Dog Grooming Tips: Brushing & Combing

Dog grooming tips: Brushing & Combing a Dog

Brushing your dog is not only the most fundamental grooming technique, it’s also a key aspect of dog care and should be considered an essential part of dog ownership. By brushing your dog’s coat regularly you will not only remove dirt, loose hair and burrs, which will prevent knots from forming in the coat, you will also spot parasites or any skin problems that may be developing, allowing you to treat these before they become problematic and possibly require expensive veterinary intervention. By following a regular brushing schedule, you will strengthen the bond with your pet, and your pooch will start looking forward to these interactive session and will be less likely to resist. Follow the dog grooming tips outlined below to get your dog’s coat looking great.

How to Make Brushing a Positive Experience for your Dog 

It is crucial that your dog associates brushing sessions as a pleasant experience that he would love to repeat. Puppy owners should begin training their pup soon after they acquire it to so that it gets used to being groomed from a young age, and to prevent any knots from forming in the coat. If your pup has to endure having matts brushed out of his coat at his first grooming session he will associate grooming with a bad experience. This could lead to long-term behavioral problems associated with grooming – all because the initial grooming session was a painful unpleasant experience.

Before you start brushing or combing, ensure that your pooch is relaxed and comfortable. Place your dog on a grooming table that is comfortable for you to work at. Alternatively, if you own a large dog, you may prefer to have him lie down on the floor, or if you own a very small dog you may prefer to let the dog lie in your lap while you brush it. Reassure a nervous dog by talking softly, handling the dog gently, and working with him slowly, rather than trying to rush through the job.

When the brushing session is over, reward your dog with a tasty treat. Alternatively take him for a walk or throw a ball for him. It is important that your dog associates this regular grooming activity as a rewarding experience that he will look forward to repeating regularly. Generally a dog will lavish the one-on-one attention he receives during these sessions, which will be reward enough.

Grooming Equipment & Supplies Needed

In order to limit distractions, gather all the tools you will need before you begin brushing/combing your pooch. This will not only save time, but will be less distracting to your dog, who may become restless if you disappear in the middle of the operation.

There are a wide range of dog brushes, combs, and detangling tools available on the market. The tools and equipment you require will depend largely on the breed that you own. One of the most versatile and widely used dog brushes on the market is the universal slicker brush, which should form part of every dog owner’s grooming arsenal, and is essential for owners of long-coated breeds.

Dog brushes

Basic list of tools for brushing/combing a dog:

  • Slicker Brush – a slicker brush is suitable for most breeds (long and short hair) and is used to remove loose hair, burrs, and to brush through tangled hair. Look for a soft tipped universal brush that will do the job effectively but will not irritate the skin (highly recommended).
  • Pin Brush – some people prefer to use a pin brush rather than a slicker brush to remove loose hair from dogs with medium coats or wire coats (optional).
  • Bristle Brush – used to remove loose hair from the surface of the coat and to add shine (optional).
  • Curry comb – a rubber curry comb or grooming mitt is sometimes used to remove loose hair from dogs with short coats (optional).
  • Metal dog comb – a sturdy comb that is useful for working through tangled coats to remove knots.
  • Mat splitter/Dematting Rake – a useful tool for removing knots in matted fur.
  • FURminator – a useful tool that removes dead hair and loose undercoat (recommended for long-coated, double-coated, and wire-coated breeds)
  • Shedding Rake – can be used instead of FURminator above for removing loose undercoat and dead hair (optional).
  • Fine-toothed Flea Comb – can be used to manually remove fleas from the dog’s coat.

One question that is commonly asked is what is the difference between brushing or combing a dog? While the motions are the same, brushes and combs are used for different purposes. Dog brushes are typically used to remove loose hair, stimulate the skin, and disperse oils throughout the coat to make it healthy and shiny. Metal dog combs are used to work through tangles and to remove any knots that may have formed – the size of the comb and gap between the teeth will depend on the coat type; a wide-toothed comb being more suitable for coarse, thick coats and a finer comb being more suitable for dogs with fine, silky coats, while combing with a fine-toothed flea comb will remove fleas from the coat and skin. A slicker brush is useful because it can remove dead hair and work through knots effectively.

Removing Mats from the Coat

If your dog has any stubborn mats that will not brush out easily during routine brushing and combing, it is vital that you tackle these first. Use the following procedure to work through mats in the fur:

  1. Position your fingers at the bottom of the mat between the matted fur and the skin. This will alleviate pulling the dog’s skin as you brush through the matted hair to prevent causing unnecessary pain as you do so.
  2. Work from the outside of the mat, gradually untangling the hair as you work inwards.
  3. If necessary use a mat splitter (or dematting rake) to work through more persistent mats, taking care not to injure the dog (or yourself) with the sharp bladed teeth.
  4. If the dog is severely matted, you can spray a commercially available detangling solution directly onto the mats to make it easier to remove them.

How to Brush a Dog: Step-by-step Guide

Once you have successfully removed all the mats from your dog’s coat you can begin  brushing to remove loose hair. Depending on your preference, you can either comb the dog’s coat entirely, followed by brushing – simply follow the steps outlined below with a comb, then repeat using a brush. Alternatively, you can work through one step at a time with a comb, followed by brushing before moving onto the next step.

  1. Begin with the head; brushing or combing through any hair that may be present on top of the head or on the face, taking care not to pull any hair on the muzzle as dog’s are generally quite sensitive in this area and rigorous brushing may cause the dog pain, which may lead to an objection.
  2. Move on to the ears next, giving them a thorough brushing. This is particularly important for dogs that have long fluffy ears. Check for mats behind the ears and comb out if necessary. Large mats that are difficult to remove can be painlessly cut away with scissors or shaved off with a dog clipper.
  3. Once you have finished brushing the head, brush the top of the neck behind the head, then move round to brush under the chin before moving down to the chest area. Some breeds have a particularly fluffy ruff on the chest, so pay special attention to remove any knots that may have formed in the dense hairs of this area. Work through any mats that may be present using a mat splitter or rake if necessary, then using the slicker brush, brush through the neck and chest hair thoroughly.
  4. Next, move down to the legs. This step is more important for long-coated breeds than short-coated breeds, as long-haired breeds tend to pick up burrs, twigs, and other debris in the feathering on the legs, which can cause mats to develop. Start by brushing the front legs first – you can leave the back legs for now, and rather brush them when you are grooming the back end of the dog.
  5. Roll your dog over so that he is lying on his back or side so that you can easily work on the underside. Bear in mind that the belly area can be fairly sensitive, so brush gently and work through any knots slowly, taking care not to pull the hair. If knots are present, use your fingers to grasp the base of the mat to prevent pulling on the skin when brushing through the tangled hair. For long-haired dogs you can initially brush the coat in the opposite direction to the way the hair naturally falls (back-brushing), then brush the coat in the direction that the hair naturally falls. For short haired dogs brush the coat in the same direction that the hair falls.
  6. Brush along the back and down the sides and rump of the dog using the same technique as above.
  7. Brush the dog’s hindquarters – take special care when brushing around the anus and genital area, as dog’s tend to be especially sensitive in this department, for obvious reasons. Some breeds have dense thickets of hair around the buttocks and back legs, which is prone to matting. Work through any mats with a slicker brush, or use a mat splitter or rake if necessary.
  8. Next, move onto the back legs, combing and brushing as outlined in step 4.
  9. If your dog has a fluffy tail, comb and brush through the hairs on the tail to ensure that it is free from tangles, loose hair, and debris.
  10. Finally, once you have completed combing and brushing the coat and all the loose hair and tangles have been removed, you can pull a fine-toothed flea comb through the dog’s coat to remove any fleas that may be present in the fur. The fleas will be picked up with the comb, and can be swept off with a finger into a container filled soapy water or dip as you work.

Dog Grooming Tips

Brushing Difficult Dogs

The best way to avoid difficulties is to groom your dog regularly so that he gets used to the routine and learns to enjoy the attention. However, there are always some dogs that just hate being brushed, and if yours is one of those, it is wise to take precautionary measures to avoid being bitten. If necessary invest in a muzzle – this can be removed at a later stage if your dog accepts brushing without too much fuss. Also, it may be beneficial to start the initial grooming sessions with tools that are kinder to the dog – even if they are less effective – until you build trust with your dog and he settles down and starts to accept grooming more readily.

Removing Dead Hair & Thick Undercoat

Some breeds have a tendency to shed hair more than others. The FURminator Deshedding tool is a wonderful grooming aid that can be used for removing dead hair from the coat. It is available online from in a wide range of sizes for dogs with long or short coats, but is particularly useful for dogs that have a dense undercoat. The tool doesn’t cut the hair, it only removes loose dead hair from the coat, but it does a remarkable job in no time at all, leaving the dog feeling better and your furniture – well, not so full of fur…

It is important that your dog is free from mats and tangles before you run the FURminator over its coat.

Final Brushing Tips

When brushing dogs that have long coats, it is imperative that you brush all the way through the coat, penetrating right down to the dog’s skin, rather than just brushing the surface of the coat. Comb through the hair with a metal comb first to untangle any knots, work through any mats with a slicker brush, or use a mat splitter or dematting rake on more stubborn mats. Remove dead undercoat with a deshedding rake or a FURminator, which will remove excess dead hair to thin the coat out. Then thoroughly brush the coat against the grain of the hair, then finish by brushing in the same direction as the hair.

While combing may not be necessary for short-haired breeds, short-haired dogs still tend to shed a lot. A FURminator is very effective for removing loose hair to prevent shedding all over the house, carpets and furniture. Choose a brush that is appropriate for your dog’s coat, and finish off with a rubber curry comb, which will remove surface hairs and give your dog’s coat a nice lustre.

Follow the rest of the articles in this series for expert dog grooming tips and step-by-step instructions on how to groom a dog at home like a pro:



Featured Image by Llima Orosa, via Flickr
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