We just opened up our new dog grooming studio on Commercial Street in the Kensington - Cedar Cottage neighbourhood of Vancouver, and wanted to say "We're so happy to be here!"

We've had a tremendously warm welcome from people who have popped in just to say hello, or to bring their dogs in for a bath and trim, and we're quite sure we're going to be very happy here.

Here's to many years of making Vancouver dogs clean and green!
You've just come home from the pet store with yet another dog brush and you think (not for the first time) that with the assortment of brushes you've got, you could open your own grooming studio!

What's the deal with this? Why are there so many different brushes, and how are you supposed to know which one you need?

Well, here's the lowdown:

Dogs' coats can be broken into three basic categories: those with short or medium hairs that shed but do not need cutting, those with long hairs that tangle and usually require cutting, and those that enjoy both of these traits. You'll need to know where your dog fits in before you decide on a brush. 

Brushes on the other hand are divided into either the shedding camp, or the tangles camp. However, if your dog exhibits both of these features, you'll want brushes for both as well.

First we'll talk about shedding coats. If your dogs hair is short, such as a Labrador Retrievers or a Pugs, you will want a brush you can rub on his coat in a circular motion, keeping constant contact with his skin. This action loosens both the guard hairs (or top coat) and the undercoat, and causes them to fall away from the body. A rubber currycomb with big rubber nibs works best, but there are a few variations of this brush - some with small nibs, some with soft nibs, some in the form of a mit, and some with hard plastic nibs, but they all act on the same principal. Additionally, some short haired dogs have quite alot of undercoat, while others have very little. A carding tool such as a Furminator will pull out this additional undercoat, but a good rubber currycomb is all you need to get started. 

If your dog sheds medium length hair, such as a Border Collie, Golden Retriever or Pomeranian, a slicker brush will help you work through any mats as well as remove loose undercoat. A rake however, will be your workhorse - this tool rakes out all the excess undercoat not easily removed with a slicker. A pin brush is a good maintenance tool on this coat for everyday brushing as it's gentle on the skin, but lacks the strength to tackle mats and bulky undercoat. It's a nice addition, but not a necessity. Finally, you can finish with a carding tool such as a Furminator, when the rake can pull no more hair out. This is also a nice brush to have, and will keep you one step ahead of the furballs under the sofa. If you only want to buy one or two brushes, get the slicker first, then add the rake and you'll do fine. 

Now, long coats which are prone to tangling or matting require a little more attention than other coat types. A slicker is used to remove mats and loose undercoat, followed by a metal comb to check for small tangles and pull out undercoat the slicker misses. A pin brush is a nice maintenance tool here as well, when used daily, and will not irritate the skin, which can happen when slicker brushes are used incorrectly. If you want to start with just one brush, get a slicker, then add a metal comb later. 

A note on slicker brushes: knowledge of the correct method of use for a slicker brush is important both for good results, and to prevent skin irritation. Read our blog post on correct use of a slicker brush, or visit your groomer to have her give you a demonstration.

dogs paw and nails
The clicking of your dogs nails on the hardwood floor should not be a call to action to book an appointment with your groomer. Nor should you wait for the next time his doggy aroma signals bath time, to think about trimming his nails. Unless you visit your groomer every four to six weeks, his nails will require you pay them a little bit of attention.  

Now, while some dogs are highly active in the great outdoors, most pet dogs spend their leisure time on soft grass, groomed trails, and indoor flooring, which means they don't wear down their nails on their own, and a little intervention is required on the part of homo sapien. 

The reason it's important to keep your dogs nails trimmed to an appropriate length is twofold. Firstly, allowing them to become too long can lead to improper foot placement, which affects the movement of your dog up through the bones of his feet, into his legs, hips and shoulders, and, if left unchecked, can in turn lead to arthritis. Secondly, some nails will grow into a curled shape and can become embedded in the soft tissue of the pad, where they continue to grow more deeply. This is a painful condition, made worse with every step taken, added to the risk of infection. The good news is, these conditions are completely and easily preventable. 

To start with, ask your groomer to suggest a nail trimming schedule for you based on your dogs activities. Your groomer will also be able to guide you in what to look for, so that you too will be able to recognize when it's the appropriate time to trim his nails. If you don't already have a groomer, ask the folks at your local dog park whom they recommend, and be sure to choose somebody experienced and reputable. 

What happens if his nails are already too long? Well, in a dog whose nails have been overgrown for a long period of time, the quick - which provides blood and contains nerves - enlarges along with the nail in order to nourish it. The problem arises when the time for a nail trim does come, and the nail can only be trimmed as far back as the quick will allow. Often times, the length of the nail after trimming is still too long for good health, in which case the quick needs to be encouraged to recede. This is done by trimming the nail very close, but not into, the quick on a regular schedule of every 7 - 14 days. This procedure is best done by an experienced dog groomer, as it is quite precise. 

In closing, every dog is an individual, but if you don't have a groomer, and you want to trim your dogs nails yourself, a good rule of thumb is to trim them every 4 - 6 weeks.

cavalier king charles puppy
"Even if your puppy doesn't need a bath or haircut just yet, it's the experience which is most important."

The newest member of your family has four legs and fur, and is just about the cutest little bundle of joy you ever did see. And now, along with the pleasure of enjoying your new puppy, you've also taken on the responsibility of keeping him healthy by feeding him whole foods, exercising with him, and keeping him well groomed.

When it comes to grooming, most dogs have coats which wouldn't normally be found in nature, and it's simply not possible for them to groom themselves. That's where you come in, and you have a couple of choices. You can take your puppy to a professional groomer, or, with a little bit of know-how, you can groom him yourself at home.

Whichever choice you make, it's best to take him to a professional groomer for his first few dates with the bathtub and clippers, while he is young and curious. This serves a couple of purposes. Most importantly, it exposes your dog to grooming in a studio environment while he is at the learning stage in his life, and therefore most accepting of new things; this is the time when his mother would be teaching him about the world and it's many wonders. Later, when his mother would naturally wean him, he'll begin questioning new things, and be wary as a means of survival. At this point, introducing new experiences becomes considerably more challenging.

So even if your puppy doesn’t need a bath or haircut just yet, it’s the experience which is most important! Even if you plan to do your own grooming, there will probably come a time when you require the services of a grooming studio; you may move to a smaller home, you may leave him with someone who isn't able to groom him, it may become difficult for you as your dog ages, or you simply might decide you don't want to do it anymore. The point is, you never know what the future holds.

Visiting a professional groomer also gives you the opportunity to learn which brushes and tools are best suited to your dogs coat type, and just as importantly, the correct way to use them to achieve the best and safest results. She may also be able to give you some tips and tricks to make grooming at home easy and enjoyable.

So, back to our original question of when should you take your puppy to the groomer for the first time. I usually tell people "a week after you bring him home" as a good rule of thumb. If he's eight weeks old when you bring him home for the first time, give him some time to adjust to his new surroundings, then visit your new groomer when he's nine weeks. Ideally, you would have already chosen and met with her - you'll feel much more at ease leaving him there for the first time, and if you're at ease, he'll be at ease.

Remember, dogs mimic our moods because we are taking the roll of their mother, and that's who they learn behavior from. So take your puppy to the groomer early and often while he is very young. This investment will make for a smooth and stress free lifetime of good grooming and good health.

golden retriever - doublecoat
How do you know if your dog has a double coat?

Well, generally speaking, if your dogs hair stays the same length without it being cut, and it sheds, it's likely a double coat. It's called a double coat because it consists of two types of hair - an overcoat and an undercoat.

The overcoat is made up of guard hairs which are thicker, smoother, straighter hairs than the undercoat, which has a downy feel to it. The overcoat is water resistant, protects the skin from sun damage, twigs and thorns, and bugs. It acts as a temperature regulating layer between your dogs body and the (ambient) air, but needs proper air circulation to do so. The undercoat is your dogs insulation. She'll grow more of this in the winter, and shed it when the weather warms.

Different breeds of dogs have varying amounts of undercoat and overcoat, and because we've bred our dogs to have coats that wouldn't be found in nature, many dogs need help with the shedding process through brushing. As summer approaches, many people feel their dog is better off when their coat is shaved off, to help keep them cool. Except that, what happens to your dogs coat is this: as each hair has a predetermined length, and needs the weight of itself to fall out at the right time, cutting the hair makes it not fall out when it's supposed to, which can lead to clogged hair follicles, and skin issues. The proper temperature regulating system of the coat is altered, and it no longer performs it's intended functions; keeping your dog warm in winter, and cool in summer. You may also need to be concerned with sun burn, depending on how short the coat is shaved. As the coat grows back, it comes in with an overabundance of undercoat, and lack of overcoat, with a dull, fuzzy look to it. Additionally, this new coat acts more like a sponge, and less like a raincoat, and due to the softer texture, it becomes more prone to matting, requiring even more maintenance.

On some dogs, generally these are older, or have compromised immune systems - but not always - the coat does not grow back. This may happen in patches, or over the whole body. On most healthy dogs, the coat can be restored, but this may take one to two years of not cutting it, before it looks normal. Most people get caught in a cycle where the coat comes back looking unsightly, and their dog is hot again, so they keep shaving it off. In most cases, the dog is hot because she has an overabundance of undercoat which has not been brushed out.

Regular brushing of a double coated dog is essential to keeping her comfortable and healthy. Read our blog on “what brush should i use for my double coated dog?”, or visit a reputable groomer for their advise and a demonstration. The best way you can help your dog be comfortable, and keep her coat functioning properly, is to brush it on a regular schedule. A healthy coat will do the right thing for the weather, and your pet will be properly dressed for the seasons.

french bulldog in antique tub
Everyone you've spoken to - the staff at the pet store, your friends, your veterinarian... they've all told you the same thing. “You need chemicals to get rid of fleas.” Your dog is scratching like crazy, and all you want to do is help her, but you think to yourself -“There's got to be a better way!”.

Well, you're right. There is a better and healthier way.
Additionally, many of us live with dogs which have compromised health or immune systems, or are sensitive to chemicals, and using a flea product containing toxic chemical pesticides can be very detrimental to the health of your pet.

Following the steps below will ensure you rid your dog of fleas in a safe and healthy manner, without worry that you may be harming your pet, even while you’re trying to help them.

1) Use a gentle, all natural shampoo, preferably one with essential oils which repel fleas, such as lemon, peppermint, cedar and eucalyptus. Make a ring around her neck of thick, undiluted shampoo. Make another ring in front of her ears, but behind her eyes and muzzle, being careful not to get soap in her eyes. Put a third handful of shampoo on her anus. These act as barricades to stop fleas from hiding in your dog’s ears, eyes, and rectum, once you get the rest of her wet.

2) Wet her body, tail and legs, and apply shampoo. Use a generous amount of soap, and work up a real rich lather. At this point, you can spread the shampoo on her face, in case she has any fleas there too. Keep this lather going for 10 minutes, adding a little more water and shampoo as you go. Some dogs love the massage and the attention, others do not, and this can be a challenging process, so having a somebody to help you may be a good idea.

3) After 10 minutes of bath time, the fleas will have drowned and most will have become trapped in the soap. Now rinse, rinse, and rinse again. Don't forget to rinse armpits, under the tail and between the legs. Towel dry, and if she lets you, use a blow drier on a cool setting to look for any dead fleas which didn't go down the drain. You can comb these out with a flea comb.

Now that your dog is free of fleas, you'll want to be sure her environment is as well, so she doesn't become re-infested.

itchy dog with fleas
Dogs scratch for many different reasons. But if you suspect fleas may be the culprit, the following easy to perform tests can put an end to the guesswork, so you can begin to help your pet.

1) Have your dog stand on a clean surface, with a damp white cloth or paper towel handy. Now, fleas tend to congregate on the back near the tail, so give her hind end a real good scratch. She’ll absolutely love you for this! Wipe the table or floor below where you've been scratching, and look at the debris on the white towel. Wait a minute or two, and any black specks which melt into red smears are flecks of dried blood, commonly known as flea dirt. This is the most accurate way to determine if your dog is afflicted by fleas, other than actually seeing them.

2) If you have a hair dryer with a cool setting, pass the air over your dogs coat, parting the hair in a methodical manner. You can sometimes catch a glimpse of a flea before it scurries away. This method works if the dogs coat is not too thick or matted.

3) Use a flea comb which you can purchase at a local pet shop - a metal one is best as the teeth won't bend. This works best on a dog with a short coat with no tangles. Run the comb through your dogs hair, being sure to go over her entire body. The comb will pull the fleas off because the teeth are so close together, and you can use this method to remove the fleas as well, but, since fleas move around quickly, you'll need to go over her multiple times.

Now that you’ve determined your dog has fleas, the healthiest way to get rid of them is with a natural flea bath. 

dog with matted coat
The new groomer wants to shave your dogs coat right down because she says it's too matted and it'll hurt to brush it out. The old groomer used to brush it out, and she always said your dog was fine. It's cold outside, and you want your dog to have enough hair to stay warm, but you also want to do the very best thing for your pet, so what do you do?

Well, it depends on a number of things. Firstly, you and / or your groomer need to assess the tolerance your dog has for brushing. If your pet likes being brushed, she may tolerate the de-matting process, or she may not. If she does not like being brushed, de-matting will probably not be the best solution for her. Many dogs fall between these two extremes, and you just need to try to find out.

Secondly, the extent of the matting needs some consideration. There are two things you need to look at... 1) how much of your dogs body has matted fur on it? and 2) how close (and tight) are the mats to your dogs skin? A skilled groomer can run her hands over your dogs coat, and very quickly determine these things by feel alone, because her hands are accustomed to what a coat should feel like. You can do this too, with the help of a metal toothed comb (plastic teeth bend too easily), and perhaps your favourite pair of reading glasses. First, know where to look. Areas of friction will start to mat first, so where her ears rub against her head, armpits, where she chews her feet, and under her collar or harness. Part the hair, and you should see healthy skin, and smooth hair shafts growing from it. If you can't see skin, and the hair is bunched up, it's a mat. You should be able to take a fine toothed comb (wide teeth for Poodles and other breeds with very tight curls), and completely comb through the hair, root to tip, over your dogs entire body. When your comb gets stuck, you found a mat!

Now, de-matting can be done a number of ways, with various tools. If there are just a few small mats on your dog, this usually is not a problem, with the exception of a very few dogs who have especially sensitive skin. A caring, patient, and skilled groomer can remove these gently, without causing pain or stress to your loved one. (Please note, this procedure takes time, skill, and above all, patience. If your groomer isn't applying any extra charges, you may want to ask yourself why.) Another option is to spot shave these mats. Once again, a skilled groomer may be able to hide these shaved areas with the surrounding fur.

If the mats cover large areas of your dog, or even her whole body, simply having them can be quite uncomfortable for your pet. But not just that. Mats pose a health risk for a number of reasons. If your dog has acquired any sort of skin irritation, either due to an allergic reaction, an injury, or something sharp caught in her fur like a twig or thorn, you won't know about it in order to help her, because you can’t see it. The irritated skin can't heal well because air can't circulate properly, and it can't be kept clean. Additionally, if your dog loves to swim, or she has frequent baths, the coat takes much longer to dry, especially against the skin, which can cause further problems. This moist environment encourages bacteria, fungus, and yeast growth, as well as exacerbating any irritation which may already be there. One of the most unpleasant consequences of a matted coat, is that it is a perfect environment for fleas to congregate and multiply, and nobody wants to invite fleas to the party. In summary, these effects can be quite taxing to your dogs immune system, compromising her health, and making her susceptible to other health issues. Regularly grooming your dog is a very important part of keeping her healthy.

So, should you, or shouldn't you, shave your dog?

Well, often, the best choice is the lesser of two evils. Generally speaking, shaving mats is more humane than brushing, especially for large matted areas. If you do choose to have your pets mats brushed out, ask your groomer if it's okay if you watch. If you're not welcomed to do so, you may want to reconsider either your choice of haircut, or your choice of groomer. If you opt for shaving the coat off, you'll want to put a cozy sweater or coat on your pet before venturing outside. Fortunately, these are widely available, with increasing selections of locally made, eco-friendly fabrics. So, don’t feel sorry she has a very short haircut; be happy she will be far more comfortable, and one step closer to optimum health.

itchy dog
In our last post, we discussed food as being a potential irritant in a dog with itchy skin. But our environment can also play havoc with our health, and lead to an imbalance in the body, in turn leading to skin issues such as itchiness and scratching. It’s not normal for your dog to scratch herself any more frequently than you would scratch yourself. All animals itch and scratch, but use yourself as a guide. After all, you’re an animal too.

Take a good look around your house. Even though our dogs live in the very same home we do, they exist within them differently. For example, when we walk on the kitchen floor we may have on socks, slippers, or bare feet. We wash our feet in the shower, and wash our socks in the laundry. Our dogs, on the other hand, walk on the floor, lay on the floor, and then lick their bodies and feet. This means, what your put on your floors affects your dogs health in a much more profound way. So, what do you put on your floors? If you're using a common floor cleaner from the supermarket, it leaves a residue, especially if you wax afterward. Do you wipe it between washes with a Swiffer disposable wipe? Toxic residue. What's your floor itself made out of?  Vinyl flooring contains PVC which releases toxins. Make the switch to healthier cleaning products, and your dog will thank you. There are many companies that now fill this demand, or you can make your own household cleaners.

How about your carpet? Do you sprinkle carpet freshener on it? What about deodorizing sprays such as Febreeze? Do you use a steam carpet cleaner which sprays synthetic detergents and leaves chemical residue? Is it made from wool, which is naturally flame retardant, or is it synthetic? Synthetic carpets contain a vast array of toxins.

Aerosol sprays are another no-no – air fresheners, bug spray, hair spray, etc. (although you’re spraying the air, the mist particles still land on the floor). Your dog rubs against all these toxins on a daily basis, and then ingests them when she licks herself. To make matters worse, an itchy dog spends considerably more time chewing and licking her coat and skin. Start by eliminating the chemicals you use regularly.

Next, consider where your dog sleeps. Did you buy her a new bed around the same time she became itchy? Did you change the laundry detergent you wash her bedding with? Switch to a hypoallergenic one, or one of the healthier brands such as Seventh Generation. Do you use disposable dryer sheets? These leave a toxic coating on fabric. Try using dryer balls, or re-usable fabric dryer sheets. Psst… they’re also better for the environment, and your pocketbook.)

And finally, one last note. It may not be any one of these things I've mentioned that is causing your dogs discomfort, but a combination of any or all of them that bombard your dogs immune system with toxins, eventually showing up as skin issues. There are many reasons your dog may be itchy, and I haven't covered all of them. But remember to think of her body as a whole, and the skin may be indicating something wrong with the system. Perhaps this is your opportunity to create a healthier home for your whole family, and you can all enjoy many, many happy hugs.

itchy dog
Now that you’ve ruled out fleas, start with the most likely culprit. Usually this is diet. If you feed your dog the same food every day, she’s probably lacking nutritionally, even though the label on her dog food says “complete and balanced”. The nutritional requirements a dog food company must live up to, ensure your dog is getting enough nutrition to keep her alive. This is not the same and healthy and thriving. Think about what is important for humans (we are both mammals, and omnivores after all). We need variety. If we ate fortified cereal (“for a complete and balanced breakfast”) and even threw in some broccoli and apples every day, we would still be lacking in many other essential vitamins and minerals, and eventually become ill. So give your dog variety. Now think about fresh food if she’s been living on kibble and / or canned food, processed food is bad for people and pets for many, many reasons. Find a good purveyor of fresh dog food in your neighbourhood, or learn how to make it yourself. Be sure to do your nutritional research if you do decide to make your dogs food, be it raw or cooked. Many people find a raw diet completely eliminates their dogs skin issues, but remember, dogs need variety just like us, so you can’t just go to the butcher and feed her hamburger meat. Also, be sure to buy organic fresh foods. There is a world of difference! Non-organic meats, vegetables and fruits are laden with pesticides, radiation, and medications, which will tax an already depleted immune system.

Now comes the hard part. Narrowing down which ingredients your dog may be reacting to. An advantage of making the switch to fresh food is, you know exactly what ingredients are in her diet. Narrowing down now becomes much easier.

Here’s where your journal comes in. Write it all down… every ingredient and the date. Switch her food gradually over the next couple of weeks, so her body has time to adjust, especially when introducing raw food as it is harder to digest than processed food (but more normal). Give her a few weeks on the new diet, and watch. If she’s still the same, switch one ingredient. If you switch more than one, and there’s a change, you won’t know which one helped or hurt. One at a time. This is called an elimination diet, because you are trying to eliminate the thing that’s bothering her.

This approach obviously takes more time than a trip to the vet for a steroid shot, so remember the hug and the promise you made.