Whatever type of dog you own whether they’re a pedigree or a cross-breed made up of all manner of breeds you've had fun identifying, we all want our dogs to look and feel at their very best. A cold wet nose, bright eyes combined with a wagging tail and glistening coat are some of the telltale signs of a happy, healthy dog.
Some breeds clearly require more attention in this department than others, but most potential dog owners will have taken into consideration the practicalities of a long-haired or double coated dog before buying.
In this feature, K9 Magazine brings you expert advice on how to get your dog into show-stopping condition.
Some Dog Grooming Basics:
If you are the proud owner of a Shih Tzu or any other breed of a long haired dog then a twice weekly combing of the coat is essential. Anything less will sooner or later result in your dog developing problems such as matting, which can lead to problems called hot-spots or even insect infestations.
Any extensive matting which leads to felting of the fur may require shaving off. This must be done with great care, as the dog will probably be in discomfort already, maybe hiring a professional would be a wise choice. Breeds of dog which are prone to matting include St Bernard’s, Maltese, Pomeranian, Yorkshire Terrier, Collie and other similar breeds.
Double coated dogs require a similar or larger amount of attention for the benefit of the household as well as the dog. Hair balls commonly develop on their fur and this can be a nightmare for the house-proud dog owner. It is also an irritation to the dog if he is developing hairballs. The process of malting in this type of dog begins at the haunches and progresses forwards along the body.
Dogs with a soft, silky, short coat such as the Wheaten Terrier will benefit from grooming using a fine tooth comb. This is an effective way to groom but it is also a very good method of flea control. All dog owners will have the need for one of these implements at some point in the dog’s life. It is important to note that even short haired dogs are prone to some tangling around the ears.
Effective grooming can be done at home. The best time to start, as with most owner/dog activities, is when he is still a puppy. This is useful for many reasons. It provides good interaction between you and your dog. Pack dogs groom each other and it comes naturally to any dog to groom itself, however, by grooming him yourself you are promoting subordination on his part, which is always conducive to a good relationship, particularly during puppyhood. The obvious advantage is that your dog will receive a healthy coat and should enjoy the whole experience.
Bathing is another important element of grooming. It is very important though, not to bathe him too frequently as this can dry out a dog’s skin which can lead to skin irritation and could even see the dog shedding fur almost constantly.
Specialist shampoos and gels are available too. They can enhance the condition of a dog’s skin and coat. Don’t rely on a shampoo alone in order for your dog to sport a shiny, glossy coat, as the condition of the dog’s coat is affected mostly by his diet and overall health.
Bathing is also the ideal opportunity to inspect the overall health of your dog’s skin and coat. You can also use the experience to feel the dog for lumps and bumps or any breaks in the dog’s skin.
If your dog receives proper grooming and has a healthy diet, yet has a poor coat, fatty acid supplements in his food might help. Thyroid problems often present themselves by way of a poor, dull coat and may be a possibility if your dog’s diet and grooming is not the cause. Consult your vet if you feel your dog’s condition is inexplicably subdued.
The ears are a spot where fungi can thrive if given half a chance so regular inspections are a must as more serious problems can arise from ear infections.
Dogs get very irritated when the ear is infected and they will often shake the head violently. This can damage blood vessels in the head and may lead to your dog’s ear swelling up – often resulting in the need for a vet to lance the area and your dog being left with a genuine cauliflower ear – not a pretty sight (even on a Boxer!)
Droopy ears are particularly needy of constant attention. Products are available from the vet which can dry out the ear and reduce the risk of any infection occurring or spreading.
Pay special attention to your dog’s paws. Dogs are susceptible to getting debris lodged between their pads which can be extremely painful for them and can lead to other problems such as infection if not addressed immediately.
Trimming of the claws is important if your dog does not have the opportunity to keep them trimmed naturally by walking on concrete, roads etc (chewing their own claws is not an example of a dog keeping them trimmed naturally).
Be warned, unlike ours, the dog’s toenails contain a nerve and a blood supply. So be careful if you are going to trim their paws yourself not to trim back the nail too far, or the dog could experience great pain and blood loss. If this does happen apply a small amount of corn starch to the end of the claw to stop the bleeding and take the dog to the vet. A good idea would be to ask a vet or groomer to trim their claws and watch how it is done. Also ask what equipment they used and where you can purchase it from. The last thing you want is a panicked, bleeding Great Dane running round your kitchen because you purchased a cheap pair of clippers from the supermarket!
Grooming should be an enjoyable experience for both of you provided you have trained him to accept human contact and you are confident that you are not overstretching yourself in terms of grooming skills required – remember, professional dog groomers make a lot of things look easy but that’s down to training and experience. Basic grooming is not only simple, it’s extremely important that you provide it. Grooming offers a great chance for you to bond with dog and the result should be a happier, more handsome hound.
Beyond The Basics
We’ve covered the fundamentals but we all know how much we would love our dogs to glimmer, gleam and sparkle like the dogs we see on the TV at Crufts. Even if you own a dog of origins unknown, there’s no reason at all why they shouldn’t look pretty as a picture. So how do the professionals achieve THAT jaw-dropping, fantastic appearance of dog primed for the show ring? Well we went out and asked a couple of top groomers to reveal their secrets and here’s what they had to say….
Barb Hoover is a professional dog groomer of 20 years experience. She owns Professional Pet Grooming in Leavenworth, Kansas USA. As a member of the National Dog Groomers Association of America, she is certified in the Terrier and Non-Sporting groups. Barb shares her house with 2 German Shepherd Dogs, a Long Hair Chihuahua, and 4 cats.
1) What are the basic principles for attaining the three main attributes associated with a happy, healthy dog – i.e. wet nose, wagging tail and a shiny coat?
BH: A good healthy diet is the basis for a happy healthy dog. It’s the same for people. The pretty faces we see on television and magazines aren’t living on fast food and Mars bars all day long! They often keep diets consisting of healthy foods and watch the chemical additives and artificial ingredients they consume. You don’t very often see people who are ‘groomed’ for showbiz with dull hair, poor skin and without a healthy glow and that’s because they are usually very professional and approach their own health and grooming needs in a holistic fashion. In my opinion everything comes from the diet which can be built upon by extra touches here and there such as supplements, good brushing and general physical maintenance. If the diet is not sound, no extra amount of effort will make up for it and a dog will NEVER look like a million dollars!
2) When we see highly primed show dogs, it’s always amazing how their coats really seem to glisten, almost like glass. This doesn’t happen by accident so what are some of the methods to achieving that show stopping coat?
BH: There are many products to enhance a good coat but a healthy coat begins on the inside. From there, proper maintenance is a must. Ideally dogs need to be brushed and combed daily. Removing matts or tangles damages the coat causing breakage and split ends. The damaged hair will also tangle even faster causing a very frustrating cycle. In other words, if you only brush the coat when it gets to the stage that it needs it there and then, you will only be curing a problem over and over rather than establishing a great coat.
3) Are there any hidden tips and tricks that you’ve come across that can make a dog look great? In other words things that you have picked up in your profession that you wished you’d known earlier in your grooming career?
BH: There are wonderful products out there to enhance different types of coats. There are shampoos to help with texture, others to leave them soft and silky. Life sometimes gets in the way for even the best pet owners and matts and tangles can happen. The grooming industry has developed many products to ease out tangles with less damage than before. Each coat type requires different methods, so consulting with a professional is always the best way to go. If you can find out what the professionals use, you’re half way there to knowing which are the best products you can purchase for your own dog.
4) What about the dog’s lifestyle. Does that have an affect on their appearance? For example where the dog sleeps, how long it sleeps for, how much exercise the dog receives? These are all issues that affect people’s appearance; do they apply as much to dogs?
BH: Yes it does. If you want a long coated dog in full coat to the ground, you won’t want him hiking in the woods with you. Therefore you’d need to create an exercise area free of burrs, sticks, dead leaves, anything that can tangle in the coat. Many owners find it easier to have the dog trimmed in a shorter pet style trim.
For their health, which should always come before beauty, exercise is a must. It can’t be ignored just to save coat. A short haired dog who is overweight will also not have as nice of an appearance as a fit dog. Again, proper diet and exercise is the absolute key.
5) Do you have any dietary tips that will aid the dog’s appearance? We hear that supplements such as linseed oil can really help a dog’s coat. Are there any other dietary issues to consider?
BH: Like people, individual dogs have individual needs. While one dog may do wonderfully on Brand A, another just doesn’t do well on it. Corn and beef are common allergens for many dogs. Personally I try to choose a dog food without those ingredients. I also look for a food without a lot of additives and artificial flavours and preservatives.
6) Do you have any advice when it comes to actually selecting a dog groomer or even particular grooming products? Are there certain things to watch for and certain things to avoid?
BH: Personal referrals are a great place to start. If you see a well groomed dog, ask the owner who groomed him. Also talk to your Vet. They see a lot of dogs and should be familiar with local groomers. Call and make an appointment to visit the groomer first. Please call first. Many groomers work on a tight time schedule. You need to make sure you and they have time to discuss your dog, your trim style preferences, scheduling, etc. People coming in unexpectedly can also upset certain animals. Bring your dog with you and see how they interact. Also, really look around. Is the salon clean? Is there a strong odour? Is the groomer clean and professional looking? Ask them about their experience and training. Do they keep themselves updated on new techniques and equipment? Do they have any pictures of their work?
7) As a professional, what are some of the most common mistakes you see with people’s pets when it comes to the way they look? i.e bad hair cuts, lack of proper brushing, poor conditioning etc.
BH: Improper coat care and self medicating skin issues are at the top of the list. Puppies need to be trained to allow grooming early on. Owners need to learn how to train and to properly brush AND comb the coats. Many owners spend a lot of time grooming only to find they have only been brushing the top layer of coat. The poor dog is a solid pelt of matted fur at the skin. Any groomer would be more than happy to give a quick lesson if asked. Most dogs must have maintenance done on the coats in between professional groomings. If the owner is unable to do this or doesn’t have the time, it needs to be arranged with a groomer. Many dogs come in for only bathing, brushing and tidying up between hair cuts.
Skin issues are also a concern. Most of them come from the inside and need to be treated as such. Topical products like shampoos usually only give a temporary fix or are often not used correctly. A medicated shampoo only given every 6 weeks by the groomer will not cure or even help the skin problem. That would be like having an infection and only taking your antibiotic once every 6 weeks!
8) What about maintenance? If someone wanted to own a dog that looked great all the time, how much maintenance would be required? Are great looking dogs a bit like professional athletes where they need to be primed for a certain show on a certain date or are they kept in top condition all of the time?
BH: That would depend on the breed and the chosen trim style. It is a must to get a breed and a style that works with your lifestyle. If you spend your days rambling in muddy fields or hiking in the woods with your dog, you probably wouldn’t want your Afghan hound in full show coat to accompany you, unless you enjoy winding down with a 5 hour grooming sessions each time!
9) What’s popular at the moment in terms of supplements, products, grooming techniques, clothing, apparel etc?
BH: All natural products are very popular right now. We are starting to understand the effects of the chemicals we are putting into ourselves and our pets. Rather than recommend a particular product, I would advise all owners to simply take the time to look and learn what EXACTLY it is they are putting into and on their pets. Be aware of diet. Be aware of the shampoos you use. Be aware of the benefits (and drawbacks) of certain supplements. Speak to groomers, speak to vets and speak to product manufacturers.
Pat Curry has over 10 years grooming experience, here are some of the tips Pat has picked up over the past decade of her professional dog grooming career:
Undercoat rakes help to keep coats thinned and rid of all excess fluffy undercoat, thereby leaving a healthy top coat and letting the skin breathe.
It may sound obvious but happy dogs are always healthier dogs and therefore companionship and plenty of social interaction and making the dog feel happy on the inside will contribute enormously to the way they look on the outside.
Some of the most common mistakes I come across when grooming people’s dogs are usually down to a lack of proper brushing, incorrect grooming tools used, invariably only brushing the surface of the coat and allowing the undercoat to become matted and dull. Invest in the right equipment for your dog, not necessarily the most expensive just the most appropriate tools. You may want to speak with a professional dog groomer and ask for their advice on what grooming products you should be using on your particular dog.
A good hydro shower and brushing when using a turbo dryer stimulates the dog’s skin and hair follicles almost like a massage resulting in a lovely shiny coat. Herbal and Tee Tree shampoos and condition firming sprays are also very popular as they not only make a dog look good; they make them smell good too.
For obvious reasons it is important to groom your dog on a regular basis NOT just when It becomes physically apparent that they NEED grooming right away!
When you do groom you can also use the opportunity to check for any skin problems evident or lumps and bumps when you handle your dog. Also check ears and eyes and clean them if necessary.
Bodies Need Rest (especially dog’s bodies)
An area where many owners don’t pay much attention is their dog’s sleep patterns and sleeping arrangements. Imagine if you were subjected to odd or random sleep periods, you’d feel truly awful but for many dogs they either sleep too much or at irregular periods and this can cause a variety of problems. Simply being aware of your dog’s sleep requirements will help to ensure you afford them the opportunity to get into a solid routine – even if your own home life or family working hours are erratic.
Studies of animals at sleep laboratories have shown their sleep is divided into stages:
Stage 1. Dosing. The lightest form of canine snoozing.
Stage 2. Scientists believe this is when the brain uses electrical activity to ensure the dog stays asleep. Older dogs for example do not show the same level of activity in stage 2 sleep and as a result many owners report their elderly dogs wake up a lot during the night.
Stage 3. The dog starts to sleep soundly and the body stops moving.
Stage 4. Deep sleep, REM sleep, here a lot of muscle motion is accompanied by rapid eye movement as they dart back and forth under closed eye lids.
Unlike humans, dogs become fully conscious between sleep episodes and are able to go from deep sleep into jumping up and being fully awake within a split second. As anyone who has ever called out “walkies” to a sleeping dog will know, they can be wide awake a thousand times quicker than us mere homo sapiens! A dog that has not enjoyed enough REM sleep can become over reactive to quite mundane things and can generally feel under charged, as if their batteries are constantly trying to get back to full power.
A dog needs its own resting “space” and, as much as possible, a sound routine where they know they will be allowed to sleep without being woken every other hour by any number of outside noises which you may not even know about. If your dog sleeps in your bedroom do you know if you are a ‘noisy’ sleeper? It may sound silly, but to a dog your midnight rambling may sound like you are calling out to them for help and they could spend half the night in a state of semi-readiness to come to your aid!
You get a fantastic 9 hour’s slumber whilst your poor pal has been sleeping with one eye open all night worrying about you! Sleep; simply be aware of it and your dog’s need to be afforded the chance to establish a routine – especially true in convalescing dogs.