Caring for Your Dog at Home

Covering the Basics of At-Home Grooming to Help Keep Your Dog Healthy

Dogs are wonderful creatures, full of love and joy, and they enrich our lives every day with their presence. Their hairy, stinky, sharp nailed presence. Like all pets, dogs require care. Some more than others, but even the low maintenance ones still need someone to care for them.

When it comes to the most basic care dogs still have a few, such as licking themselves clean, for example. But dogs have been domesticated and selectively bred for so long and for such specific purposes that many dog breeds require humans to help with even the basics. 

These basics include:

  1. Brushing
  2. Bathing
  3. Nail Clipping
  4. Teeth Brushing
  5. Ear Cleaning

Brushing

Brushing your dog is a core and crucial part of keeping your dog properly groomed. Please see my other article, "The Importance of Brushing Your Dog," for information on brushing, tips, and tools needed.

Bathing

Not all dogs require regular bathing, and most owners decide to leave bathing up to the groomer. Most dogs do not need to be bathed for months at a time, but it all depends on your dog's coat type and personality (if they like to get dirty!). Bathing can be done on a monthly basis, or even up to once a week. Much more than that may cause skin issues and is not considered healthy. If you do decide to bathe your dog at home, there are some things you need to be aware of.

I have experience working in a grooming salon, and I will tell you right now, bathing a dog is not for the faint-hearted! Most dogs get a little freaked out or excited by getting sprayed down with water and so will make a big mess if you're not careful. Water and shampoo will get everywhere, and with it, a lot of dog fur! If you bathe them in the tub, I recommend getting a detachable hose and shower head, and a special drain cover so you don't clog your pipes. Also, dogs need to be bathed with dog-specific shampoos and/or conditioners so their fur and skin stay healthy. Soap-based or human shampoos will irritate/dry out their skin.

Drying them after a bath can be tricky as well. A good towel dry should be enough for most dogs (be careful not to let them outside in cold weather if they are not mostly dry). However, some breeds have very thick under and top coats, making towel drying nearly ineffective. If this is the case, you will need a specialty high velocity dryer. These differ from normal hairdryers in that they blow out the water with little heat. This protects the fur from burning. Do NOT use a normal hairdryer on your dog. It will not dry them and will only damage their fur.

Nail Clipping

Just like people, dogs' nails grow and need to be kept short, because their nails also have quicks (the underlying bed of the nail). The quicks grow with the nails so if nails are left to grow out long, so will the quicks. This makes nail clipping even harder because you won't be able to cut the nails as short as they should be. Regular clipping prevents this problem. 

Now, from experience, nail clipping does require some practice and I do recommend that if you are new to it, learn from someone who does know how to do it properly, or leave it to the groomers. It is usually an unpleasant experience for your dog, especially with someone who does not know what their doing. You may not want to have your dog associate that unpleasantness with you, and so it may be best to take them to a groomer. They are specially trained to keep your dog as calm and as comfortable as possible, giving their best effort to create a pleasant experience.

One thing to keep in mind is that most dogs have dew claws, a receded fifth toe above the paw. These nails do not touch the ground and if left untrimmed, they can grow curled back into the toe pad. This can be very painful and may cause the dog to start biting its nails, a nasty habit that does more harm than good. It is very important to clip these nails often.

I will not delve into details on how to clip nails, as that is learned much better in person and with hands-on experience. Instead, I will tell you one of the best ways to keep your dog's nails nice and short; take them out for walks every day! Walking them outside on a daily basis will wear down the nails naturally and (depending on the dog) may even keep them from needing to be trimmed for months at a time.

Teeth Brushing

Oral hygiene is very important for both you and your dog. Most people brush their teeth twice a day, because we know it will help prevent cavities and gum disease. Dogs also need their mouths to be cleaned, despite the old wisdom that a dog's mouth is cleaner than a human. They can still have tartar buildup and can develop mouth and gum diseases, such as gingivitis, like humans. However, unlike humans, these problems can lead to life-threatening situations if left unchecked.

Brushing your dog's teeth may be an "interesting" experience at first, for both you and your dog. For them, having a foreign object covered in weird tasting paste may take a while to get used to, so take it slowly and allow them to get used to the feeling of having their teeth brushed. There are specially made toothbrushes and toothpaste for dogs that are safe and non-toxic. Toothbrush options include a full handle toothbrush, which will keep your fingers away from your dog's teeth, or a finger brush, a finger cot with bristles that is for the brave of heart. When brushing your dog's teeth, brush gently and at a 45 degree angle down on the teeth so as not to harm their gums.

Teeth brushing does not have to be a daily routine like it is for humans, though many people incorporate into their daily routine anyway. If you decide you can't keep up with it, you can supplement the teeth brushing with giving your dog dental chews and toys, and teeth cleaning treats.

Ear Cleaning

This is one cleaning habit that many owners tend to forget about, and it can result in many problems including ear infections and impaired hearing. It is a simple task, though a bit uncomfortable for your dog, so you will need to be careful. Before you try to clean their ears, make sure they are OK with you touching their ears in the first place. Many dogs do not like having their ears touched and may squirm, or possibly even nip. If this is an apparent problem at the beginning, do not force it. Let them get used to the feeling before trying to clean their ears. If they continue to not let you touch their ears, it is best to take them to a groomer where they will not hurt anyone or themselves.

If you are successful, great! What you will need to clean their ears is ear cleaning solution and cotton balls (absolutely no cotton swabs/Q-tips as they are too small and could damage the ear), or ear wipes. When you wipe out the ear, don't use too much cleaning solution (it will drip into the ear and be very uncomfortable) and make sure to get the inner part of the ear without pushing to deep. This does take some practice for both you and your dog, but the reward will be your dog's health.

If this is too difficult or you are too uncomfortable, please take your dog to the groomer to get their ears cleaned. Cleanings can be upwards of once a day to once a month. This will require monitoring as, again, it depends on the dog and how dirty their ears get between cleaning.

These are the basics of caring for your dog. It's not hard, but it does require discipline to keep up with each. And just remember, your dog depends solely on you. Justify their loyalty and love with keeping them comfortable and healthy. And if you personally can't keep up with it, take them to the groomer. There is no shame in doing so, and your dog will greatly appreciate it!

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