Grooming Care For Dogs: Frequency, Benefits, And Providing Care
By Dr. Kaitlin Wurtz August 08, 2020
Most people associate dog grooming with aesthetic purposes. While grooming does help keep our dogs clean and looking their best, it also serves very important health and welfare purposes. Routine grooming can help prevent and treat many health issues and can even aid in the early diagnosis of disease. Ultimately, grooming is one way that helps ensure our pets live long, comfortable, and happy lives.
Are Dogs Capable Of Keeping Themselves Clean?
Dogs have innate abilities to perform a lot of their grooming needs themselves. By licking their coat, they can clear dirt, sand, dead skin, and other debris from their body. When dogs are soaked from a swim or covered in mud, they can perform a full body shake to rid their coats of excess water, mud, and dust. This shake can be compared to the spin cycle on a washing machine, and it also helps them regulate their body temperature (Dickerson et al., 2010). Dogs may enlist the help of their environment through rolling around on carpeting or grass to help clean their faces and bodies. They may also rub their face on furniture or rub their back under tables and chairs to clean and relieve itchiness. To keep their ears and eyes clean, dogs may use their back paws for hard to reach spots or may lick their paws and use them like a washcloth to remove any build-up. Finally, dogs may nibble at their bodies to remove impurities, relieve discomfort, and to activate oil glands that keep their skin and coat healthy. While dogs can do a lot on their own, there are cases when human help is appreciated or necessary.
When Do You Need To Groom Your Dog?
When dogs get themselves in a particularly messy situation such as rolling in a mud puddle, they are unlikely to be able to clean themselves and will require a thorough bathing and brushing out. Baths and a thorough drying after swimming in lakes can help prevent bacterial and fungal infections in their ears or on their skin. Dogs that suffer from allergies or other skin conditions may require extra skincare from their humans. Aging dogs start to lose their ability to properly care for themselves. Their energy levels typically decline, and they may develop painful arthritis which can make grooming themselves difficult. Finally, certain breeds have extra grooming demands that are necessary to maintain their health and well-being. Since humans have selected dogs for many different coat types and anatomical features, that may inhibit their ability to care for themselves entirely on their own.
How Often Should You Groom Your Dog?
Dogs with different coat types have different grooming needs. The first step is to determine what type of coat your dog has. Coats can be long or short, single or double, continuous growing or not. Moreover, coats have different textures such as smooth, wired, curly, or wavy. Once you figured out your dog’s coat type, then you can follow a recommended grooming schedule. A recommended grooming schedule is provided below based on coat types.
Dogs with short coats need minimal extra care from us. They may benefit from an occasional brushing and appreciate a bath after a romp in the mud. Examples of breeds with a short coat include Beagles, Boston terriers, Weimaraners, and Great Danes.
- Short-haired double-coated
These short-haired dogs have an undercoat that sheds seasonally. A good in-depth grooming should be performed seasonally (4 times per year, once per season) to help manage their shedding. Examples of short-haired double-coated dogs are the Rottweiler and the Labrador Retriever.
- Long-haired double-coated
Like short-haired double-coated dogs, these dogs need a good seasonal grooming (4 times per year, once per season). In addition, their long hair is more prone to matting and will need to be brushed out much more often. Breed examples include Shih Tzus, Corgis, and Border Collies.
- Thick undercoat
These dogs will need grooming at least every 3 months and their undercoat will need to be removed seasonally (4 times per year, once per season) to prevent mats. Examples of breeds with a thick undercoat include Huskies, Bernese Mountain Dogs, and Newfoundlands.
Silky coated dogs have a single coat that grows continuously, similar to human hair. Dogs will need haircuts every 2 to 3 months for coats that are kept short, or every 4 to 6 weeks if the coat is kept longer to prevent matting. Daily brushing is recommended for these dogs. Silky-coated breeds include Afghan Hounds, Yorkshire Terriers, and Cocker Spaniels.
Dogs with wirehair should be groomed every 4 to 8 weeks to manage shedding and to prevent matting. Wirehaired breeds include West Highland White Terriers, Scottish Terrier, and the Otterhound.
- Curly and wavy hair
These dogs are highly prone to matting and need to be brushed quite often. A good brushing should be provided twice a week at the bare minimum and once a day for dogs with longer coats. A thorough grooming should be performed every 4 to 6 weeks. Curly and wavy-haired breeds include Poodles, Bichon Frises, and Airedale Terriers.
What Supplies Do I Need For Grooming My Dog?Supplies for bathing
- Shampoo specifically designed for dogs
- Grooming mitt or comb
- Tub, shower, or hose if bathing outside
- Towel for drying
- Hair trap for the drain to make clean up easier
- Steps to help your dog in and out of tub
- Coat oil or conditioner
- Brushes and combs
- Raking tool for removing undercoat
- Sharp scissors designed for cutting hair with blunt edges to help prevent injury
- Clippers (should be sharp, well-oiled, and quiet)
- Grooming mitt
- Toothbrush (some attach to tip of finger for ease of use)
- Toothpaste designed for dogs
- Water additives or oral sprays that remove tartar and plaque
- Bones or dental sticks designed to scrape build-up off teeth
- Ear cleaner solution
- Cotton balls or gauze
- Rubber gloves
- Cloth to wipe up excess fluid
- Nail clippers (guillotine or scissor style)
- Dremel tool/nail grinder (optional)
- Styptic powder (e.g. Kwik-stop)
- Paw wax to protect feet in winter
- Grooming stone – helps remove hair and dead skin
- Anti-bacterial or anti-fungal spray or ointments (only if needed)
- Conditioner for dry or itchy skin (oil, lotion, or balm)
- Anal gland wipes for cleaning and deodorizing
- Paper towel
- Wipes for cleaning ears and around eyes (sensitive areas)
- Treats for positive reinforcement
The Benefits Of Grooming Your Dog And Providing Care
Bathing Your Dog
How often you bath your dog depends on their coat type and their lifestyle. Dogs that are often outdoors may need more baths to keep them smelling fresh and their skin and coat healthy. Be careful not to bath your dog too often as it could lead to skin irritation. For a detailed overview on how and when to bathe your dog, read our article about how often you should bathe your dog.
Brushing And Trimming Your Dog’s Fur
What are the benefits?
One of the biggest benefits to brushing and trimming your dog’s fur is preventing mats. Mats can be painful to your dog and difficult to remove once they form. Severe matting can lead to infection and may need to be shaved off to save the dog. Matting can be prevented through proper, routine grooming. An additional benefit to brushing your dog is that you can help manage their shedding. By brushing out loose hair, you can capture it before it gets on your clothing, furniture, or around your house.
Do all dogs need their fur trimmed?
Short-haired dog’s hair naturally stays short and does not require any trimming. Other breeds may only require trimming around their face, legs, and feet. Some long-haired breeds have coats that continually grow and require frequent trimming to keep it managed.
Providing fur care
How often you brush and trim your dog’s fur depends on their coat type. Short-haired dogs can occasionally be brushed out using a soft bristle brush or a grooming mitt. Long-haired dogs can be brushed out using a comb or a wire brush. Dogs with an undercoat may need a specialized brush to help remove it when it sheds. Double-coated dogs should never be shaved as this can cause damage to their coat. For trimming their hair, scissors work well around their face, legs, and foot pads. For shaving, use an attachable guide comb to get the desired length. Work with the direction of the dog’s fur for a more natural look. For long-haired dogs, scissors may work better. Use your fingers or comb as a guide to get the length you want.
Oral Care For Dogs
What are the benefits?
Routine oral care keeps teeth and gums healthy and keeps your pet’s breath smelling fresh (Culham and Rawlings, 1998). Proper oral care can also help reduce expensive veterinarian bills by lowering the number of professional cleanings needed, and it can help prevent teeth from needing to be pulled (Enlund et al., 2020).
Recommendations for how often to brush your dog’s teeth vary widely and range from twice a day, like people, to a few times per week. If your dog often chews on bones or dental chews, then the number of brushings can probably be fewer. Other oral care products such as water additives or oral sprays can be used in addition to brushing.
Ear Care For Dogs
What are the benefits?
Taking care of your dog’s ears can help prevent ear infections, fungus, and mite infestations. This helps keep their ears free from gross discharge, stops itching and discomfort, and can prevent unpleasant odors from developing.
Only clean your dog’s ears if you notice any signs of mites, fungus, or infection. The signs that show whether your dog needs an ear cleaning include brown waxy build-up, or foul smells (Dallas et al., 2013). If you suspect an infection, consult with a veterinarian so appropriate treatment can be provided. Dogs with folded ears may need to be cleaned more often due to having less air flow in their ears. Unnecessary cleaning of your dog’s ears can lead to irritation and should be avoided.
Nail and Paw Care For Dogs
What are the benefits?
Keeping your dog’s nails at an appropriate length can prevent pain from their nails hitting the floor, infections from overgrown nails, and reduces the chance of nails catching and causing injury. If your dog experiences dry paw pads, such as from contact with salt in the winter, moisturizers can keep them from cracking. Waxes can also help create a shield from the salt and ice.
Providing nail and paw care
Nails should be trimmed at least once a month but may vary depending on how fast your dog’s nails grow and the type of surfaces they walk on. Rough surfaces such a sidewalk can help naturally wear the nails down. Once the nails start hitting the floor they should be trimmed. Cut the nail at a 45-degree angle and avoid hitting the quick. If you accidentally hit the quick, use a product such as a styptic powder or stick to stop the bleeding quickly.
Skin Care For Dogs
What are the benefits?
Caring for your dog’s skin can help keep it clean and moisturized. Treating skin conditions early can keep your pet healthy and comfortable.
Providing skin care
If you think your dog has parasites, fungal infections, or other skin issues speak with your veterinarian about your treatment options. Most products are oils, balms, or sprays that are applied directly to the dog’s skin. Follow all product instructions carefully. Wear protective gloves if the product is harmful to humans. Grooming stones can help remove dead hair and skin and distribute oils over your dog’s skin to maintain healthiness.
Anal Gland Care For Dogs
What are the benefits?
Dogs naturally excrete oils from their anal glands for scent marking purposes when they defecate. However, if they have loose stools, then the glands may not empty properly leading to odor and discomfort. Additionally, genetics can play a role in the anatomy of these glands leading to some breeds being more likely to experience anal gland issues.
Providing anal gland care
If you notice a foul odor or if your dog is showing signs of discomfort around their anus (such as scooting along on the floor) you can make an appointment with a groomer or veterinarian to manually empty their anal glands. This can also be performed at home if you are knowledgeable and comfortable performing this procedure.
When Should You Take Your Dog To A Groomer?
There are many reasons to take your dog to a groomer. A few of these include:
- You don’t have the proper tools to perform grooming at home.
- You don’t want to learn how to provide proper grooming care and want a professional groomer to perform the work instead.
- You don’t want to spend the time to do it yourself.
- You have a high maintenance dog and a groomer helps you maintain a grooming routine.
- Your dog got into a messy situation such as rolling in the mud or was sprayed by a skunk.
- Your dog has behavioral issues making it difficult for you to handle them while providing grooming care.
A good groomer is highly experienced in caring for all coat types and breed styles. They also have skills working with dogs of all temperaments to keep everyone safe and as low stress as possible.
Grooming is not just for aesthetic purposes. It also serves to provide genuine health and welfare benefits to your dog. A good grooming routine can be valuable quality time spent between you and your dog. One study found that grooming had a substantial effect on reducing a dog’s heart rate (McGreevy et al., 2005) suggesting that grooming can be incredibly calming for your dog. So make sure you are knowledgeable on what care your specific dog requires, and consult with groomers or veterinarians if you have any questions about providing care for your pet.
Enjoying a grooming session ...
Culham, N., & Rawlings, J. M. (1998). Oral malodor and its relevance to periodontal disease in the dog. Journal of veterinary dentistry, 15(4), 165-168.
Dallas, S., North, D., & Angus, J. (2013). Grooming manual for the dog and cat. John Wiley & Sons.
Dickerson, A., Mills, G., Bauman, J., Chang, Y. H., & Hu, D. (2010). The wet-dog shake. arXiv, arXiv-1010.
Enlund, K. B., Brunius, C., Hanson, J., Hagman, R., Höglund, O. V., Gustås, P., & Pettersson, A. (2020). Dental home care in dogs-a questionnaire study among Swedish dog owners, veterinarians and veterinary nurses. BMC veterinary research, 16(1), 1-13.
McGreevy, P. D., Righetti, J., & Thomson, P. C. (2005). The reinforcing value of physical contact and the effect on canine heart rate of grooming in different anatomical areas. Anthrozoös, 18(3), 236-244.