Although dogs do a lot to keep their coats neat and clean, they need your help with tasks that require opposable thumbs, such as brushing.
Regular brushing removes excess hair from your dog’s coat, and cuts down significantly on the amount of hair you have to deal with on your furniture, car, and your favorite black pants. It also helps distribute the natural oils in your dog’s fur and skin, keeping her coat healthy and looking its best.
Brushing is also a great way to check your dog’s health. While you brush, look at the condition of her coat. Is it matted or tangled? Dry or oily? Also look for lumps, ticks, fleas, hair mats, cuts, and anything that looks unusual.
As she ages, she’ll get a few more bumps and lumps all over. On the off chance one of those lumps isn’t harmless, it’s better to discover it sooner rather than later.
Brushing really is pretty basic. You just need to understand the type of coat your dog has and that determines how often you need to brush and what type of brush to use.
- Long-haired breeds, such as Colliesand Tibetan Terriers, need to be brushed weekly, sometimes more often if the coat seems particularly tangled. A pin brush is a good choice for these breeds, because its bent-wire bristles grip the undercoat and remove loose hairs without causing pain. It can also get down to the skin. Start close to the skin and brush away from it. Use a comb to tease out any mats.
- Short-coated dogs, such as Labrador Retrievers and Greyhounds, don’t need frequent brushing because their hair doesn’t mat and tangle easily. Still, you may want to brush them every couple of weeks to remove loose hair. Use a rubber brush or hound glove, which will help bring dirt and loose hair to the surface. (The gloves fit over your hand–your dog will think you’re petting her and won’t suspect you’re actually brushing.) If you prefer a conventional brush, short coats can take a stiff natural-bristle brush or a soft slicker brush, which has little bent-metal pins in it. Follow up with a soft-bristle brush, which helps distribute the hair’s natural oils. It will feel so good she’ll go right out and roll in the dirt.
- Short, wiry breeds, such as Dachshunds and most Terriers, need a slicker brush, followed by a once-over with a metal comb. A stripping knife will remove the dead hair in the undercoat. Have someone knowledgeable show you how to use one first. If the coat has mats, work those out first.
How to brush your dog
- Brush down and out, away from the dog’s skin. Always brush in the direction the coat grows; dogs don’t like to be brushed backwards.
- Be gentle or you may damage your dog’s coat by pulling and stretching hairs until they tangle and break. Take the time to untangle any snarls just as you would if your comb got stuck in your child’s hair.
- If you encounter mats, apply a coat conditioner or mat spray and leave it on for several minutes. Then use a wide-toothed comb or a mat-splitting tool to get through the tangle. Mats can get close to a dog’s skin and removing them can be painful, so proceed carefully. You can cut out mats with scissors, but be careful you don’t end up at the vet’s for stitches; it happens more often than you’d think. If you just can’t get a mat out, take your dog to a groomer, who will probably shave the area.
When to go with the pros
While it’s true you don’t need a pro to brush your dog, there’s no shame in taking your dog to a groomer; they’re in the business for good reason.
You know how you can never get your hair to look as good as your stylist does? Well, the same is true for your dog. Besides some level of skill is called for if your dog’s coat tends to get matted. And if your dog really doesn’t enjoy her beauty routine, you’ll find that experienced groomers are good at sweet-talking even the most scaredy-cat dog into relaxing, at least a little.
Bottom line: Brushing is an essential part of a good grooming routine and will help keep your dog’s coat healthy and looking good. It’s easy to do yourself, but you’ll need a few tools and techniques to do the job right.