At-Home Dog Grooming
Clipping Your Dog's Nails
As you're coaxing your dog into a bath, a resisting paw can leave a painful mark. So for your own benefit as well as your dog's, clip his nails first.
Make sure the nail trimmer is sharp; a dull blade could split and crack the nail. Always clip only the very tips.
The Millers-Forge Safety Bar Nail Trimmer ($7 from drsfostersmith.com) reduces the chance that you will cut the quick (the internal nerve and vein) and hurt your pet.
Brushing Your Dog's Fur
Brushing is especially important in the summer, when dogs lose their winter coats. Of course, most dogs seem to shed constantly, no matter what the season (especially breeds with a soft undercoat, like huskies and German shepherds).
Brush the dog before you bathe it. If the fur is tangled, bathing will make the matted places worse - the knots tighten as they dry.
Start on the big tangles by snipping with thinning shears (the kind that look like one side is a comb). Never use regular scissors: "We're always suturing up animals whose owners were trying to trim them," says Sheldon Rubin, a Chicago veterinarian and spokesman for the American Veterinary Medical Association.
(For dogs that require more elaborate haircuts, see a pro the first few times. Don't just drop off your pooch; see if the groomer will give you specific instructions and equipment recommendations. Chances are, though, if you want your standard poodle to resemble topiary, you'll need to go to a pro.)
Then use a smoothing brush (like the Slicker Brush by MiracleCorp, $10 to $12, available at petsmart.com), starting with the fur on the dog's belly and working up.
Bathing Your Dog
Flea baths are becoming a thing of the past, replaced by prescription flea protections that are dabbed on once a month (Frontline, Revolution) or given orally (Capstar), all of which are harmless to humans and pets.
And the weekly baths that protect allergic pet owners can also be eliminated in some cases. Non-toxic products like Allerpet (available at pet stores) can be rubbed onto the fur with your hands or a cloth for the same sneeze-free results as a bath.
With these two problems licked, you may be tempted to avoid the suds, the splashing, and the exhausting battle of wills involved in bathing your dog. But even the most protected indoor pooch can start to smell like, well, a dog. Ask your vet how often your dog should be bathed (it depends on the breed and the activity level).
When picking a shampoo, consider how often you'll be bathing your dog. His skin pH is different from yours, so your favorite shampoo may be too drying. Baby shampoo is fine for animals who need only occasional washing, but for those who are bathed weekly, use a special dog shampoo. Shampoos like Kenic Sno-Flake ($8 for 16 ounces, globalpets.com) brighten up light-colored dogs, and Les Poochs' Pooch Bright Shampoo ($18 for eight ounces, lespoochs.com) adds luster to all coats.
Michelle Higbee, president of Madeline's Institute of Pet Grooming in Santa Clara, California, says pet owners can teach their dogs good bath behavior the same way they teach them to do tricks. Be firm and consistent, she says. "Dogs learn fast that they can make the owners stop when they always give in."
Bring your dog into the bathroom and give him treats while the water is running. Next, put him in the tub. Then have him stand in a few inches of water while you reward him. (If the process rings a bell―think Pavlov.) Your dog will eventually get used to this routine.
Keep a plastic cup nearby and pour warm water over him. Massage in the shampoo. Rinse thoroughly (try using a hose attachment with a gentle spray). Dry with a towel and then air-dry or use a hair dryer. Your blow-dryer, however, could be too strong, even for long-haired dogs, so be careful. To finish the job, a cotton ball and some warm water takes care of most eye and ear nastiness.
Brushing Your Dog's Teeth
It sounds like an indulgence, but it's actually basic hygiene. Bacteria in the mouth can spread, hurting your dog's heart, liver, and kidneys.
Try a compact rubber fingertip toothbrush for small pets (Enzadent makes one for $3, available at pawsplus.com). With larger dogs, you can use a children's toothbrush.
Yes, there is a difference between toothpaste for you and toothpaste for your pet. Canine varieties are flavored (chicken, not wintergreen), and they don't have ingredients, such as fluoride and baking soda, that would make your animal sick if swallowed, which happens frequently.