Tools of the Trade
Choosing the right brushes and combs can be mind-boggling if you don't know what will work best for your dog's coat. Bristle brushes can be used on any type of coat. Widely spaced, long bristles work well on a longer coat, while short, closely spaced bristles work better on short, coarse coats. Wire pin brushes work well on curly and medium to long hair. Slicker brushes normally have a flat back set with fine wire bristles. Slickers are good for taking out mats and tangles, for smoothing the coat after brushing with a pin brush, and for removing dead hair. Combs are good for combing out long hair once tangles are removed. Flea combs, which have closely spaced teeth, are used to check the coat periodically for fleas and other pests and debris. Undercoat rakes are useful for pulling out dead undercoat, especially during the heavy shedding seasons of spring and fall.
Caring for Your Dog's Coat and Skin
Take your time when brushing your dog, and be gentle when removing tangles or mats. If you pull his hair as you fight through tangles, your dog won't stay keen on grooming for very long, and neither will you. Frequent, preferably daily, brushing will keep tangles and mats from forming.
If your dog has a thick coat, begin at the front and use a pin brush to brush small sections of hair forward, against the direction of growth, working your way from head to tail on one side, then the other. Be sure to separate the hair down to the skin to prevent mats from forming in the undercoat. This will also remove dirt and debris from the hair, and help the hair stand slightly away from the skin. When you have brushed all the coat forward, begin at the rear and brush the hair back into place in the direction of growth.
If your dog has long hair, he may get mats from time to time. Mats start as small tangles. If you catch a tangle or mat while it's small, you can usually tease it out with a comb or pin brush. It doesn't take long, though, for small tangles to grow into sizeable mats, reinforced with shed hair and sometimes plant matter and dirt. As mats grow bigger, they can pull the dog's skin and create warm, moist pockets that promote growth of bacteria and yeast, which can cause infections, hot spots, and open sores. Soon the poor dog is a miserable mess.
Small mats can be removed with a slicker brush. Place your hand between the mat and the dog's skin so that you don't jab him with the wires. Press the pins into the mat, and move it gently from side to side. Repeat three or four times, then brush the mat gently, and see if it will come apart. If that doesn't loosen the mat enough to brush it out, you can try cutting through the mat. Be careful not to cut the skin (blunt-tipped scissors are good for this). Make three or four cuts lengthwise through the mat. Then gently try to brush through the mat with your pin brush. If you still can't, you may need to cut the mat out. Be careful not to cut the dog's skin. If your dog has large mats, or if the mats are tight to the skin, causing a lot of discomfort or possibly sores, you may want to pay a professional groomer to remove them. Once they're out, you can set up a regular grooming schedule to keep the coat mat-free.
Dogs don't have to smell bad. Unpleasant odors can usually be traced to one or more of several causes: oil, bacteria, or yeast on the skin; ear infections; impacted or infected anal glands; gum disease; intestinal or stomach gas; or a foreign substance on the coat and/or skin.
Some breeds have oily coats to protect the dog in cold and wet working conditions. Unfortunately, oily coats smell a bit, especially when wet. Regular brushing will help remove some of the oil and reduce odor. Bathing will remove the oil temporarily, although bathing too often will stimulate the oil glands to make even more oil. Some shampoos are made to help control odor, so if it's a problem, ask your breeder, veterinarian, or groomer for guidance for your breed.
Bacterial and yeast infections of the skin can cause odor and lead to itching, “hot spots” (open, itchy sores), and hair loss. If you suspect an infection, you'll need your veterinarian to diagnose the problem to treat it effectively. Using an antibacterial shampoo on a dog with a yeast problem will probably make the problem worse, and a product for yeast won't help with bacteria at all.