Dog Grooming Tips & Tools
Author: Diana Andersen, Animalinfo Publications
Why do you need to groom your dog?
There are many reasons why you should groom your dog. First, it stimulates the production of oil in the dog’s coat, keeping it shiny and helping to prevent it from becoming dry and brittle. These oils are also beneficial for skin health and provide a water-proofing function.
Most dogs also enjoy it, and it forms an integral part of bonding with your dog, reassuring its sense of belonging to your pack. It is also a great way to help monitor your dog’s health – brushing and stroking will help you notice any lumps and bumps, grass seeds, rashes, and wounds that may need attention. Another great advantage to grooming is that the more hair you remove through brushing outside, the less hair you have to contend with on your clothing, floor, and furniture.
Finally, grooming is essential when dogs shed their coats during a moult. If the shedding is allowed to progress at its own pace, taking several weeks, large drifts of hair can rapidly accumulate in the house. Brushing can remove the dead hair far more quickly, and the sooner it is gone, the sooner your dog will be back to looking its best.
How do you groom your dog?
Although most dogs seem to enjoy grooming, it can be a little more demanding for those likely to get knots and tangles or require clipping and scissoring. Make sure you practice positive reinforcement principles right from when your dog is a puppy, or grooming may end up turning into a bit of a struggle of wills. If you take it slowly, step by step, and offer lots of encouragement and rewards, you should both get a lot of pleasure out of the process.
Make sure you are also both in a comfortable position for grooming. Comfortable means having your dog at a height where you are not bending or reaching uncomfortably, perhaps on a bench or table, and provide your dog with a non-slip surface (maybe a mat) so they can be sure of their footing.
Standard poodle being groomed.
For most coats, you should brush in the direction of the hair, beginning with the head, shoulders, and neck, working down the body to the legs and the tail. With long coarse coats that have a soft short undercoat and short rough Terrier coats, brush the undercoat against the grain to help lift and fluff the fur before brushing the topcoat with the direction of the hair.
It is best to divide the coat into sections and brush from the skin out with long coats. Some groomers use rubber bands and clips to hold batches of hair out of the way while they complete another area, helping them make sure that each section is free of tangles.
Dog grooming for long-coated dogs.
Long-haired dogs, particularly those that have constantly growing coats that do not moult out, such as Poodles, need more than just brushing and combing to keep them healthy. Some will need clipping to keep their coats in check. Without regular attention, vision may become impaired (hair growing long over eyes), grass-seeds may get caught between toes and possibly pierce the skin, causing abscesses, faeces may mat the hair causing health and hygiene problems. A dog may even drown while swimming when an excessively long coat gets wet in extreme cases.
If your dog has some severe mats, the only solution may be to cut them out. However, in some cases, it may be safer to enlist the help of a vet or professional groomer to remove severe mats to avoid accidentally cutting the skin. You can tease out smaller matted areas with slicker brushes or mat breakers, but this can sometimes be time-consuming and uncomfortable for the dog.
In the long run, you may save yourself more time by dedicating a short time each day, or at least several times a week, to grooming a long-haired dog. In addition, tangle-free sprays may make removing mats easier.
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Shih Tzu groomed in show condition.
Shih Tzu groomed in a pet clip.
Dog Grooming Tools
There are many grooming tools on the market, and it can be a little confusing, so here is an explanation for the uses of some of the most common ones:
Bristle Brushes – These brushes are general-purpose brushes suitable for most coat types. They are generally available in soft, medium, and firm, with short or long bristles that can be closely or widely spaced. Soft to medium brushes are suitable for soft coats, with short, closely spaced bristles for the soft, short coats. Wider spaced, longer bristles are better for the long soft coats. Use firmer bristle brushes for wire coats, such as Terrier coats, and long coats with coarse outer coats, such as Collies and Old English Sheepdogs. Again, short, closely spaced bristles are suitable for the shorter coats and longer, widely spaced bristles are used for the longer coats.
Wire Pin Brushes – Most often used for medium to long fine or coarse coats. They help remove dead undercoats, particularly when moulting.
Combs – Generally used after brushing to remove dead and loose hair. Many have wider pins at one end and closer pins at the other. Always begin by using the broader end of the comb to avoid pulling out hair if you hit a tangle that hasn’t been removed by brushing.
Slicker Brushes – These have short fine metal teeth helpful in teasing out mats in medium to long coats. The idea is to break up matted hair that involves the outer coat first before tackling mats close to the undercoat’s skin.
Mat Breakers, De-matting Combs, Stripping Combs or Knives, and Coat Rakes
These may have replaceable blades designed to help break up hair mats so you can remove them more easily. In addition, you can use them to thin the coats of some wire-haired breeds, such as the Airedale Terrier, and dogs that have their body haired thinned along their backs for the show ring, such as Schnauzers and West Highland White Terriers. It is best to have these demonstrated by an experienced groomer as removing hair mats and stripping the coat can cause damage to the coat hair and be painful to the dog if not done correctly. You can use undercoat rakes to penetrate the outer coat without damage to remove dead hair from the undercoat.
Rubber Brushes and Grooming Mitts
These brushes do not have bristles but have raised rubber nodules instead. They are most suited to very smooth-coated dogs and are effective at grabbing dead hair and removing it from the coat. Some owners use them on wet dogs to remove the dead hair loosened during their bath. The mitts are excellent if your dog is nervous about brushes, as it is a more subtle transition from stroking to brushing.
Scissors and Clippers
Like professional hairdressers, people who groom dogs professionally generally use expensive, top quality scissors and clippers to cut and shape the coat to an even finish without damage. If your dog requires regular clipping, you might want to invest in good equipment and learn to clip and trim properly. There are videos and books available to help you learn. If less frequent clipping is required, it may be better to leave it to a professional. Shaving is not recommended for most breeds as it removes the undercoat, which many dog breeds rely on for insulation. It also exposes the dog’s skin to sunburn.
Some of the grooming tools to use for maintaining your dog’s coat.