A pup in the tub!
About once a day, someone says, “Wow! Your dog is so beautiful!”
Guess what. That takes a lot of work.
A major responsibility that comes with having a Service Dog is grooming. Think about it: most of the canine helpers you see out in public are pretty gorgeous dogs, and they have that look of one that’s well cared for, right?
There’s a reason for that: nobody wants a stinky, dirty dog with bad breath, goop in its eyes, and long nails hanging out in the the grocery store. And when I see a Service Team out and about with the canine half looking like a stray, it takes every ounce of self-control I have to not scream, “DO YOU KNOW WHAT THIS MEANS FOR THE REST OF US!?”
I’ll tell you what it means! It means that the manager that asked you to remove your un-groomed dog from the produce aisle is probably going to give me a hard time, too, and it’s because of the bad experience he had with you!
There’s another dimension to the importance of grooming, though, and this applies whether you’re the human half of a Service Team or just a regular pet owner: a dog that’s well cared for knows he’s well cared for. Grooming is a bonding activity; in both humans and animals, psychologically speaking, physical contact generally leads to greater comfort in another’s presence. Additionally, when you groom your dog, you assert your authority. When he submits, he acknowledges that you’re the Pack Leader, and that you’re doing your job. (More on the structure of a Pack and what it means to be Pack Leader another time.)
So, what does grooming entail?
Grooming Bright is a several step process, and while some tasks have to be done every day, others are only necessary once a week or every other week. Different dogs have different needs, but I’ll walk you through our routine:
- Brushing – this could be done every day, but realistically, I probably do it 3-4 times per week. Bright has a major shedding problem, so I use a few different tools. First, the Zoom Groom is a nubby rubber brush that loosens up the undercoat and sort of feels like a massage; Bright gets really excited when she sees it. Second, the shedding tool looks like something you’d use to groom a horse; it’s a metal band with little teeth on one side, and I just run it over Bright to pull out whatever’s floating around on top, or whatever the Zoom Groom loosened up. Last, I use the Furminator, which seems to do the best job at getting out those soft, fluffy undercoat hairs that stick to EVERYTHING. The whole process can take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour, depending on what Bright will tolerate on a given day.
- Ear cleaning – for a dog who’s prone to ear infections like Bright, this needs to be done as close to every day as possible. It’s a quick process, but since it can be uncomfortable for her, I try to follow it up with something fun or tasty. Pet stores sell ear cleaner, which mostly consists of a product similar to hydrogen peroxide that helps to break down ear wax and get dirt out without leaving the insides of the ears moist. Moisture, especially in dogs with floppy ears, can lead to bad ear infections, as the warm, dark, protected space inside the ear is basically an incubator for bacteria.
- Body and eye check – this one is quick and really can be done every day. The point is to know your dog’s body and to be able to tell if there are irregularities, such as lumps or hot spots. I just give Bright a nice, easy pat-down when I’m getting her dressed to leave in the morning, and I check her pads and eyes. If her eyes were to start looking watery, extra goopy, or cloudy, or she had a lump or a rash, I’d know to have her checked out.
- Brushing teeth – some dogs really hate this, but Bright loves having her teeth brushed, probably due to the fact that her toothpaste tastes like chicken. Really. Dogs’ teeth should be brushed regularly so that they get used to it; plaque buildup can be fatal if it gets out of hand, so the fewer barriers to getting those teeth squeaky clean, the better. I brush Bright’s once or twice a week. Any less than that, and her breath starts to smell like rotten seafood anyway. Yuck.
- Trimming nails – ah, the dreaded nail clipping. Every dog’s nails grow at a different rate, but I try to cut Bright’s every other week or so. I just make sure to keep some Quick Stop powder on hand in case I cut one too close and make her bleed. Dogs can actually bleed to death if the quick (the flesh inside the nail) is more than just nicked, so I’ve always got Quick Stop and gauze nearby.
- Bathing – definitely the most time consuming, but bathing is the least frequent of all the steps. Usually, Bright gets a light soaping and hosed down when we go to the park, but that’s just to get the mud off. When it comes to a full fledged bath, we go to a self-service dog wash about every other month, and she gets several soapings and the longest rinse cycle ever, until the water is clear, not gray. Bathing too often can lead to skin irritation and a dried out coat because shampoo washes away her natural oils.
That’s a lot of stuff to do! Sometimes I feel like I have a child. There are three things that help me get through all of the weekly chores:
The first is that I try to keep a routine. Sunday is the big day, where I do almost everything on the list, since it’s my least hectic day and I usually feel like I can take my time and do a good job.
The second is that I take pride in what we represent; I like showing Bright off and being confident that she’s a good ambassador for CCI and the Service Dog community.
The third is that I love my dog. When I think about all of the ways Bright helps to take care of me, it seems like a small thing to provide this basic care for her. There’s nothing better than taking her for a bath, getting her all squeaky clean, and then going home and snuggling up to read or take a nap. Clean dogs are much more comfortable to nap with, anyway.
Do you have any special tips or tricks for keeping your dog clean and happy? Share them here!