Q: Grooming and bathing my dog is a test of wills at my house. Got any tips? 


A: Bath time for my pooch Lulu used to resemble scenes from “The Miracle Worker.” But that was before I discovered do-it-yourself dog washes. With Lulu safely and somewhat solemnly tethered to the wall inside a waist-high tub, I could scrub away to my heart’s delight. This option saves me the headache of chasing her around the tub, and it saves water because I rely on a doggy “spa” that uses low-flow aerators to conserve water. It’s a much cheaper option than hiring a groomer, and it works well for my short-haired pooch.


Since springtime seems to trigger a dog’s need to romp through the tulips, gladiolas, mud puddles and just about anything else in their paths, groomer Nancy Rector of Dogma Dog Care offers five secrets that will help you cut costs and conserve energy while caring for your dirty dog.


1. A good offense is the best defense against heavy shedders.

While it may be tempting to just grab the clippers and shave your pooch down, Rector says it’s best to resist that urge. Instead, brush heavy shedders daily and keep in mind that you probably will need professional grooming at least twice a year for general upkeep. That is especially true for “spitz” breeds such as Pomeranians and malamutes. Shaving those breeds can ruin their coat, Rector warns. Besides, “It can take two years to grow back and looks horrible in the interim,” she says. (Who wants to get the stink eye from their dog for two years?)


2. Collect yourself — and your gear — before you get the dog

Make sure all the tools you need are within reach. That includes your towels, shampoo and dryer, as well as a bath mat inside the tub to prevent your dog from slipping. Also, make sure to brush the dog well before bath time. “This is essential for a long-haired dog because bathing can tighten up mats,” Rector says. “If you are going to use a Furminator shedding tool, dirty hair comes out more easily, so do it before the bath.”


Once you get started, save the pleading, bribing and yelling. Rector says those tactics simply do not work. Of course, you may already know that by now. “Most dogs that act up are used to being yelled at or pleaded with,” she says. “Dogs regard loud words as barking and react by becoming excited. Pleading is useless.” Instead, focus on the task at hand and communicate through simple commands, the power of touch, and the power of silence. Tools like rubber brushes also can help the experience go faster, she says. “Most people who handle dogs professionally or for sport are pretty quiet and even the most nervous dog will stop to enjoy the rubdown.”


It also helps to tie your dog to the faucet or get a bathtub restraint designed for the task. She warns that soap holders simply aren’t strong enough to do the trick.


3. Save pricey products for humans and follow directions carefully.

Once you are set up, use a spray bottle or a nozzle with a low-flow aerator to wet the dog around its neck and face and apply a tearless shampoo to that sensitive area. This tactic also helps to prevent fleas from moving to the face while you are shampooing the rest of your dog’s body. Since most dog shampoo needs to be diluted, Rector suggests following label instructions carefully to avoid pouring money down the drain. While the pet market abounds with shampoos that contain everything from green tea to tea tree oil, she shares that professionals typically prefer moderately priced grooming products. Choose any scent you like and, when in doubt, look for products that contain oatmeal. That very simple and inexpensive ingredient is key to soothing itchy skin. Wet the dog from back to front, top to bottom and then apply shampoo, using one hand to hold the sprayer and the other hand to gently guide the dog.


Skip conditioner for dogs with hard or wiry coats, Rector says. Save this step for dogs with long hair, but only if you follow up with a good rinse — make that two or three good rinses. “Any conditioner left in the coat will attract dirt, undoing all your hard work,” she says. “There is also a good reason why we groomers use conditioner when we de-shed — it loosens up any fur that's ready to come out.”


Keep bath time soothing with a nice doggie massage before you rinse — front to back, top to bottom. Once you’ve finished, wrap the dog in a towel and begin a rubdown to remove all the water before he exits the tub. Finish with a compliment for the dog — if he has earned it.


4. Keep dryers on the ‘cool’ setting

“Use a good hair dryer set on low temperature,” she says. “In fact, never use any heat source at all, especially on a short-faced breed.” A box fan placed in front of a well-ventilated crate can do the job, but the greenest and cheapest approach is to simply take the dog for a long walk after bath time. Stick with the asphalt and resist their urge to romp through the grass until completely dry.


5. Pay the pros to put up with high-strung pooches

If you have a dog that really puts up a fight, Rector says to save the drama and hire a pro. “Most dogs settle down with us when the owners are not there,” she says, adding that experience counts. Don’t be shy about asking the groomer how long they have handled dogs. “Groomers usually cut hair and not all of them bathe the dogs they are working on. Being a one-woman show, I bathe and groom.”


I hope this helps to reduce the entertainment value of your dog’s next bath.


— Morieka Johnson


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