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Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog Lifespans by State
Where are dogs living longest?

It is hard to decide which of the many wonderful qualities of dogs is the best one, but it’s easy for me to say what is the worst thing about dogs: They don’t live long enough. We all wish dogs lived longer and most of us are hungry for information about which factors may give us more time with our dogs. It’s possible that where our dogs live is one such factor.

A state-by-state analysis of dog lifespan shows Montana and South Dakota at the top with dogs living an average of 12.4 years. Other states with long-lived dogs include Oregon, Colorado and Florida where the dogs are typically living over 11 years. In contrast, Mississippi and Alabama have an average lifespan of just over 10 years.

These data come from Banfield Pet Hospital and only include those states in which they have facilities, which means that Wyoming, North Dakota, Maine, Vermont and West Virginia are not included. It also means that the data may only reflect the specific dogs seen in their practices rather than fully representing each state’s dogs.

However, there are a number of reasons that lifespans may vary from state to state. These include nutrition, exercise opportunities, rates of spaying and neutering and the types of disease prevalent in the area. The breeds and sizes of dogs that are most popular in those states may matter, too.

Wellness: Healthy Living
Seniors Dogs & Humans
Companionship Through the Ages

Whether his correspondence comes via snail mail or email, Duncan, my father, closes it with love, and always includes the names of his dogs sending love my way. When I was younger, this sentimental touch made me laugh and sometimes embarrassed me. But over time, I came to appreciate this sign-off—an endearing reminder that a family is always the sum of its individual members, be they human or animal.

That’s why the real impact of Sasha’s demise didn’t hit me until I read an email ending in a simple “love, Mum and Dad.” Sasha had been 14, a good age for a Labrador, and now Duncan, 71, claimed he had finally reached a bad age to be thinking about another dog. Had the man who seemed incapable of a future without a dog by his side finally hung up his leash?

Many of my elderly clients crave the companionship of a dog. They love the responsibility, the reason for getting up in the morning, the easy conversation and the unparalleled emotions these creatures draw from us. But they fear not being physically able to care for a dog and not providing sufficient exercise. Most of all, they worry about who will look after their dog when they pass.

Connie Schultz, a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist, is a columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. When I contacted her regarding this dilemma, she was brimming with ideas. “What if middle schools and high schools had a program to train young people how to help the elderly care for their pets? Everyone wins. The elderly get help walking and feeding their pets. The young people get to cuddle with the dogs and feel useful. Throw in school credit, cross-generational friendships and you’ve got a terrific way to generate a sense of community in our increasingly isolated lives.”

Given that my father lives in rural England, I went with a different approach. “Why not adopt an older dog?” I asked. “Unlike a new puppy, what you see is what you get. They’re already housetrained and ready to go for walks.”

Truth is, older shelter dogs are always looking for good homes because they are more difficult to adopt. People see an older dog and wonder if they’ve been relinquished because of behavioral or expensive health problems. Connie had another great idea.

“What about a national registry for elderly pet owners? They could register when they adopt, alerting family and friends so that when they pass, there is a system in place to find new homes. This way, future adopters would know the reason for the pet’s abandonment.”

In fact, Dogs Trust, the largest dog-welfare charity in the UK, already has a free service known as the Canine Care Card, whereby they guarantee to take on the responsibility of caring for and rehoming a dog should the worst happen to its owner. Even if they cannot find a suitable home, they promise to look after the dog for the rest of its natural life.

How did I find out about Dogs Trust?

“You read my mind, son. There’s such a large hole in my life without Sasha. I still go out alone for our walk, talk to her, imagine she’s with me, but I hate walking alone. An older dog would be grand. Mind, she’d have to be good around sheep.”

There’s always been a period of mourning, time for my father to let the world know he was grieving a significant loss. Still, there’s hope for another dog in his future, a female no less. I wonder how long before a new name finds its way to the last line of his letters.

Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Canine Yoga
Downward dog, anyone?

Yoga leaves dogs more flexible and focused, less prone to injuries, and calm; it also increases their bond with their humans.

The lights are dimmed and the candles—strategically placed on the agility equipment pushed to the room’s perimeter—are lit as people and their pups (ranging from pampered purebreds to rescued Pit Bulls) make their way to a circle of cushions. Here at Andrea Arden’s training facility at the Animal Haven shelter in Manhattan, yoga is about to begin. The instructor is agility legend Chris Ott, though most of those in attendance don’t know her reputation; they’re just here for their dog’s yoga class.

Ott’s accomplishments include representing the United States on the USA/AKC Agility World Team, holding a Guinness World Record for weave poles, and numerous appearances and wins at national championships. Her experience extends beyond the agility arena, however. Most recently, she brought her three decades of dog training know-how to the creation of what she calls Four Paw Fusion yoga. The class, originally designed for high-level performance competitors and their handlers, was so successful that Ott modified it for pet dogs.

Companion dogs who take part in Four Paw Fusion enjoy many of the same successful outcomes the performance dogs experience, including increased flexibility and decreased rates of injury. Ott says that she was most surprised at “how quickly the dogs took to it and how much they enjoyed it, right from the beginning.” Yoga leaves dogs more flexible and focused, less prone to injuries, and calm; it also increases their bond with their humans.

Like all yoga instructors, Ott leads participants through a series of stretches. But unlike yoga for humans, in Four Paw Fusion, participants lure their dogs into place with treats and praise, enticing them to hold the position for optimal stretch. Some of the positions start with the dog on the ground, while others utilize pillows and FitPAWS Balance Discs (inflatable rubberized cushions originally developed to help humans tone and increase balance) for support.

Because dogs are gently lured into position, even those without extensive training can be very successful in the class. Ott says that, much to her surprise, the dogs who are anxious and struggle to relax are often the biggest beneficiaries of the course. “The dogs we see the most dramatic improvement in are those who start out stressed and are described by their owners as ‘difficult’ to live with and train. To see a dog who was previously uncomfortable with any kind of touching now able to lie on his back in his owner’s lap while doing stretches is a wonderful experience.”

Ott punctuates her calming instructions with lessons in canine anatomy; descriptions of what a particular stretch is designed to achieve; and important reminders about not pushing a dog too far, which could cause injury. Similar to human yoga classes, everyone works at their own pace.

As the session goes on, the dogs visibly relax, and by the end of the twohour workshop, even dog-park warriors who require marathon games of fetch are panting. Although the dogs aren’t running around or doing activities that on first glance seem strenuous, they leave class happily tired.

And it isn’t just the dogs whose attitudes are changed. Even the most distracted human participants—those who entered class sipping lattes, texting and chatting with one another— pocket their phones and turn their attention to the eager dogs, influenced by Ott’s gentle demeanor and the energy she creates. Although the class is designed for canine relaxation, the peace, tranquility and connection that develop between dogs and their people are delightful side effects. The stress of big city life falls away, and they’re able to refocus on one another—what could be better?

Wellness: Healthy Living
Fetching Germs
dog in the mud

Dogs are great at bringing nature—bits of flora, fauna, dirt—into our homes. Now studies have shown that they also fetch a treasure of bacterial diversity “nesting” in their fur. This is not a bad thing. In fact, having a diverse microbiome environment can be very good for us.

North Carolina State University biologist Rob Dunn and colleagues are studying the microbes in home environments and found that the one variable that made the biggest difference in a home’s bacterial diversity was whether or not the family had a dog.

“When you bring a dog into your house …you are introducing a suite of dog-associated [microbe] taxa directly into your home…some of which may have direct or indirect effects on human health,” they write in PLoS ONE.

Other scientists have speculated that an exposure to greater numbers of microbes keeps the immune system from turning on the body. Plus, children living with dogs had fewer allergies and were healthier overall. Dunn added that, “Our study provides evidence to robustly support this assumption.” So do as Michael Pollan suggested: “wash your hands when pathogens or toxic chemicals are likely present, but maybe not after petting your dog.” Good news for dogs, and for us too

Wellness: Healthy Living
Dog Washing Tips
Best practices for self-serve dog washes.
dog wrapped in towel

If you want to save money on dog grooming, learn to do it yourself. Since the groomer’s biggest task is bathing the dog, that’s a good place to start. In many areas of the country, pet stores now offer self-service dog-wash facilities. The store usually provides shampoo and towels, but to get the most out of the experience—and the most for your money—you need to have a plan.

Scope out the facility and talk to the manager. Appointments are sometimes taken, but most are “first come, first served”; weekends are always the busiest, weekday mornings are the slowest. Look for non-slip surfaces (including ramps or steps to the tub), tie-downs and general cleanliness.

Cost it out. Verify how much time you get for your money; some allow all the time you need for a set price, others charge by the minute. Be realistic about how long it will take. Your Chihuahua could be spic and span within five minutes. Your double-coated Rough Collie or Poodle mix might take an hour.

Find out if there’s a groomer on site. If you can’t do it yourself, you’ll want the groomer to cut your dog’s nails and possibly do a sanitary trim (very important for fluffy, lowshedding dogs).

Give your dog a thorough pre-bath brush. Before heading to the dog wash, make sure your pup is totally brushed out and mat-free. Washing matted fur is counterproductive. Among other things, it’s almost impossible to dry it completely, which sets the stage for skin infections caused by bacteria and mold. Brush from your dog’s rear legs up, against the grain (the direction the hair grows) toward the body to the head. If you have a Pit Bull, this won’t take any time at all. If you have that Rough Collie (or Chow, Alaskan Malamute, Golden Retriever or Afghan) it will obviously take you longer, but you’ll save on tub time because it will be easier for the water to penetrate the coat. In any case, it makes sense to either brush out or cut off hair you don’t want to end up washing.

Check your supplies. If the dog wash doesn’t have your preferred shampoo, take your own. Ditto for towels. And, because the aprons stores provide aren’t always up to the job of keeping you entirely dry, bring a rain poncho.

At the site, use the force blower before getting your dog wet. Blow out the loose hair you may have missed when brushing. Force blowers aren’t dryers; they work by velocity and are really effective.

Wet your dog from the bottom and rear up, then apply shampoo. Here’s a tip: rather than lather it on with your hands, brush the shampoo through your dog’s coat. For slick types, such as Pit Bulls or Labs, a rubber curry will do. For a double-coated or low-shedding dog, a slicker brush is ideal. And remember, more shampoo doesn’t get your dog cleaner. It’s the ingredients and the agitation of the shampoo against the fur that do the job.

Rethink crème rinse or conditioner. If your dog’s coat is prone to tangles or you want to cut static, they can help, but they work by retaining moisture, which will make your dog more difficult to dry. A better solution is an after-bath antistatic, like The Stuff or Ice on Ice.

Thoroughly rinse your dog and squeeze out as much extra water as you can (then stand back when he shakes off). After towel drying, use the blower/dryer to finish up. CAUTION: if you have a drape-coated dog, like an Afghan or Lhasa Apso, the velocity of the air will cause the hair to tangle. Go very slowly and hold the dryer at a distance. (This is why groomers sometimes partially crate-dry these types of dogs, and have a low-velocity dryer on a stand. It’s pretty labor intensive to blow dry a long-haired dog.)

It takes a bit of practice to get it right and become efficient, but it’s time well spent. You’ll save some money, your dog will smell swell and your bathtub will still be clean: a real win-win, as they say in business school!

News: Guest Posts
Finding Dr Right
What makes a good vet?

We want to know about the veterinarian of your dreams – whether you’ve found him or her, or not.

For an article in an upcoming issue of The Bark on how we choose a veterinarian, we’d like to know what – in your eyes -- are the most important factors.

If you’ve found the perfect vet, just what is it that makes him or her perfect? If you’re still seeking that person, just what exactly is it you’re looking for.?

As our dogs become more and more like family members, the choice of vet is a decision humans probably take more seriously than they did 50 years ago. Time was one’s choice of veterinarian was based in large part on proximity.

We’re guessing that has changed. Now we seek opinions from friends, question fellow denizens of the dog park, turn to online reviews, and perhaps even make some in-office visits, all in our quest for the perfect vet.

But what makes the perfect vet?

Is it where he or she went to school? Is it a friendly staff, reasonable rates? Is it how quickly you can make an appointment or how long you spend in the waiting room? Is it bedside manner, empathy, or compassion? Is it how clearly that vet can communicate? Whether they honor your pet insurance? Is it how the vet connects with you, how the vet connects with your dog, or both?

We want to know what is (or was) the single most important factor in your choice of veterinarian, and how you found the one (if you have) that you can’t imagine ever leaving.

Tell us about the veterinarian of your dreams by leaving a comment, preferably with your name attached, on The Bark’s blog, or on ohmidog!

 

Wellness: Food & Nutrition
The Gut: The Key to Health
Find the proper balance in the intestinal tract.
Gut is Key to Health

Hippocrates, the father of medicine, is quoted as saying, “bad digestion is at the root of all evil” and “death sits in the bowels.” What Hippocrates likely meant was that the GI tract, or “gut,” is responsible for much more than digesting food; it plays a vital role in creating and sustaining health. Nearly 2,500 years later, scientists are discovering that Hippocrates was right. You simply cannot have a “sick” gut and be truly healthy!

The “gut”, which is made up of the stomach, small intestine and colon (large intestine), is actually a complex microsystem of “good” bacteria, or microflora. While bacteria also live in our mouths, on our skin and in our urogenital tract, more than 70 percent take up residence in the mucosal tissue lining of the gut, which is known as the gut-associated lymphoid tissue, or GALT. The trillions of beneficial bacteria inside the gut comprise a metabolically active organ—the largest immune organ in the body—and are important for a variety of essential functions, including regulating digestion, producing and metabolizing vitamins and other trace nutrients, and protecting the body from infection.

The gut also contains pathogenic “bad” bacteria, such as E. coli. When the balance of good and bad bacteria goes awry, humans and animals can experience a myriad of digestive disturbances, including bloating, constipation or diarrhea, as well as abdominal cramping, surface erosions, and ulcers. But the relationship between gut bacteria and health extends far beyond the digestive system.

For example, gut microflora serves as a significant barrier to infection from outside pathogens, preventing unwanted invaders such as food toxins, toxic chemicals, bad bacteria and fungi from entering our systems. A condition called “leaky gut” arises when the integrity of the gut’s mucosal lining is compromised, causing it to become permeable, or “leaky.” When this occurs, unwanted molecules are allowed to pass through. Since the body recognizes these molecules as foreign, it attacks them. Science is now learning that “leaky gut” likely contributes to a variety of autoimmune diseases, including Type 1 diabetes and autoimmune thyroiditis.

Other conditions linked to imbalances in the gut’s bacterial ecosystem include:

  • Allergies
  • Arthritis
  • Autism
  • Behavioral problems
  • Colon cancer
  • Inflammation
  • Obesity

A recently released study by the Cleveland Clinic exemplifies the important role of gut bacteria. The study found that some gut bacteria produce a compound called trimethylamine- N-oxide, or TMAO, while digesting lecithin found in foods such as egg yolks, liver, beef, pork and wheat germ. The researchers also found that blood levels of TMAO predict heart attack, stroke and death—independent of other risk factors. The fact that gut bacteria can cause heart attack, stroke and death, even in otherwise “healthy” people, is a true testament to their importance!

Obviously, to create and maintain health, we want to keep the gut microflora in tip-top shape. But if the gut is teeming with trillions of good bacteria, what’s the problem?

Many environmental factors can disrupt gut bacteria, throwing the balance between good and bad bacteria out of whack, including:

  • Antibiotics
  • Introducing new foods too fast
  • Poor diet
  • Stress
  • Vaccination

Fortunately, you can help keep your pet’s gut in tip-top shape by giving him probiotics.

Probiotics are live, beneficial bacteria. When ingested in sufficient numbers, probiotics colonize in the gut, thereby supplementing the existing beneficial microflora.

Probiotics can provide many health benefits in pets, including:

  • Aid in digestion
  • Assist with food transitioning
  • Boost the immune system
  • Help manage stress colitis
  • Prevent and manage diarrhea
  • Prevent overgrowth of “bad” bacteria in the gut
  • Promote overall intestinal health
  • Reduce inflammation
  • Replace “good” bacteria destroyed by antibiotics

But don’t just run out and buy any product labeled “probiotic”. The product you purchase should meet strict standards, including:

Contain live bacteria. The product is not a probiotic unless the bacteria are live.

Contain multiple bacterial strains. Different strains of bacteria exert different biological activities. Look for a product containing at least 10 different strains.

Is potent. When it comes to a probiotic, the more potent the better. While some products contain 1 billion beneficial bacteria per serving, I advise looking for a product containing at least 30 billion or more beneficial bacteria per serving.

Is pure. A probiotic is designed to increase gut health. The last thing you want is a product that contains artificial colors, flavors or preservatives, sugar, salt, corn, wheat, soy or other undesirable ingredients.

And please don’t share your probiotic with your pet. An animal’s intestinal tract contains species-specific microflora, so a probiotic that’s beneficial for you isn’t necessarily beneficial for your companion animal. Opt instead for a probiotic targeted specifically to your pet’s species.

Supplementing your companion animal’s diet with a probiotic is a simple, safe and effective way to optimize gut health. You might just be amazed at the positive improvements these “gut bugs” can make!

News: Guest Posts
Bringing Home Your Rescue Dog

Every time I bring a new dog into my home, I realize I go through the same emotions: excitement, expectation, love, fear, confusion and eventually calm. It is a rollercoaster made more difficult by the fact I tend to bring home shelter dogs that often turn out to be not quite the dogs I thought they were. Few things are more rewarding than being able to adopt a rescue dog; though they often do come with some unique challenges.  Their lives have been turned upside-down, they are scared and are often coming out of a situation that was intimidating and uncomfortable. When you bring them home, be prepared for the transition period. It can take rescue dogs days to months to realize they are in a safe and loving environment. After working through it myself and talking numerous clients through adventures with new dogs over the years, the following are some lessons learned.

Get your house ready. Pick up all the things you love most and put them away in a safe place for a few months. This will set you and your new dog up for success. You don't know if you are getting a dog that loves to chew, and often you may not know until they truly get comfortable. Keep your clothes, shoes and other cherished items off the floor and out of reach.

Use a crate. Even if you work from home, eventually there will come a time when you need to leave your new dog home alone. Crate training your new dog is one of the best ways to ensure that upon your return, the house will be intact and your pup will be safe.

Buy different types of toys. There are many different toys available to add entertainment and stimulation into dogs’ lives. Stock up on safe toys for your new dog to chew that can stand up to intense chewing. You also may want to try stuffed animals, squeaky toys or interactive dog toys. Be sure to keep a close eye on your dog whenever you introduce new toys. Determine if the toy is right for your dog before leaving him unattended.  No toy is indestructible!

Remember, your new dog is adjusting to a major life change and is bound to be a bit unnerved. There are also many things you can avoid doing in an effort to make his transition easier. 

Don't plan on running out to the closest dog park or dog daycare the week you bring him home.  Realize that your dog needs time to adjust and you need time to learn what your new dog likes and wants. Give yourselves a month together to explore his personality so you can find situations that will work best for your dog.

Try to plan on having your dog in your home for at least a month before taking any trips that will call for him to be boarded. If you know you have a big trip in the works, wait until after the trip to look for your new family member. This will allow you and him time to bond and learn to trust one another.

Realize that your dog is likely to change a lot over those first few months after you bring him home. As dogs get more comfortable in an environment their true selves start to shine thru. Take the changes as they come and remember that this is their way of showing that they know they are home to stay!

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Kim Hormby provides strategic consulting services for pet business owners interested in improving or starting a pet-related organization. She is also the owner and founder of Stay Pet Hotel, a boutique hotel for dogs in Portland, Oregon.

 

 

Wellness: Healthy Living
10 Easy Tips for Cleaning Up After Your Dog
Cleaning Confidential
Husky

Our canine pals do plenty of great things — provide love, guard our homes, save Timmy from mine shafts — but they’re not too concerned about domestic tidiness. However, there are smart, easy ways to collar canine clutter and keep your dog safer.

1. Store everything you need for outings — leash, pick-up bags, paw wipes — near the door. Speaking of pick-up bags, reuse plastic shopping bags or the plastic bags your newspapers come in; store them in an empty tissue box for one-at-a-time dispensing.

2. Make it easier to hook up for walks by attaching a large carabiner to the clip on your dog’s leash.

3. Instead of wrestling with that humungous bag of dog food, divvy it up into smaller, sealable containers for storage. This keeps pests out, too.

4. Assign baskets or bins into which you can quickly toss those well-chewed balls, bones and other assorted playthings; for extra points, teach your dog to put them away herself.

5. To keep food and water bowls from sliding, place them on a rubber-backed mat or piece of rubberized mesh.

6. Use a self-refilling water bowl to cut down on your trips to the sink. Recirculating fountains are a nice option; many dogs like to drink running water, and the aeration and filter keep the water fresh. Find them at pet supply stores.

7. To neutralize the gamey aroma wafting from full pick-up bags in your garbage bin, toss in a few handfuls of cat litter.

8. Position the dog bed away from your home’s main traffic flow and cover it with an easily removable “doggy duvet” that you wash regularly.

9. Create a file folder or binder dedicated to your dog’s paperwork: vet visits, vaccination records, medication lists, insurance info, license receipts, microchip code number.

10. Scan all these important records — plus photos of your dog — and store them on your PDA or a small flash drive so you have this vital info at hand while traveling.

Wellness: Healthy Living
Looking Good: Tips for a well-groomed dog
We talk to groomer extraordinaire Robyn Michaels

It seems so simple. A few passes with a brush, an occasional suds-up in the tub or back yard, and there you have it: a well-groomed dog. If only. But help is here. We asked professional groomer Robyn Michaels for insights into keeping our dogs looking and smelling good with a minimal amount of fuss — and without the kind of mishaps that lead to a starring role on America’s Funniest Home Videos!

Q: What’s the best way to help a dog enjoy being brushed?
A: If you’re working with a puppy, start the first day, even if he doesn’t need to be brushed. It’s best to have the pup lie down, as that allows you to do a more thorough job and not break the coat — meaning that the coat could actually “break” and get split ends, causing matting — (this is very important for Tibetan Terriers, Afghan Hounds and Shih Tzus, for example). But let’s say you got the dog as an older dog, and he’s not used to being groomed. He may think he is being restrained and panic. The main thing is to be patient and work with the dog.

A grooming table makes all the difference. The floor is the dog’s territory. Being even a foot off the floor puts your dog in a different dimension and a different place psychologically. You can buy a used portable dog-grooming table or make your own; in either event, be sure the table is absolutely steady. Fear of falling affects dogs even more than physical pain.

Without a table, grooming is often a two-person job: one person to hold the dog still and the other person to brush. The person holding should have the dog on a very short leash and keep one hand on the dog’s withers (shoulders). The dog will not be as apt to struggle if he’s not being strong-armed and wrestled with.

This is where I make my pitch for doing basic obedience exercises, which helps your dog understand that you really are in charge, really are a leader and won’t hurt him.

Q: No matter how often we brush our dogs, they still don’t look well groomed, and dog-hair tumbleweeds are still rolling across the floor. Why?
A: You’re probably using the wrong brush. The best-selling dog brush in America has bristles on one side and pins on the other. Unfortunately, this is the wrong brush for more than 95 percent of pet dogs. Or maybe 100 percent — I have yet to find a groomer who can tell me the breed or coat type for which they use this type of brush. The only thing I can figure out is that when people go to their local pet store and ask for help, they’re told, “Well, this [the bristle/pin number] is our best-selling brush!” and that’s what they wind up with. These brushes always seem to be at eye level in pet stores (better brushes are often displayed either overhead or close to the floor). Both the pins and the bristles bounce off the top of the dog’s coat and do very little to remove loose hair.

Q: What kind of brush should we be using?
A: For just about any breed, a slicker brush is the best choice, and just about any will do. I use two curved slickers: one called a “stiff” slicker and one with finer-gauge wire; you may find others easier to use. Personally, I don’t like flat slicker brushes because if you flick your wrist as you brush, you eventually wind up straightening out the top layer of wires. When the wires become straight (or are bent in the wrong direction), the brush is useless.

Rakes come with various numbers of teeth in a row. You will have to experiment, but to begin with, I suggest that you get one with the widest separation/ fewest teeth. The blades on the underside of the curved teeth act like seam rippers. It is almost impossible to cut your dog with this type of rake, and you will pull out a lot of hair that a slicker brush won’t get. A metal comb is also handy to have, to tease out mats, get into small areas (under armpits, behind and under ears, between toes) and clean the brush.

Q: What’s the best way to brush? And how often should we do it?
A: The technique is simple: start at the same place on your dog every time — it’s best to begin at the bottom of the back legs — and work your way up, first one side, then the other. It’s important to brush the dog from the skin out. If you don’t get down to the skin, you will not be doing a thorough job. Plus (especially if the dog gets wet), the hair may mat, which happens when open hair cuticles lock together.

Matting starts in a dog’s moving parts: around the tail, behind the ears, in the armpits, and on the hocks and pasterns (ankles), and spreads from there. Also, if your dog has a double coat (long guard hairs and a shorter, softer undercoat), you need to get down to the skin to remove that loose undercoat hair. As to how often: you may have to do this every other day if your dog has a dry, cottony coat (like a Coton de Tulear), but, for most dogs, if you brush too often, you will cause more static, which will cause more matting and also affect the coat’s shed cycle.

I recommend brushing at least the mat-prone areas every week, and a long-haired, double-coated dog usually needs to be brushed more often when he’s actively “blowing coat” — the big twice-a-year seasonal shed.

One more thing: dressing up your dog may be fun, but if you have a single-coated dog, every time you take off his coat or sweater, you create static and cause matting.

Q: Speaking of matting — a friend’s Golden Retriever had lots of mats and tangles, so she shaved him. Is this a good idea?
A: Shaving double-coated dogs changes their coats. The hair grows back very slowly and is likely to be shorter and softer, and possibly a different color. Or, the dog may develop clipper alopecia, in which the hair does not grow back at all. Here’s the deal: for most dogs, brushing with the proper brush will take less than 15 minutes once a week. In many cases, it will take less than five minutes. Yet, those few minutes will make so much difference in both your life and your dog’s.

Q: How about bathing — what do we need to get our dogs clean?
A: You’ve probably seen television commercials in which the family dog is sitting in a tub of bubble bath in the back yard, and the family is making an afternoon of bathing him. This is not what dog groomers do and there’s no need for you to do it either.

There are many kinds of dog shampoo, so you should be able to find one that works well for your particular dog’s coat, but know this: suds do not clean the dog. The shampoo’s active ingredients agitated against your dog’s hair are what do the cleaning. If your dog’s skin is irritated by a shampoo, it’s usually sodium laureth sulfate (or chloride, the sudsing agent) that’s causing the problem; a few manufacturers make sodium-free shampoo.

Another thing to keep in mind is that if you don’t dilute the shampoo, you’ll never get it completely rinsed out. The industry-average dilution rate is 16 to one, but you can just eyeball it.

Dispense the diluted shampoo using an old dishwashing liquid or shampoo bottle. You want just enough suds to tell you when you’ve covered the whole dog. If you want to really get the dog clean, brush the shampoo through his coat. This covers every hair, gets out some of the smaller tangles you might have missed and removes the loose stuff. After the dog’s dry, brush him again, and then float a comb through his coat to finish up and clear out any remaining tangles (don’t forget: armpits, behind the ears, under the chin, and around the tail and ankles).

People often ask about conditioners. I rarely use them. A conditioner works by coating the dog’s hair with a humectant, which attracts moisture. This can be helpful for long-haired dogs in the winter, to counter static, but conditioner is difficult to rinse out, often leaves a film on the dog’s hair, will attract dirt and may even cause matting. I suggest avoiding conditioners unless you are using them for a specific reason.

Q. Finally, a little background. How did you get started, and what do you see as the most common grooming challenge?
A: I began collecting dog-care books when I was a child and have been grooming dogs since I was a teenager. I found a hobby breeder to apprentice with and gradually learned what worked and what didn’t. I also started networking with other dog lovers. I went to a dog-grooming school — at the time (the 1960s), unless your parents showed dogs, it was difficult to apprentice with a show-dog handler — and I learned a lot about how to handle pet dogs, what kind of tools to use and how to use them.

It surprises me that people acquire dogs and don’t give grooming a second thought until the dog smells bad or is shedding to the point that it affects their quality of life. Why does this happen? It happens because a lot of people who work in the pet industry have more contact and credibility with customers than hobbyists and fanciers do. On the other hand, when it comes to the rare breeds, pet owners often return to the breeder to have their dogs groomed rather than take them to a school- or shop-trained groomer, who may not know the breed. If a person adopts from an animal shelter, the employees or volunteers are unlikely to know anything about grooming, and will probably not even mention it. All in all, it’s important that when you select a dog, you understand what his grooming needs are so you can address them rather than ignore them until the dog’s uncomfortable and you’re frustrated.

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