You Dirty Dog!
Natural Tips for the Grooming Impaired
Dogs can get into the darnedest messes, but when they do, these head-to-toe grooming tips will make cleanup easier—on both sides of the tub.
Shedding. Every dog needs a good comb-out to remove dead hair. When possible, do this outside, to reduce dander or flyaway fur in the house. Use a tool suited to the dog’s coat from a pet store—a brush, comb or sawtoothed loop to get to the undercoat.
Matted fur. Dog hair can felt up faster than a wool sweater in hot water. Always comb the mat starting from the end. If it’s especially stubborn, cut the mat lengthwise to separate into two or three pieces before combing. Don’t cut the mat out entirely, which is as noticeable as cutting a wad of bubble gum out of a child’s hair. Move especially difficult mats into the tub and rub a conditioner into it (a show horse detangler works well).
Ears. Red, painful, inflamed ears or dark, tarry goo inside an ear means infection or ear mites; head to a local veterinarian for an appropriate salve or drops. “Breeds like the Maltese
or poodles get ear infections from moisture held in the ears by too much hair,” explains Diana Immordino, a master groomer with Animal General Hospital, in Port Saint Lucie, Florida. “A professional groomer can show how to gently and safely remove the excess, and advise if a drying powder is needed.”
Teeth. Dogs love chicken or liver-flavored toothpaste; using a tempting flavor makes maintaining sparkling clean teeth and a healthy mouth easy to achieve at home. Brushing several times a week will reduce or eliminate the need to sedate the dog for a more costly professional dental cleaning.
Feet. Make it a habit to keep fur trimmed even with the pads, so the dog isn’t slipping on long hair. Trim to make a nice, semicircular paw, as viewed from above. Cavalier King Charles spaniels are the exception to the round paw look.
Baths. Have towels and a gentle shampoo close by. Then bring in the pet and close the bathroom door; it’s easier than chasing a wet dog through the house.
Use conditioner for mats only—a dime-sized blob is enough—not for dog hair overall. Rub it into the mat and let it sit for 15 minutes before combing out the tangle.
Small or shorthaired dogs can take a dip in the bathtub, but large, and/or double-coated breeds are best bathed outdoors or in a special tub in the laundry room, to keep fur out of the drain. A spray attachment will help get water all the way to the skin for breeds like a Keeshond, Malamute or Siberian husky.
Bloodhounds, pugs, bulldogs and shar peis need extra care. “Separate the wrinkles, suds up, rinse thoroughly and be careful to dry between the folds,” says Immordino. “These breeds can develop yeast infections between the wrinkles.”
Have several towels ready and dry the dog’s entire body before opening the door, because most will bolt to shake themselves dry and rub on rugs and furniture. A hair dryer on the coolest setting can help if it’s kept away from the dog’s skin and the buzzing rush of air doesn’t cause anxiety.
Plucking. Harsh-coated, nonshedding dogs such as the Cairn terrier should not be bathed; strip their coat instead. “Plucking removes the soft, dead undercoat, allows a healthy, vibrant coat to grow and maintains a proper rough texture that repels dirt and water,” explains Patti McCully, a Cairn breeder in Arvada, Colorado. “Baths soften the coat and would eliminate this autoclean feature. Stripping doesn’t hurt the dog. There’s no stinky smell, either.”
Nails. If an owner is squeamish about cutting a dog’s nails too short, local rescue clinics often offer nail trims for a small donation. At home, use a handheld grinding tool with a dome safety feature from the hardware store, instead of grab-and-crunch clippers.
“The easiest way to do a dog’s nails is to have the dog do it himself, dragging its nails across a filing board,” counsels M. Shirley Chong, a clicker trainer in Grinnell, Iowa. “I teach people how to do this and it’s easy to train the dogs, because they enjoy it.” The trick is to put the board out of reach between supervised sessions (ShirleyChong.com/keepers/nailfile.html).
Finally, when the family dog is having a bad hair day and time is an issue, a professional can save the day. Mobile groomers make house calls, and regular grooming contributes to a sweet-smelling dog.