The importance of dog grooming
How much you need to groom your dog, and how often, will depend on their breed and coat type but it’s important to remember that dog grooming isn’t just about keeping them beautiful. It also allows you to spend quality bonding time with your pet, and gives you the opportunity to keep an eye on their body condition and spot any early signs of health problems.
Dog grooming might seem superficial, but it has great benefits inside and out. In short, dog grooming:
- Removes dead hair and distributes natural oils, helping to keep your dog’s coat and skin healthy
- Gives you the opportunity to check for unusual lumps and bumps, parasites or scratches that may need attention
- Improves circulation
- Reduces stress and blood pressure – in both of you (and that’s been scientifically proven!)
The golden rule with dog grooming is to start early. If your puppy can get used to being handled while they’re still young, it will make any veterinary examinations and dog grooming much less stressful in the future!
In terms of how often you should groom your dog, it will depend on what kind of coat your dog has and how much fur they shed. For long haired breeds, most vets advise grooming dogs every day to prevent tangles. Medium haired breeds should be brushed about once a week, while short haired breeds can typically go up to a month without brushing! Even though some dog breeds, such as Poodles, don’t typically shed hair at all, they will still be prone to matting so need regular grooming and trimming to keep their coat from becoming too long and thick.
Grooming a puppy isn’t much different to grooming a dog, although their coat may be softer, fluffier and shorter.
The most important thing to do is get their confidence, so that they see grooming as a pleasurable experience.
- Start by giving them a cuddle while you brush their body gently. Find a quiet place to do this where your puppy feels relaxed and comfortable. It can even be outdoors if the weather’s good enough!
- Give them plenty of quiet praise and, after a couple of minutes, stop brushing and offer them a treat.
- If your puppy attempts to bite or play with the brush, turn away but don’t let go. Don’t tell them off or else they will associate grooming with a negative experience. Equally, you don’t want to turn grooming into a game, so ignore negative behaviour and praise good.
- Groom them several times a day, gradually increasing the length of brushing time. After about five days you can start brushing new areas such as their belly, tail, ears and other sensitive areas.
- Touch their feet and examine their nails and toes to get them used to the sensation.
- Look inside their ears and gently open their mouth. This familiarity with close contact really will make life easier, and less stressful for the dog, in the future.
- Always end a session with a treat and a game or walk.
As your puppy develops, their future grooming routine will depend on their coat type. For example, Bichon Frise grooming is different to Poodle grooming. That said, the basic dog grooming equipment you need varies little from one breed to another: a brush, wide and fine-toothed combs and a stripping comb to thin you dog’s coat. Your breeder, vet or a professional groomer will be able to tell you what’s right for your dog.
To groom, start off by using your fingers to carefully loosen any matted hair from sensitive skin. Never use scissors to cut out matted hairs, as they can be very close to the skin and you can unintentionally catch the skin.
- Grooming dogs with a short or smooth coat
Dogs with short or smooth coats don't usually need a lot of grooming to remove dead skin and hair. Use a brush or rubber dog grooming mitt to loosen any dead undercoat and dirt and then remove with a bristle brush. This will give a polish to your dog’s outer coat.
Grooming a medium-length coat
Begin with a pinhead (metal) brush or comb to gently to remove mats and knots, then follow with a bristle brush to remove the dead hair and dirt.
Grooming long haired dogs
Longer coats need daily attention to avoid knots. Begin with a pinhead brush or comb to untangle matted hair, taking particular care around the backside, tail and legs. Brush and comb the coat forward, then backwards - this will bring out the natural shine in silky coats. If your dog’s coat becomes too matted for you to untangle without discomfort, seek help from your vet or a professional dog groomer. You may decide to make regular trips to the dog groomer to keep their coat shorter and more manageable.
Grooming a hair coat or non-shedding curly coat
Hair coats, such as those on Poodles, require a lot more care and attention. Because hair coats keep growing, unlike fur, they need regular clipping and washing as well as grooming. Keeping a hair-coat clipped short will make grooming considerably easier, so find a good dog grooming professional nearby to help, or ask them to show you how so that you can carefully take care of it at home. To groom your dog, first gently use a wire brush to remove loose hair followed by a pinhead brush or comb to remove knots and tangles. Non-shedding curly coats need to be brushed every two days but make sure you comb longer hairs first before brushing.
There are several reasons why your dog may need to be clipped: to remove knots, to allow them to see clearly, for hygiene reasons or simply to keep them cool in the summer. Dog clippers are available to buy, but if you’re uncertain about dog hair clipping, use a professional groomer, as it can be a lot trickier than it sounds and dog groomers know where clipping is and isn’t appropriate.
As a general rule, dogs rarely need more than two or three baths a year – too much bathing will actually strip their coat of its natural oils. Most of the time a quick paw wash will be enough, but if they’ve got a medical condition, they’ve rolled in something unpleasant, they’ve been exposed to toxic sprays or oils or you’re simply thinking ‘why does my dog smell?’ now’s probably the time. If your dog’s hair is very matted, or their skin is sore or tender, contact your vet before you bathe your dog.
Before bathing your dog
- Make sure you’ve allowed plenty of time to bathe your dog, as you’ll make your pet anxious if you’re flustered or rushed. The time it takes will depend on their size and coat type.
- Take your dog for a walk first to wear them out and make them less boisterous. If you walk them after their bath you risk all your hard work being ruined at the first puddle.
- Ensure your house is warm and there’s somewhere snug where your damp dog can dry off without getting cold.
- Get everything you need in one place so that, once you’ve started, everything is in easy reach and your dog can’t escape mid-wash. You’ll need:
- An old baby bath, a sink, shower or bath (lined with a non-slip floor mat) depending on your dog’s size. If it’s a warm day, you may want to bath your dog outdoors so find a suitable dog bath.
- A specialist dog shampoo (and conditioner if necessary) designed for your breed’s coat type. Find a mild all-rounder with no harsh chemicals or perfumes. Never use human products as dog skin and hair has a different acidity to ours.
- Plenty of ‘dog’ towels for drying the dog and protecting your floor.
- A willing family member or friend to help if possible.
Bathing your dog
- Brush your dog to help remove matting, knots and foreign bodies.
- Whether you’re indoors or out, use lukewarm water and run it until it reaches your dog’s knee level. Don’t overfill, as this could make your dog panic.
- During the dog bath, use a jug or shower spray to wet their coat and apply a small amount of shampoo. Always read the label as some shampoos need to be diluted while medicated shampoos may need to be left for a few minutes to activate. Lather their body all over, including the tail, underside and neck, taking particular care to avoid their eyes and ears.
- If your dog shows signs of nervousness, especially if it’s their first bath, offer them plenty of praise and reassurance throughout.
- When they’re ready to be rinsed, use one hand to operate the shower nozzle or pour the jug of warm, clean water and the other hand to hold a flannel to protect their eyes and ears. If your dog has loose facial skin or long droopy ears, get between the skin folds with baby wipes or a damp flannel with no excess water and definitely no soap. You might need to do this regularly, even daily, using a damp cloth.
- Repeat the process if you’re using dog conditioner to bathe your dog. It is very important to rinse the shampoo and/or conditioner thoroughly as residue can make their coat itchy or dry.
- Clean their inner ears using a specific dog ear cleaner (available from pet shops or your vets) but never put anything in their ear canals such as cotton wool or a cotton bud.
- Once you’re happy that they’re fully rinsed, try to towel dry your dog before they get the chance to shake off the excess water. Either way, you’re likely to get wet!
After bathing your dog
- When dogs get wet their natural response is to roll and rub their heads, necks and bodies on any available ground, including grass. To stop them getting dirty as soon as they’ve got clean, lay down some dog towels on the bathroom floor or the lawn and encourage your dog to use these instead.
- As well as a good roll around, they’ll also want to give themselves a good shake to get rid of the remains of their dog bath.
- Once they’ve got their natural behaviour out of the way, rub them down from head to toe with a towel. If their coat is very long or thick, they can take a surprisingly long time to dry so you may want to use a hairdryer. Hairdryers can be quite frightening for a dog so reassure them and reward good behaviour. Make sure the dryer isn’t too close to their skin, is not directed into their eyes and keep the airflow warm but not too hot.
- If your dog is likely to need hair drying but isn’t used to it, start introducing it at an early age, initially just making the noise in the room before moving the dryer onto the dog with lots of soothing encouragement.
- Small and thin breeds get cold easily, so keep your dog in a warm room until they’re completely dry. And that’s it – it’s as easy as that to bathe your dog!
While you’re grooming your dog, don’t forget to check their claws. If they walk on hard surfaces, like roads and pavements, you may find that they’ve filed themselves to the right length naturally. If, however, you think they’re getting too long, and risk growing into their pads, it’s time to either file them (if your dog is patient enough!) or use designated clippers, available from pet shops or your vet. Never use human nail clippers or scissors.
Look at your dog’s nails before you cut so see where the ‘quick’ ends – this is the sensitive nerve of the nail. You want to avoid cutting the quick as this can be painful and, if nicked, will bleed. If this happens, don’t panic - apply pressure with cotton wool and it should soon stop.
Only clip dog nails that need doing and don’t forget the dew claw by your dog’s wrist.
If you don’t feel confident clipping your dog’s claws, your veterinary surgery will be happy to do it for you, and if you notice a ripped, torn or missing claw consult your vet as these may need medical attention.
The final step in your pampering session is to brush your dog’s teeth. Gum disease can be a major problem for dogs, so regular brushing can help stop tartar building up. Use a dog toothbrush and canine toothpaste which comes in a variety of flavours, including liver, mint, chicken and peanut butter – yum! Don’t use human toothpaste as this could upset your dog’s stomach.
You may have to start small if you’ve never brushed their teeth before. Start by getting them used to your fingers in their mouth then introduce the toothpaste and finally the brush. As always, praise and reward will help you get there.