Every dog requires at least some grooming to maintain their health and happiness. Grooming shouldn’t be a negative experience for your dog, whether you take them to a groomer or do it yourself.
Do you know how to set your puppy up for a lifetime of grooming success? Are you aware of how your dog’s grooming should change as he ages? Do you know how to find a groomer who will be a great fit for your dog’s needs? Do you know the best ways to groom your dog at home? Here’s everything you need to know about grooming your dog from puppyhood to his senior years!
Why grooming is crucial for your dog’s health
Of course brushing your dog can reduce shedding and make your life easier by not having to clean up as much hair around your house, but grooming is very important for your dog’s overall health and well-being. Whether you bring your dog to a groomer or you take care of those needs yourself, the process of grooming a dog helps to inspect every part of your fur child to spot potential health problems before they have a chance to become worse. More than that, some health problems can actually be CAUSED by a lack of proper grooming. Some problems that can be prevented or spotted by regular grooming are:
-Eye problems – Regular grooming gives you the chance to notice any changes to your dog’s eyes. Do his eyes seem clear and bright? Great! What if they’re red, runny, white, cloudy, or have a thick discharge? That means it’s time for a trip to the vet. Lack of regular grooming, especially on dogs with furry faces, can lead to sores due to eye “goobers” sitting directly on your dog’s skin for an extended period of time. These can be extremely painful for your dog, and when the goobers are removed, the raw skin underneath is open to infection.
-Ear infections – Ears should be checked weekly to look for signs of infection. When you flip your dog’s ear back, you shouldn’t smell anything. Redness, debris, or a foul odor can be signs of an infection and should mean a trip to the vet. A bit of witch hazel on a cotton ball, or an ear cleaning wipe can be used to wipe debris out from the inside of your dog’s ears to help prevent infection. If your dog is prone to ear infections, cotton placed inside his ears before a bath or a swim can help prevent water from getting into the ear canal.
-Overgrown toenails – Some dogs that frequently run or walk on pavement may not need their nails trimmed, but most dogs will need help from you or a groomer to keep their nails short. Overgrown toenails can cause arthritis or even embed themselves in the pads of your dog’s feet. Ouch!
-Tooth and mouth problems – Brushing your dog’s teeth daily with a dog-friendly toothpaste is a crucial part of keeping them healthy. According to vets, 85% of dogs over the age of 4 have some form of gum disease, like gingivitis. Other common mouth problems include tooth loss, abscesses, and even infections that can lead to death. If your dog doesn’t let you brush his teeth, you can try dental sprays, dental chews, tooth wipes, dental treats, raw bones, and natural chews like bully sticks in order to keep your dog’s mouth healthy.
-Matted hair – Matted hair doesn’t just look bad, it can seriously harm your dog if you don’t brush him regularly. Matted hair can both cause and hide skin sores and infections. It can hide fleas, ticks, and lice. In severe cases, it can even amputate limbs! Depending on your dog’s fur type, he’ll need brushing as often as every day and may need a hair cut every 4-6 weeks in order to prevent serious matting. Ask a groomer how much brushing and what type of brush your pup’s coat type requires.
-Lumps and bumps – Wet hair is much easier to see and feel through than dry, fluffy hair. Even if your dog doesn’t get very dirty, regular baths can help spot lumps and bumps that can be indicators of serious health conditions, up to and including cancer. Be sure to use a gentle shampoo formulated for dogs in order to prevent drying out your dog’s skin.
Why and how to prepare your puppy for a lifetime of positive grooming experiences
A dog that resists grooming is far more likely to get injured during the grooming process than one that’s been introduced to all aspects of grooming from a young age. How can you set your puppy up for a lifetime of success before he even sets foot at the groomer for the first time?
-Hold his feet – It’s much easier to trim a dog’s nails if they don’t hate having their feet touched. The younger you start touching and holding your puppy’s paws – preferably while giving them tasty treats – the more likely it is your dog will tolerate nail trims without stress as they grow up.
-Introduce him to brushing and combing – Little puppies may not have much hair yet, but it’s important for them to get used to the brush and comb you’ll be using on them for the rest of their life. Start with a few minutes at a time of brushing followed by a treat. Ideally, your puppy should learn that brushing is relaxing and bonding time, and not something to be avoided at all costs.
-Don’t stop brushing if they try to bite – Puppies experience much of the world through their mouths. If you pull your hand away when they nibble on you, they learn they can make you stop doing the thing they don’t like. It’s okay to tell your dog no, but don’t swat him with the brush – he’ll learn to associate the brush with pain, and you don’t want that!
-Handle their face – Any dog with hair on their face will need to learn to hold still while that hair is being trimmed. The younger they can learn that having their face held isn’t scary, the less likely it is that they will be injured as they grow up. Sharp scissors and clippers are not something you want near a thrashing, terrified dog! Reward your dog for letting you hold his face in varying positions and holding onto his chin hair.
-Get them used to vibrations – The sound and feeling of clippers can be scary to a dog that has never experienced them before. Long before your puppy needs his first haircut, you should use the body of an electric toothbrush or razor and hold it against your puppy’s face and body to get them used to the vibrations, again rewarding with treats as you go.
-Bring them to a groomer as soon as you can – Most groomers require your puppy has at least his first round of shots, and some vets recommend your puppy has his rabies shot before going to a groomer. Even if you think you’ll be doing most of your dog’s grooming yourself, it’s a good idea to get them used to going to a groomer when they are as young as possible. It will be much harder for them to adjust to the process the older they get. Most groomers offer cheaper puppy packages for dogs 6 months and younger in order for them to acclimate to the whole process.
How grooming should change as your dog ages
Just as with humans, dogs lose cartilage as they age, leading most older dogs to develop arthritis. Asking your dog to stand for an extended period of time to achieve the perfect haircut may be cruel if your elderly dog is in pain due to arthritis, hip dyplasia, or any other condition related to aging. Ask your groomer for recommendations for your specific dog’s needs, but some suggestions include scheduling quicker appointments that require less time in an uncomfortable kennel, doing simpler haircuts that require less standing, going longer between appointments, and not striving for a perfect haircut. You should also listen to your dog and your groomer – if your dog’s behavior during the grooming process changes, he may be indicating pain, hearing or vision loss, or other health issues that should be addressed with your vet.
How to find the best groomer for your dog
Finding the best groomer for your dog involves more than just checking online reviews. Even the best groomer in your area might not be the best fit for your dog. Asking friends and family for recommendations and checking reviews is a good place to start, but that should just be the beginning of your search, not the end.
Once you have a few candidates in mind, you should ask for price estimates. Most grooming salons will give a price range based on your dog’s breed, but some may charge based on your dog’s size or the amount of time it takes to groom your dog. You probably want to avoid the cheapest pace in town – that’s a groomer who’s either brand new or doesn’t value their time. They will be forced to rush through as many dogs as possible in order to make a living – not the best environment for your dog to be groomed in! You don’t need the most expensive groomer in town, just avoid the cheapest.
Once you’ve narrowed the list a little bit, it’s time to find out how each groomer schedules their dogs. Some salons will use “cattle call” scheduling, where all the dogs for the day are dropped off at a certain time in the morning and may be there as long as the entire day depending on when the groomer finishes. If your dog does well in a kennel, this may be a great option if you need to get your dog groomed while you work all day. If your dog hates being in a kennel, this may not be a great fit.
Other groomers use “block” scheduling, where they will schedule several dogs to come in at the same time. These places usually quote a 3-4 hour turnaround time. If your dog tolerates the kennel but hates the dryer, this may be a good fit. Most groomers use this type of scheduling, so it may be easier to make an appointment at a shop like this. Dogs are not typically dried all the way through – they get partially dried, then sit in a kennel with a dryer on it until they finish drying. This can affect the quality of the haircut.
Other groomers schedule dogs individually. This is the best option if you have a dog who hates being in a kennel – your dog typically gets started as soon as you drop him off and you pick him up as soon as he’s done. This can be a great option for getting senior dogs in and out as quickly as possible. This method requires getting dogs completely dry with the hand dryer, so it’s not a good option for dogs who are terrified of the dryer.
Top hacks for grooming your dog at home
If you’d rather groom your dog at home, that’s great too! Here are some hacks to help you out along the way.
-Groom your dog after a long walk – They’ll be too tired to fight the process.
-Brush your dog while watching TV – Keep a brush handy and brush him for 15 minutes at a time while you’re both relaxing on the sofa.
-Use a flea comb to remove eye goobers – While your dog is wet, use a flea comb to gently comb eye goobers out.
-Elevate your dog for grooming – If you put your dog on a table, counter, or washing machine during grooming, they will understand that grooming time is a time to be serious instead of a typical play time.
(H/T: WebMD Pets)