Brushing and Bathing – The Basics
In this blog we look at grooming and bathing, how to get your dog or puppy used to grooming, what you should be doing as part of your regular routine, how to bath your dog, and basic care requirements for the main coat types.
How do I get my dog used to grooming?
Grooming and nail clipping can be a worrying and strange experience for dogs, so it is important to get them used to it as early as possible. This is best done when they are a puppy but getting an adult dog used to grooming requires the same steps, you just may have to go a little slower with them. Always start by just getting them used to being touched all over. This is commonly called “touch and treat” (explained below).
Touch and treat: This is a method that can be used and adapted to help your dog get used to all kinds of touch, handling and grooming (and can help with vet visits!). You start by touching your dog in a place they are comfortable with and then immediately rewarding them. You then gradually move towards areas they may be less comfortable with, one touch at a time, rewarding them immediately after each time and stopping as soon as they show signs of discomfort. For example, you could start by touching the shoulder (followed by a treat), and then touch an inch closer to the elbow (followed by a treat), then an inch closer (followed by a treat) and keep doing this until you reach the feet and toes. If at any point they become uncomfortable, stop and give them a break, and when you restart go back to where they were last comfortable. Over time they will learn to associate the sensation of being touched with rewards and positive experiences.
Make sure they are rewarded with treats and praise, keep sessions short and stop as soon as your dog starts to seem uncomfortable (yawning, lip licking, turning away, trying to escape, over salivating etc.). Start off with easier areas like touching the back, chest and shoulders, and as time goes on you can progress to more sensitive areas such as the toes, genital/anal area, ears and mouth. Once they are used to being touched all over, you can repeat the same process to get them used to grooming equipment, starting with just having the equipment nearby, and progressing to touching your dog with the equipment briefly, and then actually using the equipment on your dog (this works for brushes and combs but also nail clippers). You can use the same technique to get your dog used to the bath, hose or bowls of water (whatever you use to bathe your dog), so all aspects of the grooming process have positive associations.
If at any point your dog becomes uncomfortable, just go back a few steps to the last time they were comfortable and start again. If you have done all of this gradually and still struggle with grooming, then you should have a chat with a reputable groomer and see if they can offer an alternative that will not upset your dog.
How often you will need to brush/comb your dog very much depends on the breed. Very short coated breeds like Staffies and Whippets will only need a light brushing every few weeks to remove loose hairs, whereas densely coated breeds like Huskies will need brushing once a week (and probably once a day during spring/summer), and long-haired, double coat or curly-haired breeds may need brushing every day. You should always make sure your dog has been brushed and/or combed before bathing, as often water will make any existing mats tighter and harder to remove. If your dog has a lot of mats, then do not attempt to brush them as it will be too uncomfortable – book them in with a good groomer who can safely cut these mats out.
Smooth coated breeds like Staffies only really need a grooming mitt or rubber grooming brush to get rid of dead hairs. For short coats such as Dalmatians and Beagles, a rubber brush can be used to bring dead hair to the surface, and then a short bristled soft brush can be used to brush the hair away and remove dirt. For long coated breeds or double coated breeds like Bearded Collies or German Shepherds, a slicker brush or wide tooth comb will help remove mats in the topcoat and using a rake brush will remove all of the dead hair and prevent matts close to the skin. For silky coated dogs like Yorkies, a slicker brush followed by a soft bristled brush will remove dead hair and keep the coat shiny and smooth, and for dogs with a curly coat, such as Poodles or Bichon Frises, a soft slicker brush will suffice.
Dogs should only be bathed when necessary (when they have accumulated mud or dirt in their coat and/or they have started to develop an unpleasant odour) – bathing a dog too often will strip their coat of their natural protective oils and can irritate the skin. (Dogs with skin issues may have a special and more frequent grooming regime but this should be laid out by a vet.) Also, do not bathe your dog immediately before or within a week of applying any kind of spot-on treatment (e.g. flea treatment) as bathing will affect the efficacy of the spot-on.
Dogs can be bathed in a bath inside, using an outdoor hose, or an outdoor bath tub. If using a bath tub, make sure to put a non-slip mat both inside the tub and on the floor next to the tub to avoid slips and injury, and to make your dog feel more secure. Do not put the plug in the bath, instead allow the water to run away so the bath does not start to fill, as this could be worrying for your dog. Always use water of a comfortable temperature, and if you have to bathe your dog outside in winter, consider using buckets of warm water rather than a cold hose.
Start by preparing the area and everything you will need. You do not want to have to leave your dog unattended to go and find something you have forgotten, making sure that you have lots of treats and maybe a favourite toy on hand to reward them. The next step is brushing through your dog’s coat to remove all mats, followed by wetting your dog’s hair all the way to the skin. A lot of dogs do not like water on their face, so it is often best to wash the face with a damp flannel instead. Follow this by massaging a sensitive dog shampoo into the coat, starting with areas your dog is most comfortable with (like the chest and shoulders) and gradually moving back and down to the tail, legs and tummy. Make sure to use lots of rewards and praise and stop if your dog becomes uncomfortable. Once your dog has been shampooed you can rinse thoroughly either using a jug/ladle or using a shower attachment on the lowest pressure, (the use of a conditioner is optional but if you wanted to use one you would apply it at this stage) and then towel dry. Make sure to avoid getting any water in the ears or eyes as this can cause infection or irritation and avoid using a blow dryer if at all possible, as these can be both worrying for dogs, and can make them too hot.
If, at any point during the bathing, your dog becomes uncomfortable you must stop and give them lots of rewards, restarting later when they are more comfortable. It is better to go slowly with lots of praise and rewards, than to try and get it over with quickly. In the long run, the slow and patient method always yields better results. Always end the grooming or bathing session with lots of treats, praise, or their favourite game, so they see this as a positive and enjoyable experience, and not something to be feared or anxious of.