Dogs come in a wide variety of sizes, coat types and skin types, so the best grooming tool for your Labrador might not work for the Lhasa Apso. When it comes to brushes, combs, or grooming mitts, go with a breeder’s recommendation or find a good groomer willing to share advice.
Some pointers though: No grooming tool is going to work unless you use it. Start early, do it often. Puppies should be accustomed to lie on their sides while you brush or comb them. Teach them to be patient. You are spending quality time with your dog when you are grooming him.
Your session gives you the opportunity to assess his general health. How does the dog feel? Is he the right weight? Run your hands over the dog. You should be able to feel the ribs easily, but they should not be prominent either. Are there tender areas, itchy spots, seeds, dirt or ticks? Part the coat and look at the skin. Check the belly. Are there bumps, or tiny specks of flea feces? Hot spots? Has the dog been biting or licking at a spot?
Use your hands, eyes and nose to find out if he needs a bath or just a quick brush up. Handle the paws, gently, and check the nails, then the pads and between for injuries. Make sure you can touch any part of the dog, from muzzle to genitals. Dogs do not share our sense of modesty.
Coat care tools:
Short-coated dogs tend to do well with grooming mitts, and the occasional de-shedding tool (a fine toothed blade/comb that removes the woolly undercoat, but leaves the guard hair intact). Long-haired breeds often require a larger toolbox, with a good pincushion brush, a solid comb and a mat remover at the core. Terriers need to have their coat stripped and a stripping comb can help the less experienced groomers. Poodles and other curly coated breeds are often professionally clipped, but it helps when you have a clipper on hand to do some emergency trimming. Clippers come in handy for trimming hair from between the pads and around the paws. They are much safer than scissors for this. Trimming the hair helps prevent mud or snow buildup and keeps your dog steady on slippery floors. And for long-coated dogs, it helps to trim under the tail to prevent soiling and tangling there.
But there is more to the dog than just a glossy coat. There are the nails, for one. Trimming nails is something you should become an expert in. Don’t leave it for the twice-annual vet visit. Nail trimmers come in a variety of types to accommodate the various sizes of claws encountered in the dog world. Find one you like, with sharp blades that cuts, not crushes, the nail. What about the quick? Truth is, when you are dealing with dogs you will occasionally cut too close to the quick, the living tissue in the nail, and cause it to bleed. Yes, it looks awful. Yes, your dog acts like you have just amputated his leg. No, it really isn’t that big a deal. Again, it is a good idea to have styptic powder on hand to stop the bleeding. This is more to prevent infection and seal the wound than for fear the dog will bleed out – it only looks that way. And while you feel horrible for having cut too deep, it is best to treat the injury and go on with life, including nail trimming. Don’t teach your dog that crying and hiding his paws works. Long toenails prevent your dog from walking properly and comfortably, and worse, may cause real damage to him, when the claw gets caught and the nail gets torn out.
Grinders that file off the nail work only for some dogs. Many dogs do not like them, as they are slow and there is heat build-up, and the noise bothers them. If you are considering them, see if you can borrow one, and try it out before you spend your money. The rough surface (sandpaper or stone) will need to be replaced frequently, for grinders to work properly.
Eyes, ears and teeth:
Next there are the ears: Sniff them. Yes, I am serious. If they stink, you may need the vet. All dogs’ ears have a distinct odor, but it should not be strong. A good vet can determine whether it is a yeast or bacterial infection by smell. Cotton swabs and cotton balls are good tools to clean out ears. Just remember to be gentle and stay away from the eardrum. Have your vet show you the proper way to clean ears.
Check the eyes. Clear and bright, all is well. Anything else, and you might have cause to see the vet.
How do those teeth look? Your dog should let you handle his muzzle, and examine his teeth. Again, if he has bad breath, or a lot of tartar buildup, consult with a veterinarian, especially with a younger dog. If you brush your dog’s teeth, remember to use only toothpaste made for dogs. Toothbrushes for dogs are easily found these days.
When it is time for a bath, remember that the choice of shampoo is less important than rinsing it out well afterward. Proper rinsing now prevents skin problems later. Use cooler water than you would like for a shower. Dogs prefer tepid water to a hot bath. A little prep work before you maneuver the dog into the tub or to the hose beats having to chase a wet dog through the house or yard. Some people prefer to put cotton balls in the ears to keep them dry, and there are eye drops that protect from stinging shampoo. If you don’t use these, just be careful to keep shampoo and water away from eyes and ears. Some breeds are easily bathed; others require a lot more work and preparation. If you have a corded breed, you know they take days to dry completely. Make sure your dog’s coat can dry properly within a reasonable time, or blow dry (low heat setting). For most dogs towels and a good romp through a sunny yard suffice.
Other items you might find useful in your grooming kit are a hemostat (for removing ticks or hair from the inside of the ears), thermometer, pen flashlight, antibiotic ointment or liquid bandage, tweezers, scissors, and more. Don’t forget the treats!
After assembling the right tools for coat care, keep them handy. If you find something that works well for you, have a spare on hand (great idea to keep a comb in the car, to take care of the worst of the tangles or prickles before you get home).
A well-groomed dog is a happy dog; after all, he gets petted a lot.