GROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT

is-your-dog-ready-for-agility

You loved your stick-straight hair in the 1970s, brushing and brushing and brushing, then giving it that oh-so-perfect flip at the end. Then came the 1980s and with it a curly perm. Bangs the size of a front gate followed. A decade later, you were sporting "The Rachel." And now, of course, you've come to your senses and you're in a classy, easy up do with some subtle highlights the color of caramel. But you miss the drama of a day at the salon, don't you? Good thing you just adopted a Lhasa Apso. Mr. Cushie will need plenty of brushing and combing, not to mention regular manicures and tooth scrubbing. And while we know that you've got decades of hair management under your smock, there are still a few things you should know about the specifics of dog grooming. (And yes, they're important pointers even if you have a dog with the equivalent of a flat top.) Here they are:

Regular Brushing Is Important

Make sure he never has a bad hair day by giving him regular brushings. Not only will his coat shine, but your touching him will help socialize him. Furthermore, this gives you the opportunity to look for pests like fleas and ticks, as well as health problems indicated by lesions or lumps.

You'll need the following equipment:

  • Slicker brushes have beds of fine, closely spaced wires that are hooked or bent and are considered all-purpose tools for removing mats, tangles and debris in dogs with all types of coats
  • Pin brushes include widely spaced tines that look like straight pins. These are excellent for use in longer-haired breeds to remove knots
  • Bristle brushes are used as a final step to smooth and shine up a shorthaired dog
  • Metal combs give the finishing touch to extra-long coats

Begin your beauty session by using the slicker or pin brush to remove dead hair, debris and tangles. (You might need both tools if you have a long haired breed or if your shorthaired pet spent the afternoon romping in a bog.) For tough snarls, hold the tangle at the root and brush it out to avoid painful pulling. Smooth the coat with a bristle brush or comb. Please note that you'll want to give your dog a break every few minutes as even this increases his sensitivity.

Bathing

After a thorough brushing, you'll want to wash your dog. (He can go two to three weeks between baths, though dunk him in the tub if he get especially stinky.) Fill a basin with warm water (check the temperature using your elbow, which is more sensitive than your hand) and place him on a nonskid surface, talking gently and praising him. Slowly pour water over his feet, working your way up to his collar. Do not immerse his head yet so that he can get used to the sensation. Using specially formulated dog soap ("people" soaps may be irritating), lather his coat. Rinse twice to ensure the suds are out. Approach his head and repeat the process. Dogs love a good toweling off and, if he's patient, you can try to use a blow dryer.

Proper Foot Care

Dogs generally don't like having their paws handled, but it is necessary to make sure the fur between their toes and pads does not become matted — or infected. Here's how to do it:

  • Remove mats
  • Using scissors, trim fur so that it is level with the foot

Next, you'll need to trim his nails. Again, he won't think this is nearly as fun as a game of fetch, but it is necessary to ensure his good health. Do the following every few weeks:

  • Using a "guillotine-style" clipper made for dogs.
  • Trim only the hook of the nail. Never trim into the quick — the live portion of the nail — which can draw blood
  • Trim the dewclaw — the thumb-like portion on the paw. If allowed to grow, they will curl up and pinch the skin

Ear Care

During your pet's bath, wash the outside of his ear with water. Remove interior wax with an ear-cleaning solution. Warm the bottle in your palms first, then squirt a dab into the ear canal. Gently massage the base of the ear. Remove dirt or wax with a dry cotton ball.

Dental Care

Combat doggie breath by scrubbing his pearly whites once a week. Use a special dog toothbrush, cleaning tool, gauze or "sleeve," and apply canine toothpaste to the outsides of your pet's teeth and gum line. Please note that dogs should have their teeth professionally cleaned by a vet annually. (Dogs are given a general anesthetic followed by antibiotic treatment — again, more fun for him but it assures a healthy life.)

Taking care of your pet's grooming needs does not have to be a hair-raising experience — for either of you. With practice and patience, he may even begin to enjoy his turn in the salon chair.