A shiny coat is the trademark of a healthy dog. But if his coat is not kept groomed, even a dog who has received a nod of good health from the veterinarian can develop major problems. So what grooming tips do dog groomers wish every dog guardian knew?
1. Take your time and use the right shampoo
When a professional grooms your dog, the groomer’s hands massage the dog’s coat while shampooing, giving her an opportunity to find bumps and lumps a veterinarian may miss. She will also look over the skin and coat for problems. If you’re grooming or bathing at home, take your time. In addition, use the right shampoo or conditioner or you may cause a dull coat. Human products are not meant for dogs and cats. When selecting a shampoo and conditioner, keep in mind that different coat types often need specialized products. A dog with dry skin will often benefit from an oatmeal shampoo, for instance. Consult with a groomer to determine the best options for your dog.
2. Don’t neglect mats
How often a dog needs to be groomed can vary widely. Dogs with longer coats need grooming more often because of their tendency to develop mats, which can cause a lot of issues. Here are some ways to prevent the problem:
• Brush longer-haired animals between visits to the groomer. A critical time is when the animal’s coat is wet; for example, when he comes in after a walk in damp weather. Mats can form when the hair is wet because it becomes pliable and stretchy; when the coat dries, it shrinks and tangles.
• To help keep down mats, you need to do more than a light brushing. The brush or comb needs to start at the skin and be gently pulled to the ends of the hair.
• Those who groom at home sometimes miss areas where mats congregate. Common problem areas include the leg pits, the animal’s belly, behind the ears, and between the back legs.
• Don’t ignore mats. Skin problems can occur underneath, where trapped moisture breeds bacteria and provides a perfect residence for bugs. One of the worst things you can do is just take the animal to the groomer once or twice a year rather than keep up with the mats yourself. A groomer cannot always shave a badly matted dog, and even if she can get the shaver down to the skin, the process is often painful, because unexposed skin underneath the mat is now very sensitive. Sometimes the groomer must use a surgical blade, and risks nicking the animal. When working with badly matted animals, clipper burns and irritated skin are common. Mats can also hide other materials such as burrs that the dog has collected along the way.
3. Introduce your dog to your groomer early
Simply depositing your dog on a groomer’s doorstep can traumatize him. Your dog will do better if you introduce her to the groomer gradually, even before you decide you need the groomer’s services. The best time to start the introduction is when the animal is young. Bring her in for the first time at about three months of age. Although dogs typically don’t need to be clipped or groomed this young, it’s a good time to introduce her to the noise and vibration of the clippers. And while no animal likes being left in a strange place by his guardian, by starting young you give her a chance to get used to the idea of going to the groomer and feeling comfortable with the process. Most groomers offer this service at a reduced “puppy” rate.
4. Get him used to having his paws handled
Many dogs hate to have their nails clipped. Taking them to the groomer to have it done doesn’t change their dread. Dogs and cats need to be worked into the concept. Once again, the best time to begin training is when the animal is young. A good technique is to take hold of his paw and quickly offer a treat, such as a piece of hard cheese or chewy meat, while you hold onto his foot for a moment. Once he learns to accept this, start playing with his toes. Practice holding onto the paw for longer periods of time, and be sure to offer plenty of rewards. Once he fully accepts this handling, you can start snipping one or two nails at a time. By working slowly up to the task, the animal learns to accept nail trimming instead of fighting it.
By training your dog to accept grooming, and by keeping up with the job between visits, you help ensure a healthier companion, prevent extra charges at the groomer’s, and make the experience easier and more enjoyable for everyone, both animal and human.
Peggy Swager has a degree in biology and chemistry. She worked in the chemistry field for years before turning to the field of animal behaviour. Now an award-winning writer, she authors articles on a wide range of topics, including animal health and training. Swager is also the author of Training the Hard to Train Dog, as well as the creator of the DVD, Separation Anxiety — A Weekend Technique.