posted: 05/15/12
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Grooming is an important part of a dog's health care.
Grooming Topics
1. Nails, Ears, Eyes and Teeth
2. Coat Care
3. Bathing and Professional Grooming

Do it early and often. Most dogs are not thrilled to be brushed, trimmed and bathed, but the best way to get a dog used to the necessary act of grooming is to begin early and to get that brush or nail clipper out on a regular basis. If you're adopting an older dog who has rarely been groomed, you may have more of a struggle on your hands, but patience and time will win out.

Grooming is an important part of a dog's health care. Nails that are too long can shift a dog's posture and create structural problems down the line and teeth that have never seen a brush can be lost. Not to mentioned that a matted, unruly coat is just not attractive and if a dog's coat becomes too tangled a shaving might be the answer.

Professional grooming is always an option, but it is still important that the dog owner be able to take care of at least minor grooming problems without ending up in a wrestling match with their dog.


Clippers come in many sizes and shapes; the most important thing is to look for a tool that you can handle easily. Choose from a scissors-like clipper or a guillotine-style clipper. Another alternative is an electric nail grinder, which is expensive but less likely to cut the sensitive vein (the quick) inside the nail.

Trim a bit of nail at a time to avoid cutting into the quick. Watch your vet or groomer cut the nails the first time so you can see how it's done before attempting it yourself.


A gentle swabbing with a cotton ball dipped in mineral or baby oil, or a vet-approved ear-cleaning solution, keeps your dog's outer ear clean and dry. Dogs with floppy ears, such as a Great Dane, will need more frequent ear cleanings than their counterparts with upright ears because air doesn't circulate as freely; waxy and bacteria-laden debris tends to build up in the moist atmosphere under the flaps. Ear swabbing is doubly important if your floppy-eared-dog loves to go in water.


Dirt easily gets trapped near and in the eyes of dogs with wrinkled faces or droopy lids, such as a bulldog, but any dog will need its eyes cleaned on occasion. Use a soft cloth dipped in warm water to gently clean the lids and around the eyes.

A great smile begins with healthy teeth and gums. Brush your dog's teeth using a gentle-bristled brush and toothpaste intended for dogs. You might have to use your finger wrapped in gauze or a small finger brush if he puts up too much of a fight. A brushing every few days should keep his mouth clear of tartar and bacteria buildup, although a daily brushing is even better.

Dogs aren't much different than humans when it comes to dental care. They need good tooth and gum cleaning, too, to ward off dental problems and gum disease. Plaque and tartar buildup and periodontal disease can even usher in heart, kidney and other problems. Watch for warning signs: red, bleeding or receding gums, and persistent bad breath.

  • Ideally, dogs should have their teeth brushed daily, but at least twice a week may be more realistic.
  • Brushing less often than every two to three days is ineffective, as this is how long it takes for plaque to harden.
  • Make sure your pet is used to a dog toothbrush before you try to brush his teeth for the first time. If he seems nervous or uncomfortable with a toothbrush in his mouth, slowly desensitize him by rubbing your finger gently against his gums for a few minutes every day until he accepts this calmly.
  • Praise him after each session. If he still rejects the brush, try doing the job with your fingers wrapped in gauze, or use a finger brush.
  • Never use your own toothpaste for your dog. Use a special canine toothpaste supplied by your vet or available in pet-supply stores.
  • If your dog won't let you use a toothbrush or your finger, look into a tartar-combating oral spray.
  • Also, ask your vet to prescribe a diet for your dog that helps reduce tartar buildup.
  • Ensure that he gets a yearly dental exam at the vet.
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It's important to learn how to care for your dog's specific type of coat.
  • The wire-pin brush is designed for breeds with medium to long or curly hair.
  • Bristle brushes are used for any coat length. Long, widely spaced bristles are for long hair; short, closely space bristles are for short hair. Softer bristles are best for silky hair, and stiffer bristles for coarse hair.
  • Remove mats and large amounts of dead hair with a slicker brush.
  • Rubber currycombs or mitts are ideal for brushing short, smooth coats.
  • After brushing, use a fine-tooth comb for short or silky hair, or a wide-tooth comb for coarse hair.
  • The rake is used to detangle and remove mats, as well as to pull off large amounts of hair during the shedding season.
  • The mat splitter cuts out tangles.

For a dog with a double coat, first brush against the direction of hair growth to make sure you're getting the woolly undercoat, which has a tendency to mat. Finish off by brushing the outercoat in the direction that the hair naturally falls.

The short, smooth coat of breeds such as the Great Dane, Doberman and boxer are easy to brush. A regular brushing with this rubber currycomb is about all a Great Dane needs to keep a healthy sheen. You can also perform a damp-cloth brushing, which picks up both excess hair and dirt.

A curly coat, such as that of the standard poodle, needs a lot of shaping and care. Dead hair can mat it down, so be sure to remove the old to make room for the new. A professional groomer is your best ally to help keep this type of coat clean, clipped and healthy.

Removing Mats or Burrs

Knots, tangles and burrs are par for the course during outdoor romps, especially those off the beaten path. Mats that pull on the skin and become even tighter when wet can form when a dog licks or scratches himself. To remedy the problem, use a special tool, the mat splitter, to cut off matted and tangled clumps of fur and to remove burrs wedged into the undercoat. To avoid nicking the skin, only cut out a mat with scissors if you can slide a comb between the mat and the skin; then carefully cut over the comb. Otherwise, seek the help of a professional groomer.

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Some dogs love it and some hate it. Either way, bathing your dog is a necessary task.
D.E. Hansen/Associated Press

Start your dog off early in the tub, train him to allow himself to be bathed, and reward him continuously while washing him, but remember that he, like most dogs, will probably be keeping an eye open for a way out.

  • Before you start the washing, brush your dog thoroughly and remove any mats.
  • Use vet-prescribed ophthalmic mineral oil or a drop of eye ointment to protect his eyes, and cotton balls to gently plug his ears.
  • Be prepared for the occasional wet shake-off during the bath, and dress accordingly.
  • In warm weather, outside bathing will keep your bathroom floor from being soaked.
  • Fill the tub or wash basin with warm water before you corral Spot. The water should reach to just past his hocks. (Or, for outside bathing, you can simply use a hose.)
  • Using a sponge, lather him up using a dog shampoo that has been approved by your vet. If your dog has a specific problem, such as an extra oily coat, you may need to use a medicated shampoo, available through your veterinarian.
  • Work the shampoo into his fur from head to tail, paying special attention to known flea hangout spots such as the neck and in between the toes. Keep the warm, soapy water away from his mouth.
  • If you know how, and if your vet has given you the go-ahead, you can empty the anal sacs at this point.
  • Rinse him off, then shampoo him again. Be sure to completely rinse his coat of any residue.
  • Towel him dry.

Don't bathe him more than once every month or two, depending on the coat type. Bathing too often can lead to a dry, brittle coat and scaly, flaky skin. If your dog runs into a skunk, there are odor-removal products on the market, available at pet-supply stores, intended to get rid of the eye-tearingly strong odor, but you may still be left with the lingering scent for a few weeks.

Not sure about trimming your dog's nails, bathing him or untangling the mess he's made of his fur? A professional dog groomer and a little salon pampering may be just the solution. Also, if you have a breed that requires clipping or stripping, you can expect regular visits to the groomer.

Your vet can recommend a reputable groomer, or ask other dog owners. Look for one who is certified by an organization, such as the International Professional Groomers, and who specializes in dog care. It's important that the groomer use methods other than tranquilizers for subduing a nervous pooch. (Drugs might not be the best bet for older dogs or those in poor health, and in any case, should only be given by a veterinarian.)

Some groomers empty the anal sacs, glandular structures inside the dog's anus that fill up with a smelly liquid. Normally these sacs empty by themselves when your dog passes a stool. Expressing them, if not done properly, can cause problems. Discuss this with your veterinarian before allowing your groomer to carry out this procedure. You may decide to have the vet do this only when it is necessary.

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