The Current

Is isolation turning your pooch into one big furball? This vet has tips for home grooming

Have you tried to shear your dog in isolation? Or is your pooch now more hair than hound, a tumbleweed on a leash? A vet gives us grooming tips.

Dog owners turn to home trims while groomers closed during pandemic

Cooper the labradoodle got treated to a home grooming recently, but his owner said he spent a good bit of the time trying to eat the hair. (Submitted by Sydney Smith)

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Sydney Smith spent about four hours recently trying to groom her dog Cooper — a good chunk of which was spent chasing him around the house. 

"It was a two-person job, he constantly wanted to either lie down on the table or was trying to eat the hair that we were cutting off of him," she told The Current

Cooper is a six-month-old Australian labradoodle, one of many breeds whose fur can get matted, or grow over their eyes and restrict vision if not maintained.

Smith thinks her dog looks OK after the grooming session, but admits "we're not going to start a grooming business any time soon."

"Hopefully [he] won't feel too embarrassed when he goes out and about," she joked. 

Cooper before and after his owners gave him a wash and a trim. The pandemic means many professional groomers are closed, and people are taking cuts into their own hands. (Submitted by Sydney Smith)

It may seem trivial in the grand scheme of the COVID-19 pandemic, but with many groomers closed for business, "pawrents" across Canada are figuring out how to stop their hounds from turning into overgrown hairballs.

If you're attempting a home-grooming, veterinarian Cliff Redford says "the trick is take your time; go slow." 

"It's okay to take a break halfway through, even if only half of their body is shaved and the other half is super long — they don't really care," said Redford, owner of Wellington Vet Hospital in Markham, Ont.

If your dog is particularly anxious, there are over-the-counter calming remedies available at your local pet store or online, he told The Current's Matt Galloway. 

Being patient helps the owner as much as the dog, he said, especially with dogs like Cooper, whose exuberance can make the grooming process feel like a workout.

"I definitely recommend people stretch and maybe carbo-load before they plan to groom their dog," Redford said with a laugh.

Veterinarian Cliff Redford said the trick to approaching home grooming is to take your time — and forgo the scissors in favour of a beard clippers. (Desmond Brown/CBC)

Use the right tools

About a month into lockdown, the Shier family noticed their dog Lou's hair was becoming unmanageable, but their regular groomer wasn't seeing clients. 

Deciding to take matters into their own hands, they spent $300 on professional grooming equipment. Their groomer suggested they could follow online tutorials to do it themselves — though the advice came with a stark warning.

"She's like if you're shaving the neck, just hold the skin taut, and if you nick a certain part of her neck, she will bleed out and she could die," said Sam Shier, who has been isolating with her sister Allie and their mother Shelley Levitt since lockdown started.

"We're like, 'we could kill our dog and we have to learn a new trade?' It just seemed insane and we didn't know what to do," she said.

The Shier family eventually found someone who could groom Lou (and got the money for the tools refunded).

But Redford said he's never seen a dog grievously injured that way.

Lou's owners, the Shier family, were worried they'd accidentally hurt her during a trim. They found someone who knew how to lighten her locks. (Submitted by Sam Shier)

He's treated a lot of dogs for lacerations that came from owners trying to cut out matted hair, but the cuts don't do lasting damage, he said.

"They're not going to bleed out [if you nick them]; you got to try really, really hard to get that to happen," he said.

He also said you don't need to spend a lot of money on equipment — suggesting a men's beard trimmer would do just fine, and can be bought online for about $60.

It's also fine to use human shampoo, he said, but sparingly.

"If you do it every single week … you're gonna dry out their coat," he said, explaining human shampoo is designed to remove the sweat from our hair (a problem dogs don't have). 

"But if you're gonna do it once a month, regular human shampoo is fine — just pick something that smells nice." 

Redford groomed one of his dogs a few weeks ago — his first attempt.

"I'm going to tackle my labradoodle next," he said.

"She's kind of walking around with a 1980s perm look going on … so that will be a little bit more of a challenge." 

Cutting your dog's nails, hair around the eyes

For a lot of owners, it can be nerve-wracking to trim hair around the eyes, or cut a dog's nails.

Redford said the best approach around the eyes is to use beard clippers, with the guard off to cut as short as possible.

"Put the scissors away, stay away from the scissors," he said.

Brush out the hair and straighten it as much as possible, then place your hand over the dog's eyes as a guard, he advised. 

"You can then just run the clippers right over your fingers. It doesn't vibrate against the dog's face, and they're not as scared," he told Galloway.

"It protects them and they get this nice little sort of scruffy eyebrow look."

For nails, he explained you're just trying to cut the tip, and avoid the quick lower down, "which is the tissue and the nerve and the blood vessel that's within the nail."

"Just take it easy, just don't go as aggressively as you think," he said. "You can always come back a week later and take off a couple more millimetres."

If you do hit the quick, it will hurt and it will bleed, he said.

"Use a little cornstarch to kind of press it into the nail to stop the bleeding,"

You should take the dog for a walk or let them out in the backyard, so they're not bleeding all over your house, he added.

"Just calm the dog, do something that they enjoy, and the bleeding will stop on its own."

Redford said the secret to successful home grooming could be lots of rewards — both for the dog and the owner.

"Give your dog a treat. Have a sip of wine yourself. Everyone is going to have a great time."

Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Howard Goldenthal.

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