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How to Care for Your Dog’s Coat & Hair

Source: PetWave, Updated on July 16, 2015

When to Groom a Dog’s Coat

Whether and when to groom a dog’s coat depends on the type of coat it has, the length of the coat and why it is being groomed. Canine coats range from fine and thin to coarse and dense. Some dogs have curly coats, some have wiry coats and others have practically no coat at all. Coats also vary widely in length, irrespective of coat type. Dogs with long coats and those that are prone to matting should be brushed or combed every few days. Hunting and field trial dogs usually need to be groomed after each outing. All dogs should be groomed when they are dirty, muddy, shedding or smelly. How often to bathe a dog is a matter of opinion. Bathing too frequently can dry out and damage the coat and skin. Occasional baths are helpful to remove dirt and debris, eliminate the “doggy smell”, remove dead hair and make the coat soft and shiny. Most pet dogs are bathed no more than once every few months.

How to Groom a Dog’s Coat

Getting Started

Short-haired dogs require only an occasional going-over with a soft-bristled brush, grooming glove or soft cloth, while longer-haired breed’s need more attention, especially if they have a dense double coat. Dogs should be gently groomed down to their sensitive skin, to prevent tangles and mats. The first step is to assess the dog’s coat type and gather the right tools for the job.

Choosing Tools

Grooming tools are available from veterinarians, pet supply retailers and the internet. Which to use depends on the dog’s coat and the groomer’s preferences. Here are some general guidelines.

All dogs: A medium-soft bristle brush, preferably with natural bristles, is a standard tool for removing loose hair and dirt and polishing the outer coat. Wide-tooth combs, with rounded teeth, are best for grooming short-haired areas and holding longer hair for scissoring. Fine-toothed combs are helpful for untangling slick hair. Scissors with blunt or rounded ends are handy for trimming. Thinning shears and specialized mat splitters are also available. Electric clippers, and nail clippers, grinders or files, are good to keep around. For baths, use a shampoo and conditioner labeled for dogs. Dry shampoos, in the form of powders or waterless sprays, are great for spot-cleaning and as an occasional substitute for a real bath. Cornstarch, unscented baby powder or unscented talcum powder can be used as a dry shampoo without harming the skin or skin.

Short-haired breeds: A palm brush, sometimes called a “hound glove,” helps remove dead hair and polish the coat. These slip over the hand like a mitten; some have rubber nubs or a roughened palm pad to catch loose hair. Short-toothed metal rakes can be used on dense-coated short-haired dogs. Those with fine coats, and hairless breeds, may only need an occasional rub-down with a soft, damp towel.

Long-haired breeds: Pin brushes (rubber cushions with long, flexible bristles), slicker brushes (hard brush with sharp bent wire teeth) and long-toothed metal rakes are used to groom dogs with long hair.

Different Strokes for Different Folks

Coats are easily damaged by rough handling and poor grooming techniques; hair can be stretched, snarled, matted, pulled out or broken, none of which are desirable. Short-haired dogs traditionally are groomed in the direction the hair grows, while longer-haired dogs usually are groomed against the lay of the hair. In either case, coats should be brushed or combed in short sections at a time, working first through any undercoat and then through the outer layers. The long, fine hair of some breeds, such as Afghan Hounds, Irish Setters, Lhasa Apsos and Shih Tzus, can be braided, trimmed or tied up to keep it neat. Many Terriers have coarse, wiry coats that need to be plucked, raked or stripped to stay in shape. Show dogs usually need special grooming, depending on their breed.

How to Handle Mats

Mats are solid clumps of hair that can occur anywhere on a dog’s body, especially dogs with soft coats. The most common sites are behind the ears, under the armpits, around the anus, in the flank area, on the back of the thighs and between the toes. Unattended mats will pinch the skin and become painful; conscientious grooming is necessary to prevent them from forming. One way to break up mats is to douse them with a pet coat conditioner and gently separate the bundled hair by hand. Single- or multi-bladed mat splitter tools are available. Once the strands are teased apart, the area can be combed out. Owners must be patient and extremely careful not to cut the dog’s delicate skin. They should not try to remove mats with scissors. Electric clippers can be used to shave down a matted coat. However, given the risk of inadvertently cutting the skin, they are best left in the hands of seasoned professionals. Grooming injuries can require veterinary attention, including shaving, cleaning, suturing and applying protective bandaging.

Special Notes

Grooming tables, with nonslip surfaces and adjustable heights, are available for dogs of all sizes. Dogs should be groomed from an early age, so that they get comfortable with the process. Most dogs thoroughly enjoy the attention.

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