Just like humans, dogs require proper hygiene in their day-to-day lives to stay healthy. But unlike humans, dogs can't always do it themselves. Life is a lot easier for those of us with opposable thumbs, which is why your dog may need a little extra TLC from you to ensure it’s grooming requirements aren’t neglected.
Contrary to popular belief, dog grooming is about more than just fur. There are a lot of aspects that go into dog grooming — fur is just generally the most time-consuming part of it — so fending off the fluff tends to get the most attention. But grooming also encompasses regular upkeep you do at home, as well as the maintenance of a dog’s other physical features.
Grooming is a big task — no matter the size of your dog. But knowing all that needs to be done to keep your dog cute and clean is the first step. Let us break it down for you one by one, so you know all the areas on your dog that need attention.
Squeaky Clean Canine
Let’s be honest. Dogs tend to stick their noses in places they don’t belong. They like to roll around in whatever they happen across, which can lead to them returning home after being neck-deep in a mud puddle or covered in the neighbour's trash. And though we wish it were possible, dogs can't shower themselves, which means that bathing your dog is a must.
If you want to understand the tricks of the trade when it comes to bathing your dog, the following are a few key things to keep in mind:
- A decent brush
- A lot of water (from the tap or a hose)
- A bathtub, kiddy pool, or contained area if outside so your dog can’t run away
- A washcloth
- Dog shampoo and conditioner
How to Bathe Your Dog:
- Brush out your dog’s fur as best as you can before its bath. This will reduce the amount of time for the bath and make it easier for you to run your hands through its fur.
- Wet your dog's hair entirely using a hose (if outdoors) or a shower head (if indoors). If your dog is in a tub, ensure that it is allowed to drain so the tub doesn’t overflow and your dog isn’t stuck in a pool of water.
- Using a washcloth, carefully clean your dog's head, paying special mind to the eyes, ears, mouth, and nose as these areas are more sensitive.
- Lather your dog in shampoo, being sure to work it into the roots of its fur. Once fully lathered, use the hose or shower head to rinse off all the suds. You’ll likely have to run your hands through its fur to the roots again to ensure it’s all out.
- Repeat the above step with conditioner.
- Once thoroughly washed, towel dry your dog by rubbing it down thoroughly.
BONUS TIP: for dogs that aren’t the biggest fan of baths, ply them with treats throughout and praise them for doing a good job. If your dog doesn’t like to stay still, try spreading some peanut butter on the wall of your bathtub so that it can focus on licking that up instead of squirming.
Here for the Ears
A dog’s ears are often its most defining feature. But people tend to pay a lot more attention to the exterior of the ears as opposed to the interior. If you’ve ever had an ear infection or went a little too long without cleaning out your ears, then you can understand precisely why it’s so important to keep a dog’s ears clean too.
To ensure your dog’s ears are healthy, make sure you take a look at them every so often to see if anything has changed from your last inspection. Redness, discolouration, discharge, odour, and swelling, among others, are some tell-tale signs of an ear infection, but also be on the lookout for certain behaviours. If your dog starts rubbing its ears along surfaces or begins scratching at them more often, these are also critical indicators that your dog may have an ear issue.
Veterinarians can prescribe ear drops to help alleviate and infection symptoms, but to help prevent these from occurring in the first place, it’s best to gently wipe clean your dog's ears every few weeks with a cotton ball. This will ensure that wax build-up won’t occur and can prevent any blockages from happening down the line, which is the primary cause for ear infections. However, if your dog’s ears look fine upon inspection, it’s best to leave them be.
Befriending the fur
When it comes to a dog’s appearance, fur is king. But with so many different breeds out there, not all fur can be treated equally. Some dogs have thick and fluffy fur, while others have a more short and slick look. Other dogs have hair instead of fur (hypoallergenic breeds like Poodles) while others have double coats, both of which provide a whole new set of obstacles and care techniques.
So how do you best groom your dog? We’ve broken down the key areas of grooming when it comes to fur, so you know what’s in store for you and your dog.
Depending on your dog’s preferences, brushing its fur can be either a pleasant experience or an arduous nightmare. But before delving too deep into techniques, first you need to understand the different types of coats and their brushing requirements:
- Smooth coat: dogs with smooth coats don’t need to be groomed as often because their fur is short and less likely to tangle. Breeds with smooth coats include Greyhounds, Pugs, and Dalmatians.
- Double coat: dogs with this coat type can have both short coats (such as Shiba Inus) or long coats (like Golden Retrievers) and require a lot more care and regular brushing. These dogs usually appear fluffier because of their two layers of fur (the undercoat being short, woolly hair and the top coat is longer and more pronounced).
- Wiry coat: these coats need regular brushing because the coarse texture tends to tangle more easily. Dogs with wiry coats include Jack Russells and Scottish Terriers. Be prepared to brush these coats at least every other day to avoid big knots.
- Long coat: dogs like Border Collies and Afghan Hounds are the epitome of long coats. These dogs require frequent brushing as their lengthy coats often trail the ground and collect dirt quickly.
- Curly Coat: these dogs have fur the most similar to human hair, but don’t be fooled. Ask any human with curly hair how easy it is to brush theirs and you’ll get an idea of what it would be like on a dog. Curly haired dogs include Poodles and Portuguese Water Dogs.
Once you understand the type of coat your dog has, you can then move onto your dog grooming tool selection. There are a multitude of dog brushes available, but not all are suited for every dog. Dog brushes come in all shapes and sizes, so it's important to know what will work best with your dog.
- Slicker brush: a more universal dog brush, this wire brush can help remove loose fur and tangles.
- Pin brush: usually tipped with plastic or rubber, these wire brushes are great for long coats with a silky texture.
- Bristle brush: the best option for short or wiry coats because it helps remove small debris from the fur without going too deep.
- Shedding blade: don’t worry, it’s not an actual blade. This brush just has small teeth that help to remove loose fur.
- Undercoat rake: similar to a pin brush but with longer wires, it’s designed to go deep into a double coat of fur to brush out even the fluffiest of dog fur.
All dogs are different, meaning all dogs shed in their own way. The difference can be whether the fur it sheds is the size of a fully grown dog or a few loose hairs here and there.
Dogs with double coats or long fur tend to shed a lot more than a dog with short or curly coats simply because of the composition of their fur. Different breeds also tend to shed at different times. Some will shed seasonally (usually in the spring and fall) while others shed year round.
Dogs that shed seasonally — like Huskies — do so in the spring to shed off their winter coats and prepare for summer, and again in the fall to build a thicker coat to protect themselves from wintery weather. A big shed can last anywhere between three to eight weeks, depending on the size of the dog and how often you brush out its fur.
Those that own year-round shedders (hello Golden Retriever and Corgi parents) are the reason lint rollers are more often used as pet hair removers because no matter what time of year it is, they’re like to leave behind more than a few leftovers every time they come into contact with your clothes. However, even year-round shedders have heavy sheds from time to time, so be sure to always keep a brush handy for the inevitable fluff pile your dog will produce.
There are also dogs — like Irish Terriers — that don’t really shed at all. These dogs are often best for people with allergies and they tend to collect less pet dander on their fur — a main cause of allergy flare-ups.
Going to the Groomer
Grooming is something you can generally do at home, but many people feel that certain grooming procedures, like cutting a dog’s hair, should be left to a groomer. The only problem is, pet grooming can be incredibly expensive, especially when you need to do it on a regular basis.
According to Thumbtack, the average cost of a standard grooming session can cost anywhere between $60 – $90, but the price can rise dramatically based on a few key reasons:
- Temperament. If your dog is less than friendly to strangers or doesn’t like being touched, this makes the job a lot harder for a groomer. In cases where your dog puts up a fight, the groomer is likely to charge more for their trouble.
- Size. It’s generally a lot less time consuming to groom the small size of a Chihuahua than a Saint Bernard, so be prepared for an extra cost if your dog is on the larger end of the spectrum.
- Coat. Remember those coat types mentioned earlier? Yeah. Those affect the cost of grooming too. Dogs with double coats require a lot more effort since there’s so much fur. So even if you’ve got a little Pomeranian, expect to pay extra for all that fur to be handled properly.
- Fur Condition. It’s a lot easier for professionals to groom a dog that’s received regular care at home. If you don’t have the time to brush your dog regularly and it develops mats or even fleas as a result, you’ll have to pay a lot more, as intervention will be needed.
Now, how about that common question: should I shave my dog for the summer? Contrary to popular belief, shaving your dog doesn’t actually cool it down. It actually exposes your dog’s skin more directly to the sun, which can cause sunburns and other irritations or diseases.
Depending on your dog’s coat, it can also cause irreparable damage to your dog’s fur, meaning it may never grow back the same or look as natural as it did pre-shave. As a rule of thumb, double coated dogs should never be shaved.
As mentioned in our section on shedding, dog’s naturally shed to prepare their bodies for warmer weather, so a full shave is generally not needed, even for dogs with coats that can handle a shave. If your only reason for wanting to shave your dog is to cool them down for the summer, it’s best to just keep them well-hydrated, don’t overtire them, and allow them to take rests in cool or shady spots.
That being said, there are some areas on a dog that may need a little trim here and there to ensure they’re not unruly. Dog groomers know best how to handle these places, but if you’d rather save the cost and trim your dog’s fur yourself, here are some tips on grooming your dog at home:
- Main areas that are likely to require regular trims are around the eyes, underneath their tail, their chin, and their underbelly if they have long fur that comes in regular contact with the ground, causing frequent tangles.
- It’s always best to brush and wash your dog first before you start any trimming. That way you know exactly what you’re working with.
- You can use either scissors or clippers to groom your dog, just be sure you understand that once the fur has been removed, there’s no putting it back. It’s always best to do a little at a time so you don’t accidentally go overboard.
- Keep treats handy to give to your dog regularly. This will make it easier on both you and your dog.
If you start to hear a lot of pitter-patter on the floor when your dog moves around the home, that might be a sign that they're in for a nail trim. When a dog’s nails get too long, it’s not just a noisy nuisance. It actually causes them physical pain as every step they take on too long nails pushes the nails back into their nail beds and causes irritation to their paws. That’s why — even though it’s a dreaded task for most — it’s essential to trim your dog’s nails before they get too long.
One of the biggest fears pet owners face when it comes to cutting a dog’s nails is that they’ll trim too far and end up hurting their dog more. Most of us humans have likely experienced a too-short nail clipping, so it’s understandable that many are wary of doing it to a dog, especially if your dog isn’t the best at staying still.
But how do you do it? First off, it’s best to start by selecting the right tool. The best way to trim your dog’s nails is actually with scissor clippers, not the type that just cut them off in one pinch. To trim a dog’s nails:
- First, get your dog comfortable with you handling their paws. Play around with them, moving your hands around their nails so they don’t pull away the second you try to bring the clippers close.
- Once they’re a bit more comfortable, hold its paw firmly in your hand and start clipping a small amount at a time. Don’t put the whole nail in the clipper, just start with the tip and work your way downwards.
- You’ll know you’re done when you see the white inside the nail with a dark circle in the middle. As soon as you see the white, that’s far enough or you’ll risk cutting the nail too close and hurting your dog.
- You can use a pet pedicure emery board to file down any sharp edges left from the clipping if you’d like.
Nothing beats a dog’s smile when you come home to it, but teeth are often the most neglected part of a dog’s grooming. And we don’t blame you. It’s not a fun task to have to get up close and personal with your dog’s breath or put your hand so close to its mouth — especially if it’s a biter. But bad breath can be a precursor for dental diseases in dogs, and their teeth — just like ours — need regular cleaning.
Though dental and rawhide bones do help to keep your dog’s teeth healthy, you should always be prepared to give your dog’s teeth a good brushing at least a couple times a week to keep their teeth in tip-top shape.
Though it may sound like a daunting task, brushing your dog’s teeth doesn’t have to be if you know how to do it and make sure it’s a regular part of their hygienic routine. The more often you do it, the more used to it they will get, so break out the doggy toothbrush and follow these simple steps to keep your dog’s teeth sparkly and their breath in check:
- Start by lifting up your dog’s lips to expose their gums and teeth.
- Brush gently in a circular motion across their teeth — just like you were taught to do for yourself.
- Be sure to get to the molars and canine teeth as these are the most commonly used by dogs when they eat, so will likely need the most attention.
- Try to brush as much of the teeth (both the inside and outside surfaces) as you can, but be mindful of your pet’s limits. If your dog doesn’t want you sticking a toothbrush deeper into their mouth, don’t. Just do what you can.
- Once done brushing, give your dog a treat as a reward for its patience. It’s earned it.
BONUS TIP: Doggy toothbrushes and toothpaste are a must. Always go for a pet-safe brand so you don’t introduce any harmful ingredients into your dog’s mouth.
Keep The Tails Wagging
Whether you groom your dog yourself or pay a professional to maintain them regularly, one thing will always ring true: proper grooming makes a healthy dog. Not everyone can afford regular trips to the groomers and others may just prefer to do everything themselves to better bond with their dog.
Regardless of how you choose to go about it though, taking care of your dog’s well-being should always be a top priority. Grooming is an essential part of a dog’s life and a responsibility that shouldn’t be shirked. So keep your dog happy by taking care of it in every way you can.