With close attention to details and some good coaching and assistance, you and your dog can both be winners, too. Here are suggestions that will help.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Can my dog be both a great companion and a successful show dog?

Dogs are wonderful family companions -- watchful, playful, loving, and responsive to our every mood. If they are pure-bred dogs that also compete in the AKC show ring, they are no less wonderful companions; but they require extra time and attention in order to be as successful in the show ring as they are in their home and family life. And the extra training and attention they get in preparation for the show ring will actually make them better companions and better able to deal responsibly with other dogs and people as they mature.
After raising and showing dozens of show dogs, plus two wonderful girls, I've learned a lot than can help you develop your companion show dog into the great creature s/he has the potential to become. I'll tell you about them in this blog; and if you have questions that you don't see answered here, don't hesitate to email me your questions at I'll try to answer as many as possible, either here in the blog or direct via email.
-- Leslie

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Essentials of Maintenance Grooming - Part 1: General

There's More to Grooming that Just Trimming Hair: Your Dog's Health and Happiness Requires Regular Maintenance Between Trips to the Groomer

Whether you groom your dog yourself or take it to a professional to be groomed, there are certain grooming tasks that must be done more often than every two or three months. Eyes, ears, teeth, feet and nails, as well as the coat, require regular attention.

To help keep your dog clean, comfortable and healthy, these little steps should ideally be performed weekly or daily; but even just a few times between full groomings is better than not at all.

Given a choice, dogs would forego grooming altogether. Being groomed requires the dog to relinquish control and trust its body to you. This is the primary reason they fight it and one of the most compelling reasons they need to learn to tolerate it. There are steps you can take to make it as easy as possible for you and the dog to build the right kind of non-adversarial grooming relationship.

Grooming should be done on a raised surface like a grooming table or your washer/dryer with a non-slip mat on it. This takes the dog out of his normal territory and into yours. Lucky is the person who can successfully groom their dog on the floor.

If you don’t have a grooming table with a noose, be sure the dog is wearing a collar and leash so you can control it more easily. If you can anchor the dog in place, it helps you have both hands free (this is why a grooming table with a noose is of such benefit). The leash and collar also give some context about who is in charge (hopefully you).

When you are finished with grooming, lift the dog down rather than let it jump. That way it never comes to think of jumping down as a way to escape. As you lower the dog to the floor, do not allow it to squirm and twist out of your arms. Do not let the dog go until it has relaxed (relatively) in your arms. Emphasize that YOU are in control!

Essentials of Maintenance Grooming - Part 2: Eyes

Looking After Sight: Caring for Your Dog's Eyes

Your dog's eyes are among its most valuable assets and should be cared for accordingly.

Eyes should be cleared of crusts daily to keep them from building up into a hard concretion which can scratch the eyeball or be painful to remove. Use your fingers or a cotton ball soaked in warm water to pull or wipe away the crusts.

Be alert to changes in the type or quantity of “goop” you find in and draining from the eyes. Opaque discharges, especially yellow or green, are often indicative of an infection and should be brought to the attention of your veterinarian as should unusual blinking, squinting or tearing.

Do not take chances with your dog’s eyes, they are easily damaged and often slow and difficult to heal. Frequently, injury to eyes can only be detected with specific tools which only your veterinarian has.

Essentials of Maintenance Grooming - Part 3: Ears

Now Hear This! Caring for Your Dog's Ears

Ears are a chronic source of problems for many dogs and once an infection has gotten a foothold you may have recurrent problems throughout the dog’s life. The chances of infection are much reduced if you keep the ear clean and hair-free.

The first step is plucking the hair out of the ear canals. This hair is often waxy and hard to grasp so sprinkle ear powder into the hair and work it in with your fingers. Then pluck a little at a time until you can’t reach any more. If you are confident you can also use a hemostat (or tweezers) to pluck deeper hairs. Just be careful not to pinch skin. If the dog complains too much about having this hair plucked then try pulling smaller amounts at a time.

Next, clean the ears with a flushing agent. There are many types and brands of ear wash/flush/cleanser to choose from. Fill the ear canal almost to the top with solution and massage gently from the bottom of the ear canal up to the top. Have a gauze pad or cotton ball ready to absorb the excess that comes out of the ear. Allow the dog to shake it’s head and bring any debris closer to the surface. A little bit of dark debris may not be a problem but indicates, at least, that cleaning needs to be more frequent.

Signs of ear infection are dark wet or crusty discharge, foul smell, scratching, “hot” ears. Ear infections are stubborn because they are usually due to bacteria or yeast which prefer hot, moist, low air environments. Schnauzers with natural ears may have more problems with ear infections than those with cropped ears, though both types certainly get their share. This is an area where prevention is so much better than the cure that adequate attention is required.

Essentials of Maintenance Grooming - Part 4: Teeth

Oral Hygiene for a Healthy Companion: Caring for Your Dog's Teeth

Teeth should be cleaned as often as possible, since this is not something your groomer will typically tend to.

Just like your own teeth, tartar and plaque build up on your dog’s teeth. Dogs are not prone to cavities but plaque buildup causes the gums to recede, in bad cases exposing the roots to tartar and plaque, loosening teeth and causing pain and odor. Badly neglected teeth and gums can introduce infection into the bloodstream which is an unnecessary burden on internal organs and can be a cause of heart disease

Clean the teeth with a canine toothpaste, applied with a gauze pad wrapped around your finger or a toothbrush. Plaque builds up the worst on the molars in the back of the mouth, so these should get extra attention.

By gradually increasing the time you spend and the degree of invasiveness over a lot of frequent sessions, your dog will accept having its mouth held open or closed while you work. While working, look at the gums and be sure they are uniform. Cancerous growths can start here so any overgrown or pendulous areas of gum should be examined by your vet.

Even if you regularly brush your dog’s teeth, you will sometimes need to have your dog’s teeth professionally scaled. If you can get a fingernail under the plaque and chip some off, it is high time for professional help. Some dog owners and groomers may know how to use a scaler to get the plaque off the teeth, but this should be limited to small amounts of plaque that are easily chipped off. Scraping the teeth with metal instruments will actually speed up the rate at which plaque forms because of tiny grooves left in the enamel. In most cases, your veterinarian should be the one to clean and scale teeth. Your dog will be sedated and after the plaque is removed the teeth will be polished and possibly even given a fluoride treatment.

Some dogs have gums that overgrow the teeth, rather than receding, and this leaves lots of pockets to harbor infection. Many vets can perform a gingevectomy (trimming of the overgrown gums) at the same time as a dental cleaning.

Essentials of Maintenance Grooming - Part 5: Feet and Nails

Keeping Your Companion on a Sound Footing: Caring for Feet and Nails

Trimming excess hair from feet is a good starting exercise when training your dog to have its feet handled and leading up to nail trimming. Using straight scissors, trim the edges of the feet. Hair also grows between the pads and will need to be trimmed or removed using scissors or clippers. If using scissors, cut the hair flush with the bottom of the pads. Do not use scissors to remove mats from between the pads as you can easily cut the skin. A small, battery powered “finisher”-type clipper is ideal for removing the hair between the pads with minimum discomfort. Use a gentle “scooping” motion from various directions to get under mats and get the hair out. This should be done more often for dogs who lick their feet often.

Toenail trimming seems to be the job most dreaded by people and dogs alike. However, it is very important that it be done regularly. Often I hear people say they are afraid of hurting the dog by cutting the “quick” (the blood vessel and nerve ending in the nail), so the job doesn’t get done. My response is that long toenails hurt a lot worse when they break off. Also, like wearing shoes that don’t fit, long toenails can break down the foot and cause chronic pain, arthritis and premature lameness. I think it is clear which is more hurtful.

If you can’t or won’t do the nails yourself, then you must take the time and spend the money to have your vet or groomer cut them in between regular groomings. Every two weeks is reasonable for most dogs to prevent long term problems.

Make sure you have the proper tools on hand: a heavy duty pliers-type nail trimmer, some styptic powder or liquid and a gauze pad or cotton ball. When first starting to train your dog to have nails cut, less is more. If the process really upsets your dog then just do one foot, or even one nail, per session and give plenty of special treats. Gradually you will be able to work up to doing them all in one session. Also, be conservative about how much you cut. Since you will be doing this at least bi-weekly, there will be plenty of chances for you to get nails shorter, if necessary.

Make a commitment to yourself and your dog not to give up after just a few sessions. If you persist for at least two months you will find that you and the dog get more comfortable each time. If the dog acts completely out of control, tries to growl or bite, then you have bigger issues than just the nails and you should see a professional trainer. It is not normal in a good canine-human relationship to be unable to handle feet or trim nails.

Restraint is the key to successfully trimming nails. The dog should be anchored securely on a leash or grooming noose that is only slack enough to allow minimal movement. There should not be enough slack for the dog to reach back behind it, or down to its feet. When you pick up each foot, reach over the dog so that you can squeeze the dog between your arm and body if necessary. Calmly and patiently, hold the dog’s foot until he stops trying to pull it away from you. If the dog starts squirming, squeeze it to your body with your arm. Avoid verbal corrections or scolding unless hysteria creeps in. You must be clear and firm that having a hissy fit is not allowed and you won’t tolerate it. It may take several practice sessions just to get the dog to let you hold his feet without fighting and that’s normal. Don’t be concerned if the dog starts panting hard or appears stressed; this reaction will diminish if you stick with it over several months. In the early stages it can be useful to have a helper to stroke the dog and give it lots and lots of treats. If the dog refuses the treats, make sure your sessions are short and keep offering them.

If the nails have not been cut for a while, the end of the nail will probably be thinner than the base and have a somewhat hooked end. If you look carefully you will be able to see the place where the thinning starts; cut just beyond that point. Nails that are cut more frequently still have a semi-circular appearance from underneath at the end. Just cut the tip of the semicircle off. From underneath, the nail toward the base appears solid, even fleshy. As you look toward the tip, the nail gets a more hollow appearance. It is safe to cut away the hollow looking part of the nail.

When you cut, don’t be tentative. When you cut the nail you will either hit the quick or you won’t; cutting slowly won’t help and will pinch the nail and quick and that does hurt. Remember not to let go of the foot until the dog stops struggling.

Sometimes you will ‘quick’ the nail; the dog may move unexpectedly or you may misjudge. This is not the end of the world. Before you start, have some styptic powder or liquid ready and waiting on a gauze pad. If you see blood, press the styptic agent in the gauze pad against the cut end of the toenail and hold it in place for at least one minute. I use cutting too short as an excuse to give the dog a super-jackpot of treats. Even if you decide to quit for the day after quicking the nail, it is important to at least pick up and hold the foot again before you lift the dog off the table. It’s best to proceed and finish the foot you were working on.

A dremel tool or grinder can be used to smooth the nails after trimming, so they don’t snag your clothes, skin or home furnishings. With practice, the grinder can be used to file the nail right back to the quick, allowing you to be more conservative about how much of the nail you actually cut off.. The grinder is also a useful alternative for dogs that get really hysterical about the nail trimmer. It takes a long time to grind down as much as a trimmer can cut but it may be just what your dog needs to get used to having feet handled.