Q: What’s the best way to brush? And how often should we do it?
A: The technique is simple: start at the same place on your dog every time — it’s best to begin at the bottom of the back legs — and work your way up, first one side, then the other. It’s important to brush the dog from the skin out. If you don’t get down to the skin, you will not be doing a thorough job. Plus (especially if the dog gets wet), the hair may mat, which happens when open hair cuticles lock together.
Matting starts in a dog’s moving parts: around the tail, behind the ears, in the armpits, and on the hocks and pasterns (ankles), and spreads from there. Also, if your dog has a double coat (long guard hairs and a shorter, softer undercoat), you need to get down to the skin to remove that loose undercoat hair. As to how often: you may have to do this every other day if your dog has a dry, cottony coat (like a Coton de Tulear), but, for most dogs, if you brush too often, you will cause more static, which will cause more matting and also affect the coat’s shed cycle.
I recommend brushing at least the mat-prone areas every week, and a long-haired, double-coated dog usually needs to be brushed more often when he’s actively “blowing coat” — the big twice-a-year seasonal shed.
One more thing: dressing up your dog may be fun, but if you have a single-coated dog, every time you take off his coat or sweater, you create static and cause matting.
Q: Speaking of matting — a friend’s Golden Retriever had lots of mats and tangles, so she shaved him. Is this a good idea?
A: Shaving double-coated dogs changes their coats. The hair grows back very slowly and is likely to be shorter and softer, and possibly a different color. Or, the dog may develop clipper alopecia, in which the hair does not grow back at all. Here’s the deal: for most dogs, brushing with the proper brush will take less than 15 minutes once a week. In many cases, it will take less than five minutes. Yet, those few minutes will make so much difference in both your life and your dog’s.
Q: How about bathing — what do we need to get our dogs clean?
A: You’ve probably seen television commercials in which the family dog is sitting in a tub of bubble bath in the back yard, and the family is making an afternoon of bathing him. This is not what dog groomers do and there’s no need for you to do it either.
There are many kinds of dog shampoo, so you should be able to find one that works well for your particular dog’s coat, but know this: suds do not clean the dog. The shampoo’s active ingredients agitated against your dog’s hair are what do the cleaning. If your dog’s skin is irritated by a shampoo, it’s usually sodium laureth sulfate (or chloride, the sudsing agent) that’s causing the problem; a few manufacturers make sodium-free shampoo.
Another thing to keep in mind is that if you don’t dilute the shampoo, you’ll never get it completely rinsed out. The industry-average dilution rate is 16 to one, but you can just eyeball it.
Dispense the diluted shampoo using an old dishwashing liquid or shampoo bottle. You want just enough suds to tell you when you’ve covered the whole dog. If you want to really get the dog clean, brush the shampoo through his coat. This covers every hair, gets out some of the smaller tangles you might have missed and removes the loose stuff. After the dog’s dry, brush him again, and then float a comb through his coat to finish up and clear out any remaining tangles (don’t forget: armpits, behind the ears, under the chin, and around the tail and ankles).
People often ask about conditioners. I rarely use them. A conditioner works by coating the dog’s hair with a humectant, which attracts moisture. This can be helpful for long-haired dogs in the winter, to counter static, but conditioner is difficult to rinse out, often leaves a film on the dog’s hair, will attract dirt and may even cause matting. I suggest avoiding conditioners unless you are using them for a specific reason.