Last week we discussed proper nail trimming and ear care for your pet. These are both essential parts of a healthy hygiene routine. Next, let’s get into proper care for your dog’s skin and coat.
Whether an avid outdoor enthusiast or lazy couch potato, all dogs need to be bathed eventually. You can tell if your dog needs to be bathed by checking for dust, dirt, shedding, or excess greasiness in your dog’s coat. Smell is also an important indicator; some dogs love to roll in stinky things, but we humans don’t really appreciate a stinky pup on the couch or in bed with us.
When it comes to giving your pooch a bath, being prepared in advance is key. To prepare for bath time, here are the steps to take beforehand:
Gather your equipment, and prepare to get wet! Collect some clean towels and perhaps an extra set of hands to help, depending on how cooperative your dog is. There are a number of gentle, safe, and affordable pet shampoos on the market, and a little shampoo can go a long way. The options can seem a little overwhelming at times, but for most pets a basic gentle shampoo will suffice. If your pet has specific coat or skin needs, ask your vet, groomer, or pet retail expert for some guidance, and always follow the label directions precisely.
Small dogs can be washed in a kitchen sink or laundry tub, whereas larger dogs will require a bathtub or walk-in shower. Often it is easier to have one person keep the dog in place while another scrubs and rinses, but above all be gentle and work to the dog’s comfort level. Next, soak your pet thoroughly, using a facecloth or cup of water to wash the face if they are nervous. Apply shampoo according to label directions and work it into the coat thoroughly. Use a cloth and your hands to gently scrub messier areas such as the face, paws, and privates, then scrub your pet down well all over. Rinsing all soap out thoroughly is key, as residue can cause itching or irritation, so make sure there are no bubbles remaining once your dog is clean. Finally, wrap your pup in towels, and give them lots of treats and snuggles now that they’re clean and fresh.
Brushing, Trimming, and Maintaining the Coat
Once your pooch is fully dried from their bath, it is now time to brush and maintain their fur. This is a great opportunity to check your dog’s skin for irritation, cuts, or ticks that may otherwise go unnoticed.
For short hair: These dogs tend to be the easiest to maintain at home. A quick spray of coat conditioner after the bath followed by a quick brush with a curry or soft boar bristle brush reduces shedding, improves skin circulation, shines up the coat, and most importantly feels great to your dog. For these dogs, brushing every few days and maintaining nails is usually sufficient to keep them looking and feeling their best.
For medium coats: Dogs with longer, shedding coats such as German shepherds, Huskies, Retrievers, and many mixes require more brushing than short-haired dogs to prevent their plush, wooly undercoats from matting and causing problems. While a curry or boar bristle brush is great for adding shine to their coat and reducing shedding, the addition of an undercoat rake and a comb to your routine is necessary to ensure their double-coats can work effectively.
Follow up your brushing by running a comb through your dog’s coat to ensure there are no potential mats or burrs remaining in the coat. Coat conditioners used while brushing are fantastic for helping keep these breeds in tip-top shape between baths.
Non-shedding breeds and breeds with longer coats: Many dogs have coats that grow like human hair; they do not really shed on their own and require regular brushing and maintenance to keep comfortable. It is for these breeds that home coat care is especially important, as this type of hair can begin to tangle or become matted within days, causing discomfort and potential injury to the dog. It is therefore of the utmost importance that these dogs are brushed thoroughly down to the skin at least a few times a week with a quality coat conditioner and then combed through to ensure the coat and skin stays healthy. Depending on your dog’s size and length of coat, this can take quite some time, so many dog owners find it easier to work on small sections each day and work through the dog that way.
Lots of encouragement and treats means that most dogs, over time, will learn to enjoy the process and it is a great opportunity to bond. If you encounter matting while you are grooming your dog, it’s best to not remove the mats with scissors. This often leads to cuts as the skin is pulled so tight, it is sometimes even inside the mat. It is safer and easier on the animal to carefully shave out matted areas. If you are not experienced and comfortable doing this yourself then it is time to consult with your vet or professional groomer to determine your next steps.
Basic trimming and cutting: As long as your dog is cooperative and you are comfortable and careful, trimming excess hair is another skill you can develop to help keep your dog well-groomed and relaxed at home. After your dog is clean and brushed out, it is a good time to carefully trim their face, paws and/or sanitary area using small, sharp haircutting scissors or clippers (sorry, this is not a job for those old kitchen shears, for safety reasons). Again, YouTube can be a good source for how-to’s if you are a visual learner, and Facebook has a public group called “Groomers Educating Pet Owners”, with many helpful resources as well. This is definitely not the time to force your dog to cooperate, however, as the combination of sharp tools and a struggling dog can have serious consequences. Only attempt to trim your dog if you know how to do so safely. If not, it is best to keep your dog clean and brushed out until you can get a trained professional to trim them for you.
Bonus tips? Overall, the more you are able to integrate grooming into your daily routine, and especially if you’re able to make it fun and rewarding for you and your pet, the easier and happier you both will be in the long run. And your dog (as well as your groomer and vet) will thank you.
I want to give a big thank you to Bekah Chapman from The Pampered Paw Spa for providing all this helpful information. The Pampered Paw Spa provides professional, gentle, one-on-one pet grooming services to Meaford and the surrounding area.
Brandon Forder, known as The Pet Expert, is vice-president of Canadian Pet Connection, an industry leader in healthy pet lifestyles. Brandon holds multiple certifications in pet nutrition, and has more than twenty-five years' experience specializing in pet health and behaviour. He has written hundreds of informative pet-related articles for newspapers, magazines, radio, and the popular Ask the Pet Expert Blog. Brandon is highly skilled in pet problem solving, and enjoys teaching others about smart and responsible pet ownership. To learn more, visit www.CanadianPetConnection.ca.