Does your dog do a spot-on impersonation of a Tasmanian devil as soon as the brush comes out? Does the idea of clipping your dog’s nails give you chills? Whether it’s to save money or for the convenience, you’ve decided to groom your dog yourself. Or, at least, that’s the plan!
The following are some easy steps to follow to ensure a calm, safe grooming session:
As a general rule, it’s easier to work with a dog from a lateral position, rather than face-to-face, which is pretty confrontational in “dog society”. Positioning yourself at your dog’s side, or at a 90 degree angle from her is less threatening, with the added advantage of decreasing the likelihood of getting your face nipped should your dog lunge.
Brushing those luscious locks
There are myriad types of brushes for animal grooming, below are the five most commonly used brushes:
1. Bristle brush: rather than having individual pins, it is comprised of man-made or natural fibres. These brushes tend to be good for habituating your dog to being brushed, or for extra short-haired dogs, such as greyhounds. For any sort of undercoat, this type of brush is pretty useless.
2. Slicker brush: this type of brush has very narrow pins, clustered quite closely on the brush. It is effective for a thick or woolly undercoat, but I find them to be rather harsh on the skin. They tend to pull and scratch the skin. I don’t recommend this type of brush for home use.
3. Regular brush: this type of brush has small plastic tips at the end of each pin. This type of brush is much more gentle than the slicker brush, but still effective for taking out knots. This brush has little deshedding capacity, but is effective for long coats that don’t have much undercoat to remove.
4. Deshedding comb: This type of brush has pointed teeth, rather than pins, spaced very closely together, and is likely the most effective deshedding tool, especially for short-medium coats with a dense undercoat. Where this brush falls short is on long-haired dogs, as it tends to rip the coat. It’ll decrease shedding quite visibly, but at the same time, there is the distinct possibility that you may over-brush and inadvertently cause the coat to become too sparse.
5. Undercoat brush: this type of brush resembles a comb, but has special, round tipped teeth that work to remove the undercoat gently yet effectively, without ripping it. This type of brush is good for all fur types, but is less effective on silky or thin-haired coats.
Whichever type of brush you use, if your dog doesn’t like being brushed, start by having a special tasty treat to distract him. It should last long enough, that you can go through the whole grooming process before he finishes it. Especially if you are reconditioning a dog with a past of hating being groomed, distraction is key! Hold the treat in one hand, and the brush in the other, so Fido doesn’t decide to make a run for it, loot in hand (ehm… mouth!). Distraction is also great for training a puppy or squirmy, playful dog to be still while you groom him.
Use the back of the brush for now, you won’t actually be doing any grooming at the beginning, and run it down Fluffy’s back, as though you were actually brushing her. For now, she must get used to the invasion of her personal space. If even this proves to be too much for her, start even smaller, just touch her with the brush, progress to strokes as she calms down. Start along the back, then the flanks and rib cage, followed by the rest of the body. If your dog is uncomfortable even being touched or petted, consult a professional trainer to help with these issues, as they go beyond the objective of this piece.
Important note: there are certain signals that can tip you off to an imminent bite or snap: lip-licking, stiff posture and averted gaze (you can see the whites of the dog’s eyes) are all behaviours that precede more evident signals, such as growling, teeth-baring, lunging, snapping and biting. Don’t allow the situation to degenerate to any of the latter. If you notice any of the subtle signals described above, take a step back in your training; while a little lip-licking is to be expected when your dog’s personal space is invaded, his body should still be relaxed, with “soft” eyes.
If you notice that there are specific places where Pooch doesn’t like to be touched, figure out if the problem may be of a physical nature, rather than a behavioural one. He may be experiencing pain upon being touched. This pain may originate from below the skin’s surface, too, so don’t assume that because there is no lesion or bruising, that he’s pain-free. As a rule, dogs don’t especially like to be touched around their “private parts”, paws and face. These areas may need more desensitizing than the rest of the body.
Move on to actually touching the teeth or pins to Rover’s coat, nice and lightly, making sure you aren’t causing any discomfort. From here, you just progress to more and more pressure, until you can completely brush your dog from head to tail. Keep the amount of pressure in check, watch to see if you are causing any discomfort by grooming her too vigorously.
Brushing a tired dog is easier than one who is full of energy, so whip out the brush after exercise. For dogs that are having a really hard time keeping still without losing it, consider grooming in two or three sessions.
Keep those pearly whites sparkling
Fortunately, keeping your dog’s teeth sparkling is a much easier affair than it is keeping your own in the same condition!
Unfortunately, many oral hygiene water additives on the market may be toxic for dogs, and there have been no studies demonstrating the efficacy of kibble labeled as having teeth-cleaning properties. There are toothbrushes and toothpastes for dogs, but the former is awkward to use, while the latter doesn’t actually carry any sort of hygienic benefit.
The easiest (and cheapest) way to effectively clean your dog’s teeth is by taking an old sport sock, turning it inside-out, slipping it on your hand and just wiping your dog’s teeth with it. It takes no time at all and isn’t painful (unless there is something wrong with your dog’s dentition, like a sore, ulcer or abscess).
Cleaning your dog’s teeth a couple of times a week should be enough to ward off plaque and tartar. If excessive tartar buildup is already present, you will need to take your dog to the vet for professional teeth cleaning, tartar is very hard to remove, and can cause quite a few nasty problems if left to accumulate.
If your dog won’t let you near his mouth, and it’s more than just simple fussing, please consult a professional.
Clipping your dog’s nails is probably the most difficult handling procedure to execute. Dogs already don’t like having their paws fussed with too much, the clippers make a noise when they clip and it’s only too easy to accidentally cut a nail to the quick (the very sensitive soft tissue within the nail).
Start by simply handling your dog’s paws, one at a time. Just hold them up for a few seconds. Use food as a distraction if necessary. When your dog is accepting of you picking up and holding her paws, start to play with them a little. Gently separate each digit and pull the hair back from the nail. Do not make this into a fight if she tries to take her paw away. Just take it slow and employ the almighty distraction (peanut butter or cheese in a kong toy… Yum!)
Once your dog is okay with this sort of manipulation of her paws, bring out the clippers and simulate clipping her nails, but only hold the clippers near her nails, don’t actually clip. Move on to actually clipping a nail. Start with a very small bit off the end of the nail, so you’re sure you aren’t cracking it or cutting the quick.
If you don’t know how much to cut, just take your dog to a professional groomer. Cutting to the quick is very painful, and may cause your dog to be hesitant about letting you touch her paws. Better yet, give your dog a lot of exercise on hard surfaces, such as pavement, so she’ll be able to keep them nice and short naturally. You’ll only have to cut her spurs (her thumbs) once in a while.
Good luck, and happy grooming.