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Saturday, August 30, 2014

How to Groom Your Dog at Home

If you are familiar with my blog, you know that I have two furbabies, Duke and Chunk. Duke is a Sussex Spaniel/Chocolate Lab mix, and Chunk is a Yorkie/Miniature Poodle mix.  Both dogs require some amount of grooming, but their grooming is very different. For Duke, I pretty much just give him a bath occasionally and brush his fur a lot. He has a thick double coat like a Husky does, so we often have "tumbleweeds" of Duke's fur in our house. 

Now, Chunk is a different story.  Since he is a Yorkie/Poodle breed, his hair is harder to manage. Unfortunately, I never got into the habit of brushing him when he was young, so now he never lets me brush him.  Because he is part poodle, he never sheds and actually has hair instead of fur (hence no shedding).  This wouldn't be so problematic, but for the fact that Yorkies have several different types of hair.  Yorkie hair is very similar to human hair, but there are two basic types: smooth and cotton.  Smooth yorkie hair is more like human hair in that it doesn't really become matted, as long as you brush it occasionally.  The other type of hair texture is called cotton, and that's for good reason.  It's extremely soft and fine hair, and this is what Chunk has.  Sometimes I think this hair grows out matted to begin with, it's so hard to keep groomed!  Since Chunk is more of a "rough and tumble" little guy, he definitely gets matted in a couple of spots, mainly his legs.  He hates when I trim the hair on his legs or touch his legs, because he's a little brat.  Hopefully this post will help people who are looking to take better care of their dogs and/or save money on grooming. 

Here are the standard supplies I use when I'm taking care of Chunk:

Wahl clippers with a guard--Here's a tip:  If you buy clippers in the pet section of the store, you are basically paying more for the word "pet."  If you go to the section where you can get clippers for people, it is the exact same product, but at least ten dollars less. I actually very rarely use the clippers on Chunk, because he is so afraid of them--and I always try to make his haircut experiences as stress free as possible.  Here is something like the set I own.

The good thing about this set is that it comes with a really nice pair of scissors, and they are great for cutting Yorkie hair or other small dog hair.  If you opt to use clippers, please always use a guard to make sure you never cut your dog by accident.

Detangler for dogs:  I have some I found on sale, but that's the only reason I actually bought some of the stuff. You can get the exact same effect by putting a little hair conditioner in water in a spray bottle. I actually use my Wella conditioner on Chunk when I give him a bath, and  I let it stay on him for a little while before I rinse it. It helps so much with matting.  Sometimes, I even do a shea butter conditioner treatment.

Dog Shampoo:  This is another kind I found at the Dollar Daze store where I live.  It's sort of like a discount store or a merchandise outlet, and so they have quality stuff. This is organic shampoo and I absolutely love it. I recommend that you don't skim when it comes to dog shampoo, especially if you live in a cooler climate, because you don't want anything that will dry out the dog's skin.

Other things you are going to want are nail clippers, a comb, and I'll talk about some other optional items that I use when I'm pampering my furbaby.

I try to give Chunk a haircut about every 2 months, or a little more often in the summer. Here's about how long I let his hair go:

At this point, you can see that his legs are so hairy, and you may not be able to tell, but he has a lot of mats underneath that shiny fur.  I make sure to feed my dogs very high quality food, and their fur is always shiny since I have switched to Natural Balance.  I know this is a bit of a digression here, but part of grooming your dog is taking preventative measures.  Feeding the dogs high quality food helps keep their fur and nails healthy, so I consider it a first step in helping keep them pretty and happy.

Just FYI, I am not being paid or anything to endorse this dog food, it's just what I found to be the best balance of high quality food and it still is pretty affordable.  A 30 pound bag is about 45-50 dollars (free shipping from Amazon usually, too). While this may seem expensive, keep in mind that dogs eat about twice as much of the less expensive brands because there are less nutrients and their bodies tell them to eat more until they get all the nutrients they need.  I encourage you to do some research.  Natural Balance isn't the absolute best brand I found, but I can definitely sleep well at night knowing that I am taking good care of my furbabies by feeding them good food. End rant. :-)

To begin the actual grooming process, I give Chunk a bath in warm water (but not uncomfortably warm--think baby bathwater).  I use the dog shampoo, and then I will use my conditioner and leave it on for about 1-3 minutes, depending on how much he hates the bath at that time.  A good tip is to wait to get the dog's head wet until the very end of the bath--wash everything else first. This keeps the dog from shaking all that water all over you.  Be sure to not get the soap in the dog's eyes, and rinse all the fur thoroughly.  When washing with dog shampoo, be sure to take a little more time on the winkie area for a boy, and wash his or her little butt really well also. It's a dirty job, but we do it because we love them. 

After the bath, towel off the dog and allow a few minutes for the obligatory run through the house at light speed.

Once your furbaby has gotten that out of his or her system, it's time to brush and cut.  Now, I really don't brush or comb Chunk much at all. I will spend about a minute trying to detangle what I can, but I am really worried about ever causing him pain, so if I notice that it bothers him at all, then I stop right away and move on.  This also minimizes stress for the dog and ultimately they will trust you more if you groom them yourself on a regular basis.  

One thing that a dog will do if you are combing/brushing them and you hit a tangle, is they will instinctively turn their head and make almost a biting motion toward you.  Most dogs will stop themselves, and some younger and rambunctious ones will possibly get a little nip in.  After researching this behavior and reading about it from several sources, I am confident in recommending that you never punish this behavior. The reason behind this is that the dog is not being malicious, it is an instinctive response to pain, and the dog stops itself before biting you, so it is already practicing self-control.  If you punish this behavior, you will confuse the dog. If you keep causing this behavior, you will make the dog anxious. If you have been brushing your dog since he or she was a puppy, then you likely won't have this issue, but I was a bad mommy and I did not think to start combing Chunk to get him used to it (I was more caught up in trying to get him to stop shitting in my house).

After brushing, while the fur is still damp is the ideal time to cut the dog's hair, just like people hair.  If you do use clippers, put about a 1 inch guard on and go to town, then use the scissors for the hard-to-reach spots and the head/face.

Since Chunk hates clippers (the guard snags his cotton-texture fur too often for them to be effective), then I just go straight to the scissors.  To do this safely, it is extremely important that you take your time to discern where your dog's skin is in relation to the fur, and you may want to find a helper to gently hold the dog while you do this the first few times. All it takes is one little slip and your dog will be traumatized and future grooming will be that more difficult (not to mention how badly you will feel!).  

The normal routine for clipping is back to front, bottom to top.  Others may do it differently, so I don't think it makes a big difference.  First, I start with the tail.  Really look at the fur, and if there are any mats, lightly pull it apart until you can see where the skin ends and the mat begins.  Then, holding the fur taught (but gently), use the TIP of the scissors to slowly clip the mat out of the fur little by little. This way, if you slip or the dog moves and they get cut, it will be a small wound.

Speaking of cuts, now would be a good time to mention that you should have styptic powder on  hand just in case.  It will stop bleeding very quickly.  This is an essential item to keep on hand if you clip your dogs' nails yourself.

Back to the cutting steps:  After taking care of the tail, I go for the rear end and the back legs, usually with my husband holding the dog gently.  I usually do this outside on our back deck on the glass top table, and set the dog on the table on a beach towel to catch the fur that falls and make it less slippery for the dog to stand on (have you ever seen a dog who enjoys standing on that slippery metal table at the vet?).

When clipping the hair on the dog's butt, you want to hold up the tail and be very gentle in this delicate area. It is important, however, to make sure to trim the fur as short as possible around the dog's anus, and this will not only keep your dog cleaner longer, but you don't want dingleberries dragging on your furniture, to be frank.  

When I trim the dog's leg hair, I do find it a bit difficult to trim around the feet. Most dogs don't like you to touch their legs, and Chunk is no exception.  I try to hold up the fur and trim it as short as possible without danger of cutting the skin.  If you do this step, make sure to cut the fur on the bottom of the feet also.

After the back legs, I move up the back.  It takes a lot of practice to get the fur close to the same length, so if you are cutting the fur all by hand sans trimmers, your dog will probably look a bit mangy after the first few sessions. Keep in mind, however, that I am not out to enter my dog into a beauty contest, I merely want him to be happy and comfortable. He's cute whether or not he has his hair done, but that's a mother's love for ya.

Here is how Chunk looks after getting regular cuts from Mommy for the full 3.5 years of his life thus far:

It's pretty even, but you can see a few spots where he probably moved a bit, and I got the fur a bit shorter in those spots. I really don't care. Isn't he so cute anyway?! 

After you finish the back and legs, make sure to trim the chest and stomach.  If your dog is a boy, it is also important to trim the "winkie hair."  Chunk, although fixed, still has a little pillow as a "girlfriend," so he does occasionally partake in hormonal teenage practices (regardless of who is watching!).  If his winkie hair is too long, his sheath (basically the outside of the winkie) will get folded in upon itself, and guess whose job it is to finagle that thing back to normal so it doesn't dry up and fall off?  Mommy's!  You'd much rather trim his little pubies than fish out dog foreskin, just trust me on this one.  Just be extremely careful!  Just in case this does ever happen to your little boy dog, I have had luck with spraying a bit of cold water on it and pushing the sheath down toward the base, then often times the sheath will unfold and come back out. Otherwise, you can try to grab some of the fur and tug it out, but that can't feel too good on your little sex criminal dog's junk.  Either way, it is extremely important to address that issue when it arises, no matter how creepy and molesty you feel, because the part that stays uncovered can get infected and have to be surgically removed.  Okay, are you sick of reading about dog penis?  Because I feel creepy now that I've written so much about it. The joys of parenting...

When trimming your dog's hair, be sure to clip all the wispy hairs that a lot of small dogs grow on their bellies, because that has a tendency to get very matted.  I go as short as possible on the stomach area.

Most of the body trimming is common sense, but once you get to the neck and head, there are a few things to be sure to know before you attempt it at home. Keep in mind, I am in no way any sort of licensed groomer, I just have been doing this myself for almost 4 years now, and so I wanted to share my experiences.

For the neck, all dogs have a TON of excess skin, and that's in case they get into a fight, that's what other dogs bite at first so the extra skin is to protect them.  However, when trimming a dog's hair, the extra neck skin can sometimes be hard to differentiate from fur unless you are really careful. When trimming the neck, I always grab the fur and kind of wiggle my fingers at the base of it until I am certain where the dog's skin is, then I keep my fingers against the skin as a guard for trimming the fur, similar to what a hairstylist does when they're cutting your hair to make it a straight cut.  I also do that when trimming all the other hair on my dog, because it makes for a more even cut.

One part I always struggle trimming on Chunk is his neck/chin area.  he always wants to put his head down so I can't get to it, so in addition to taking all the precautions I have suggested, I simply will not trim this part of my dog's fur unless I have someone to help hold his head so he is looking up and the area is accessible. Otherwise, there is just too much of a risk of hurting him.

Once the neck is done, it's time to trim the head. This can be done pretty easily using my recommendations, but I do have a sort of method for getting the dog to look halfway decent, instead of just less hairy, like some of Chunk's earlier haircuts. 

First, I do the ears. I find the bottom of the ear, and I hold the fur with my fingers parallel to the bottom of the ear, then trim as close as I safely can.  Next, I move to the top of the head, moving back to front. This way I can blend the neck length into a bit of a longer fur length on the top of the head. I try to keep it as even as possible, stopping at the "eyebrows" of the dog.  Then, I go down to the dog's nose and trim around in a circle so it is all even.  Next, move to the sides of the snout, and trim the fur with your fingers parallel to the dog's mouth.  After that, move back to the eyebrows and, always keeping your fingers between the scissors and the eyes, try to match the trim around the curve of the dog's eyes, so they don't have square-looking eyebrows. If you try these tips for the first time and your dog still comes out looking like someone took a weed whacker to him, that's okay!  I promise that the dog won't mind, and you will get better with practice. 

If you want to feel even better, here's what Chunk looked like after one of his first haircuts:

As you can see, I was afraid to trim his legs because he was so wiggly. Also, this is why you need to keep the guard on the clippers, unless you want a bald dog.  At least it was summer time. 

Here is how he looks after yesterday's haircut:

There are still a couple spots that I wanna go back with the scissors to perfect, but I try not to bother the dog so much, he doesn't care as long as he isn't matted and he still gets to roll around in the grass outside.

Here's where the extras come in:  I trim the toenails, and I suggest that you have a vet or groomer teach you to do this first before trying it, because (especially dark colored) toenails are hard to trim without hitting the quick and causing pain and bleeding.

I also have made my own paw pad lotion for Chunk, since his paws often will crack.  I melted shea butter and added jojoba oil, and added a drop or two of tea tree oil for some antibacterial properties. I didn't add more than a drop though because dogs shouldn't ingest much tea tree oil if any.  Chunk always gets a little annoyed when I rub the lotion on his paws, but I can tell that he feels much better afterward.

The last thing I do before finally letting my poor dog go on his way is spraying down his back with my homemade flea and tick spray.

I hope this helps all pet owners who are on a budget.  I know that a lot of people say that if you can't afford to take care of pets, you shouldn't have them, but not everyone plans to lose income years after getting a dog, jerks!  Hopefully if any of my readers are in a situation like that, this will help you. Or, if you just prefer not to take your dog to the groomer, this will help. My dog just really hates being taken places without me, so I prefer to do this at home for his comfort. Happy grooming!

1 comment:

  1. Those grooming materials are great. Those would be very useful for people who want to groom their own pets, rather than take them to a grooming salon. Anyway, Chunk is too adorable. You did a good job on doing his haircut. Thanks for sharing that, Ashley! All the best to you!

    Ashley Ziegler @ SF Hound Lounge