In This Chapter
Do-It-Yourself Canine Hair Styling
Always brush and comb a dog before you bathe her. Doing so helps prevent tangles and keeps your dog cleaner (bathing is covered later in this chapter).
Beyond pulling hairs: Making the experience pleasant
A few tricks can make brushing and combing easier for you and your dog:
– Start young. When your dog is a puppy, get her used to brushing. In many cases, dogs love the attention. However, even if you do start early, some dogs never quite take to grooming. In many instances, you may have to work through some bad behaviors, and in other rare cases, you may even need to muzzle or sedate the dog.
– Stick to a routine. Where on your dog you first start brushing, combing, and grooming doesn’t matter, but being consistent does. By following the same routine every time you groom your dog, you won’t forget to do anything, and your dog won’t have any surprises.
– Relax with your dog. Taking time to relax — both dog and owner — goes a long way toward calming your dog’s fears. Your dog may get nervous when she senses it’s grooming time, regardless of whether you’re breaking out a grooming table (highly recommended — find them online or at pet stores) or simply reaching for a brush and comb. Giving her treats, administering a good massage (see the “Massaging your dog” sidebar for advice), or just talking to her in a soothing tone helps relieve your dog’s tension before and during a brushing session.
If you use a grooming table to groom your dog, never leave her on it unattended. She can hurt herself jumping off or even strangle herself if she’s hooked into a noose.
– Brush your dog after she’s exercised — when she’s a little bit tired. She’ll be calmer.
– Never hurry and always be gentle whenever possible. One bad experience can be traumatic and turn your dog off grooming entirely.
– Use the right tools. The right tools make the job not only easier, but less stressful and less painful. If you use the wrong tools, you’re more likely to pull on your dog’s hairs (tools are covered in the next section).
Massaging your dog
Massaging your dog may sound a little odd, but it’s a great way to bond with him. If your dog has never been massaged, he may find it a little strange at first. The first goal when massaging your dog is to get him to relax. Start with gentle stroking movements in areas where he’s normally accustomed to being petted. Don’t touch areas that your dog isn’t quite comfortable with you touching, and don’t use a lot of pressure until your dog gets used to it. Pick up a copy of How to Massage Your Dog, by Jane Buckle (Wiley), or Dog Massage, by Maryjean Ballner (St. Martin’s Press), for the basics of massaging your dog.
Gathering the tools you need
If you live in a flea-prone area, make sure that you have a flea comb handy, especially during flea season (which begins in spring). Flea combs, along with all kinds of rakes, brushes, combs, and clippers, are available at all good pet stores.
Tools for long coats
– An undercoat rake or long comb: To remove the loose undercoat hairs. Some groomers prefer using wide-toothed combs first and then changing to progressively narrower or finer-toothed ones. This strategy is good whenever your dog has really snarly hair. However, if you’re simply maintaining your dog’s coat, you can choose to go over him with a fine-or medium-toothed comb and then a slicker brush.
– Detangler solution and a mat splitter or mat rake: For tangles and mats (use electric clippers in extreme cases).
– Shedding tool: For removing the soft undercoat when the dog is blowing coat (shedding profusely).
– Slicker brush: For removing hair and stimulating the skin and coat.
Tools for short coats
– A Zoom Groom or short curry brush: For removing hair and polishing the coat
– A short-toothed comb: For removing hair and getting through any tangles
– Slicker brush: For removing hair and stimulating the skin and coat
Brushing up on basic techniques
Regardless of the method of brushing and combing you use, you need to brush all the hair, not just the top coat. That means getting down to the skin and brushing upward.
Dealing with the dreaded mat
Work from the outside of the mat (where the hair isn’t tangled) and slowly untangle the hair. Hold the base of the mat (closest to your dog’s skin) as you work, to avoid pulling your dog’s skin.
Mat rakes are equipped with sharp teeth that work at cutting through the mat. You use the mat rake the same way you do a comb, but you simply rake along the lay of the hair. The teeth will cut through the mat.
Start by splitting the mat of hair in horizontal or vertical strips and then using either a mat rake or a comb to tackle those smaller pieces individually. Watch to make sure that no skin is pulled up into the mat.
Be careful when using mat rakes or mat splitters. They’re quite sharp and can cause cuts if used improperly.
Be aware that this step should be considered as a last resort and that it can leave a bare patch that will ruin a show coat until it can grow out again. You can also ask a professional groomer or veterinarian to help you get rid of the mat.
Whatever you do, don’t use scissors to cut out a mat! No matter how careful you think you are, accidentally cutting your dog’s skin is all too easy, and that means a trip to the emergency vet for a suture.
Heading down the right grooming path
If you find mats or tangles around your dog’s face, don’t spray them with detangler solution, because you risk getting some in your dog’s eyes. Instead, dip a washcloth into the detangler solution, gently rub it into the hair, and then gently comb out the tangle, starting from the bottom of the hair. If the mat is really stubborn, use an electric clipper with a guarded blade to clip out the mat while also guarding your dog’s face and skin (and keeping her reassured and still) with your other hand.
If you don’t have grooming clippers, ask a vet or a professional groomer to remove the mat for you. Most are happy to do so at little or no charge.
Smoothing the ruffles on the nape of your dog’s neck
Brushing and trimming feathered forelegs
Belly-rubbin’ for laughs
Don’t pull on any mats on your dog’s sensitive underbelly, and don’t use a mat rake, because one slip can cause problems in these sensitive regions. If you find any mats, take your dog to your vet or a professional groomer, who can use electric clippers to carefully remove them.
Sidewinding and backing up
No butts about it
Handling those hind legs
Some double-coated breeds shed profusely once or twice a year. Others shed year-round. If your dog has little tufts of hair that look like pieces of cotton candy scattered throughout his coat, he’s blowing coat, or shedding. You can pluck out these tufts of hair, but most dogs find that annoying. A better solution is to use a shedding blade or an undercoat rake.
The shedding blade looks like something you’d use on a horse. It’s a flexible piece of steel with little sawlike teeth that catch the hairs. You can operate the blade in a one-handed U-shape configuration, or you can keep the blade straight and use two hands. The undercoat rake is a rake with either long sets of teeth to pull out the hair out or a dual set of teeth that work both the undercoat and top coat.
Shedding blades need to be used carefully on thin-coated dogs because the blades can scratch the skin. However, if you own a thick-coated dog, you’re not likely to have this problem.
Tweaking that dratted tail
Getting pesky fleas to flee!
During flea season, which varies from one region to the next, you’ll be using a flea comb in addition to the other grooming implements. After brushing, go over your dog again with a
Talk with your veterinarian about putting your dog on a systemic flea-control product that’s distributed throughout your dog’s system either in topical (spot-on) form or pill form. The topical products are usually applied between your dog’s shoulder blades and at the base of her tail; you feed products in pill form to your dog. These systemics have rendered other flea-control substances virtually obsolete, except when a dog exhibits undesirable side effects from using systemics. Ask your veterinarian what’s right for your dog.
When using any systemic, read the directions thoroughly and follow them carefully. Otherwise, the product may be ineffective. For example, some topical systemics can be ineffective if your dog gets wet shortly after you apply them. Use common sense, and if you’re not sure, ask your vet. Also, dosages and the amount of time the systemic is effective vary, so always have a clear understanding of the product you’re using. These flea products often control ticks, too. Talk to your vet for other possible tick-control solutions as needed.
Rub-a-Dub-Dub: Washing Your Dog
Making bath time a pleasant experience
– Start young. Get your dog used to bathing as a pup. Experience is key to preventing bad bath-time behavior. In many instances, you may have to work through the bad behavior. In fact, as with grooming, in some rare cases you may have to muzzle or sedate the dog.
– Use the right tub, and give your dog easy access. If you’re using your bathtub, putting your dog in it may be as easy as walking him in. With a groomer’s tub, you may have to use a ramp or stairs to walk a big dog into it, especially if you have a bad back (or a good back and you don’t want to have a bad back). Use the sink only for small or toy-size dogs. Don’t use the shower for any dog. And although you may be tempted to use an outdoor hose for bathing, don’t. It isn’t ideal because the water is usually too cold, and the dog will get dirty all over again from being outside.
– Keep your dog in place in the tub. Most dogs don’t like to stay still in the tub, so you may want to use a special tub or bathing “noose” (available at pet stores — a poor name for a useful tool) that attaches to the tub to keep him in place. Never leave a dog alone restrained by a noose.
– Don’t hurry, and be gentle whenever possible. One bad experience can be traumatic.
– Make bathing as comfortable as possible. To prevent a painful experience, gently put some cotton balls in your dog’s ears — don’t shove them into the aural canal at the base of the ear, mind you. The cotton balls help keep water out of your dog’s inner ears.
Gathering the tools you need
- pH-balanced shampoo for dogs (and possibly a pH-balanced conditioner)
- Cotton balls for ears
- Bathing noose (if required)
- Towels for drying
You may want to look into a tearless variety of shampoo if you’re not used to bathing dogs. Read the labels to find a tearless shampoo.
Scrubbing bubbles: Bathing your dog
The following steps explain the basics of bathing. Before you begin, you may want to place sterile cotton balls inside your dog’s ears to keep water out while bathing. Just don’t forget to take them out when you’re done.
You may like a hot shower, but that temperature is too high for your pooch. Also, some bathtubs nowadays come equipped with sprayer attachments that enable you to focus the flow of water. They’re great for soaking your dog’s coat and for being gentle around the face.
While your dog is wet but before you apply shampoo is a great time to express your dog’s anal sacs, if you were planning to do it as part of your grooming routine (see Chapter Caring for Nails, Teeth, Nose, Ears, Eyes, Face, and . . . Elsewhere — if you dare).
Soap attracts dirt, and a dog with dried soap in her hair is prone to those dreaded mats.
Using a conditioner that prevents tangles and also keeps the coat from drying out is a good idea for most coat types.
With regard to attracting dirt and causing mats, conditioner residues are as bad for your dog’s hair as soap residue, so rinse even better than you did in Step 4.
As you squeeze the towels into the coat, look for soapy water. If you find any, go back to rinsing. The next section provides additional advice about drying your dog.
Whenever you use a cage dryer, never leave a dog unattended in it. Dogs have overheated and died because the groomers forgot to watch them. Unless you’re planning to open a grooming shop (or you care for several dogs), skip the cage dryer and work with the hand-held blow-dryers only.
When using a blow-dryer, make sure you use one that’s made specifically for dogs (see Figure 2-2) or one that doesn’t use any heat. Hot air from human blow-dryers is much too hot and can hurt your dog’s skin and frazzle the fur. You can use a human hair dryer on the no-heat setting to dry small dogs, but blow-dryers intended for humans don’t have enough power to handle drying a larger, long-haired dog.