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.