Expert Tips on Grooming Feet, Eyes, and Ears

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Creativity and patience are the keys to success when grooming feet, eyes, and ears. Below are some tips from groomers and dog owners.

Grooming Toes

When grooming a dog's toes, training is key. Essentially, you need your dog to do several things at the same time:

  • Hold still so that you’re less likely to cut a nail too short
  • Allow you to hold each foot and toe while you trim or grind the nail
  • Tolerate noise made by the nail clippers or grinding tool

Dogs don’t know how to do these things unless we teach them, so it’s important to work on training them to stay in a sit or down position. Be sure to reward your dog frequently for letting you handle his paws and toes. Also, pair the toenail clipper or grinder noise with high-value food rewards long before doing nails for real.

The “leave it” command can also be helpful for this task. “I’ve tried offering treats while sanding his nails, but he tends to move around too much while trying to eat the treat. I don’t know why it never occurred to me before to have him ‘leave it’ or ‘wait,’ ” says Erin Altman. “Yesterday, I had him lie on his side, put a treat in front of his face, and told him to ‘wait.’ He was focused really nicely on the treat and kept his feet still. I was able to let him ‘take it’ every one or two nails, then reload for the next few nails. You need a fairly solid ‘wait’ or ‘leave it’ command, but that is a lot easier to achieve than a ‘hold your darn foot still’ command.”

Others have had success with these strategies:

  • Mounting stuffed toys, like a Kong, to a chair, gate, or wall so that the dog stands still licking the food while having nails done
  • Smearing peanut butter or other high-value squishy food to a hard-surface floor to keep the dog busy while doing nails
  • Get the right tools for the job. Your options include scissor-style nail trimmers, like those from Safari or Wagglies, or guillotine-style, such as ones by Millers Forge and Petmate
  • If you prefer to grind nails instead, you can buy dog-specific tools from Furminator or Andis Company, or you can simply purchase the attachment for a tool from Dremel
  • Be sure to keep a styptic product handy, just in case you trim a nail too short, causing bleeding. Brands include Kwik Stop and Four Paws
  • And, if you want to tidy up your dog’s coat around the paws, consider some simple shears, like the safety ball-tip ones from Miracle Care. The rounded tips keep you from accidentally poking yourself or your dog

Make the experience fun. The treats and praise you offer during the process will go a long way in helping your dog learn to accept nail trims. Reversely, using too much force can lead to an unpleasant experience and a resistance to the process for life. If you ask the staff at your veterinary clinic to trim nails, inquire about how much physical restraint they will use as well as their overall attitude about it. Leslie Clifton learned that lesson the hard way, after her Labrador Retriever, Bridget, was roughly handled at 4-months-old by a staff member with the attitude that the “puppy needs to be shown who is boss.”

After many months of careful desensitization and counter-conditioning (i.e., offering big rewards for touching or holding the paw), Clifton finally got to the point where she could trim one nail a day. The situation improved over time. “Today, at 10 years old, she lets me trim all of her toenails with her in a down posture, due mainly to our hard work and ongoing reinforcement over the years,” she says.

Grooming Ears

Ear troubles can cause pain that leads to grumpy or withdrawn behavior, so be sure to get professional help if you suspect something is wrong. Talk to your veterinarian if you notice excess dirt or wax and odors in the ears.

Otherwise, normal and healthy ears don’t need much cleaning. An occasional and gentle wipe of the earflap with a warm, damp cloth is usually enough.

If you want to do more, then look for soothing ear cleansers such as Burt’s Bees for Dogs Ear Cleaner, Dr. Harvey’s Herbal Dog Ear Wash, or Ears All Right from Ark Naturals.

Grooming Eyes

Dogs with white coats as well as those with larger eyes and short noses, such as Shih Tzu and Pugs, develop more staining.

Tear staining around dogs’ eyes are caused by porphyrins, which are a waste product of the natural breakdown of red blood cells,” explains Lori Stephens, DVM, co-owner of City Veterinary Hospital in San Antonio, Texas. “Porphyrins contain iron and are excreted in tears, saliva, urine, and feces. When tears containing this by-product sit on light fur, they will stain the fur a red color.”

Dr. Stephens suggests these strategies to decrease staining:

  • Consult with your veterinarian to rule out medical problems
  • Clean under the eyes with a soft, moist cloth twice daily
  • Groom fur away from the eyes
  • Feed a high-quality diet
  • Feed out of stainless-steel or ceramic bowls
  • Use filtered water instead of tap

She cautions that many products to remove tear stains contain an antibiotic not indicated for use in dogs or cats. Amid worries about overuse of antibiotics, the FDA has cracked down on eye-stain products that contain tylosin tartrate, including some that did not disclose on the label the presence of this or other antibiotics.

Find the right rewards, tools, and routine for grooming your dog, and you’ll be on your way to a well-maintained canine pal.

Roxanne Hawn is a journalist and award-winning dog blogger based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. She specializes in veterinary and pet-care topics. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Reader’s Digest, Bankrate.com, WebMD, and many other outlets. She is the author of Heart Dog: Surviving the Loss of Your Canine Soul Mate (#1 Amazon Best Seller – Pet Loss).

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