Grooming Through a Dog’s Eyes
How often do you stop and look at life from your dog’s perspective? Most of us are so busy that we forget that these trusting creatures don’t look at the world in the same way we do.
Or do they? Take grooming, for instance. So many unfamiliar sights, sounds, and smells accompany a trip to the groomers. To understand your pet’s perspective, ask yourself: does the sound of a dentists’ drill calm me? Do I enjoy the alcohol-smell of my doctor’s exam room? Do I love being poked and prodded by strangers in lab coats?
The answer to all those questions is probably “no.” Now imagine if you didn’t understand why it was necessary to go through such sensations, and you get a taste of what your dog may be feeling at the groomer’s. Some dogs are so traumatized they can actually get PTSD from a bad grooming experience.
All of this is not to say you should avoid having your dog professionally groomed–far from it. Dog groomers help dogs look and feel their best; they help your pet stay healthy. But taking the time to desensitize your pet to strange sounds and equipment at a grooming salon, being careful to choose just the right groomer, and being patient with your pup can help make the experience less stressful.
If a full groom is too much for your dog the first time, just schedule one service and not a full groom. Take baby steps, and in time, she may actually come to take the experience in stride and prance out proudly, a cleaner, prettier pup.
Slow and Steady Wins the Dog Grooming Game
If you choose to handle all of the grooming chores at home, your dog can still find the process uncomfortable if you don’t go about it slowly and patiently, with lots of treats and pets–especially in the beginning.
If your dog is a puppy, now is the perfect time to get him used to the experience. Before using any tool, let him check it out. Show him the brush or the nail clippers and let him take a sniff. Briefly turn on the clippers but don’t touch him with them. Get him used to being gently touched everywhere so that when it’s time to trim under his tail or clip his nails, he doesn’t pull away.
One very good piece of advice for a calmer dog: tire her out beforehand. Go for a long walk, play ball in the yard, turn her loose in the dog park to rip and run if you are comfortable with dog park visitations. When you start out, aim for short sessions, and have patience. Unlike your dog, you shouldn’t be tired out; you need to be alert and not irritable.
Do your best to make it a positive experience for your dog. Talk in a light, calming tone, offer lots of treats and affection. Stop the session if your dog is showing signs of stress. Remember, that a wiggly, struggling dog can be easily hurt, and a frightened dog may hurt you.
Grooming done right can be a great bonding experience. If you can establish a routine, it can be helpful, too. Dogs, like toddlers, perform best with structure.
The Best Combination: Professional Grooms with In-Between Maintenance for Health
Whether or not you choose to take your dog to a professional groomer, there are routine grooming tasks that should always be performed in between visits. This is not only to maintain a dog’s good looks but to provide preventative health care.
Brush Your Dog’s Coat Routinely
Like your hair, your dog’s fur is improved with regular brushing. Regular brushing helps your dog’s coat from looking dull, dry, and dusty. It’s also great for shed control.
While you can get away with brushing a short, sleek-coated dog once a week or so, other breeds require diligent daily brushing to avoid mats, tangles, and dreads. Don’t even think of getting a German Shepherd or an English Sheepdog if you aren’t willing to spend a lot of time with a brush in your hand!
Brushing your dog gives you a chance to examine them more closely than you otherwise might, allowing you to notice the odd bump or lump or to find a tick she might have picked up playing outside.
Fortunately, of all the grooming chores necessary to good health, brushing a dog’s coat often feels soothing to them and makes for a great bonding experience.
Bathe Your Dog Only as Necessary
Unlike us, dog’s do not benefit from frequent bathing. Unless she is smelly, muddy, or has rolled in something unspeakable, she may only need a bath once every couple of months. In fact, more frequent bathing is likely to strip her coat of the naturally produced oils that keep her fur and skin healthy. Long-haired, double-coated breeds and breeds with water-repellent fur will seldom need a bath.
Since dogs do not always love a bath, there are several things you should do to make the experience as pain-free as possible:
- Brush your dog ahead of time to remove as much loose hair as possible. It’s also a good idea to put a bit of steel wool around your bathtub drain to catch hair and avoid clogs.
- Unless it’s a warm day, do not bathe your dog outside.
- If your dog has never been in the tub, it might be a good idea to let her experience it when it’s empty–and give lots of treats!
- Run the bath ahead of time and use lukewarm water. If you do not have a non-slip mat in the bottom of the tub, spread a towel out so your dog has something secure to stand on. A slick surface under his paws can add to his panic at bath time.
- Have every single thing you need in close reach before getting your dog in the tub. Nobody wants to chase a dripping dog through the house because they had to step away from the tub to get the dog shampoo.
- Yes, it should absolutely be dog shampoo. Dogs have less layers of skin than do humans, and they are more sensitive. So don’t grab the Pantene or even baby shampoo.
- If your dog isn’t afraid of a hand-held sprayer, you’re lucky. Otherwise, pour water on her using a cup.
- Avoid getting water in his eyes, ears, or mouth. You can wash his face gently with a wet washrag.
- Rinse well to avoid irritation and itchiness.
- Towel dry your dog well (unless she tolerates a blow dryer).
- Do not brush him wet, especially if his coat is still tangled or matted.
Regular Dental Care for Dogs
Like us, dogs need to have their teeth professionally cleaned by their veterinarian in order to avoid bad breath, dental disease, tooth loss, and other health problems. You can maintain oral hygiene in between professional cleanings several ways.
- You can use a special dog toothbrush. Some look more like one a human would use; others slip on your finger and have soft, flexible bristles. Aim to brush every day, or at least a few times a week.
- Only specially formulated dog toothpaste should be used. Never use a human toothpaste because some of them contain fluoride, xylitol, and other ingredients that are toxic to canines.
- Dental toys are great for dogs who love to chew. They have nubs and ridges designed to clean teeth as the dog gnaws.
- Similarly, dental chews are a good choice for controlling tartar. They act in the same way as dental toys.
- Dental sprays for dogs are another option, but a lot of dogs don’t like things that spray, especially in their face.
- For a more natural, cost effective option, carrots and celery and other crunchy, dog-friendly veggies can be offered. Bonus: celery makes a great breath freshener!
Ears need routine inspection for dirt, parasites, wax, yeast, and ear infection. Healthy ears should look pink and have no odor. If you smell something yeasty or notice red, inflamed ears, or if your dog is shaking her head a lot, her ears should be cleaned.
It’s best never to use a homeopathic remedy to clean a dog’s ears. Choose a solution formulated for dogs and dab it on a cotton ball. Gently wash the inside of the ears. Avoid sticking anything inside the ear, especially a Q-tip.
A dog with an ear infection should be treated by a vet. They can be very painful, and the longer they go untreated, the worse they become.
Paws Need TLC, Too
Unless your dog develops a limp, it might not occur to you to look at his paws, but you should make it a part of your grooming routine.
Little cuts or punctures can be treated with antibiotic cream if not infected. If the pads are dry or cracking, apply a dog-formulated balm to soften them again.
Furry paws can pick up debris more easily. If this is a problem for your pet, you can carefully trim their feet.
You probably know that nails need to be kept trimmed. If your dog is active or takes long walks on pavement, it may not need to be done as frequently. Otherwise, routine trimming is necessary. Many people (and dogs) find nail trimming stressful and are happy to leave it to a professional groomer. That’s fine, just make sure it gets done frequently enough. If you only have your dog groomed every two or three months, you will probably have to take her in for a nail trimming at least a couple of times in between to maintain optimal length.
Dog Grooming Is Vital to Good Health
Bottom line: grooming is essential for maintaining your dog’s health. No matter how much she may hate it or how much it stresses you out, it’s part of being a responsible pet owner. So be patient and diligent and calm and affectionate and all the other good things and make it happen. Your pup may never learn to love it, but it should get easier. The rewards are worth it: longer life and fewer trips to the vet!