Dog Grooming Basics

When the employer of New York Marketing Executive Laurie Bromley began making budget cuts last year, her monthly business trips to Los Angeles became a thing of the past -- and so did her 4-year-old dachshund’s overnight stays at the dog spa and hotel. “I always had them give Bams a bath at the end of his visit,” she says, “but now that I’m not traveling anymore, I’ve stopped taking him altogether.”

While professional groomers may offer convenience, expertise and a more finished look, your dog can benefit from do-it-yourself grooming, provided you follow some expert advice. Below, Debbie Felder, owner of California-based Bowser’s Natural Pet Grooming and a product tester for grooming product company Bamboo Pet, offers tips on home care for your furry friend’s coat, skin, nails and teeth.

Brushing your dog keeps its coat healthy and lush, stimulates circulation, gets rid of loose hair and keeps mats at bay. Dogs shed more as the seasons change, and brushing every few days may be a good idea at those times. Otherwise, every week or two is sufficient. If your dog is averse to brushing, Felder recommends carrying on a calm conversation with your canine companion as you work. “If you’re tense, the dog can feel it,” Felder explains. “Take it slow. Tell it to relax. Give your dog a massage while you brush.”

She adds, “The best way to groom at home is to elevate your dog, putting it up high, such as on a table. This takes the dog’s power away, letting them know you’re in charge.” The trick to getting rid of excess fuzz is to take off the loose coat first with a brush and then to follow that up with combing, which takes the mats out. A comb with rolling teeth is also a useful tool.

Bathe your dog every four to six weeks, and always after a good brushing. “A wet coat glues to the skin, so you want to get the loose hairs out first,” advises Felder, who also suggests putting cotton in your dog’s ears before bathing to keep the water out. “Dogs are afraid of cold water, so never just take them outside and hose them down. Always bathe them in warm water.”

Lay out your bathing supplies in advance to streamline the process. These should include a showerhead or pitcher, a diluted commercial shampoo -- to make rinsing easier -- and a towel or blow-dryer for drying. “I recommend shampooing your dog two times per bath,” says Felder. “They come out nicer.” She also suggests a post-bath comb-out to really finish the look.

While dogs that spend a lot of time playing in yards and walking along sidewalks may not need regular nail trimming, less-active pooches should have their nails clipped about once a month to avoid overgrowth and even infection. You can buy special dog nail clippers, since human clippers are generally not sharp enough for canines. Felder also recommends using an electric, rotating stone, available at hardware stores. This grinds the animal’s nails down so they’re not as sharp.

Choose a time when your dog tends to be relaxed. If you do use a clipper, trim only nail tips to avoid cutting into the quick -- the vein that runs into your dog’s nails. Avoiding the quick can be hard to do if your dog has black nails, which makes it all the more important to trim only the edge. If you do hit the vein, baking powder or cornstarch should stop the bleeding.

Tooth Cleaning
Dogs need their teeth professionally cleaned twice a year to prevent bacteria travelling from tooth tartar to their hearts. In between professional cleanings, you should also brush at home once or twice a week using a dog toothbrush and toothpaste formulated specially for dogs.

When your dog is sitting on an elevated surface like a table, hold its head firmly and open its mouth with one hand. Move the toothbrush in circular motions, starting in the back and making sure to brush at the gum line. Give your dog a crunchy and delicious treat when you finish, to reward for cooperation and to get that toothpaste taste out of its mouth.

Rules for Good Grooming

  • Keep grooming fun Approach your dog when you are relaxed and in a good mood. Don’t get frustrated. Talk sweetly to your dog throughout.
  • Tread lightly Learn from the mistakes professional groomers have made. Be gentle with your hands, keep water at a comfortable temperature and don’t force your dog to remain in an uncomfortable position for long.
  • Stop sooner rather than later If your dog begins to resist you during a brushing or filing session, let it go. Finish another day.
  • Ask for help If your dog is being uncooperative or has mats and tartar you can’t tackle, consider visiting a local groomer. You might try paying for a certain number of visits and then taking care of the job at home during other times. “Most groomers will be happy to demonstrate good techniques for you if you’re having trouble,” says Felder. You and your best canine bud can then enjoy the togetherness of grooming time for years to come.

Groom Your Dog -- and Bond With It

Our notions of grooming often conjure up images of Fifi the poodle being primped by the pros, or dog show contestants being made over before their time in the spotlight. In reality, grooming originated in the wild. Wolves and other wild canines regularly groom each other, using their front teeth like combs. They will also lick each other's ears, faces and other areas to help their pack mates clean otherwise hard-to-reach places. The skin stimulation and repetitive motion relaxes the animals, so they appear to look forward to their grooming periods.

Recent studies suggest that most mammals, including non-human primates, socially bond during grooming. It is a literal "I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine" unspoken agreement. A certain level of trust must also exist, since the individual being groomed is in a potentially vulnerable situation.

Therefore, to your dog, the grooming process means much more than a quick cleaning. As author and trainer Kathy Diamond Davis of Oklahoma City, Okla. advises, "You can use this time to strengthen your relationship with your dog and to cement what hopefully will be a lifelong friendship." Here's how, in three easy steps.

Step One: Get a Good Comb
Davis, who is the author of Therapy Dogs: Training Your Dog to Reach Others (Dogwise Publishing), suggests that, no matter what kind of dog you have, you should invest in a good comb. Look for a stainless steel comb that does not have any sharp points. "Rough handling and grooming obviously harms the dog's trust in being touched, and handling that is too tentative can do the same," she said. "The feel of the comb against your dog's skin has to fall somewhere in the middle of that spectrum." Brands that she likes include Chris Christensen combs and #1 All Systems combs and products.

She admits that some breeds may require a good brush as well, but that is mostly in preparation for the combing. By the end of the grooming session, you should be able to run a comb through your dog's fur, especially if your pet is a long-haired breed. Davis also warns against using too many products, such as detanglers, shampoos, insecticides and perfumes, since dog skin is extremely sensitive. You may actually be doing your dog a favor if you keep such product purchases to a minimum.

Step Two: Prepare the Pooch
Davis owns a Belgian tervuren, which is a large sheepdog-type breed, along with one other dog. The tervuren, which had another home before hers, initially squirmed and whined during grooming sessions, not unlike a child getting its first haircuts. "This dog was just not having any of it," said Davis.

She determined her Belgian friend, named Redeemer, needed some basic behavior training first. While he sort of knew commands like "sit" and "lay down," she further instilled these with positive reinforcements, like plenty of head pats and sweet talk. When Redeemer passed his mini obedience training sessions, Davis was able to move to the final step.

Step Three: Groom Gently, Regularly and Thoroughly
Have your dog lie down, either on a non-slip surface, such as a special mat dedicated to this purpose, or even, as Davis recommends, on you. She ties a sheet around herself and has the dog lie on her outstretched legs. Davis begins with a rub down massage, using her fingertips in a circular or back and forth motion all around the dog's skin. Sometimes this step may be enough for short hair dogs that do not need a daily combing. The massage improves skin circulation and helps to distribute natural oils throughout your dog's fur.

When combing, imagine that you are working out tangles in a young child's hair. Hold sections of fur and slowly work from the end of the section up through the tangle, being careful not to scratch or pull. When a comb can run through the entire coat, a quick brushing can distribute oils again and serve as one final doggy massage.

In addition to fur maintenance, Davis also uses this time to check her dogs' ears for dirt and parasites. When doing so, she massages the outside bottom of the ears, which seems to be a "sweet spot" for canines, perhaps because that is an area they target when one dog grooms another. She also clips her dogs' toenails, and checks their paws, eyes and other areas. Davis additionally recommends placing apple cider vinegar on a tissue and swabbing it on your dog's anal region to help prevent bacterial infections.

What may at first seem like torture to your dog will likely become a much-anticipated daily event. "Redeemer used to avoid me around grooming time, but now I have to try to keep him off of me because he wants to be groomed all day long," she said. The proof of her dog's trust is how she leaves him after each combing and cleaning session. Davis said, "He's usually sleeping like a baby."

Keeping a Clean House with a Canine

If you live with a shedding, dirt-digging pooch, keeping your house clean can seem like a challenge mightier than teaching an old dog a new trick. From hair imbedded in carpets to paw prints on linoleum, it may feel as if you need to follow your dog around 24/7 to keep up. But tidying after your best friend need not be a full-time job. Before you call in a maid brigade, check out these tips for clean coexistence with your canine.

Clean Pet = Clean Home
"Keeping your house clean starts with keeping your dog clean and in good health," says Gina Spadafori, author of Dogs for Dummies (John Wiley & Sons). "Keep your dog bathed and brushed. You'll minimize odors and shedding." Dogs smell better after a bath. Also, remember that hair caught in the brush or comb won't end up under the bed. Shedding occurs seasonally in dogs, typically in the fall and spring, so take extra care around April and September.

Trained Pet = Clean Home
The payoffs of obedience training are myriad, and can even mean less mess. "It's not hard to teach a dog to wait on a mat until you've wiped its paws before coming into the house," explains Spadafori. "Letting a dog run in from the mud without pausing is always a mistake." House-training is also crucial. A well-trained dog will not make a mess unless it's sick.

Decorating for Doggies
"If you want white, wall-to-wall carpeting, please don't get a dog!" implores Spadafori. Instead she recommends hardwood or tile floors. If that's not possible, remember that washable throw rugs are easier to clean than carpeting, and synthetic carpets with stain shield are easier to clean than wool or cotton fibers.

If you like to cozy up to Fido on the couch, you should also be selective when choosing upholstery. Leather and pleather are easy to clean, and tightly woven fabrics resist tears from claws. Loose or open weaves may lead to holes, but most furniture can be protected with an attractive, washable throw.

Products to Stock
Spadafori emphasizes that every dog owner should keep an enzymatic cleaner on hand to take care of urine, feces, and vomit clean-up. Don't use an ammonia-based cleaner, which itself can smell like urine. When possible, clean immediately after your dog makes a mess to avoid staining. Saturate the area with the cleaner, and wait a few minutes before vacuuming with a wet and dry shop vacuum. (Dog beds and other areas where dogs lounge and play can be cleaned once or twice a week either in the washing machine or with the enzymatic cleaner.)

If you don't want to invest in a specialty vacuum cleaner like a wet/dry shop vacuum, rug brushes and specialty sponges are effective for removing even stubborn short hairs from carpeting. An air purifier can help remove pet odors from the home. Spadafori also likes to have a hand vacuum for spot cleaning, and a roller-type lint brush to de-fuzz clothing.

"Animals, like children, come with a degree of untidiness," she says. "But you can minimize the impact."