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Why and how should I groom my dog?

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Grooming the dogs in your care is important. There are health and welfare benefits over and above making their coat look great and well-cared-for.

Benefits of grooming

Some of the benefits are obvious such as keeping the coat tidy, removing knots, and making the coat look well-cared-for. Other benefits which may be less obvious but are very important include:

  • Removing old, damaged, and dead hair and skin cells.
  • Preventing matts from forming by brushing out knots regularly and removing loose hair.
  • Distributing natural oils through the coat.
  • Removing grass seeds and other objects from the coat which may cause discomfort or problems.
  • Removing excess hair which can make the coat very heavy and make your dog feel hotter.
  • Providing enjoyment and bonding time: many dogs love to be brushed and it is a lovely time to spend with them, if they do enjoy it. You can also use soft massage brushes to give them a whole body massage.

How to groom

Try to always make grooming a pleasant experience so that your dog will enjoy the process. Get them used to grooming early in their life if you can; this will make the whole process much easier. Start with short sessions and reward them with attention and treats for being calm. There are often some areas where dogs like being groomed (for example, gentle grooming of the head, neck, and body) and other areas where they are not as happy to be groomed (such as the belly, feet, or tail). Start with the areas your dog likes to be groomed and groom them in these areas for short periods. Even if you only manage a few strokes of the brush to begin with, stopping before your dog shows any discomfort or agitation, reward them, and then try again another time. You can slowly increase the time spent grooming and the areas groomed gradually.

It is good to have a variety of brushes and combs for different uses. Dogs with different coat types will need different kinds of brushes. For example, long-haired dogs need brushes with longer bristles and combs with long wide teeth, whereas short-haired dogs need only short-bristle or soft-bristle brushes and a fine-toothed comb. A soft massage brush or mitten will often be a very enjoyable tool to use (and so may be a good one to start with) but will often not be sufficient on its own to remove knots, matts, and loose hair.

Using a suitable brush or comb, gently brush the hair in the direction of the hair’s growth. It is often helpful to start with a soft brush or wider tooth comb/brush to loosen any tangles/knots/hair/debris in the coat and then, if necessary, move to a finer tooth comb/brush to work through any more stubborn tangles. If your animal becomes uncomfortable or stressed, you should stop immediately. You can either try again later or, if there is a stubborn or difficult tangle or matt, then you may want to consider carefully trimming it. To do this you can use clippers or blunt-nosed safety scissors to gently and slowly try to break the tangle/matt apart and trim it off, but be very careful not to touch the skin. If you are uncertain about trimming out a tangle/matt safely or it is close to the skin, it might be safest to have a professional groomer or veterinarian/veterinary nurse help you.

As well as brushing the main body make sure you check between the dog’s toes, in and around their ears, and in any hard to spot or see places, such as between toes, under armpits or between the hindlegs. This enables any problems to be picked up early including: dirty build up in ears or signs of infection; parasites such as fleas or ticks; matts; grass seeds in the coat; and any scratches, inflamed areas, lumps, and bumps that might need to be checked by your veterinarian.

You can also take the opportunity to check the length and health of your dog’s nails and decide if they need trimming. You can ask your veterinarian to show you how to tell when your dog’s nails need clipping but, as a guide, a dog’s nails should be trimmed just before they start to touch the ground when the dog is standing or walking. If they are touching the ground, they are too long and need to be trimmed.

Make sure you check the dew claws too as these can cause problems if they get too long, including injuring the pad if they curl around and into the tissue of the pad and are at risk of being damaged if they get too long. Dew claws are not worn down by exercise and may need trimming more often than the nails on your dog’s toes.

The orange circle shows where the dew claw is on the inside of a dog’s leg. Dew claws are almost always present on dogs’ front legs and some dogs have them on their hindlegs also. Image credit: @dandrew.photo

It is also a good idea to regularly have a look at and check your dog’s teeth if you can. Your veterinarian can show you how to safely check the teeth and what to look out for. Dental and gum disease is common and causes pain, discomfort and potentially serious health issues. Addressing any issues early is very important.

See these articles for more information on taking care of your cat or dog’s teeth and oral health:

Bathing

The need to bathe your dog and how often will depend on the individual and their coat type, skin, health, as well as their amount and type of activity. For example, a dog who regularly swims in the sea and/or rolls in mud will need bathing more often than a dog who does not. You can ask your veterinarian for guidance for your individual dog.

When you do need to bathe your dog, this can be done at home in your bath or shower with warm water (if it is safe to do so; i.e., you don’t want to have to lift a heavy dog in and out of the bath so it depends on the size of your dog among other things!), or use a temperature controlled hydrobath (these are available often at groomers, pet stores, veterinarians, and there are also mobile hydrobaths). Another option during warm weather is to bathe your dog outside using a garden hose on low pressure, as your dog might enjoy the cool water bath when it is hot. No matter what method you use, always reward your dog, especially if they are reluctant. It is important to use a dog shampoo that is suitable for your dog’s skin and coat type, so it is good to get a recommendation from your veterinarian, especially if your dog has any skin issues.

Coat trimming and clipping

Some dogs will need regular trimming or clipping of their hair coat, especially those with long or heavy coats.

Dogs who have hair falling over or onto their eyes need this trimmed regularly to allow them to see properly and to prevent irritation to the eyes from the hair. Clipping is important to remove any matts in the hair coat, if these occur.

Clipping will also remove hair from dogs who do not shed their hair (e.g., Poodles, Maltese Terriers, Schnauzers) and help prevent your dog getting heat stress in hot weather. Since it is necessary to be skilled with using electric clippers safely, it is usually advisable to use a trusted and reputable professional groomer to clip your dog. You can ask your veterinarian for a recommendation or clipping may be able to be performed through your veterinary clinic; this is an especially good option for animals who must be clipped for their own health and welfare but who become stressed when clipped and, therefore, might need sedation to be safely clipped with minimal anxiety.

Double coated dogs

Some dogs have a double coat which is a thick layer of soft fine hair underneath a courser layer of longer hairs; for example Samoyeds, Australian Shepherds, and Siberian Huskies. These dogs need some extra care to keep their coats healthy. Dogs with these kinds of coats can be prone to getting matted hair so they need very regular and thorough grooming to remove the thick undercoat hair. They should normally be groomed every day to prevent the build up of dead but not shed hair, the development of matts, and the associated problems like discomfort and inflammation.

Dogs with double coats usually need regular bathing; this helps to loosen the hair and some hair will also be removed when you wash them. It is a good idea to brush the dog once the hair is dry after a bath to remove any loosened hair that remains.

There are special combs and brushes designed to get under the top layer of a double or thick coat to the heavy undercoat below. These include undercoat rakes and slickers, wide tooth combs, and de-shedders. When using these brushes/combs it is important to use short and gentle strokes and make sure you do not pull hard or scrape the dog’s skin. Bristle brushes and grooming mits can also be helpful to finish off grooming the top coat. Ask your veterinarian what is suitable for your dog.

It helps to start by brushing through the undercoat and then work your way through the thick undercoat hair to the top coat. For a dog with a short-haired double coat (e.g., Labrador Retriever, Miniature Schnauzer, Corgi), it is good to start with a slicker brush to brush the undercoat out, removing any tangles as you go. For dogs with a long-haired double coat (e.g., Pomeranian, Pekingese, Rough Collie), it helps to divide the coat into sections and brush out each section one by one, starting by using an undercoat rake to brush the undercoat out, then use a wide tooth comb, removing any tangles as you go. Most of the brushing should be done in the direction the hair is growing but gently brushing the hair of the undercoat backwards away from the skin and then afterwards in the direction of the hair growth can also help to loosen the hair if brushing in the direction of the hair growth is not enough alone. You can then groom the top coat using a bristle brush or grooming mit to remove any loose hairs and smooth the coat in the direction of the hair growth.

Make sure you brush the whole of the dog’s body (including the belly and between the legs). Be careful and use a soft brush and reduce downward pressure on the brush over joints or other sensitive areas (e.g., face, ears, toes) and when brushing areas not covered by a thick hair coat.

Nails

Overly long nails can cause discomfort and health problems. It is important to make sure that nails do not grow into the paw pads (which leads to extremely painful wounds, pain, and potentially infection). Long nails also increase the risk of nail breakage (which leads to pain and potential infection), and very long nails can push up the toes and make it difficult for a dog to stand and walk normally. To avoid these problems, it is important to regularly check your dog’s nails and trim them, or have them trimmed, when needed. Don’t forget to check and trim the dew claws also.

Some dogs do not like having their nails trimmed. If you have a young dog, it is good to get them used to having their nails trimmed early in their life to make this important task easier over their lifetime. Ask your veterinarian for advice on how to safely trim nails in a low stress way and start this training early with lots of rewards. If you have a dog who is already unhappy about having their nails trimmed, speak to your veterinarian about having the nail trims done at the veterinary clinic or by a trusted and reputable professional groomer. Walking your dog regularly on hard surfaces like footpaths may help keep nails worn down and mean they are less likely to get too long but this will not help keep dew claws from overgrowing. So, even if your dog’s main nails are all a good length, always check the dew claws regularly and trim them if they are getting too long.

Dogs who do not like to be groomed

If your dog is anxious about being groomed, challenging to handle, or you just do not feel comfortable grooming, bathing, clipping, or trimming nails, using a professional groomer might be a good option. Choose a trusted and reputable professional groomer who uses gentle handling and rewards to help your pet feel comfortable. You can ask your veterinarian for a recommendation; there are many options including grooming at the veterinary clinic and there are even mobile groomers who can come to your home. There may also be the opportunity to attend classes on how to groom your dog safely and stress free.

Many of our animal companions have hair coats and benefit from regular grooming. While this article is about grooming dogs, more information can be found on grooming horses in this article, cats here, Guinea pigs here, and rabbits here.

Also Read

Updated on October 11, 2021
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