Can you ear me now? How to keep your dog’s ears clean and healthy.

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by Betsy Lane, MA

Whether your dog’s ears stand up or flop down, checking that they’re healthy should be a part of your weekly routine. Since many of us handle our dogs’ ears on a regular basis, doing a quick health assessment is easily incorporated into the pleasant routine. All that’s involved is a simple, three-point inspection. Each step uses a different one of our senses:

Touch: Does your dog pull away from gentle handling of her ears, indicating they might be sore? Do the ears feel hot? Either is cause for further investigation.

Smell: Sniff your dog’s ears regularly to learn what is normal. If her ears suddenly don’t pass the sniff test (stinky, yeasty, or just “off”), it might indicate an infection.

Sight: If you see your dog pawing at, scratching, or rubbing her ears on the furniture or floor, take a peek inside. Healthy ears look clean and pink, with just a bit of light-yellow wax present. (Just like in humans, this natural wax helps trap debris and move it out of the ear.) Excess wax, dark wax, and/or visible dirt all indicate your dog’s ears need cleaning.

Two quick cautions: Always handle ears gently; they’re sensitive! And never, ever stick anything (a cotton swab, your finger, etc.) into your dog’s ear further than about a half an inch. The last thing you want to do is injure her ears!

If everything seems fine based on your three-point inspection, leave your dog’s ears alone.

If there’s a bit of a problem—a slight odor, a little dirt, or more waxiness than usual—a preventative cleaning is in order. Dr. Marty Becker, DVM, explains the process: “To clean the ears, tilt your dog’s head downward with one hand and squirt a gentle cleanser recommended by your veterinarian into the ear, filling the canal. Holding the ear closed, give it a nice massage, really squishing the cleanser around in there. That softens any gunk inside.” Then just let your dog shake her head (this can be messy!), and gently wipe away any remaining cleanser with a soft cloth. Always use a cleanser made specifically for this purpose; other options such as alcohol and witch hazel are drying and can sting an already-irritated ear.

If there’s a larger problem, or you just aren’t the DIY type, take your pup to any PetSmart Grooming Salon (no appointment necessary!) or your vet. Professional groomers can clean your dog’s ears quickly, safely, and effectively, and also ensure the fur around the ears is thinned and trimmed properly for optimum ear health.

Here’s to your dog’s healthy ears!

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Making grooming a “TTouch®” easier

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By Betsy Lane, MA, Guild Certified Tellington TTouch® Practitioner for Companion Animals

Even if you’ve never heard of Tellington Touch, learning this one simple technique will help your dog become more tolerant of handling—at home, at the vet’s office, and at the grooming salon.

The Tellington Touch (“TTouch®”) method, created by famed horsewoman Linda Tellington-Jones, offers anyone who works with animals a unique and effective way to encourage the behaviors we want while enhancing our interspecies communication and deepening our bond. TTouch is a well-established training method that includes groundwork exercises, body wraps, and dozens of pleasant, novel touches.

For now, let’s focus on one simple TTouch technique that helps increase any dog’s comfort being handled in the common “problem areas”: paws, mouth, and ears. These body parts get handled the least during daily activities, resulting in wariness (at best) when they must be handled by someone—especially someone other than the owner, in a setting other than the comfort and safety of home.

As a TTouch Practitioner since 2008 (and in training for two years before that), I have found the “raccoon” invaluable in helping dogs get comfortable being handled. (Many TTouches are named after animals; this one is called the “raccoon” touch because it resembles the small, precise hand movements raccoons make.) The technique is easy to learn, and can be used on all of these challenging body areas.

The raccoon touch is a circular touch. The circles are tiny and light—like you’re gently touching your closed eyelid. When doing raccoon touches on the mouth, it is often most comfortable to rest the dog’s muzzle on one hand while you make slow, small circles with the tip of your index finger on the other (see above). Start at the hinge of the jaw, outside the mouth, and work forward towards the nose. If your dog is wiggly and the circles feel too fussy at first, begin with simple, gentle stroking along the sides of the mouth (from the nose back), adding a small circle at the end of each stroke. When working inside the mouth, making circles on the gums, use one fingertip and keep a cup of water nearby to moisten your fingertip.

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To work on the ears, rest the thumb of your dominant hand behind the dog’s ear, near the base. Keeping your thumb in this spot, use the tips of one to three of your fingers (whatever fits and feels best to you) to make a light circle about ½” in diameter right where your fingertips would naturally touch down. Slide your thumb softly about ½” to an adjacent spot and repeat, working along the base of the ear(s).

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Handling a dog’s nails and paws is frequently difficult and requires patient practice. To work the raccoon touch on a dog’s feet, begin where it is reasonably easy for the dog to be touched, which may be up the leg a few inches. Slowly and casually work your way down onto the paws (fur side and pad side) and each nail, making tiny circular touches with the tip of your index finger.

Practice raccoon touches a few times each day, in sessions lasting just two or three minutes each. As you practice, keep your mood positive, breathe calmly, and speak reassuringly to your dog. If you’re frustrated or hurried, take care of yourself first and then work with your dog.

Let your dog’s vet and groomer know you’re working on increasing your dog’s comfort being handled, so they can support your training by giving your dog a break if she gets stressed. Any good professional groomer, like the ones at PetSmart Grooming Salons, should understand this project and enthusiastically support it.

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Get ready, stay ready: caring for pets during a crisis

pet fire

by Betsy Lane, MA

Roughly 215 years ago, English romantic poet William Wordsworth wrote, “The world is too much with us.” Although the context is different, 2017 has been a year of earthquakes, fires, hurricanes, and other disasters, and it’s enough to make anyone feel overwhelmed and wonder what we would do if a disaster struck our town, our block, our family, or our pets.

I grew up in California, where wildfires were a frequent threat. In October 2017, the Tubbs Fire in Northern California broke the record for the most destructive wildfire in California’s history—and it was just one of 21 active fires in that state at the time. Wildfires pose challenges to preparedness, because they move quickly and unpredictably, depending on wind speed and direction, humidity, terrain, available fuel, and other factors we don’t normally think too much about. Hurricanes can be tracked, and it’s likely that you’ll get at least a dozen hours advance warning (which, of course, never seems like enough time when you’re in the middle of it). With wildfires, a simple shift in wind direction can leave you with mere minutes to escape with the clothes on your back and, hopefully, your pets in your car.

We’ve already covered things that business owners can do to prepare for natural disasters like hurricanes. In this post, I’m going to narrow the focus a bit to what you as individuals can do to prepare for rapid-onset emergencies such as the California wildfires (jointly referred to as the “October Fire Siege” of 2017) that destroyed an estimated 7,700 homes and businesses and resulted in 100,000 Californians being evacuated from their homes.

The primary piece of equipment is the Go Bag. This will contain your pets’ essentials, including a first-aid kit.  Also include your pets’ medications, leashes, bowl, food, poop bags, baby wipes/hand sanitizer, proof of ownership, and current photos (if you get separated, you’ll use these to post or share). You can make a pet first-aid kit yourself, or augment a purchased kit. It’s not hard; it’s actually kind of fun. You just have to do it. Helpful lists for dogs, cats, and other companion animals can be found at the link above or on the PetMD, HSUS, and ASPCA websites. 

CalFire is a great resource for all kinds of information about how to prepare, safeguard, evacuate, and return to your home after a wildfire. Their website has videos and information designed to keep you safe, and most of their advice applies to other emergency situations, as well.

Ideally, you should have a Go Bag by near each exterior door of your dwelling, plus one in the garage and one in your vehicle. Do not, under any circumstances, stash your Go Bag in an out-of-the-way, hard-to-reach spot. Your lives might depend on your ability to evacuate immediately — do not pass go, do not collect a bunch of supplies in the back of the closet under the stairs. Gather your pets, grab the Go Bags, and GET OUT. At the very least, have a Go Bag in your car and one by the door you’re most likely to use to get to the car. As CalFire advises everyone, “Prepare now, and go early.”

Creating a good Go Bag is critical, but taking a couple additional steps now will ensure your pets’ safety should disaster strike.

First, arrange a safe haven. The ASPCA reminds pet guardians, “If it isn’t safe for you, it isn’t safe for your pets.” Because you’re likely to be panicked (and possibly without phone service), write down a few options and keep the list in your Go Bag. The list should include boarding facilities, hotels, friends, relatives, stables, etc.—any place you have recently confirmed will board pets in an emergency. While you’re making lists, grab a map and highlight or write down multiple evacuation routes from your home to your safe haven(s).

Second, consider who will care for your pets if you can’t. Your short-term person (for example, if you can’t get home for a few days; this is often a neighbor) might be different from your long-term/permanent person (usually a close friend or relative, for a worst-case scenario). Be sure your short-term and long-term people have each other’s contact information and a way to access your animals if you’re not there.

Finally, when the immediate danger is over, inspect your pets closely for injuries, brush them well, and give them a bath. As soon as possible, all pets should go to a professional groomer for a more thorough bath and complete grooming session to remove any lingering toxins, irritants, and smokiness or other foul odors in the coat. A trip to the vet is also in order, to be sure your pet is A-OK inside and out. If you have been evacuated to an unfamiliar location, you can find a highly qualified groomer at any PetSmart Grooming Salon,  and an AAHA-certified veterinary clinic almost anywhere in the United States.

Plotting out a solid emergency plan will help keep you and your pets safe in case disaster strikes — and that means you’re more likely to be fully present and available to help the animals and people in your life. Perhaps best of all, preparing in these ways now will make all the “what ifs” a whole lot less overwhelming.

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Canine curiosities your groomer knows

 

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by Betsy Lane, MA

Professional dog groomers get to know more dogs well than almost anyone, other than a veterinarian. This week, we spoke with Nicole Morris, Regional Salon Quality and Education Manager for PetSmart’s Great Lakes Region, and asked her what she’s learned that might surprise us. As usual, Nicole didn’t disappoint!  

Every pet professional picks up specialized bits of information on the job. For example, a pro musher will quickly learn that not all “Northern breeds” are created equal (not by a long shot). Vets learn that sometimes the fastest way to get a simple but stressful procedure done is to give the patient brief breaks. And dog walkers learn every client-dog’s preferences, from how they like to get leashed up to which fire hydrants provide the most fascinating scents.

Over the course of a career a groomer’s hands will cover every inch of thousands of dogs, from miniatures to giants, puppies to seniors, and super-relaxed to super-stressed. Because of this, experienced groomers have an inside scoop about dogs that other pet pros don’t usually have. Here are three of Nicole’s favorite fascinating facts:

Terriers pose one of the biggest challenges as far as temperaments for grooming. The terrier personality is “fight or flight” and when they don’t like having their nails trimmed, for example, they will try to get away from the groomer—and if that’s not an option, they may try to fight. Reading the behavior of a terrier and changing your technique/approach are crucial for both the terrier and groomer to keep everyone safe.

Many people bring their pups in for a groom because the dogs “smell.” One common culprit of a smelly pet is dirty ears! Pets ears should be cleaned regularly, especially if they have dropped ears, like spaniels and hounds. Look inside your pet’s ears regularly for redness, dirt, or discharge.

Did you know poodles shed? Instead of dropping the hairs onto your floor, they often fall back into the dog’s coat and, if not brushed out, can cause tangles and mats to form.

Because of their extensive contact with so many dogs, good groomers—those who pay close attention to the dogs in their care, understand canine body language, and know the unique characteristics of each breed or type of dog—have insights like these that are as fascinating as they are useful.

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The grooming process … or, “Why does a trip to the grooming salon take so long, anyway?!”

Dog groomer shaving West Highland Terrier

By Betsy Lane, MA

If you’ve been following our blog over the past few months, you’ve probably learned a lot about dog groomers, tools, salons and shops, and so on.  In this week’s post, we unpack the grooming process itself, to answer that perennial question: Why does grooming a dog take so darn long?

Even pet parents who have been taking their dogs to grooming salons for years sometimes wonder why the process takes so long. In this week’s post, Nicole Morris, PetSmart’s Salon Quality and Education Manager for the Great Lakes Region, shed some light on the matter.

“At our grooming salons,” Nicole says, “two to four dogs arrive within the first hour of the groomer’s day. The groomer spends 5 to 15 minutes talking with the pet parents about the dog’s health, behavior, goals, and so on.” This checking-in chat is important, so plan for it when you make your appointment!

Once the dog is checked in, work proceeds in five logically ordered steps:

Prep work – The groomers take care of the basics first: coat (shaving and/or brushing out), nails, teeth, and ears. Always brush your dog’s coat before the bath, to avoid tangles and knots!

Bathing – The bath itself can be quick or more intense, depending on the dog’s coat and any treatments such as conditioners or de-shedding. In any case, an extremely thorough rinse finishes things up.

Drying – The drying process is essential; coats need to be completely dry in order to stretch to full length and make an even cut possible. The dryers make many dogs nervous, so at times the groomer will towel dry the dog, or turn a fan down to low and let the dog air dry. Many dogs still benefit from a break after the drying process. Drying times can be less than 15 minutes for a Yorkie, but closer to 45 for a Goldendoodle.

Clipping and tidying up – Finally, we’re to what feels like the “haircut”! This is when the groomer trims and tends to every last detail, from nose to toes to the tip of the tail.

Bows and bandanas – Your dog is looking and feeling great, so why not top all that goodness off with something fun? Team bandana or rhinestone bow, anyone?

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What makes a great groomer great?

Groomer with a dog

by Betsy Lane, MA

Many—perhaps even most—dog groomers don’t start out thinking grooming will be their career. Successful groomers enter the field from all sorts of backgrounds. Many come to this work out of a deep love and commitment to animal welfare. Others get curious about the career when they bring their own dogs to be groomed. The paths to grooming are so diverse, it begs the questions: What do these professionals have in common, personality-wise? What attributes make a great groomer? And, could this describe you?

Nicole Morris, PetSmart’s Salon Quality and Education manager for the Great Lakes Region, provided her insights. A former professional dog groomer herself, Nicole knows this work inside and out, and has seen countless new groomers succeed. Here’s what she thinks they have in common:

Groomers need to be compassionate.

“The #1 quality all great groomers share is compassion.” Groomers need to be able to work well with pet parents from all walks of life, and with all different types of dogs. Some (parents and pets!) will be nervous or anxious. Some will bring in a dog with a health issue they might not even have noticed. Whatever the case, the groomer “has to be able to walk them through it,” Nicole says. And they need to do it with compassion and professionalism.

Groomers need to be patient.

Many pet parents are nervous, especially the first time they visit a salon (or a new groomer). “Especially for the Millennial generation, many of whom don’t have kids, the dog is their kid. Dropping the dog off at the salon is like dropping your kid off on the first day of preschool. [The pet parents] want to know the entire process,” Nicole says–and the groomer needs to be able to explain the process quickly but thoroughly, helping the pet parents relax.

Groomers need to be extroverted (in some ways).

When new clients arrive for appointments, the groomer needs to jump right in, engage the clients, and ask questions about some unusual topics, like poop, fleas, hair mats, and so on. As a groomer, “you have to be a little bit of an investigator,” Nicole says. Groomers also need to be extroverted enough to be good team players; they “need to be willing to ask for help—or to jump in and offer it proactively to another groomer who might be struggling.”

Groomers need to be detail-oriented.

Finally, great groomers are extremely detail oriented. They see the details, and feel motivated—compelled, even—to ensure every detail is just right.

Does this sound like you? If so, why not consider a career (or a new career) in dog grooming? PetSmart’s Grooming Academy is just one option, and it’s a great place to start exploring!

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Setting your dog up for success at the salon

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I get treats for going to the salon?! What are we waiting for – let’s go!

by Betsy Lane, MA

Most of us would love a day of pampering at a spa. Many dogs… not so much. A trip to the grooming salon involves many unfamiliar experiences and a certain amount of sensory overload from the sights, sounds, and smells of the salon. These “firsts” can be challenging for a dog—and we haven’t even talked about the grooming itself yet!

Many “firsts” are difficult for dogs, so it’s worth our time and effort to be sure they go well. As they say, “You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.” We want to ensure our dogs get a stress-free start at the grooming salon, so they won’t be stressed by routine procedures like being bathed, brushed, clipped, or having their nails trimmed and ears cleaned.

The two most effective ways to help our dogs accept being groomed are (1) start slow and (2) offer lots of rewards.

Food is usually your best bet here. Choose something soft, smelly, and small, so you can give out a bunch of little pieces without filling your dog’s belly. Diced hot dogs, cheese, chicken, filet mignon, salmon—you name it. Discover what your dog absolutely LOVES, put a bunch of that in a baggie, tuck it in your pocket, and head out the door.

Your first trip to the salon will just be a social visit—much like stopping to chat with a friend you run into on the street. “We always encourage social visits to build positive associations,” says Alyssa Serafin, PetSmart Salon Leader. “Just come in, say hi, get a treat, and leave.” These baby steps help your dog become familiar with the salon environment, from the ambient noises, lights, and smells to the sometimes shiny, slippery floors.

Remember those treats in your pocket? Be generous with them! Watch for every brave, curious, relaxed, or happy thing your dog does and reward the heck out of it. Your dog walks past the sliding glass doors? Yay! Treat! Happily approaches a customer pushing a shopping cart? Yay! Treat! Acts curious and friendly towards the salon staff? Yay! Triple treats!

This technique (which has decades of scientific research supporting it) is called “positive reinforcement,” and it’s how we get more of the behaviors we want. As Alyssa says, “Start slow and make it easy for the dogs, and they’ll do better in the long run.”

Sure, you might make a few trips to the salon before any real grooming happens, but that’s a small investment of time that can pay off in a dog who’s reasonably happy being groomed for the rest of his or her clean, healthy, gorgeous life.

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Skunked!

Skunk kit

by Betsy Lane, MA

The days are getting shorter, temperatures are beginning to fall, and the animals outside are getting bolder as they single-mindedly prepare for winter’s chill.  Just when you think it’s safe to go for a nice evening walk… SKUNKED!

So, that funny-looking black-and-white cat wasn’t a cat, after all—and you have the stinking-to-high-heaven dog to prove it. What do you do now?

Growing up in California, skunks were an integral part of every summer. Back in the bad old days, treating a skunked dog meant clamoring around for gallons of tomato juice, endless cleaning up of said juice, and—adding insult to injury—discovering your dog still smelled horrible! Everyone was miserable, and there was little to do but wait for the stench to dissipate… which usually happened right about the time the dog got sprayed again. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Most dogs are surprisingly slow to learn that chasing a skunk never ends well. This means we, as dog guardians, have had a whole lot of opportunities to figure out what works to get that nasty stink out of our furry friends. The recipe below is cheap, easy, and effective. I keep the ingredients in a bag in the pantry, right by my back door—so I can grab it and use it on the dog outside, with the hose. (Better yet, put it in a small plastic bucket.) I marked the bag “SKUNK KIT” and put instructions inside, in case I’m lucky enough not to be the one doing the de-skunk-ifying (hope springs eternal). This system is so easy, the trickiest part is remembering to restock the kit after using it.

Of course, you can always take your skunked dog to a professional groomer—PetSmart has salons in more than 1,000 locations across the country—but give this a try in the meantime. I think you’ll be surprised by how effective a 5-minute bath with this concoction can be!

Skunk kit

Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup baking soda
  • 1 quart hydrogen peroxide (3% solution)
  • 2 teaspoons dish soap (preferably Dawn)

I also add a teaspoon measure and a ¼-cup measure, plus an absorbent towel or two.

Instructions:

Combine the baking soda, peroxide, and soap in a bucket or bowl. Add up to a quart of water (just reuse the peroxide bottle) to make more solution as needed for a larger dog. Saturate any stinky fur, avoiding eyes and nose. Let sit for 5 minutes. Rinse well with clear water and towel dry.

That’s it! Don’t forget to restock the kit!

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How to find a great groomer

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Kara Gossage and Coby of the PetSmart Groom Team at the All-American Grooming Show 2017 Wire Coated Breeds Competition. 

By Betsy Lane, MA

Help! Your dog needs to be groomed, but you don’t know where to turn. How do you find a great salon—and avoid the not-so-great ones? If the thought of handing over your dog to a virtual stranger and coming back a few hours later makes you break out in a cold sweat, read on. Renee Fuentes, PetSmart Salon Leader, is here to share some expert advice for pet parents who haven’t yet found a groomer who makes them and their pets happy.

As it turns out, finding a groomer isn’t all that different from finding a human hair stylist. Many people start looking for a groomer at dog-friendly areas or events—or even while on walks. Watch for dogs that have a look you like, and ask their owners where they take their dog for grooming. Pay particular attention to the dog’s head, especially on dogs that look like yours. “The details will set a cut apart,” Renee says, “especially the shape of the head, ears, and face. Ask for a referral if you like what you see on another dog, especially of your dog’s breed.”

The next step is to visit the salon in person. Renee suggests looking for someplace clean, bright, friendly, and professional. It should smell nice, there shouldn’t be clumps of old hair lurking in the corners, and the animals should not look too stressed. Ask which of the groomers at the shop most like to groom your type of dog; groomers should be versatile, but often have a favorite type of dog (Yorkie, Newfie, shy, puppy, senior, etc.). Renee also suggests casually asking who sharpens the shop’s blades—since these should be sharpened about once a month (for efficiency and safety), any reputable salon will be able to tell you who their sharpener is. And when it comes time for your first appointment, you can bring photos of styles you like, just like you might with your own hairstylist.

What about a small, private shop versus a larger salon? Renee says there are pluses and minuses to either choice. “Private shops can be calmer and slower-paced, which can be good for scared, anxious, or older dogs,” she says, “but larger salons often have better systems in place for air filtration and so on—like PetSmart’s UV lights in their ventilation system, which kill a lot of the germs you might worry about elsewhere.”

Finally, remember that making a few fun “social visits” to the shop to say hi and get used to the smells, sounds, and so on, will help every dog—and potentially worried owner—feel great about a doggy spa day!

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DIY dog grooming (and when to call the pros)

 

dog tub

By Betsy Lane, MA

All dogs require grooming. If you have a healthy, short-coated dog, grooming might consist of weekly brushing and/or combing, and a monthly nail trim and bath. But if your dog has a high-maintenance coat, fast-growing nails, or a tendency to roll in things you’d rather not discuss, you’ve probably realized you can’t do all your dog’s grooming on your own.

Elizabeth Gibbs, District Academy Trainer at PetSmart Grooming Academy and a member of the PetSmart Groom Team, says owners who are interested in grooming their own dogs can often manage brushing and combing, nail trimming, and bathing at home, with trips to a grooming salon every couple of months (or as needed).

Brushing and combing should be done at least weekly, and more often won’t hurt. Elizabeth recommends getting a slicker brush in a size appropriate for your dog (she likes this brush by Top Paw) and a good comb (she likes this comb, also by Top Paw). A quality detangling spray is essential for many dogs’ coats; she uses this spray by CHI on her own Poodle and Yorkipoo.  If your dog resists being brushed or combed, start with very brief sessions (a minute or two), and encourage your dog with soothing praise and yummy treats.

Nail trimming should be done monthly, using a sharp, high quality nail trimmer like these from Millers Forge. A quality product makes a huge difference both in ease of trimming and getting a nice, clean edge on every nail. Many dogs dislike this procedure, but will tolerate having a few nails trimmed at a time; you don’t have to do them all at once. Ask a groomer, vet, or vet tech to be sure you know how to trim your dog’s nails safely before you begin!

Bathing should also be done regularly, but the timing will vary a lot depending on your dog. It takes a dog’s skin six weeks to go through its lifecycle, so many dogs do best with a bath every 4 to 6 weeks. Elizabeth recommends an oatmeal shampoo (like this shampoo by CHI), or a hypoallergenic shampoo for dogs with allergies. You can also use a conditioner (like this conditioner, also by CHI) if your dog has a longer, fuller coat.

What’s the #1 thing Elizabeth wishes owners would quit trying to do at home? “I wish they’d stop cutting mats out of their dogs’ coats! First of all, it’s too easy to cut the dog, and then your dog has a gash in it. And second, owners often end up cutting a big hole in the middle of their dog’s style, leaving us no option but to shave the coat. Often, we can get the mat out by brushing, or we can find a way to fix the problem with the professional tools we have in the salon.”

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