You don’t have to take your dog to a professional groomer to keep him looking his best. Tim Falk investigates the grooming jobs you can easily do at home.
When you decide to get a dog, you agree to take on a range of responsibilities to ensure that your pooch has a healthy and happy life — feeding the right food, making sure he has enough exercise and taking care of all his training needs. Another essential task for every dog owner is grooming, including doing all the brushing, bathing and trimming necessary to keep Rover looking sharp.
Although some people look at dog grooming as something of a chore, it actually offers the perfect opportunity to spend some quality time bonding with your dog. And although it may at first appear to be all about keeping up appearances, proper grooming is actually an important component of any dog’s health.
“Regular grooming is crucial, particularly for long-haired dogs,” explains veterinarian Dr Joanna Paul from creatureclinic.com. “Inadequate grooming can allow mats to form in your dog’s coat. This becomes painful as the knots tighten close to the skin, and may also damage the skin, especially if the coat becomes wet. The resulting ‘hot spots’ are skin infections that are painful and itchy for your dog and which can be costly to treat.”
So what are the basic grooming tasks you can do at home to give your dog the best possible care? Let’s take a closer look.
The “B” word
For most owners, the first thing that comes to mind when grooming is mentioned is doggy bath time. And if you’re a first-time owner, working out how to give your dog a bath and when your pooch needs a wash can be a difficult task.
To begin with, the frequency with which you should give your dog a bath varies depending on a wide range of factors. “Not too often is the short answer, I think,” says Sydney small animal veterinarian Dr James Crowley. “It really depends on the individual dog, the breed, age, activity level, presence of skin conditions etc. Some people say you shouldn’t wash your dog too regularly as it depletes the natural oils in the coat, [though I’m] not sure I’ve ever seen a dog with dry skin from being too clean.”
Dr James suggests that bathing your pooch roughly once per month is a good general guide, but an active puppy that plays in mud or a Cocker Spaniel with an oily coat may need to be washed more often. Allergic skin disease is also a common problem for some unfortunate canines and these dogs often benefit from being bathed in medicated or moisturising shampoos every 7-14 days.
You’ll need to use warm (but not hot) water in the bath and it’s vital that you dry your pooch thoroughly once clean, especially in the colder months and if they are very young or old. “It’s important to use a shampoo formulated specifically for pets. Human skin has a different pH to dog skin so human shampoos can be too harsh for dogs,” Dr Joanna says.
Just like bathing, how often you should run a brush through your pooch’s hair can vary from dog to dog. Those with long coats should ideally be brushed every day to prevent any knots and tangles.
“Short-coated dogs don’t need to be brushed as often, but it’s still worthwhile putting in the time to sit down with them every couple of days for a brush,” Dr Joanna says. “They are likely to enjoy it and it’s nice bonding time. It’s also a great opportunity for you to run your hands over their body and notice any abnormalities such as lumps or bumps early.”
Nails and ears
Once the coat is taken care of, don’t forget there’s still more grooming that needs to be done. The first area that requires attention is the ears.
“Regular ear cleaning is important to keep them free from disease and infection,” Dr James says. “This is especially important for dogs that swim regularly, have long floppy ears or hairy ears (Golden Retrievers, Labradors, Cocker Spaniels, and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels) or narrow ear canals (Shar Peis).”
Use a mild ear cleaner registered for use in dogs and avoid vinegar, oil and other household remedies, as they can irritate an already inflamed canal.
Last but not least, make sure to keep your dog’s nails in good condition. Many dogs need their nails clipped every two weeks or so, as nails that are too long will affect the way your dog walks and can be painful if they are pushing into the toes.
“Some dogs need less frequent clipping if they are walked regularly on hard surfaces such as concrete, because this wears the nails down,” Dr Joanna says. “However, the dew claws don’t wear and should be checked regularly. If you can hear your dog’s nails clicking on the floor when they walk, they are probably too long. If you’re unsure or worried about clipping nails, you can ask your vet to show you how.”
There really is a whole lot you can do at home to ensure that your dog is perfectly groomed, but if you don’t feel up to the task or if you own a breed with complex grooming requirements, don’t hesitate to book your pet in for a session with a professional groomer.
Above all, the most important things to remember when grooming your dog at home are to stay calm and have fun. If you take a patient approach, your pooch will be looking good and feeling even better in no time.
What if my dog hates baths?
The water, the soap, the fact that you’re getting rid of all those interesting smells they’ve worked so hard to gather — whatever the reason, some dogs absolutely hate baths. The mere mention of the “B” word will be enough to send them scurrying off to a hiding place and bath time is usually a stressful struggle for these pets and their owners.
So how can you help your pet grow to love (or at least tolerate) having a bath? Dr James says a slow and steady approach is the key. “Your dog may associate the tub or the place where you bath him/her in a negative light, so select a new place if possible. Start small; feed your dog in the tub, give him/her treats and limit the baths to very short periods without the water running to form a positive association with the bathing area,” he says.
“A bath mat or piece of rubber may help your dog keep their footing in the bath and stay comfortable. Keep practising this in short sessions until your dog is calm, then you can introduce water. Again, start at a slow speed or gently pour a small amount on the feet or part of the coat. Gradually increase the time in the bath and the speed of the water to appropriately wash your dog.”
Throughout the whole process, remaining calm and patient is the best way to help your dog come to see the bath as a fun and happy place. “Speak gently and calmly and never shout at or punish your dog,” Dr Joanna says.
But if your dog has developed such a dislike of the bath that it’s stressful for everyone, you might want to consider using a professional groomer for baths. “They can use a walk-in hydrobath and are used to working with dogs that are unsure or scared,” she explains.
Why grooming is great for your dog
Dr James outlines some of the many health benefits grooming can produce for your dog:
- Grooming helps to bring out the natural oils in the coat, which are then distributed through the rest of the coat to produce a nice sheen.
- Grooming removes dandruff, dead hairs and the like from your dog’s coat.
- Grooming helps you check your dog for abnormalities, identify skin problems, reveal ticks and fleas, and detect any issues with nails, eyes, ears and teeth. These issues, particularly ticks, need to be identified at an early stage.
- “We see a high incidence of skin disease in long-haired dogs in summer,” Dr James says. “Appropriate grooming at this time of year can help prevent skin infections and keep your dog comfortable.”