GROOMING BRINGS OUT THE NATURAL BEAUTY OF ANY DOG, WHETHER SHOW dog or pet. Coat care is the mainstay of grooming, but owners should also pay close attention to their dog’s teeth, nails, eyes, ears, and anal sacs.
For best results, a regular grooming schedule should be established during puppyhood and maintained throughout the dog’s life. This allows owners to quickly notice subtle changes in the dog’s condition and get an early jump on eliminating common problems such as fleas or ticks.
The canine coat comes in many varieties. Proper grooming will depend on the dog’s breed, coat texture, coat length, and purpose. Grooming a dog for competition, for instance, usually involves more time and effort than preparing to visit a friend.
In general, brushing several times each week keeps the average dog neat and clean. This removes dead hair and distributes natural skin oils. The coat should be brushed down to the skin, loosening and removing flakes of dandruff and stimulating blood circulation.
Longhaired dogs require more coat care than shorthaired dogs because they are more likely to develop mats, tangles, and other problems. To maintain their characteristic appearance for the show ring, wire-coated terriers must be plucked or stripped periodically—which means the dead hairs need to be carefully removed by hand or with a special grooming tool. Between strippings, the coat should be brushed and combed regularly. Wire-coated dogs that are not shown may be clipped for easier maintenance, although this may alter the coat texture.
Although you can groom a dog on the floor, a sturdy table or bench is better. The surface should be covered with a rubber mat or other nonslip material for secure footing. If you use a tabletop, never leave the dog unattended.
As for grooming equipment, it all depends on the type of dog and the desired result. Many groomers use a pin brush for longhaired breeds. These brushes have long, rounded stainless steel or chrome-plated bristles. Brushes with nylon or natural bristles are recommended for dogs with short, medium, or long coats. Slicker brushes, which come in sizes appropriate for small, medium, or large dogs, have bent wire teeth set close together and are useful for removing mats as well as dead hair. A palm pin brush—an oval rubber pad set with round-tipped pins—is used to brush out the facial hair and leg furnishings of terriers. A brush with soft, flexible rubber bristles can polish smooth coats and remove dead hair. In addition to these items, you can purchase clippers, stripping knives, hair dryers, and other equipment designed to keep a dog’s coat in top condition. Be sure you understand the correct use of these products, because they can damage the dog’s skin and hair if used improperly. Certain breeds require special grooming techniques, so you may need to consult your dog’s breeder or a professional groomer for advice.
If you do not regularly groom your dog, several problems can develop. One is mats. Mats are solid masses of hair that form anywhere on the body, but they are most often found behind the ears and under the legs. Some mats can be gently teased apart with one or two teeth of a comb. Others must be removed with scissors. This should be done with the greatest of care— it is extremely easy to cut the dog’s skin. For safety’s sake, try working a comb underneath the mat and then snip between the mat and the comb.
When bathing is necessary, shampoos made especially for dogs are best. You can also use a mild soap, baby shampoo, or coconut-oil shampoo. Stand your dog in a tub or basin, and make sure the dog is secure. Take special care not to get water or shampoo too close to your dog’s eyes and ears. You may choose to plug the ears with cotton and place a gentle ophthalmic ointment in the eyes. Longhaired dogs should be combed before bathing. Wet the dog with water, apply shampoo sparingly, and work up a good lather. Rinse well and wrap a towel around the dog before it starts to shake itself dry. Some brisk toweling will help dry the hair more quickly. Bathing can be done outdoors in fine summer weather, but keep a wet dog indoors on chilly or windy days until it is thoroughly dry. Brushing and combing should be done regularly thereafter to keep the dog as clean as possible.
How often you bathe your dog will depend on the climate as well as the dog’s coat type and living situation (dogs that spend a lot of time outdoors or in a kennel will need to be bathed more often). Remember that too much bathing can remove the skin’s natural oils and make the coat dry and harsh.
Many dog owners have to contend with burrs and other plant material that makes a mess of the coat. If you cannot avoid exercising the dog in areas known to contain these nuisances, remove them as quickly as they are found. Be sure to check between the dog’s toes, under the legs, and around the ears and genitals after every outing.
Another common problem is skunk spray. The odor will be lessened considerably by bathing the dog in soap and water, followed by soaking the coat in tomato juice and then rinsing. You may have to repeat the process a few times. Be sure to discard the dog’s collar, leash, or anything else that may have absorbed the skunk’s scent.
If your dog’s coat becomes contaminated with tar, sap, or paint, you may need to practice some creative trimming. You can also try soaking the affected areas in vegetable or mineral oil for twenty-four hours, then washing with soap and water. Never use gasoline, turpentine, kerosene, or any other chemical substance to remove anything from a dog’s coat.
Regular exercise on rough ground helps wear some nails down to an appropriate length. If not, a dog’s nails should be trimmed until they just clear the floor. Long nails can cause the foot to splay or spread. Even worse, they can curl under and pierce the skin. This happens most often with the dewclaws, the nails high on the foot, which are sometimes obscured by long hair. Dewclaws are often removed shortly after birth.
Nails should be trimmed with equipment specially designed for this purpose. Do not use ordinary scissors or your own toenail clippers. If you look carefully at a dog’s nail, you will see a thin pink or red line inside. This is called the quick. Make the cut just before the quick. Trimming dark nails is admittedly more difficult, because the quick is not as easy to see. Gradually trim small pieces until the hook-like part is removed. Be prepared to stop any bleeding with a styptic pencil or cornstarch.
The ears should be cleaned approximately every two weeks, depending upon the dog and whether it is prone to ear problems. In general, folded or hairy ears need to be cleaned more often than erect or basically bare ears. It’s a good idea to inspect the ears regularly, checking for any unusual discharge or odor. Any suspicion of infection should be brought to the attention of a veterinarian.
For routine ear cleaning, wrap a damp towel or soft cloth around your finger and clean only the visible part of the outer ear. You can also use a cotton swab soaked in mineral oil. Every last bit of wax need not be removed, since a small amount naturally protects the ear canal. Do not try to clean out an infected ear; leave that to your veterinarian.
Some dogs grow profuse hair in their ears, which tends to block air circulation and contribute to infections. If your veterinarian has recommended plucking this hair, use your fingers or a tweezers and gently remove only the hairs that come out easily.
Some breeds have large, protruding eyes. Others have an abundance of hair around the eyes. These dogs are especially vulnerable to ocular irritation or injury, and their owners should be very vigilant about grooming. Hair should never be allowed to rub or touch the eyes, and the eyes should be monitored carefully for redness or unusual discharge, which should be brought immediately to the attention of a veterinarian. The eye area may be cleaned by gently wiping with a damp, soft cloth. Any hair clipping should be done with extreme caution.
BRUSHING THE TEETH
Plaque and tartar can lead to painful periodontal (gum) disease and eventual tooth loss. If plaque—a soft white or yellow substance—is allowed to remain on the teeth, tartar can develop. Tartar is quite hard and must be removed by scaling, which is often done under anesthesia at a veterinary clinic.
To prevent oral disease, regular brushing—every two to three days—is highly recommended for all dogs. This may be done with a child’s toothbrush and a small amount of canine toothpaste or a dab of paste made by mixing baking soda and water. (Do not use toothpaste designed for humans, since your dog cannot rinse after brushing.) A gauze pad wrapped around the finger can substitute for a toothbrush. Either way, the teeth should be scrubbed from crown to gum.
It is believed that dry food and hard chew-toys reduce the formation of tartar. However, this does not eliminate the need for additional teeth-cleaning or even periodic scaling. If the dog’s gums bleed, appear reddened, or recede from the surface of the teeth, check with your veterinarian.
Anal sacs are normal anatomical structures located on either side of the lower half of the canine anus. If you look carefully, you can probably see the tiny ducts through which a malodorous liquid exudes from these sacs. This natural substance is thought to help dogs mark their territory. Unfortunately, the sacs occasionally become impacted in some dogs, making them uncomfortable. A clear sign is when the dog drags its rear on the ground and licks its anus.
Impacted anal sacs need to be emptied; this can be done by you (with practice) or your veterinarian. If your efforts fail, however, you should seek professional help. Impacted anal sacs can become infected, which requires veterinary treatment. The discharge from an infected anal sac typically contains blood or pus, and the dog’s anal area will be very sensitive.
To express the anal sacs, raise the dog’s tail with one hand and hold a piece of gauze or tissue in the other hand. Grasp the skin outside the anal area with your thumb and forefinger in the eight and four o’clock positions. Then push in and squeeze very gently. The anal sac material should exude from the two ducts without undue pressure. Some people find it easier to express one gland at a time. This is done by placing a gloved and lubricated forefinger inside the rectum and then gently pressing the sac between the thumb and forefinger in a forward motion. It’s best to have someone hold the dog still while you do this.