By: Nicole Ondrey
Co Author: Mark Siebel

Grooming is an essential factor in the health and well-being of your dog. Not only does it allow them to look and feel their best, grooming also provides an opportunity for you and your dog to bond. While you are grooming, you are spending quality time with your dog, which enhances your relationship, builds trust, and can be a very therapeutic stress reliever after a long day. In addition to providing loving attention to your pet, you can also determine what is “normal” and “abnormal” with your dog’s coat, skin, teeth, eyes, ears, and nails.

Many people believe that grooming your dog consists primarily of washing and brushing your pet, but, in actuality, it consists of so much more. Grooming also encompasses, but is not limited to, cleaning and examining your dog’s eyes, ears, teeth, paws, and nails, looking for ticks and/or fleas in their fur, noticing signs of eczema or other skin abnormalities, recognizing your dog’s development of allergies, and detecting abnormal smells on your dog. It is typically through grooming that owners become aware of medical problems with their dogs, which prompts them to address their concerns with their veterinarian.

It is important for owners to know what types of grooming habits are required for their breed of dog. Many owners choose specific breeds based on the way they want their dog to look. These owners must also research and educate themselves about the amount of time and dedication it will take to groom their pet. While it is true that some dogs require much more attention in terms of grooming, all dogs will benefit from the following grooming tips.

Types of Grooming

  • Bathing: It is important for you to identify what is considered “regular” bathing for your breed of dog, as it is possible for you to bathe your dog too much. Too frequent bathing can strip your dog’s fur of its natural oils, which can cause skin disorders. Be sure to use a mild dog shampoo to prevent skin irritation. Do not use “people” shampoo or dishwashing soap, both of which are too harsh for your dog’s skin and fur. If your dog requires a flea shampoo, check with your veterinarian on a recommended brand. If your dog has longer hair, be sure to brush them before bathing. This will prevent knots and tangles in your dog’s fur from becoming worse.
  • Brushing/Combing: Regular brushing will keep your dog’s coat and skin clean and healthy, and will help keep shedding under control. Be sure to let the brush touch and massage the dog’s skin, which will stimulate the blood supply to the skin and produce a healthier and shinier coat. Always check your dog’s fur and skin for mats, leaves, burrs, or skin abrasions before brushing. It is important that you know what kind of tools are needed for your breed of dog, depending on the length and texture of their hair. The American Kennel Club (AKC) suggests the following:
    • Long-haired dogs: Pin brushes, which have long, round-ended stainless steel or chrome-plated pins.
    • Short-medium haired dogs: Bristle brushes, which come with soft, medium, or hard bristles depending on the texture of your dog’s coat.
    • Additional tools: Slicker brushes for removing mats and dead hair and Rubber curry combs to polish smooth coats and remove dead hair.
  • Nail Trimming: Most dogs do not like having their nails trimmed, so it is best for you to begin handling your dog’s paws and nails when they are still a puppy. A dog’s nails are a good indicator of their overall condition of health. Crooked, dry, or cracked nails are an indication that the dog may have a fungal infection or is malnourished. Nails must remain short for a dog’s feet to stay healthy. Long nails interfere with a dog’s quality of movement and can make walking and running difficult or painful. In addition, long nails have a greater chance of breaking, which can cause pain and infection. Ask your local dog groomer or veterinarian to show you how to trim your dog’s nails the first time. Most dog nail clippers have safety guards that help prevent you from cutting your dog’s nails too short. However, if you inadvertently cut the nail too short and it begins bleeding, apply styptic powder, and antiseptic clotting agent that will help stop the bleeding. If you find it difficult to cut your dog’s nails, your local groomer or veterinarian can also do it for you.
  • Tooth Brushing: Daily brushing is extremely important for your dog, as it promotes healthy teeth and gums. It is essential that your dog is comfortable with you putting your hands in their mouth and touching their teeth and gums, so it is suggested that you begin this practice when they are a puppy. Using a pet toothbrush and toothpaste, gently brush their teeth using a circular motion. Remember to praise your dog during and after the brushing so they associate it as a positive experience. There are also several varieties of treats and chew toys that help reduce plaque and prevent tartar build-up. It is also suggested to have your dog’s teeth cleaned by their veterinarian regularly.
  • Eye Cleaning: Your dog’s eyes are a very sensitive part of their body, so regular eye care is very important. Healthy eyes will appear shiny, clean, and wide open. Just like humans, it is normal for dogs to have a small amount of dirt build-up or “crusty” bits in their corners of their eyes. This is one of our body’s natural ways of protecting our eyes, by pushing all particles that come into contact with our eyes toward the corner. This debris can easily be cleaned by gently wiping your dog’s eyes with a warm washcloth. If your dog has constant tearing, puffy eyelids, red, irritated eyes, or a green or pus-like discharge from their eyes, contact your veterinarian immediately, as this may be the sign of a serious infection or illness.
  • Ear Cleaning: Just like humans, dog requires their ears to be cleaned regularly. Most dogs’ ears require cleaning about once a month, but dogs that are prone to ear infections may require cleanings more often. When cleaning your dog’s ears, be sure to check for unusual odors, redness, or inflammation, as these are signs of an ear infection. It is important that you clean your dog’s ears very carefully and take particular precautions in order to prevent ear infections. Clean the outer part of the ear with a warm washcloth or dampened cotton swab, being sure to run it along all portions of the outer ear. Allow your dog to shake out the excess moisture, as this will prevent ear infections. Never stick a cotton swab inside your dog’s ear canal, as this could cause damage to your dog’s ear and hearing. Request that your veterinarian thoroughly clean your dog’s inner ear during their regular check-ups.
  • Detection of Fleas and Ticks: Fleas and ticks are the most common parasites that cause distress to dogs. Fleas are small bugs that are dark in color and about the size of a grain of rice. They are typically contracted through contact with other animals as they jump from host to host. Fleas usually live deep a dog’s fur and are often discovered by the black droppings they leave behind, which resemble specks of pepper. These parasites often cause itching, which can ultimately lead to severe skin irritation. There are a wide variety of flea products on the market. Ask your veterinarian about the best flea treatments and prevention for your dog. Ticks are small bugs that burrow themselves into your dog’s skin and suck their blood. They are typically flat, round, and dark in color, and larger than fleas, making them easier to spot. They often burrow themselves under a dog’s collar or along their underbelly. Ticks are generally found in wooded areas, but also live in lawns, gardens, and shrubs, which are places where dogs often “explore.” Ticks are potentially dangerous, as they carry and spread Lyme Disease, an illness that destroys joints and reduces energy, in animals and humans. If you find a tick on your dog, immediately remove it from your dog using a pair of tweezers.

As you can see, regular grooming of your dog requires a great deal of time, work, and dedication. However, the process can be just as enjoyable as the outcome. The bond between you and your dog will strengthen as you continue regular grooming, all while you maintain the optimal health of your dog. Remember…a dog that allows you to brush their hair, inspect their ears, and stick your fingers in their mouth is a pet that trusts you completely! There are multitudes of resources available on the internet or at your local bookstore that can help answer questions you may have about grooming your dog. You will also benefit from finding a groomer that both you and your dog trust to help with the more difficult grooming tasks. Check with Mark at DOGGIE STEPS, who may also have suggestions for reputable groomers in your area.