Washing behind your ears

Grooming is a divisive issue.  These are purely my own thoughts on the matter – I don’t pretend to be an expert on this topic.  Some people who don’t have dogs think dog grooming is equivalent to brushing a Barbie doll’s hair.  Pointless and somehow childish.  People with smooth-coated, short-haired dogs may think along the same lines but may add into the equation ‘it’s cruel’.  I am little smug myself as I imagine they lint-roll their clothes before they leave the house to remove those short hairs and buy PET versions of vacuum cleaners with turbo thrust to suck up the hairs on the sofa – whereas I don’t have to do this with my non-shed dog!  People who own working dogs are, in the main, in the Barbie camp.  For those who have double coated dogs such as border terriers, there can be a tiny bit of one upmanship that their dogs need hand-stripping once or twice a year, and not “poodle parlour” clipping every couple of months.  There is actually a good reason why dog groomers have the synonym poodle parlour … so many dogs these days are crossed with poodles at some point in their ancestry.  Poodle fur is actually hair. Wikipedia says “The terms fur and hair are often used interchangeably when describing a dog’s coat, however in general, a double coat, e.g., like that of the Newfoundland and most mountain dogs, is referred to as a fur coat, while a single coat, like that of the Poodle, is referred to as a hair coat.”  It is an oft-quoted statement that dogs with hair, rather than fur, trigger less allergies in people allergic to pets. But it is also often said that it’s not the hair/fur that is the allergy issue, it’s the dander, which is the tiny, microscopic pieces of skin shed by the animal and it’s this that gets caught in hair.  But, back to poodles and poodles crosses.  Poodle hair does not moult or shed and therefore continues to grow.  If I didn’t cut my hair ever, I suspect it would tail off around shoulder length as I don’t have strong hair and I just feel it wouldn’t be touching the floor ever.  So, growing hair does taper off at some point.  You will also notice that poodle cross hair doesn’t feel that greasy.  If it were greasy, it may perhaps mat less.  But poodles are renowned waterdogs and their coat does offer fairly good waterproofing – the curls are close together and act as a sort of barrier.  A fair while back, the sportsmen who used poodles for retrievers also realised that if they shaved areas such as stomachs, the dog also dried quicker.  Other areas were left with more hair to protect the dog.  Poodles also have large ear canals and the hair grows down far in the canal and needs plucking out to stop ear wax mats and for hearing.  I shouldn’t imagine its fun, but having seen my dog have this done, a skilful groomer is quick.  Poodle hair also can collect dust, dirt and foreign bodies due to the dense curls.  For other dogs with a fur coat, it would actually help keep them clean as a good shake and it would all flick out.  But poodle types don’t, so they may need a brush and/or a wash.  This is also where the allergy discussion kicks in again as washing the hair means washing out the dander which could help with allergies.  But it’s only a could.  Also, the dog’s skin does have its own emollient but it is not as greasy as, say, a labrador.  So over-washing would be detrimental to a poodle type dog as it would create dry skin.  The hair on a poodle type dog also grows on its feet and between its pads.  This then can mat and causes discomfort for the dog by a matted chunk between the pads causing the dog to walk with splayed pads.  I personally think all dogs, regardless of coat type, should be regularly brushed and checked over for lumps, bumps, ticks and so on.  If you start early with a puppy and make it a rewarding exercise and slow, stroking brushes in the direction of the hair growth, it is certainly not unpleasant for the dog and many dogs do like it – it can be a good bonding exercise.  It also massages the skin underneath the hair increasing blood flow – so healthier skin.  With a poodle-y type dog, you need to start early and work out what works best for your dog’s hair.  I use a comb on Betty as I find this is quick and easy and reaches through whatever depth of hair she has.  Some brushes float over the top, so you could still be matted underneath.  But running your fingers through the hair will tell you this.  Always go in the direction of hair grown.  Have care on ears, around eyes and nose, and around those tricky nether regions.  Check pads and if there are any mats, always use round ended scissors – between the pads is super-sensitive.  For hairy dogs, how can it not be a good thing to make sure they can see well, and to tidy up around their bottom to stop poo sticking?

Betty is Lhasa Apso, Poodle and Schnauzer.  Lhasa hair left to its own devices would be around floor length like Dougal on the Magic Roundabout – it’s straight, not curly and it’s silky soft.  It’s a magnet for sticky burs and muck.  A day at the seaside results in sticky, salty hair and sand everywhere – she needs a quick rinse as much as you and I would .  Chasing something through a muddy wood means removing more vegetation than in my garden.  I wouldn’t go to sleep with a prickly piece of bramble bush in my hair – why should she? So, I do wash her when she needs it.  I have perfected it in my bath with the shower attachment.  She actually sits by the bath while I’m getting the temperature right and puts her paws on the side of the bath ready for me to lift her in.  If she hated it, would she do this? She is in and out in about 5 minutes maximum and after I’ve towelled her dry, she does a wall of death run around the house yipping strange noises and drying herself on the carpet, the bed, the sofa ….  When I get the hair dryer out, she bombs over to me and sits ready for a dry.  That’s voluntary.  I don’t blow dry her face and am careful to use low heat.  She doesn’t like her ears being dried, so we don’t do those.  Same with her bottom, unsurprisingly.  I always use dog shampoo – they have a different pH to us.  I also choose gentle varieties.  There is a time and a place for a mega-deodorising, anti-flea shampoo and it’s NOT for as often as Betty gets a wash.  Even fox poo comes out with a gentle puppy shampoo by the way – I don’t think you need the super-scented varieties as dog’s noses are so much better than ours and they don’t want to smell like a tart’s boudoir. 

Now to the clipping.  I can do a basic in-between tidy up myself, but I struggle with head and legs and I’ve made her look like the laughing stock of the common with hacked at legs before now.  So, I go to Barking Betty on Battersea Park Road (where else would I take her?!).  I have been going since Betty was a puppy and Beverly has been nothing but brilliant since day one – and I am only 5 mins walk away.  I was passing and asked about Betty’s sticky ‘lady garden’.  Beverly gave her a mini trim and a sponge ‘down there’ and explained that puppies aren’t brilliant at personal hygiene until they learn how.  She also encouraged me to book her for a ‘get to know you’ puppy wash and dry.  This is just for puppy socialisation in those formative weeks when they are learning about new things and how they don’t need to be frightened, and when I handed her over, quaking in my boots, Beverly just told me to go for a cup of coffee and be back in 20 minutes.  Betty was gently washed and reassured the whole way through and carefully dried with a human dryer (commercial dog dryers would be too strong for a tiny pup) and given a gentle comb out.  Job done and a tick on her socialisation list.  All good groomers will offer this – I know Anita at Woofs to Kittys encourages the same. 

So, while Betty is slightly miffed about being left at the groomer, she doesn’t mind the process while she is there.  Some people will tell you that a dog wouldn’t choose to be groomed.  My answer is that a dog wouldn’t choose to have severely matted hair that pulled their skin when they tried to move it, or that matted so tight it caused blood loss.  A dog wouldn’t choose to walk with splayed toes.  A dog wouldn’t choose to have to carry its body weight around in matted hair in the heat – these are extreme examples, I know.  I could go on.  No one knows your dog the way you do.  I know when I pick her up from Barking Betty, she is pleased to see me but she is not scared and shaking and miserable.  She also sometimes walks with a swagger as if she knows she’s pretty.  Today, Beverly is clipping her tummy shorter to aid cooling and we all know when our dogs are too hot.  Betty – black and hairy – is frequently too hot in this weather so I do believe a hair cut makes her feel cooler.  Many people will say this isn’t so, but I think you know your own dog the best, and to me, she seems cooler.  So, the very, very long/short is don’t be put off grooming by people with ‘easy care’ dogs and do what you think is right.  You can with practice make the grooming as good as it can be for the dog – they rarely look enthusiastic but they should never been scared.  Choose your groomer wisely.  Check the premises and meet all the groomers.  Have they done the appropriate training and do they have a first aid qualification? They should never use a drying crate.  At Barking Betty, you can see the team at work through the window.  No drying crates there – all hand held by the groomer.  Check to see how the other dogs are being handled.  When I dropped Betty off this morning, I wanted to stay and keep cool in the air con (vital to keep dogs cool).  My own hairdressers in Chelsea doesn’t even have air con …

One grooming topic I am cautious about is toe nails/claws.  These are nature’s football studs.  Unless a dog has been stuck in a cage for months (or carried around in a handbag ..), normal exercise will wear the nails to the appropriate length.  The one thing that will put a dog off grooming for LIFE is a nail cutting experience.  Cutting your own nail down to the quick is excruciating – imagine having it done to all four feet … agony.  Black nails are especially hard to see the quick.  Less is definitely better. People are, in my mind,  quick to say nails are too long and heaven forbid they are only thinking about their furniture than dog health.  Fast, ‘long’ dogs such as lurchers have long feet, long toes and often longer claws – they need these studs to brake.  Don’t cut them too soon, please, I beg you.  Occasionally dew claws (nature’s brakes again) will slightly overgrow and may need the sharp end trimming a tad (Betty’s does this).  If the dog is older or has an uneven gait, there is a slight chance that one or two claws may not hit the ground evenly to file themselves down.  But in general, it’s rare that dogs need a pedicure.  That said, when I picked up Betty today, Beverly did say that dogs with overlong nails are in pain as they are having to walk on their ankles and heels, so just make sure that you and your groomer are on the same page with nails.  With experienced groomers such as Beverly at Barking Betty, and Anita at Woofs to Kittys, your best friend is in safe hands.

Before and after pictures …

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