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Groom your dog for maximum comfort, not appearance

By Michele Welton, Dog Trainer, Breed Selection Consultant, Author of 15 Dog Books

By maximum comfort, I mean grooming based entirely  on what is healthiest and most comfortable for your dog, and easiest for you to maintain on a regular basis.

I don't care a whit about a breed's "official standard" for grooming. Lhasa Apsos at a dog show have coats dragging on the floor. Old English Sheepdogs have hair covering their eyes. Poodles are sculptured and manicured.

But we're not showing our dogs at the Westminster Kennel Club Show, are we? We should simply want them to be comfortable around the house and when romping in the yard.

silly poodle clip


shaggy headTrim hair across the eyes.

If your dog has hair hanging across his eyes, cut it short so he has an unobstructed view of the world.

  • A dog with hair hanging across his eyes may become anxious, shy, or suspicious because he can't see the world clearly.
  • He may bark more because he can hear sounds, but he can't see well enough to locate the source.
  • He may have a short attention span because he can't focus clearly on you.
  • He may move in a slow or clumsy way because he can't see where he's going.
  • And as that hanging hair shifts and blows around, the world appears to change right in front of his eyes. Talk about startling and confusing.

No dog should have hair hanging across his eyes. Ignore the fancy show dogs and trim the hair short across your dog's eyes. Dogs need to SEE.

Or if you don't want to cut the hair, you can lift it off his eyes and bunch it over his head, secured by an elastic band or pretty bow. Unfortunately, that band or bow might be pulling on his skin and making him uncomfortable and he doesn't know how to tell you. Nope, I cut that hair clean off.

Caution when cutting bangs – don't cut your dog's eyelashes! They help protect his eyes from dirt and debris.

Trim hair around your dog's private parts.

For sanitary reasons, keep the hair around your dog's private parts trimmed short.

  • Female dogs need excess hair around their vulva trimmed, and male dogs need excess hair around their penis trimmed. But do leave a few long hairs that act as "wicks" for directing urine away from their body and toward the ground. Trim any urine-soaked hairs that have fused into mats; these pull on the skin when your dog moves around.
  • Both males and females need their anal region  thoroughly trimmed so that fecal matter doesn't have anything to cling to. Also trim the groin, stomach, and underarm hair short, as these areas are prime candidates for matting.

Trim hair on your dog's feet.

Trim around  your dog's feet and between  the foot pads.

Long hairs on your dog's feet pick up dirt and debris and track it around your house. Long hair between the toes and pads can mat, and in the winter, provides a perfect place for painful ice balls to form.

Trim long hair all around the foot so that each foot appears nice and round. Then turn the food so the PAD is facing up and trim the hair across the bottom of the foot, including between the toes and pads so the hair is flush with the pads.

Trim the overall coat shorter.

LONG coatHow can this poor dog run and play comfortably in grass, leaves, or snow?

Just clip the coat short!

  • Shorter hair is easier to brush and comb, which is easier on you and easier on the dog.
  • Shorter hair is easier to bathe and dry, which is easier on you and easier on the dog.
  • Shorter hair mats and tangles less (if at all), which is easier on you and easier on the dog.
  • Shorter hair doesn't attract as much dirt, leaves, and debris, so your dog can run and play like a normal dog, without you worrying about him "messing up" his coat.

shaggy coat trimmed shortYou can trim the entire coat short, or just those areas that tend to tangle or pick up debris.

Grooming cheat sheet

1. Clean your dog's eyes.

2. Clean your dog's ears.

3. Clean your dog's teeth.

4. Cut your dog's toenails.

5. Brush and comb your dog's coat. Brushing and combing removes tangles in longhaired dogs. In ALL  dogs, brushing removes dirt, dander, and shed hair, and stimulates skin oils to flow, which helps keep hair healthy. So even short-coated dogs should be brushed.

Brush BEFORE bathing. Otherwise dirt, dander, and loose hair will make the water filthy and clog up your drain. Also, if you try to bathe tangled  hair, the water will fuse the tangles into a horrible mat. And if you don't remove loose undercoat before bathing, it will whirl into a blizzard all over the room when you turn on the blow dryer. So brush BEFORE bathing!

6. Trim or clip the coat – but just a "rough cut." It's hard to evaluate how much hair to cut from a dirty coat, so you can't do final styling until the hair has been bathed and dried. But there's no point in bathing hair that you know  you're going to be clipping off. A shorter coat is quicker and easier to wash and dry.

7. Bathe only when necessary. Your dog should NOT be bathed every time you brush him. Too much bathing dries out the skin and leads to itching.

Dogs who need frequent clipping, such as Poodles, Bichons, and Schnauzers, may be bathed every time you clip them (roughly every 6-8 weeks). But most dogs should only be bathed every 6-12 months... unless they're filthy or sprayed by a skunk!

8. Dry your dog with a towel, blotting up most of the water. Then allow his coat to air-dry or use a manual hand blower on low heat.  Dogs who are put in cages with a hot dryer blowing on them have died of heatstroke. If your grooming shop is still drying dogs this way, find another groomer.

9. Finish trimming or clipping. With the coat clean and dry, you can see it more clearly and do final styling with scissors or electric clippers.

How to clean your dog's eyes

dog with googly eyesMoisten a soft cloth or cotton ball with warm water and carefully remove mucous strands and debris from around the eyes. Don't poke the eyeball!

Pay special attention to the inner corner  of each eye, where spilled tears collect and form brownish "tear stains."

With blunt-nosed  scissors, trim long hairs around the eye (but not the eyelashes!) that might otherwise curl toward (and poke) the eyeball. Long hairs also act as undesirable "wicks" for moisture to run down and onto the hair under  the eyes, creating tear stains.

How to clean your dog's ears

Remove excess hair from inside the ears. Too much hair inhibits air circulation and attracts wax, moisture, and dirt, which provide a breeding ground for mites, yeast, and fungi.

Some people simply CLIP the excess hair with blunt-nosed scissors, while others PULL each hair entirely out. To pull hair, you can use tweezers, but a hemostat or forceps gives a much firmer grip on the hair.

Pull only a few hairs at a time, slowly, rotating the hair clockwise and pulling in the direction of hair growth. The ears are sensitive, so if there's a lot to pull, do some now and some later.

Consider this... pulling hair can inflame the skin and lead to the very ear infection you were trying to avoid. In the end, you may decide to just regularly trim the hair short with scissors.

Next, clean the ears. Moisten a soft cloth or cotton ball (not a Q-tip) with warm water. Squeeze it thoroughly to remove excess water. You don't want water dripping into the ear canals, as too much moisture attracts parasites.

Swab the inside of the ears, but only the parts you can see. Don't push down the ear canal or you might damage his ear drum; this is why I don't recommend using a Q-tip. Occasionally clean with a mild herbal ear wash such as Halo,  which contains cleansing herbs such as clove oil, calendula, and chamomile.

Basset Hounds

Basset Hounds need a lot of ear care, as those long ears have narrow ear canals prone to chronic infections.

How to clean your dog's teeth

Bad teeth are a serious problem. Dogs don't experience cavities like we do, but they are VERY prone to plaque and tartar buildup. When tartar wedges under the gumline, the inflamed gum becomes a breeding spot for bacteria. The result is gingivitis  (gum disease) and infection. An infection in the gums can quickly make its way to your dog's brain or heart.

  • Bad teeth can be inherited. Many breeds are well-known for having teeth that build up lots of tartar. For example tiny breeds such as Chihuahuas and Maltese, flat-faced breeds such as Pugs and Shih Tzus, and breeds with a long narrow muzzle such as Greyhounds and Shelties.
  • Bad teeth can develop when dogs don't eat the raw meaty bones they were designed to eat. Gnawing on raw bones scrapes off plaque and tartar, and the stringy meat and tissues attached to the bone provides a natural flossing action between the teeth.
  • Bad teeth can develop when you don't brush and scrape the teeth on a regular basis.

Evaluate your dog's teeth right now

dog toothIf his teeth simply have a coating of clearish sticky plaque or a tiny bit of hard tartar, you can start a regular, at-home cleaning program right away.

But if you see thick tartar coating many teeth, or a red line at the base of any tooth (suggesting inflammation under  the gum line), you need to see the vet.

Unfortunately, dental cleaning at the vet's requires general anesthesia, which is always risky. The good news is that once the teeth have been professionally cleaned, you can start your dog's regular, at-home tooth cleaning program and hopefully never need to schedule another veterinary cleaning.

Dental cleaning is a significant part of your vet's income, so he might try to convince you to come back every year. Sure, WE  go for dental cleanings once or twice a year, but WE  don't need general anesthesia! If you keep your dog's teeth clean, you can hopefully prevent him from undergoing anesthesia again.

Regular, at-home dental cleaning program

1) Brush the teeth. You can use a regular toothbrush (some owners even use an electric toothbrush) or just wrap a piece of gauze around your index finger.

cartoon toothUse a toothpaste made especially for dogs. Human toothpaste contains fluoride, sodium lauryl sulfate, alcohol, propylene glycol, etc. Because dogs can't spit, these ingredients can seriously upset their stomach when they swallow it.

The best canine toothpastes contain enzymes that actually EAT plaque and tartar so that you'll need to do much less brushing. I like Virbac CET Plaque & Tartar  or Zymox Oratene Gel,  but there are others.

When brushing, focus on the cheek side of the teeth. The tongue side usually stays clean.

2) Use enzymatic sprays or powders. Just as toothpaste can contain tartar-eating enzymes, so can pump sprays that you spritz onto the teeth or powder that you sprinkle into his food. I recommend Leba 3  spray or VetriScience Perio Support  powder.

3) Scrape off tartar. Depending on how easygoing your dog is, you might use a dental scaler to scrape off bits of hard tartar.

Dental scalers are sharp, so even when you're careful, you might nick the gums and make them bleed. Same thing happens to us when the dental hygienist is scraping and flossing our teeth. It's not a tragedy. The bleeding will quickly stop.

More concerning is that a scaler can scratch the enamel on the teeth, producing shallow nooks and crannies where plaque and tartar may accumulate more quickly. So when you use a scaler, you need to stay on top of the tartar.

4) Give your dog a "teeth-cleaning" toy. In theory, it sounds smart to encourage your dog to chew on toys that might scrape his teeth clean. Unfortunately, most of these toys have horrible ingredients that your dog shouldn't be ingesting. I don't give my dogs ANY so-called "teeth-cleaning" chewables.

You might try a Bristly Brushing Stick.  It's natural rubber with grooves and ridges that help clean the teeth when the dog gnaws on it. I would buy only the original product from the manufacturer, as many of the knock-offs can be dangerous.

5. Consider a raw meaty bone. The best natural toothbrush in the world is a real bone with a little meat and gristle still attached. The bone scrapes against the sides of your dog's teeth and the meat gristle flosses under the gum line.

Dog veterinarianA number of veterinarians, such as Dr. Richard Pitcairn DVM, say, "There is no better natural cleaner for teeth."

But are bones safe?

The best answer is that nothing a dog puts into his mouth is completely safe. Sticks, balls.... dogs have even choked on kibble. The fact is that there are different kinds of bones, and each has pluses and minuses.

  • The best bones for dental health are soft, flexible bones like chicken necks with the meat still attached. On the negative side, those can cause gagging or choking in dogs who try to swallow them whole. There might also be the risk of salmonella in raw chicken bones.
  • Large knuckle or soup bones (from beef) aren't going to cause choking unless the dog breaks off a small piece of it. That might not even cause choking, but it could obstruct the digestive tract, or cause constipation. In addition, these big beef bones are very hard and could cause a fractured tooth in powerful chewers.
  • Bones filled with marrow (pure fat) can cause pancreatitis in some dogs, especially small, middle-aged, sedentary dogs.

    Generally, I give soup bones to my large dogs for a few minutes a couple of times a week, with supervision. I don't give bones to my small dogs.

Isn't kibble  good for the teeth?

No. This myth probably began in the marketing department of a pet food company. Kibble doesn't clean the teeth. Kibble is crunched with the bottom surfaces of the teeth, not the sides of the teeth where plaque and tartar form.

In fact, kibble can cause  dental issues when tiny shards of kibble get wedged between the teeth or under the gum line, where they decompose into convenient, tasty landing spots for bacteria.

As for "tartar control" kibble, its ingredients are dreadful. Dogs shouldn't be eating that stuff.

How to cut your dog's toenails

Your dog's nails should not be touching the ground when he walks. Imagine yourself trying to walk with your toenails pressing into the ground. You would need to rock back on your heels to take the pressure off. The same thing happens with your dog, and this unnatural shifting of weight can cause splayed feet and sore foot pads.

  • If you can hear your dog's nails clicking when he walks on a hard surface, his nails are too long.
  • If the tip of your dog's toenails extend well beyond the quick,  his nails are too long.
  • dog toenailThe quick  is the big central blood vessel in each nail. Usually the quick stops just before the nail starts to curl downward. In light-colored nails, you can see the reddish/pinkish blotch of the quick. In dark nails, you have to guess.

Tools for cutting toenails

nail clippers nail clippers nail clippers

From L to R... the nail clipper I use for most dogs, the nail clipper I use for very small dogs, and the nail clipper I use for dogs with large, thick, strong nails.

styptic powderStyptic powder  stops bleeding quickly in case you cut a toenail too short. Always have it ready when cutting nails. The most popular brand is Kwik-Stop.

Your dog must be under control for cutting nails

Since dogs feel less confident when they're up high on a raised surface, a grooming table or sturdy wooden box is especially helpful for reluctant or uncooperative dogs. A helper can steady your dog's head if necessary.

But if your dog is really fussy about having his nails cut, you have a problem that goes much deeper than simply grooming. To have a healthy relationship with your dog, you must be able to handle him in any way that you see fit. A dog who protests when you try to do something that he doesn't like, is making a statement that he doesn't trust you to be in charge.

If your dog won't sit or stand or lie still for grooming, my free online training programs are all about establishing a healthy leader/follower relationship with your dog. You'll also learn how to teach the vocabulary words and commands your dog should know for routine grooming.

How to cut toenails

dog toenailYour goal is to cut the DEAD part of the nail that protrudes BEYOND the quick. There's no more feeling there than when you cut your own nails.

The trick is to locate the quick so you'll know where to cut. In white toenails, you can see it. In dark nails, you can't.

Fortunately, in nails of any color, if you turn your dog's paw so the pad is UP, you'll see a groove along the bottom side of the nail. This groove is deep and distinct at the tip of the nail and becomes wider and shallower toward the toe. The part of the nail with the deep distinct groove is dead. There's no nerve or vein there, so you can safely cut it off.

In print, it's hard to describe the technique of cutting a nail. It's easier to watch a few tutorials on YouTube.

If your dog's nails are very long...

...the quick is likely to be very long, too, since it grows along with the nail. With a long quick, if you try to cut enough nail to make it comfortable for your dog to walk, you would end up cutting into the quick.

So cut off only a little bit of the nail. Wait a few days, during which the quick will recede away from the end of the nail and you'll be able to cut a bit more.

What happens if you cut into the quick?

Nothing much. It stings. Some dogs barely notice, while others say "Yipe!" Blood will well out, and be forewarned, nails tend to bleed a LOT. Don't let it alarm you. It's not dangerous.

Just dab a chunk of styptic powder onto the cut and apply pressure for a few seconds. The powder will stop the bleeding, although the powder itself may also sting a bit.

Don't fuss over your dog or he'll make a mountain out of a molehill. A cheerful "Sorry about that" is enough. Once you've dabbed on the powder, leave the ouchy foot alone while you work on other feet. Then go back to the ouchy foot and finish the other nails on that foot.

How often do you need to cut toenails?

Every dog is different. Most need their nails clipped every 2-3 weeks. Some breeds have faster-growing nails than others. For example, my Chihuahua's little nails sprout new growth every few days! At the other extreme, I had an Irish Wolfhound whose sturdy nails only needed cutting every 6-8 weeks.

You can help keep nails worn down by walking your dog regularly on pavement. The hard surface encourages the quick to recede away from the tip of the nail and discourages nail growth.

Caution: On hard surfaces, your dog should be walking,  not jogging or running. Vigorous exercise should only be done on dirt or grass. Hard surfaces can seriously damage bones, muscles, joints, and paw pads, especially in young or senior dogs.

Don't forget DEWCLAWS!

A dewclaw is an extra (fifth) toenail on the inside of your dog's front legs (very common) or hind legs (much less common).

Some dogs are born with dewclaws, while other dogs are born without. If your dog doesn't have declaws now,  he might have started out with them. Some breeders have dewclaws removed by their vet a few days after birth.

dewclaw allowed to get too long The reason usually given for dewclaw removal is that dewclaws "can get caught on things and possibly rip off." This rarely happens. But what IS  common is having owners forget to clip dewclaws. Since they don't touch the ground, they don't become worn by walking.

If you forget to cut them, dewclaws will keep growing (see pic!), eventually curling around in a complete circle that's difficult to fix.

What about electric nail grinders?

Instead of clipping nails, some owners grind the nails with a cordless Dremel from the hardware store, or an Oster grinder from the pet store. Make sure the grinder has a low speed setting and a sandpaper drum (not stone). The noise may bother some dogs, but most of them get used to it.

Be careful not to burn the nail bed by grinding too long on one nail.

Oh, and one last thing about nails... please don't use nail polish on your dog's toenails. The chemical ingredients and artificial fragrances aren't good for him. See my article on keeping your dog's environment non-toxic.

How often to brush and comb your dog's coat

Remember, brush BEFORE bathing so you can remove tangles before the water fuses them into mats, and so you can remove dirt, hair, and other debris that might clog up your drain.

Grooming tools for a sleek coat

A smooth coat that lies close to the body (Doberman, Great Dane) is the easiest to care for. Simply brush once a month with a round curry brush  (like that used on a horse) or a natural bristle brush

Grooming tools for a short dense coat

A short dense coat (Labrador, Rottweiler, Smooth Fox Terrier) should be brushed every couple of weeks with a natural bristle brush.  Also use a special shedding blade  to remove dead undercoat when shedding.

Grooming tools for a medium-length thick coat

Dogs like German Shepherds and Siberian Huskies have a thick undercoat that sheds heavily. I use a slicker brush  every couple of weeks, plus a shedding blade  to remove all the dead hair.

Grooming tools for a long thick coat

A longish top coat PLUS a thick undercoat (Rough Collie, Newfoundland, Old English Sheepdog) is a high-maintenance coat. The top coat should be brushed and combed twice a week to prevent matting. I use a slicker brush,  a wire pin brush  and a steel comb  Also a shedding blade  during shedding seasons.

Grooming tools for a long single coat

A single coat means no undercoat. Longhaired coats without an undercoat  (Maltese, Yorkshire Terrier) need to be brushed and combed once or twice a week to prevent mats. But at least you don't need to deal with a heavy-shedding undercoat!

Remember that you can cut down on brushing and combing if you trim the coat shorter.

Grooming tools for a silky feathered coat

Some dogs have a shortish to medium-length coat on their torso, with longer silky feathering on their ears, chest, stomach, legs, and tail. Think of a Golden Retriever, Border Collie, or Cocker Spaniel. These coats shed a goodly amount. Once or twice a week, they should be brushed (pin brush)  and combed, focusing on the feathering to prevent mats and tangles.

Grooming tools for a curly coat

Curly/wavy coats (Poodle, Bichon Frise) need very little brushing when clipped short. If you leave longer hair on the ears, legs, tail, etc., that should be combed and brushed (slicker or pin brush)  once or twice a week to prevent mats.

Grooming tools for a wiry coat

When clipped short, wiry (terrier) coats are reasonably easy to brush with a slicker or pin brush  once or twice a week.

Wirehaired Fox Terrier

Wirehaired Fox Terrier

Best positions for brushing

When I'm brushing my dog's head, shoulders, chest, and front legs, I have her "Sit." When I'm brushing her back, sides, hindquarters, rear legs, and tail, I have her "Stand." Both of these grooming exercises are taught in my free online training programs.

Brushing out tangles, and de-matting techniques

Many owners dutifully brush their dog's back and sides, but don't pay enough attention to the most tangle-prone areas, especially behind the ears and in the armpits, but also the stomach, groin, feet, and anal area.

These areas are very sensitive, so brush and comb slowly and carefully as you search for tangles to tease out. To avoid  tangles, brush and comb these mat-prone areas every couple of days, or else keep them trimmed short.

Remove mats immediately. A mat can range from a few hairs fused together to a hard knotted ball. Mats hurt your dog by tugging on his sensitive skin whenever he tries to move.

To remove a mat, isolate it by taking the base of the mat between your fingers and moving it toward  the skin, to reduce pulling. Then use your fingers or a wide-tooth steel comb to try to separate the mat into smaller pieces, which you can then try to brush out.

If trying to remove the mat hurts your dog, just cut the thing out with scissors or use a dematter (essentially a comb with a razor blade between each tine) to slice up the mat. The coat will always grow back.

If your dog's coat has been neglected...

If your dog has a ton of mats, don't think you can just drop him at the groomer's and have those mats disappear with no muss and no fuss. It doesn't work that way.

De-matting hurts. Under solid mats, the skin, deprived of air circulation, becomes red and sore. Trying to force a de-matting tool into those mats could cause the inflamed skin to peel away, which could lead to a staph infection.

Any responsible groomer will tell you that de-matting should only be done with a few small mats that can be removed in less than 15 minutes. More than that and you should quit for that day and do more tomorrow. Or just cut the mats out. Or clip the whole coat short. It will grow back and meanwhile your dog will be comfortable while his skin heals.

Brushing the anal area

The anal area often collects dried fecal matter. DON'T brush or comb forcefully through this. Anal skin is very fragile and tears easily. Either trim away the junk with scissors, or soak it with water until it softens and breaks up. To avoid this problem happening again, keep the hair in the anal area trimmed or clipped short.

Brushing a whiskery beard

In whiskery dogs, the beard can become wet and sticky simply by eating and drinking. Fungi and bacteria love colonizing the skin under wet, sticky hair.

So keep your dog's beard clean, neat, and healthy. Trim it short and wipe it with a wet washcloth after meals. When combing the beard, start with a wide-tooth comb to suss out the most obvious tangles, and finish with a fine-tooth comb to find the baby tangles.

How to trim/clip your dog's coat

Blunt-nosed scissors are safest. Thinning  shears have ragged teeth that help "blend" the trim line so it looks soft rather than sharply defined, but you need some experience to use them properly.

coat clippersElectric clippers make overall body hair shorter. Oster is a popular brand.

Some clippers come packaged with useful blades, and some don't. So you might need to buy your blades separately. Blades are categorized by numbers, such as #3, #5, #10, etc. The higher the number, the more hair the blade takes off.

For most dogs, I recommend a #3F or #5F blade for the body. (The F  stands for fine cut).  For the stomach, groin, and anal areas, you can use a #5F or if you want that hair even shorter, try a #10 blade.

Important things to know about using clippers

  • Generally you should clip in the same direction the hair grows, i.e. clip WITH the grain, not against it.
  • Clipper blades must be kept well-lubricated. Dry blades get hot, and then your dog can end up with clipper burn,  which is itchy and uncomfortable and can lead to infection. Your first bottle of lubricating oil usually comes with the clippers. If you do notice redness or itchiness after clipping, apply aloe vera gel or vitamin E oil to soothe the skin.
  • Clipper blades must be kept sharp. Dull blades pull and tear the hair. You can get your blades sharpened by mail order. Do an internet search for "clipper blade sharpening".
  • When clipping loose skin around the neck and shoulders, keep the skin taut by stretching it with your other hand while you're making your pass with the clippers. This keeps the skin from bunching up, so the blade can pass over this area smoothly without getting rucked up.

Shaving dogs in the summer

Many owners ask about shaving their long-coated or thick-coated dog for the hot summer.

Yes, you can do that, but there are two concerns:

  • Sunburn. To guard against sunburn, leave the coat at least two inches long. Yes, Dobermans have coats that are shorter than that, but Doberman skin is used to the sun. Whereas the skin of a long-coated or thick-coated dog is used to being protected from the sun. If you suddenly throw that skin open to the sun, it's likely to burn.
  • Alopecia. If you cut a thick coat too short, you can damage the hair follicles and then an odd skin condition caused alopecia (al-lo-PEE-shee-ah) can develop. It's characterized by hair loss and then abnormal hair growth. Typically the coat doesn't become normal again for six to twelve months, and sometimes never.

    Post-clipping alopecia is most common in furry "spitz" breeds such as Pomeranians, Malamutes, Chows, etc. But it's also common in hairy breeds such as Golden Retrievers and Newfoundlands. It's safer to not clip these breeds and just use air conditioning, fans, and cool wet towels to keep them comfortable in the summer.

Stripping terrier coats

wire fox terrierIf you have a wirehaired terrier, the breeder probably told you to have its coat stripped  or plucked,  rather than clipping it with electric clippers.

Stripping  means you use a special grooming tool to pull dead hairs out by their roots so new hairs can grow fresh from the root. Plucking  means doing the same thing with your fingers.

Stripping/plucking is the only way to maintain the crisp hard coat and rich colors that wirehaired terriers are supposed to have for the show ring.

Clipping, on the other hand, means removing only the TIPS of each dead hair. This makes the coat shorter, which is good, but also softer (and thus more prone to matting) and more bland in color. So clipping produces a less proper terrier coat.


The big problem with stripping is that it's uncomfortable  for your dog. Most groomers won't do it anymore because it takes so much time, and because they don't want to put your pet dog through it. I don't do it either, but the choice is up to you.

Standard Schnauzer

Standard Schnauzer

Bathing your dog

You've cleaned your dog's eyes, ears, and teeth, and clipped his nails. You've brushed his coat and removed tangles and dead hair. You've done a rough trimming/clipping so you won't need to bathe a lot of hair that was going to come off anyway.

Now he's ready for a bath. Maybe. When was the last time he had a bath? Too much bathing can cause dry skin and itchy skin conditions.

Dogs who need frequent clipping, such as Poodles, Bichons, and Schnauzers, can be bathed every time you clip them (roughly every 6-8 weeks). But most dogs should only be bathed every 6-12 months.

dog in tubWhere to bathe your dog

Basically... sink, bathtub, or outdoors with the hose!

For sink and tub bathing, I recommend that you:

  • Install a hand-held sprayer so you can rinse thoroughly,  especially if your dog is medium or large in size. Trying to rinse by pouring cupfuls of water over a soapy coat seldom does a good enough job. Shampoo left in the coat causes skin problems.
  • Put a rubber mat  in the sink or tub to prevent slipping.
  • You might want to place a hair-catcher plug into the drain to prevent hair from running down the drain and clogging it.

How to bathe your dog

  1. Remove his collar. A wet collar can lead to a rash.
  2. Protect his ears. You can put a cotton ball into each ear or just be sure not to spray or pour water over his face/ears.
  3. Use lukewarm water. Hot water can dry out the skin and cause itching.
  4. Use a safe shampoo. I use a brand called Earthbath  but only their Fragrance-Free/Hypoallergenic  version. Avoid shampoos with tea tree oil, pennyroyal, or D-limonene, all of which can be toxic to dogs, especially small dogs.
  5. Shampoo the dirtiest parts (legs, feet, stomach, anal region) first. Let that shampoo soak in for a couple of minutes while you work on the rest of the dog. I don't use shampoo on a dog's face – just a very wet sponge or washcloth.
  6. Rinse the coat. Rinse, rinse, rinse! Your dog is not rinsed until the water runs absolutely clear. I can't emphasize enough the importance of thorough rinsing, including the armpits, between the toes, and under the tail. Shampoo left on the body can cause itchy skin conditions. Rinse the feet last  to remove shampoo residues that have been draining off the body.
  7. Use a conditioner (optional). If your dog is prone to flyaway hair or itchy skin, make a conditioner by mixing 1 part raw apple cider vinegar with 3 or 4 parts water. After shampooing and rinsing, run your hands over your dog and gently squeeze out as much water as you can, so he's no longer dripping. Pour the conditioner over his damp coat (but not on his face). Don't rinse off this conditioner.
  8. Dry the coat. After your dog has had a good shake, blot the coat with thick towels. If the hair is short, rub briskly. If the hair is long, don't rub it or you might tangle it up. Don't forget to remove cotton from the ears and dry the ears well. Damp ears can lead to ear infections.
  9. Finish drying the coat. Air-drying is fine for most dogs. But don't let them out in cold weather until completely dry.

    Thick- or long-coated dogs are more vulnerable to developing "hot spots" (acute moist dermatitis) if you leave their coat wet after a bath. I use a hand-held blow dryer on LOW, not too close to the skin.

    Keep the dryer in constant slow motion so that it never focuses on one part of the skin too long. Occasionally rest your other hand on your dog's body so that your hand is between his skin and the dryer. This keeps you in touch with the amount of heat his skin is experiencing.

    The coat will dry faster if you use a brush (or your fingers) to lift and separate the hair you're drying with the blower.

    Never put your dog in a crate with a dryer blowing on it. Too many dogs have died of heatstroke this way. Dogs also feel stressed when confined in a small space with hot air blasting on them.

  10. Final touches. Once your dog's coat is all clean and dry, do any final brushing and trimming/clipping.

What concerns me most about taking a dog to a professional groomer

Chemical products, such as "specialty" shampoos for whitening or darkening the coat, medicated shampoos, hair sprays, colognes, etc. Ask the groomer, "If I provide the shampoo, can you guarantee me that you'll use only that shampoo and nothing else?" Tell the groomer your dog is extremely allergic or recovering from cancer, or whatever. Make sure the person you speak with is the SAME person who will actually be grooming your dog. Phone receptionists may agree to anything.

Tranquilizers/sedatives. "If my dog becomes difficult to groom or acts up on the table, do you have tranquilizers or sedatives available?" I won't use a groomer who has sedatives available, because having them on hand makes it all too easy to use them. For example, if my dog got a little fussy on the table and they were running behind schedule and thought a small dose of a sedative might move things along more quickly...

Cage drying. Cage-drying can lead to heatstroke. Make absolutely sure your grooming shop dries ALL dogs by hand with a blow dryer. If a groomer says they "sometimes" cage-dry, but that they'll use a hand dryer on your  dog, I wouldn't risk it. If they have cage dryers available, it's too easy to forget and stick your dog in a cage.

Michele Welton with BuffyAbout the author: Michele Welton has over 40 years of experience as a Dog Trainer, Dog Breed Consultant, and founder of three Dog Training Centers. An expert researcher and author of 15 books about dogs, she loves helping people choose, train, and care for their dogs.

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