Grooming DIY - Your essential guide to top to toe canine care

From their teeth to their toes, your dog’s grooming schedule is essential to their wellbeing – keep on top of the little things in the comfort of their own home. By Stephanie Hollebrandse

Being greeted by your dog at the end of a long day is undoubtedly one of the greatest parts of pet ownership. No matter what’s happened at the office, you know you’re going home to someone who is waiting with bated breath for you to walk through the door. But if that breath smells like the garbage bin, the welcome home hug isn’t quite so inviting.

Maintaining a grooming schedule is crucial to your dog’s health and cultivates communication skills – teaching your dog how to let you know if they’re in pain or anxious. This ‘how-to’ guide will help you pay particular attention to the little things, including your dog’s ears, eyes, teeth and nails.

The ears

Sonja Walsh from Heavy Petting in Balmain has been grooming dogs for more than 14 years. She recommends assessing your dog’s ears for odour and sensitivity before you attempt to clean them at home.

“If you come across any sign of excessive discharge, red inflammation or matting where the leather is covered – I’d recommend further investigation by a grooming professional,” she says.

 Dogs such as spaniels and bassets are prone to ear infections because their floppy ears prevent air circulation and drainage of any moisture in the ear canal. Other small, fluffy dogs like the Shih Tzu and Maltese are also susceptible as they have a lot more hair growing inside their ears.

Dogs with pricked ears have great air circulation so rarely suffer from any problems. This being said, it’s still important to simply wipe the ear clean with a swab of antiseptic ear cleaner on a regular basis.

The tool kit

  • Cotton wool
  • Liquid cleaner
  • Ear powder
  • Pair of clippers/tweezers

The process

  • Remove any hair growing inside the ear canal using the clippers/tweezers.
  • Sprinkle the powder into the ear and massage the outer area to work the powder into the canal. The solution contains enzymes to soften and dissolve earwax and debris.
  • Gently remove any excess hair from the ear with your fingers or tweezers, being very careful not to pinch the dog’s skin.
  • Swab on some antiseptic ear cleaner with the cotton wool.

The eyes

Cleaning your dog’s eyes is especially important if they have long hair. Check for redness and sensitivity before taking on the task yourself. Sonja again recommends looking for discharge or inflammation – “especially in the corner of the lids, to ensure the eye looks healthy,” she says.

The tool kit

  • Snub nose scissors
  • Cotton wool
  • Warm water or saline tear stain remover

The process

  • For short-coated dogs, use some cotton wool to wipe from the inner corner of the eye, down the muzzle, following the tear track.
  • Repeat the motion using a saline soaked swab.
  • For long-coated dogs, start by removing debris with a fine comb.
  • Use the snub nose scissors to carefully trim any hair growing in the direction of the eye.
  • Wash down the muzzle with a saline soaked swab, making sure you wipe between any folds of skin.

The nails

Trimming your dog’s nails can be a tricky process, especially when you run the risk of cutting the ‘quick’. This is a vein that grows inside the dog’s nail and will bleed if cut. With this in mind, make sure you have some styptic powder on hand to clot the wound.

Deb Ryan from Dog Grooming Australia says that while trimming your dog’s nails is an important part of grooming, there are some instances when it may not be necessary.

 “A dog that is highly active on a hard surface may keep its nails short naturally – these surfaces act like a nail file and also keep the quick pushed back,” she says.

The tool kit

  • Size-appropriate nail clippers
  • Styptic powder
  • Nail file

The process

  • Assess the nail condition and remove all dirt with a soft brush.
  • Look for the quick. On clear nails you’ll see a pink vein running through the nail.
  • Trim up to the end of it on an angle for each nail.
  • On black nails, remove the hook then look at the nail end.
  • The darker black circle is the blood vessel – this isn’t the section that bleeds.
  • Cut off small sections at a time until you see a small, white dot in the centre then stop.
  • If you do cut the quick, take a pinch of the styptic powder and place to the nail, applying pressure. This will instantly stop the bleeding.
  • Once the nails are clipped, run a course nail file over the edges.
  • During clipping, always remember to check the dewclaw. The dewclaws are a dog’s fifth nail, located where the thumb would be, if they had one.
  • The dewclaws are especially important to clip, as they are not worn down during day-to-day activities such as walking.

The teeth

Like humans, our dogs can suffer from gum and teeth diseases. Brushing their teeth regularly will prevent any decay and disease from occurring. Be sure to never use human toothpaste in your dog’s mouth – since they’re unable to spit like us, dogs run the risk of ingesting some harmful chemicals if swallowed. 

The tool kit

  • Dog toothpaste
    Toothbrush, or finger toothbrush
    Bowl of sweetened water

The process

Assess the teeth by lifting the muzzle flaps – check for red gums and decaying teeth as these conditions will require professional attention.

  • Providing all looks healthy, place a small amount of the toothpaste on the toothbrush.
  • Allow the dog to smell and taste the toothpaste.
  • Gently lift the muzzle flap and begin massaging the back molars with the brush.
  • Turn the brush to the inside teeth and again quickly brush the area.
  • If your dog resists the toothbrush, start the process using your finger and progress to the toothbrush when your dog becomes comfortable.

It’s time for the vet when

Deb Ryan from Dog Grooming Australia lets us know when it’s best to seek professional help:

  • Without exercise or regular trimming, your dog’s nails can grow long and curl around into the pad. This is more likely with old dogs and can lead to long-term problems. If this is the case see your vet.
  • When cleaning your dog’s ears take note of any discharge or unusual smells – even if you just notice excessive wax, I’d still recommend seeking professional help.
  • When dealing with your dog’s eyes, it’s important to take your time and treat them with care. I always encourage owners to clean the area daily. Use a cotton make up pad soaked in hot water to rinse each eye.
  • A build up of tartar, thickening or receding of the gums and bad breath are a few signs that your dog’s teeth need cleaning. You might also notice your dog is in discomfort when trying to eat – at this stage they are open to infection and may even lose teeth. Regular cleaning is crucial to avoid this scenario – remember prevention is better than cure.