Sometimes after a marathon house cleaning, I flop down on the couch and holler, “Nobody move.” Try as I might, the floors and furniture only stay clean-clean for about five minutes. That’s life with dogs—especially rough-and-tumble mountain dogs who track all manner of gunk into the house.
I may never completely achieve long lasting clean, but I can enjoy small wins in the dog-grooming realm that ultimately keep my dogs and my house manageable. The trick is putting time and energy into the most common or biggest grooming challenges.
Challenge: Excessive Shedding
Depending on your dog’s coat length, type, and density, your own shedding struggles may look like the following:
- Pointy little hairs that fall off constantly and cling like barbed wire to everything
- Long, dense, or wiry hairs that gather under furniture, along baseboards and in corners
- Chunks of fluffy, down-like hairs that explode in droves during shedding season
- Or, all of the above
Solution for Shedding
In the ideal world, you would brush your dog thoroughly every day. In the real world, we can make reasonable compromises.
Wipe your dog down with a special damp cloth or grooming glove designed both to clean the surface of your dog’s coat and grab loose topcoat. Typical hand or baby wipes won’t do. Look for cloths or gloves designed for dog-specific shedding control. They do a better job because they are bigger and thicker, and they feature a rougher texture that’s better at getting loose coat off your dog. Much faster and easier than brushing, these dog wipes or gloves are a simple thing to add to your daily routine. The wipes are disposable. The gloves can be washed and reused, so you might want to have more than one around the house – especially if you live with more than one dog.
That doesn’t mean you’re off the hook for regular brushing, though. At least once a week, dogs with longer or denser coats need to be brushed. Be sure to pick the right kind of tool for your dog’s coat. Rubber brushes work well for short coats. Slicker-style brushes are designed for denser coats. Combs work well for longer coats. And, if your dog blows coat—as the lingo goes—during shedding season, be sure you use a grooming tool designed to remove loose undercoat such as an undercoat rake or de-shedding brush.
Challenge: Matted Dog Hair
Despite your best efforts, your dog might develop a major tangle, called a mat. They often form in places of friction, like where your dog’s front legs and chest meet. Sometimes, mats start as an area of dampness or even a little debris picked up while playing outside. The dog’s coat turns into a seemingly impenetrable lump of hair.
Solution For Matted Hair:
Try to think of the occasional mat like a puzzle. It can be done. Or in this case, undone, but it’ll take time and patience. Start from the outer edge of the mat and work your way toward your dog’s body. Gently pull the tangle apart, using a special mat-removing tool like a mat pick.
Hold on to the mat with one hand while you tug the edge of it loose with the mat pick in the other hand. This strategy keeps your dog from feeling the pull because your steady hand absorbs the force often required to tug a section of mat loose.
You may not be able to undo the entire mat in one sitting, but keep working at it for a few minutes a couple times a day over several days.
Challenge: Trimming Your Dog's Nails
Overgrown nails are bad for a dog’s feet, legs, and spine because they throw off your dog’s normal stance and gait. Long nails also can crack or break, which is incredibly painful and may even result in needing veterinary help.
If your dog’s nails are already too long, you may want to seek help from your veterinarian or a professional groomer who is much more experienced at fixing this problem.
Solution For Trimming Nails:
If you want to try at home, then I recommend only trimming one nail per day until you’ve gotten each one down to a reasonable length. Some people and dogs do better with guillotine-style nail trimmers. Others prefer the scissor-style. Some even use a grinding tool to wear the nail down rather than cutting it.
Whatever method or tool you use, be sure to reward your dog for letting you tend to one nail each day. Give her the best food treat you can imagine (and a lot of it), then play a favorite game afterwards. This marks the activity around toenails with positive associations. Over time, this can make it more likely your dog will allow toenail grooming. Use these tips to get your dog used to having his toenails clipped. Remember to offer treats and praise during the process to make it fun.
Challenge: Hot Spots
The common term for little icky bald spots on a dog is “hot spot.” They can start from allergies, insect bites, or even little injuries while dogs play. When dogs start licking and fussing at the spot, it compounds the problem.
Once a little sore forms, bacterial and yeast infections can take hold. According to dermatologists at Colorado State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, these spots can be:
- Bald patches or thinner hair
- Red, dry, greasy, scaly or smelly skin
- Scabs, small red bumps or halo-like sores
Solution for Hot Spots
It’s tempting to try home remedies when a hot spot first crops up. At a minimum, it makes sense to keep the area clean and dry, which may mean using a no-lick device like the Elizabethan collar (also known as the “Cone of Shame”).
If the spot doesn’t start healing within a few days, then see your veterinarian for help. In many cases, the area will need to be shaved a little and cleaned to medical standards. You’ll likely come home with some sort of topical or oral medication—depending on the kind of secondary infection your veterinarian finds. If the hot spot is caused by allergies, you may be looking at dietary changes or allergy medications as well.
Remember, grooming is about more than looking gorgeous. I joke about dog grooming and its relationship to a clean house, but clean dogs with healthy skin and coats feel better too. Well-groomed and fresh-smelling dogs are more likely to avoid major skin issues and to be included in family activities, which keeps them healthy emotionally as well.