In This Chapter
- Understanding why grooming is about more than just appearance
- Brushing your dog
- Cleaning your dog’s ears and teeth
- Caring for your dog’s eyes
- Keeping on top of your dog’s nails
- Bathing your dog
- Checking your dog for parasites and other problems
Would you be willing to walk out of your home without having brushed your teeth, combed your hair, and changed your clothes? How many days could you last like that? Good grooming isn’t just about appearance — it’s also about good overall health. Because dogs aren’t self-grooming, like cats, we need to give them a hand, or two, to stay clean, healthy, and free of parasites.
In this chapter, I tell you everything you need to know about grooming — from bathing your dog to cleaning her teeth and ears. I also tell you how to keep your dog free of parasites like fleas and ticks. If your dog could tell you to read one chapter of this book, this would be pretty near the top of her list!
Why Grooming Matters: Inside and Out
Does your dog fill with excitement when you pick her up at the grooming salon? Isn’t she clean enough to cuddle? What dog doesn’t like being loved on and cuddled! Would you do that with a mud-encrusted, parasite-infested dog with bad breath? Of course not. The trouble is, that dirty dog doesn’t understand that she’s not getting attention because she’s dirty — all she knows is she’s not getting the attention she needs and wants.
Besides having a clean house companion, there are other sanitary and medical reasons for keeping your dog clean:
– A clean dog has a coat free of tangles. What’s the big deal about a few snarls? Try letting your hair get all matted and tangled and get back to me on how that feels. Not only does it look bad, but it can actually hurt.
– A clean dog is free of debris between her toes, under her tail, in skin wrinkles, and in other areas you don’t want me to go into.
– Regular grooming removes dead skin and brings out the natural oils in the coat. These natural oils not only make your dog’s coat shiny but also help it serve as a better insulator against all types of weather.
– When you groom your dog regularly, you quickly locate any injuries or parasites, and you can treat them right away.
Plus, the time you spend grooming your mixed breed is important bonding time — you’re showing your dog that you care about her. And a dog who is clean will be welcome near you — you’ll want to run your hands through her coat and give her hugs. What better reason to groom your dog could there be?
Brushing Your Dog
The amount of time you need to spend brushing your dog depends largely on your dog’s coat type and propensity for getting dirty. If your dog loves to roll in the dirt, you’ll be bathing her a lot. I once had a dog who loved going to the farm next door, rolling in the freshest cow pie he could find, and coming home, prancing with pride at how well he had covered his scent. He wasn’t as pleased about the frequent baths though.
Even if your mixed breed is primarily an indoor dog, with little exposure to cow pies, mud puddles, and other digging opportunities, you’ll still want to brush her a couple times each week to remove loose fur, dander, and detangle long strands.
If you’ve been to a pet store lately and looked at the options in the brush aisle, you may have been overwhelmed. Here’s a quick guide, based on your dog’s coat type:
– Short coat: For a dog with very short fur, use a massaging glove. Not only will this make her groan with delight, but it will also loosen the dead fur and dirt, forming a mat on the glove that’s easily removed.
– Medium coat: For a dog with medium length fur, use a bristle brush. This will loosen the dropped fur, remove debris caught in the coat and detangle. Most bristle brushes are easily cleaned by balling up the fur as you pull it from the bristles.
– Long coat: For a dog with a long coat, I suggest using a wide-tooth comb. Look for one with rolling tines. The rolling tines help detangle the coat without pulling it and causing your dog distress from painful fur tugging. The comb is great for dogs with feathering on their legs, tail, or chest areas; use a bristle brush for the shorter fur on the back and head.
No matter what kind of coat your dog has, always use a very soft brush for the dog’s face, because the facial areas are very sensitive.
Some dogs have double coats — wooly undercoats and long stranded top coats. These require a special tool called a rake. It looks like a mini-rake with wide spaced tines along a long, flat bar. Comb the dog’s undercoat with the rake, removing loose intertwining wooly hairs. Then do the top coat with the comb. The Nordic dog breeds tend to have this wooly undercoat along with many of the northern breeds.
If your dog has very dry skin, she’ll need a spritzing with a mixture of water and leave-in conditioner. As you groom your dog, give a spritz to wet down the fur a bit, and then brush it into the coat with a firm bristle brush. The coat will remain soft, as will the dog’s skin, allowing the coat to lay flatter against the dog and be more efficient as insulation against extreme weather conditions. If your dog has dry skin, you’ll see little white specs of dandruff in her coat. She’ll also be scratching a lot.
Cleaning Your Dog’s Ears
Everything from mites to dirt to bacteria can cause ear infections in a dog. If you don’t give weekly attention to your dog’s ears, she may be more prone to getting ear infections. And ear infections aren’t just minor annoyances — they can cause hearing loss, damage to the middle ear, and/or fever from a bacterial infection.
Most dogs will show clear signs of ear irritation and infection. They shake their heads, rub their ears against solid objects, or use their paws to scratch at their ears. If the infection gets worse, you’ll likely smell a foul odor coming from the ear, see small granular dirt particles, and notice a topical rash from your dog’s constant scratching.
The only means of curing infections is the appropriate ear medication. Your veterinarian will need to inspect the ear and possibly take a sample of the infectious material. The prescribed cure is anything from ear ointment to antibiotics, depending on the cause of the infection.
To prevent infection, clean your dog’s ears at least once a week, regardless of the type of ears your dog has. However, you may need to clean your dog’s ears more often — such as after bathing or swimming. (Water tends to remain in the ears, especially if the ears have a fold-over structure.) Dogs with upright ears allow moisture to dry out quickly, so you’ll only need to do a minor ear cleaning.
Dogs who have Retriever or Spaniel heritage may have smaller ear canals than other dogs, making them ripe for contracting infections. This special structure — along with the heavy fold-over ears — retains moisture, dirt, and bacteria. Other types of dogs who tend to get chronic ear infections are Bloodhounds and Bassett Hounds; they have very heavy droopy ears that don’t allow air to flow within the canals to dry out retained moisture. Along with the heavy ears, their length scoops up dirt. So besides cleaning the inside, you also need to clean the outside, or they’ll get very smelly.
The next time you take your dog in to the veterinarian for an examination, ask him to show you how to clean your dog’s ears. But here are basic ear-cleaning procedures to follow after you’ve seen it done by your vet:
1. Squirt a couple drops of herbal ear cleaner into the dog’s ear.
2. Rub her ear for a couple seconds to loosen any dirt and grease.
3. With a soft cloth wrapped around your index finger, gently remove the loosened dirt from the outer canal features and inside of the ear flap.
4. Repeat with the other ear.
Never clean deep in the dog’s ear canal. You can damage the dog’s ear and hearing that way. If you think something might be located deeper inside your dog’s ear, have your veterinarian do a thorough cleaning and exam.
Some dogs have lots of hair in their ears. This can clog the air flow that is needed to dry moisture. From time to time, tweeze these hairs — only those that come out easily — so that the outer ear can remain dryer. If you’re not sure how to do this, take your dog to the groomer to have it done professionally.
Look, Ma — No Cavities! Brushing Your Canine’s Choppers
Brushing a dog’s teeth is a part of routine maintenance that many dog owners overlook. But if you think about it, your dog’s teeth are as important to her overall health and well-being as your own. Would you skip brushing your teeth for a couple days? A week? A year? Absolutely not! And, it’s not just because teeth that haven’t been brushed cause bad breath. Without regular brushing, you can develop gum disease that may cause you to lose your teeth and can even harm organs such as your heart. The same goes for dogs!
If your dog loses her teeth at a young age, it will shorten her lifespan because she can’t eat as she should. Plus, if she loses her teeth due to lack of dental care, the gum infections may cause problems with her internal organs as well.
Introduce your mixed-breed dog to dental cleaning in as positive a manner as possible. Use a meat-flavored toothpaste (they come in beef, poultry, and liver flavors) that your dog will love, along with a long-handled toothbrush or a finger brush.
Place a little paste on the brush and begin brushing the front teeth. These are the easiest to start with because they don’t require your pushing the brush farther into the dog’s mouth. Brush in a circular motion so that you cover each tooth. Remember to brush the back of each tooth (the side closest to the tongue). Be sure to give your dog frequent breaks to lick the paste off her teeth, which will keep the experience positive for her. When she’s relaxed, work on the teeth farther back in the mouth. Gently pull the dog’s skin away from the teeth (as shown in Figure 8-1), so you can access the teeth easier.
Talk to your vet if you’re at all unsure that you’re brushing your dog’s teeth correctly. He’ll be happy to show you the right way to do it.
Figure 8-1: Brushing your dog’s teeth is a vital part of canine care. Ease your dog into it, and make sure brushing is always a positive experience for her.
The Eyes Have It: Caring for Your Mixed Breed’s Eyes
Unless your mixed-breed dog has allergies or protruding eyes, you won’t have to do much to take care of them. However, if your dog has allergies, you’ll need to apply an optic solution to keep her eyes clear of discharge; your vet can suggest the appropriate solution for your dog.
If your dog has protruding eyes, they’re likely to collect dirt particles, causing the dog’s eyes to water or become irritated. Dogs with protruding eyes also tend to have constant tearing, which stains their facial fur. Products are available to clean the stains as well as those to clear the eyes of debris.
Cleaning your dog’s eyes on a weekly basis (more often if she has protruding eyes) is a good idea. Even if she doesn’t have any allergies or problems with her eyes, it will help train her to have her head held gently in case she ever does need medication.
Mani/Pedi Time: Clipping Your Dog’s Nails
Dog’s nails grow quickly, and you’ll probably need to clip your dog’s nails every six weeks, regardless of her size, breed mixture, or age. If your dog spends most of her time on soft surfaces (such as dirt, grass, or sand), she may need her nails clipped more often. Even if you walk your dog on sidewalks or along the street, you’ll still need to clip her nails on the sides of the feet as well as the dew-claw nails.
If your dog doesn’t like having her nails done, you’ll need to take her to a professional groomer or to a vet to have them clipped. If you want to do it yourself, however, you’ll need to make certain your mixed breed will remain calm while you’re clipping — otherwise, you might clip the nail in the wrong place and cause severe bleeding.
Before clipping the nail, look at how it curves. If your dog has at least one white nail, take note at how far around the curve the pink color (known as the quick) goes (see Figure 8-2). This will guide you on where to clip — you want to remain at least 1⁄8 inch away from the quick to avoid injuring your dog.
If you plan on clipping your dog’s nails yourself, have some styptic powder handy to help stop any accidental bleeding that might occur from cutting too closely.
Figure 8-2: Look carefully at where the nail hooks. This is where you’ll want to apply the nail clippers in order to avoid clipping too closely.
If you want to teach your dog to accept nail clipping, use lots of treats and take your time. Here are some basic steps to follow:
1. Show her the nail clippers and speaking in a soothing, pleasant tone while touching her feet with them.
2. When she accepts the presence of the clippers, hold her feet and separate her toes while touching them with the clippers.
3. Clip one nail, and then allow her to relax as you pet her and speak to her in a soothing tone of voice.
4. Clip another nail, and pause again for praising her.
5. Repeat this procedure until all her nails are done.
6. Release her and play with a toy together.
Keep all grooming activities positive so that your dog will easily allow you to work with her.
Bathing Your Dog
How often you need to bathe your dog depends on your dog’s lifestyle. Obviously, the more she plays outdoors, the more she’ll need to be bathed. However, if she has a Poodle or Lab-type coat, she’ll likely repel dirt rather nicely, so a quick wipe is sufficient to prevent her from dragging debris into your home. Even so, a dirt-resistant coat doesn’t help with odor. Large dogs tend to have strong body odor, especially those who insist on covering their own scent by rolling in dead fish or other carcasses.
Scent covering is a natural instinct in hunting dogs — they want to camouflage themselves from their prey. Rolling in something dead often takes away their predatory smell, allowing them to get closer without alarming the prey animal.
If you have a very small dog, you can bathe her once a week in a sink. If your dog weighs more than 15 pounds, a bathtub would work best.
Most sinks and tubs tend to have a slippery surface. Use a rubber tub or sink mat to prevent your dog from sliding around. A dog who feels secure where she stands will be less likely to get scared during the bath.
Unless you have a smaller mixed-breed dog and have no problem lifting her and placing her into the tub, you’ll need to teach her how to enter and exit the tub on her own; as well as how to remain inside the tub while she’s being cleaned. Here’s a positive procedure to help acclimate your mixed breed to the bathing process:
1. Take your mixed-breed dog to an empty, dry tub and throw some treats inside.
Allow your dog to get the treats without forcing her.
2. Repeat Step 1 until your dog easily jumps into the tub to get her treats.
3. Begin asking your dog to remain in the tub by caressing her after she gets her treats. Gently hold her in place while caressing and offering soft praise.
4. Each time she enters the tub, gradually increase the amount of time you coax her into staying there.
5. When you want to let her exit the tub, coax her to you as you move backward. Give her another reward when she comes to you, and then rub her with a dry towel.
This is even more rewarding because your mixed breed will enjoy being groomed and caressed.
6. Follow the same routine with a little bit of water in the tub.
Because your dog has accepted the tub as a positive activity, the addition of the water shouldn’t be a deterrent.
7. When your dog is comfortable getting in with a little water, add enough water for the bath, add soap, and wash her all over.
Be sure to give your dog lots of rewards and gentle praise throughout the bathing process so that she continues to enjoy it.
If you have to wash your dog’s face, apply some eye ointment (available from your vet) prior to bathing her. It’ll keep your dog’s eyes safe from the sting of soap, in case some accidentally gets in her eye. If your dog has protruding eyes, applying the eye ointment should be the first thing you do prior to bathing.
If your dog has long fur, apply some conditioner to her coat after you rinse off the soap. This will help with detangling her fur, making it easier to comb her out after her bath.
Don’t try to comb your dog’s coat while it’s wet. Brushing and combing is far more difficult wet than dry, and if you try to do it while your dog is wet, you’ll end up pulling harder on her skin, making the process a lot less fun for her (and for you!).
Checking for Parasites
During the warmer months, make a daily parasite check part of the care routine. You can make it a positive experience for your dog by merely caressing her in a methodical manner (see “The Daily Once-Over: Checking Your Dog for Problems,” later in this chapter, for some guidelines).
To check for the presence of fleas separate your dog’s fur along her back, underside, head, and neck. If you see any little black specs (almost like pepper), that’s flea waste. And where there’s waste, you can be pretty sure that there are adult fleas present as well. The adult fleas are unmistakable — they’re little black bugs crawling along your dog’s skin.
If that doesn’t creep you out enough, wait till you come across a tick, burrowed into your dog’s skin. Like fleas, ticks thrive on your dog’s blood. However, unlike fleas, they don’t move over the dog’s surface — they dig into her skin.
Internal parasites are tougher to detect. You may be able to see tapeworm pieces in your dog’s feces, but the other types of worms must be seen through a microscope. Many types of worms — such as heartworm, whipworm, and hookworm — can be fatal. So it’s a good idea to take a fecal sample to your veterinarian every six months to stay on top of the internal parasite problem.
There are several ways to prevent all topical and some internal parasite infestations, as well as ways to clear them. I cover all this in the following sections.
Apply a topical oil such as Frontline, K9 Advantix, or Revolution to your dog every month. These will kill any topical parasite that lands upon your dog and/or bites your dog’s skin. Because the parasite doesn’t have a chance to transfer its saliva or lay its eggs, it will also reduce the incidence of internal parasites. Because heartworm and tapeworm are transported by biting fleas, the topical oil will reduce your dog’s risk of infestation. A monthly heartworm tablet also reduces the risk of heartworm infestation as well as several other worms such as hookworm, whipworm, and roundworm. Some types of heartworm medications, such as Sentinel, disrupt the reproductive cycle of biting fleas, dramatically reducing their population but don’t outright kill them like the topical oils. Frontline, Advantix, and Revolution protect against fleas and ticks.
A home remedy that often works to prevent parasites are daily doses of brewer’s yeast and garlic tablets. The garlic repels bugs of all sorts while the brewer’s yeast is great for your dog’s digestive system.
The cure for internal parasites is prescription medicine available from your veterinarian. If your dog has a heartworm infestation, the treatment is long-term. Most of the other internal parasites can be treated with one or two doses of the appropriate medication.
A dog with a flea and tick infestation can easily be treated with one Capstar tablet. This will safely kill all parasites on the dog’s body within four hours. Contain your dog in a small space that’s easy to clean during this treatment. While she’s being treated, you must treat your home to prevent a reinfestation when she returns. The best type of foggers to use for home treatment are those containing Siphotrol — it’s the safest and most effective. Siphotrol kills not only adult fleas, but also the larvae, which many insecticides won’t kill.
Here’s a great way of ridding yourself of those pesky fleas:
1. Take the dog to a groomer or vet for a flea bath.
2. Before bringing the dog home, fog the entire house and spray the entire yard. Also, spray the interior of the vehicle you used to transport the dog.
3. Repeat this program in ten days, because the flea eggs will have hatched and the cycle will begin again.
If you walk your dog through areas where other dogs visit, there’s a high possibility of your dog contracting a parasite. Prevention is the best means of ensuring your dog’s health. Use the topical treatments and monthly heartworm pills.
The Daily Once-Over: Checking Your Dog for Problems
Make it a point to go over your dog daily and check for injuries, cuts, bruises, parasites, and suspicious lumps. As your mixed breed ages, this daily check becomes more important. Dogs rarely let you know that they aren’t feeling well or in pain — in fact, the dog’s nature is to not show weakness, so you’ll be the last to know when something’s wrong.
Sometimes dogs appear lethargic or have a lack of appetite when they’re feeling poorly. However, an illness has to progress to an alarming point for this to happen. Daily checks will help you discover something that might be the beginning of a problem — for example, a wound that might become infected, a lump that might be the beginning of cancer, a flea that will bite and cause your dog to have an allergic reaction. All these things, and more, can be detected by a daily once-over.
Here’s a great way to do a thorough daily check while also giving your dog a great massage:
1. Begin at the dog’s nose: Using your fingertips, rub her nose in a circular manner.
This will allow you to feel any scabby skin or lumps while giving your dog a very relaxing massage.
2. Move up her head, around her forehead, cheeks, lower jaw, and the base of her ears.
Familiarize yourself with her dimples, moles, and whiskers. Often there is lumpy skin around each whisker.
3. Look inside her ears, and rub the ear from base to tip.
This will help locate any extra dirt or grease, as well as ticks. Ticks often latch on to the inside of the ear flap because the skin is moist and warm.
4. Move down the neck: Still use your fingertips, though you can begin to apply a little more pressure.
The skin is a bit tougher than on the face, and you’ll have more fur to go through as well.
5. With the dog’s head and neck checked, move your hand along the center of her back.
You can move your hands in a straight line down her spine, and then use the circular motions on each side, gently touching the loin area, sides, and tummy.
6. Check the chest and shoulders: Long chest fur is a prime target for loose debris and tangles.
Use your fingers as you would a brush, starting at the top of the neck and combing downward.
7. Check the legs, again using a circular motion with your fingertips on the skin. At her knees and hocks, enclose her joints in your hand feeling for excessive heat.
Heat is the first sign of a joint disorder, swelling may or may not be present depending on the problem.
8. Check your dog’s toes and foot pads.
Keep in mind that she walks around barefoot all day and she may cut a pad or get debris entangled between the pads (if your dog has long foot fur).
When you’ve completed your daily check, your mixed-breed dog is sure to be snoring and drooling!
by Miriam Fields-Babineau