Here are some hints to make a trip to the groomer easier on both you and your dog:

  1. Teach the dog to stand on command and to accept the attentions of a stranger without cringing or growling. Obedience classes are wonderful for this good manners exercise, which is an integral part of the Canine Good Citizen test.
  2. Comb Mango regularly to prevent tangles and mats. Or schedule more frequent visits to the groomer. Matted hair can cause great pain to the dog and to the groomer who gets bitten because Mango's in pain from tangled locks.
  3. Crate train Monster so he'll sit quietly while drying and waiting for your return.
  4. Warn the groomer of any bad habits that could interfere with successful grooming. If, in spite of all you can do, Monkey hates grooming and is likely to bite, tell the groomer so she can take precautions. If Peanut is tranquilized for the session, if she has a heart problem or is subject to seizures, if she has arthritis, or if she is extremely fearful, tell the groomer so she will be prepared.

A groomer is not a miracle worker. She cannot take a poorly maintained dog and turn it into a show-stopper in one visit. You should maximize your chances of satisfaction by teaching the dog to accept the attentions of strangers and keeping the coat free of mats and tangles.

Norma Bennett Woolf

This page is a part of the Dog Owner's Guide internet website and is copyright 2014 by Canis Major Publications. You may print or download this material for non-commercial personal or school educational use. All other rights reserved. If you, your organization or business would like to reprint our articles in a newsletter or distribute them free of charge as an educational handout please see our reprint policy.



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