The Grooming Game

A beautiful and healthy coat begins with the basics.

Just like us, dogs require good hygiene habits-combing, bathing, conditioning, nail trimming and teeth brushing. Plus, grooming your dog can be a bonding experience. In the wild, wolves groom each other in the pack, creating an almost social atmosphere. By bathing and brushing your dog, you continue this instinctual ritual. 

Start Early
Experts say its never too early to start grooming your dog. You want to socialize them to grooming, says Peggy Harris, national certified master groomer, owner of the ABC & D Pet Salon in Columbus, Georgia, and member of the National Dog Groomers Association of America (NDGAA).

Too many owners wait a long time before bathing and grooming their new dog. But Nancy Han of Albany, California, a national certified master groomer, says she’s even bathed 5-week-old pups with great success. Its really important for puppies because they get used to being handled. 

Baby Steps First
First, begin with basic obedience skills. Enroll in a puppy kindergarten class to socialize and introduce your dog to good behavior, and start teaching the basics: sit, lie down, stand and stay. Obedience will help when it comes time for the soap and water, and also makes it easier for future grooming sessions done by a professional, experts say. Its the best thing you can do for yourself and your puppy, Harris says. The obedient dogs are the best dogs in the bathtub.

Introduce grooming by touching the puppys feet, gently peeling back its ears, lightly wiping its face with a soft towel, lifting its lips, running your hands down its back and picking up its tail. This is also good preparation for a lifetime of vet visits and regular health checks.

Get your pup acquainted with the tub or sink before you fill it with water. Line the area with a non-slip pad or towel so your puppy won’t slip around and get scared.

Above all else, make grooming a positive experience. Praise your puppy with treats and words when it stands in the tub or holds still while you play with its paws. Make sure it knows from the start that grooming time is fun. 

Tools of the Trade
With all the products on the market today, how do you know which ones to buy? Brushes by the buckets, shampoo by the semiits all so confusing. Can’t you just use some of your own shampoo and an old hairbrush? What about dish soap? It got the grease off your casserole dish last night, so it should work on Fidos grass stains. Right? Oh, so wrong.

Products designed for people (or plates) do not belong on your puppy. The vast amounts of dog-grooming products can seem daunting, but it only takes a few minutes to locate the best ones for your particular dog. When in doubt, ask a groomer for recommendations. Groomers are knowledgeable about the grooming techniques for each breed, Harris says.

Most dog shampoos and brushes are designed to work with certain breeds, types and coats. For example, there are whitening shampoos to help brighten snowy coats, conditioning rinses for longer hair, shedding blades (Medieval-looking metal tools that gently remove loose hair in dense-coated dogs), and mat combs or mat breakers to help unknot tangles. Its not just the old standby brush and comb, Harris says.

Some Tools You May Need:
Stripping knife:A comb-like tool used for removing loose topcoat hair. Often used for terriers.

Mat splitter:Looks like a letter opener, but its designed to cut through knots.

Slicker brush:A soft pad houses fine, metal bristles that help remove dead hair and mats. They come in a variety of sizes and stiffness, and are good for most dog breeds except those with extremely short hair.

Grooming glove:A gardening-type glove with rubber nubbies on the palm, ideal for removing loose hair and massaging the skin, especially on shorthaired breeds.

Pin brush:It looks like a regular human hairbrush, with stainless-steel, ball-tipped pins. Good for brushing medium to longhaired dogs.

Flea comb:A metal, fine-toothed tool used to capture and remove fleas.

Purchase a tearless puppy shampoo.Don’t be tempted to use human shampoos, including those designed for babies. These shampoos can lead to skin irritation and problems.

Prep for Primping
Before you turn on the tap, its important to give your puppy a thorough brushing. Brushing should be a daily procedure, especially before bath time. During this time, check your pups skin for cuts, abrasions, lumps or bumps. Water will cause mats to tighten up, forming a painful mess close to the skin, so its best to deal with mats and tangles before wetting the fur.

Wipe the pups face with a moist, warm washcloth and examine its eyes for any unusual discharge. Wipe out the inside flap of the ears. If you notice any odor or discharge, contact your veterinarian. Avoid going too deep or getting water inside the ears.

Nail clipping is often best left to the grooming professional, but white-nailed dogs are sometimes easier to trim because the quick (vein inside the nail) is more visible.

First, buy a good nail trimmer. Ask your groomer for a recommendation. With your dog lying down in front of you, slide the opening of the nail trimmer over the tip of the nail and squeeze. Don’t go too far up the nail; if you cut the quick (pink part), it will bleed and hurt your dog. If this happens, press a bit of styptic powder (an anticoagulant available at pet-supply stores) against the nail until the bleeding stops.

If you’re uncomfortable, have your groomer or vet perform this task. You can also buff down rough edges with a file designed for acrylic nails.

Ready, Set, Get Wet
The pooch-prepping is complete and now its time to get wet. If the dog is wiggly or scared, hold it close to your body, Han says. Never yell or force your dog into a frightening situation. Your pup will soon learn that bath time can be fun time, as long as you provide comforting treats, warm water and TLC. Its really not that different than you’d do for a human baby, Han says.

Han urges owners to groom with confidence. This ensures calmness and trust, and helps the pup understand that you’re fully in charge. The less confident the person is, the more squirmy the puppy is going to be, Han says.

Pour a small amount of shampoo into your hands, mixing in water to dilute it. Work up a healthy lather from back to front, starting with the hind legs and rear end, then moving up the chest, back, belly and head. Keep soap and streams of water off the face.

Rinse efficiently and thoroughly, then rinse again. Use a large cup or shower attachment to make this task easier and less traumatic. When you think you’ve rinsed enough, rinse again, Han says. Even a little bit of leftover soap can irritate the skin and dull the coat.

A cream rinse, conditioner or detangler should be used on longhaired breeds. Harris suggests concentrating these products on the hair, not the skin. But don’t rely on conditioners to get rid of existing tangles. This is why the pre-bath brush is so vital.

To dry, wrap the puppy in a soft towel and rub gently. A constantly moving blow-dryer set on cool or warm can also be used. Give your pup another good brushing, and you’ll have a good-smelling bundle of furry love.

Smile Pretty
After the bath, you’re almost done. The next step is brushing your pups teeth. The sooner you start this procedure with your puppy, the easier it will become part of its routine. To start, get it used to the feel of your fingers in its mouth and touching the gums. After doing this a few times, wrap a piece of gauze around your fingers and massage its teeth and gum line. It doesn’t matter if it only has baby teethits the habit were working on. Over time, work up to a toothbrush with a meat-flavored toothpaste, made specifically for dogs. Never use human toothpaste for your dog.

Now, you’ve got a clean puppy, sparkling from head to toe. And its probably ready for a much-earned nap. In time, the process will take less time and become more streamlined. Grooming your adult dog will be much easier if you start in its puppy years. Dogs do get used to bathing later in life, but its much easier if they have had positive experiences early on.

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