When most people think of grooming, they think of the funny haircuts some breeds of show dogs sport. While many breeds do need their hair cut on a regular basis, all dogs need grooming. For short haired breeds, this can be as simple as a weekly bath and examination of the ears, eyes, teeth, feet, nails, and tail. For longer haired dogs, daily brushing is necessary, as well as periodic haircuts. Every dog should be gone over from head to toe every day to ensure that they have not gotten injured, picked up splinters or harmful weed seeds, and are generally doing well.
The first step in grooming a dog is simple. Gently pet your dog over every inch of his body and tail. Do you feel any stickers, debris, lumps, cuts, or other sore places? Remove debris, stickers, and mud from the dog. Examine any injuries and determine what treatment, if any, the dog needs.
Next, make note of lumps or bumps so you can keep track of their size and if they need further treatment. If there are fleas or ticks, you need to contact your veterinarian for the appropriate medication to kill them. These creatures can transmit diseases not just to your dog, but to you as well.
For short haired dogs, a soft brush designed for short hair can be used to brush the dog. An easy way to brush a dog is to ask him to lie on his side. Brush the side you can reach, including the belly, gently. Then ask the dog to turn over and brush that side. Laying down allows the dog to relax and you to take your time. Gently brush the face and neck area and the tail. Dogs soon learn to love this extended massage and concentrated attention.
For longer haired dogs, the process is the same. However, you use a brush designed for longer hair called a slicker brush. This looks like long pins bent at an angle to comb through the hair. Be gentle and do not yank any tangles. Use a comb designed for dogs to remove any mats or tangles from the coat. If you do this daily, you will not build up a big problem that will hurt the dog to resolve. Because mats and tangles can cause sores on the dog, it is essential to brush the dog thoroughly on a regular basis.
After brushing, examine the dogs eyes. Are there any deposits of matter such as green goo in the corner of the dog’s eyes? Are the eyes dull or red? These are signs of trouble. Your dog needs to see a veterinarian to diagnosis them. If there is something in the dog’s eye, resist the temptation to immediately try to remove it. If embedded in the eye, that is an emergency that requires immediate veterinary care. If on the surface of the eye, touching it with a moist tissue often removes it. Do not prolong the removal process -- if you cannot easily remove the debris, get your veterinarian to do it. You do not want to scrape the eye.
Next, examine your dog’s teeth and mouth. Are the teeth nice and white? Is the breath tolerable? Bad breath may be a sign of an infection or other illness. Yellow or caked teeth need to be cleaned. Small dogs, in particular, are prone to the tartar and plaque that make teeth yellow, inflame gums, and cause infection. Your veterinarian can show you how to brush your dog’s teeth daily with a special doggy toothpaste. Human toothpaste will upset the dog’s stomach, so do not use it.
Occasionally, dogs need their teeth cleaned by the veterinarian. Just as humans are supposed to have regular teeth cleanings, so are dogs. This involves anesthesia for the dog as they tend not to want to open wide for the veterinarian. The frequency this is necessary will depend on the dog and on how diligent your home teeth care is. Some dogs rarely need their teeth cleaned, while some dogs need it every six months due to bad teeth enamel.
The dog’s nose should not be running. A little clear discharge is normal, as the tear glands drain into the nose in a dog. However, frequent or discolored discharge is a problem. A dog’s nose is not necessarily wet, but may be dry. As long as it is not sore or running, the dog is good here.
Look at the dog’s ears. Inside the ear, is there a lot of wax and dirt? Carefully clean this away with a q-tip in a little rubbing alcohol. Do not go deeper than the first part of the ear, however. You do not want to puncture the ear drum.
Frequent problems with dirt and ear wax may signal an ear infection. So does green gunk and an odor. That needs an immediate trip to the veterinarian. Ear infections can cause pain, so the dog may snap if you touch the ear. Instead, let the veterinarian and their staff deal with the problem as they know how to handle the dog safely.
Long haired dogs need to have the ear hair plucked out of the ear canal so that it does not create a warm, moist environment with little air circulation. That breeds disease. Plucking the hair is not pleasant for man or beast, so is best left to your groomer. If you do it, get the veterinarian or groomer to show you how to do it properly so you do not hurt the dog any more than is absolutely necessary.
The next thing you need to examine is the dog’s feet. Some dogs are very squeamish about having their feet touched. It is important, however, to examine them regularly. Look between the toes on the top of the feet. Any debris or mud could cause a hot spot, or sore. Look between the pads of the feet and make sure there is nothing there, either. Are any of the pads torn, cracked, or sore? This needs veterinary attention. Think how miserable you are when your feet hurt.
Nails are a constant maintenance item. They need to be trimmed regularly. Toenails grow at different rates on different dogs. One dog may need them trimmed weekly, another monthly. Be sure and trim the dew claw if it needs it, too, as that can grow into the side of the dog’s leg and really hurt. Trim carefully so you do not cut into the quick of the nail. That is the pink inside that has nerves, blood, and feeling. On dog’s with white nails, this is fairly easy to see. On dog’s with dark nails, however, it can be very hard to see. Trim small amounts at a time to make sure you do not cut into it. Have septic powder, sold under a variety of names at pet stores, ready in case you do make a mistake and the nail begins to bleed. Nails bleed profusely, so try to stop the bleeding quickly or you will have a real mess.
The final area to examine daily is under the dog’s tail. Dogs do not use toilet paper, so you need to make sure nothing got stuck to their hair when they went to the bathroom. Paper towels work well to remove any debris you find. Trimming the hair away from this area will also help. Be aware that this is a very sensitive area, so be very careful not to cut the dog.
Dogs have anal glands in the last part of the anus under the tail. Normally, these empty when the dog has a bowl movement. Sometimes, that doesn’t happen. If the dog begins to scoot its’ bottom on the floor, sometimes this is the culprit. The glands must be expressed by a human. This is unpleasant for the human and uncomfortable for the dog. Let your veterinarian or groomer do it if possible. If it is not possible to take the dog there every time, let them show you how to do it safely.
At this point, you have examined every major part of the outside of your dog. If everything is okay, you have bonded with the dog and spent some quality time with him. Any problems will have been caught early and hopefully can be resolved while still minor. Doing this daily will keep it a small chore but will reap big benefits for you and your dog.
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"...it takes a strong minded human to appreciate a string-minded dog!" -- Mary Webber