Grooming

Did you know that in the Canine version of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, “grooming” is part of the Basic Functional Needs – the very bottom tier? That’s because along with veterinary care, food, water, shelter, and exercise, grooming is essential to a dog’s wellbeing. 

Some dogs need more than others, but no dog is free of needing a little TLC in this department. Let’s talk about the various grooming components: 

Bathing

Your particular dog’s needs will vary here, like anything else, but if you have a dog who gets dirty often, or needs regular clipping, you might find yourself sharing the tub a little more often. It’s important to start young and ensure that every experience in the tub is a positive one for your pup. Smearing PB or cream cheese or baby food on the walls of the tub is a quick way to keep your pup’s face busy while you do what you gotta do. 

It’s important to start young and ensure that every experience in the tub is a positive one for your pup. Smearing PB or cream cheese or baby food on the walls of the tub is a quick way to keep your pup’s face busy while you do what you gotta do. 

Keep the water at body temperature (101 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit (38.3 to 39.2 degrees Celsius) or slightly above so they don’t feel chilled, and only ever use dog-shampoo. Skout’s Honor is the best brand out there, and VetsBest comes in a close second. The chemicals in human shampoo can strip a dog’s skin of their natural oils and cause reactions. 

Don’t over-shampoo by using too much – make sure you rinse them until the water runs clear of any suds/bubbles. 

If you have a curly-coated dog or a dog who is likely to get matted, you might consider a conditioner as well. 

How often should you bathe your dog? It will depend. Dogs with allergies may need a weekly or bi-weekly bath. Other dogs can handle the 6-week wait for the groomer. Some dogs (who don’t need clipping/shaving) might even be just fine with a bath every quarter or twice a year! 

Brushing

Brushing a dog’s fur might just be the most important part of grooming that is often overlooked. Brushing is such a magical activity! 

It does all of this:

  • stimulates the good oils in a dog’s skin
  • removes dead fur, allowing the dog’s skin to breathe better in summer, cooling them down
  • removes dead fur, freeing up the undercoat to act as an insulator in winter
  • reduces shedding (and as a result, vacuuming) 
  • helps to loosen and remove dander
  • improves the dog’s circulation
  • prevents knots and matting of the fur (ouch!!)
  • “moves” the bowels (try brushing your dog next time they’re constipated and within 8-18 hours you should see movement!) 

How often should you brush your dog? It will depend. Dogs with fur that is likely to mat (basically, any dog that needs clipping every 4-8 weeks usually) need a daily brushing to prevent their fur from matting. Dogs with a thick undercoat also need daily (or every other day) brushing. Some dogs can get away with weekly brushing, but I try not to let it go beyond that as it is so beneficial for overall health! 

TIP: If your dog is likely to mat even with daily brushing, consider a leave-in (dog) conditioner for those pesky areas so that your groomer doesn’t have to cut out the mats or shave your dog down to the bone!

Clipping (fur)

Not all dogs need clipping (for example, my German Shepherd) but some require it every 4-8 weeks in order to maintain a mat-free coat. Research your dog’s breed and what is generally recommended for this breed. If the “show-cut” is too chi-chi-frou-frou for you, ask your groomer for a “puppy-cut” when dropping them off. This simply means that they’ll cut back the excess to an acceptable length that will be easily managed until the next groom.  

Some groomers will hand-scissor and this is a stunning skill to have (if you have the chance, watch some videos on established groomers doing this and you’ll see what I mean. It creates a beautiful groom with clean lines and amazing blending; a more natural look. *swoon*

Wire-coated dogs can be hand-stripped for a show-quality groom that removes the wire coat and exposes the soft undercoat. It’s not necessary but it’s also a work of art. This can be done as often as every four weeks or delayed to every 8 weeks, depending on the dog and the need. 

Dental Care

So…how often do you brush your teeth? Daily? Multiple times daily? 

Why? Well, because you know what happens if you don’t; biofilm builds up and turns into plaque, plaque hardens into tartar, and tartar can only be removed by a dentist. 

Biofilm is bacteria/fungi that grows on surfaces within the mouth. It is sticky and clear, but without brushing, it forms into plaque and then tartar which is often brown or pale yellow. Biofilm only has to sit on the teeth for 24 hours before it hardens into tartar. 

Plaque is a sticky substance left behind by your meals and saliva. Without brushing, it begins to form and build up on your teeth. Plaque contains bacteria, which can contribute to tooth decay and gum disease. 

Tartar is what happens when plaque is not removed with brushing – it hardens and bonds to the enamel. It can only be removed by a dentist. 

Now that I’ve grossed you out properly, let’s look at what we can do to prevent this whole scenario from happening. 

  1. Brush your dog’s teeth daily with a toothbrush and dog toothpaste (never human toothpaste as it contains harmful chemicals and xylitol)
  2. Ask your vet to examine your dog’s teeth at every checkup
  3. Allow your veterinary team to perform a “full dental” under sedation when recommended
  4. NEVER opt for anaesthesia-free dental cleanings – they are not only stressful for the dog (despite what you’ll be told), but they are only surface level. Your dog needs dental x-rays to rule out problems and for your Veterinarian/Technician to go below the gum line. These surface level cleanings are cosmetic only and can actually do more damage later since they make the teeth look healthy but not reveal what’s happening below the gum line. Very misleading! 
  5. Don’t rely on chewing, whether it’s toys, “dental kibble”, ropes, raw bones, or your furniture; nothing replaces brushing or a full dental with your qualified veterinary team. 

Ear Care

If you’ve got a dog with floppy ears, you’ve got your work cut out for you! Floppy eared dogs don’t get as much air flow, so they tend to be more prone to ear infections as other dogs. It’s also a “breed thing” – there are some breeds that are famous for chronic ear infections, like Bassett Hounds, Cocker Spaniels, and Labrador Retrievers.

If you’ve got a swimmer, you have even more work to do since you can’t just get out of the lake and get on with your day – you have to be sure those ears are nice and dry to prevent an infection later. (Hello, Labradors!) 

There are many reasons a dog might have ear issues and not all are obvious: 

  • narrow ear canals (how would you ever know?!)
  • hypothyroidism
  • ear mites
  • foreign body
  • wax plug
  • parasite
  • allergies
  • yeast infection

How do you know? Smell your dog’s ears on a regular basis and check them often. They should smell like the rest of your dog’s body; if they smell sickly sweet (yeast) or really bad, there is likely a problem. 

If your dog doesn’t have a problem, there’s likely no need to clean their ears! If your dog DOES have a problem, rather than treat it yourself, see your Veterinarian right away. Ear infections are incredibly painful and your dog will mask their pain. 

Common signs are: 

  • head tilting / shaking
  • scratching at ear
  • a sickly sweet or bad smell
  • dark discharge
  • sudden aggression when approached or being handled

Don’t delay care for any ear issues – not only because of the pain, but there is also a risk of rupturing the ear drum if left untreated. Never stick anything into your dog’s ear canal – simply use a cloth and some mineral oil or dog-safe ear cleaner to gently wipe out what you can see. Only use a clean cloth – never double-dip the cloth back in as you will reintroduce the bacteria and push it farther in. 

And never….ever….ever….use a cotton swab. 

Nail Care

Arguably one of the most important parts of grooming is nail care. It’s often overlooked and many dog-guardians are terrified of cutting their own dog’s nails so they outsource this during vet visits and grooming appointments. Little do you know, this can be a huge bonding experience for you and your pet, just like all the rest of grooming!

Waiting 6 weeks or 3 months to cut your dog’s nails sets us back a mile every time…and here’s why: 

There is a vein inside the nail, called “the quik” and when it is left to its own devices, it grows longer and longer, reaching the tip of the nail. The more frequently you cut the nails and expose the edge of the quik to the air, it retracts further and further, leaving more nail to be cut, and in turn, a shorter nail and a happier dog! 

Cutting the quik is painful and causes bleeding, making nail trims a negative experience, so we do have to be careful! When cutting nails, we should be shaving off a mm at a time, rather than large chunks. 

As this is a very stressful situation for both you and your dog, you’ll want professional guidance before you get started. Check out our Peaceful Pedicures course and our Top 6 Tools for Cutting Nails: 

As you can see, Groomers have a most difficult job since most people don’t prep and train their dogs fully for all this work. They often have to deal with being bitten by fearful dogs who really should have been groomed in a veterinary setting with sedation and a referral to a behaviour consultant. Find a good groomer who is Fear Free Certified and be sure to appreciate them by prepping/training your dog well, and even tipping them for their work.