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Grooming and Appearance Care for a Service Dog

For service dog handlers that work their service dogs in public spaces, keeping your dog clean, neat and tidy is of the utmost importance. By keeping your service dog well groomed you help to maintain the image of quality care that service dogs receive. A well groomed dog is always more apt to be accepted by those who may not be dog lovers and it helps those with allergies to dog fur and dander by limiting excess in the environment.

The first part of good grooming care is simply keeping up with regular brushing every day. Depending on your dog’s coat type and whether or not he or she has an undercoat, hair, or fur will determine what type of brush or comb will be the most effective. Many handlers use a shedding blade or under coat rake to get out most of their dog’s heavy under coat, while others prefer the newer FURminator tool. Some use a greyhound comb to get the top coat out. The old standby slicker brush can also be very useful. If you find a mat in your dog’s coat, using a mat breaker can help to break up the mat and make it easier and less painful to remove.

If you have a dog that has a thick undercoat, many will go through twice yearly heavy sheds where they “blow” their undercoat. During these times of heavy shedding, you will need to increase your commitment to daily grooming and may find that you will be brushing your dog even twice or three times a day. One thing that may help during these excessive shedding periods is taking your dog to a professional groomer or self serve dog wash where they have force dryers and after bathing your dog blowing him dry as you brush him, literally forcing the old dead undercoat off of his body. If your service dog is going through a major shedding time, you may want to consider investing in a Lycra Body Suit for your service dog to help cut down on dander and fur released into the environment when you are out in public.

Many people also include brushing their service dog’s teeth in their daily grooming routine. If you are going to brush your dog’s teeth, the veterinary dental specialists recommend that it be done every 24 to 48 hours. If you go longer than 48 hours between brushings, the plaque and tarter will form a hard layer which cannot be brushed off, it can only be removed during a professional cleaning of your dog’s teeth by a veterinary dental professional. It is not recommended that you scrape or scale your service dog’s teeth on your own, as done incorrectly you can cause pits or other damage to your dog’s teeth making them more prone to cavities, cracking, breaking and infection.

If you are going to brush your service dog’s teeth at home, it is imperative that you use a tooth paste specially formulated for dogs. The fluoride in human grade tooth pastes can cause dogs to become very ill and it is unsafe to use. Canine tooth pastes come in a wide variety of flavors so experiment to find one that your dog prefers. To get your dog use to the paste, simply put some on your index finger and let your dog lick it off your finger. Once your dog is use to the taste, then put some of the tooth paste either on a dog tooth brush or a finger brush (a thin plastic device that slips over your finger and has a tooth brush type tip on it) to massage your dog’s gums and teeth cleaning them.

Another part of daily grooming maintenance is keeping your service dog’s ears and eye area clean. When cleaning your dog’s ears, use a formulated canine ear cleaner and cotton balls to swab the outer area of the ear canal clean. If you notice any black or dark brown discharge, it is time to make a veterinary appointment for your dog has he may have a yeast or bacterial infection or possibly ear mites that need medical attention to be resolved. If you have a dog with light colored hair or fur around the eyes, you may notice it get stained from your dog’s natural tears. There are a number of products that vary in effectiveness for this tear staining. Speak to your veterinarian or groomer about the most effective solution for your service dog. If you notice your service dog squinting or having any green or colored discharge from the eyes, make a vet appointment right away as it is possible he has an infection or scratch on his eye that needs medical attention as soon as possible.

Your daily grooming routine can also be critical for preventative and maintenance general health care on your service dog. While you are brushing him feel all over his body for new lumps and bumps or if muscles or areas feel hot or tender to the touch which may indicate inflammation and a potential muscle or joint problem. As mentioned in the ear and eye cleaning paragraphs, monitor those areas for infection or unusual discharge and have a qualified veterinarian see your service dog if a problem arises.

Depending on your dog and how much you walk and how his foot is structured, you will also need to trim his nails every one to four weeks. Nail trimmers come in a variety of shapes and sizes so finding on that meets your needs should not be impossible. Many people find that they like the scissor type of hand held clippers, while others prefer the guillotine type. Other people prefer using a rotary dremel grinder to sand their dog’s nails short and smooth. If you are afraid or unsure about how to go about properly trimming your dog’s nails, make an appointment with a groomer you trust and ask them to take some time to show you how to properly and safely trim your dog’s nails. Most groomers are more than happy to show an owner how to care for their dog in this fashion and will be willing to assist you. If you are not able to trim your service dog’s nails, then most veterinary offices and groomers will trim dog’s nails for a small fee.

When trimming your dog’s nails it is important to remember to take small portions off and not to get too close to the nail bed where the blood vessel or “quick” is which if cut will make your dog’s nail bleed and be quiet painful. If you do “quick” the nail, use some styptic powder to cauterize the nail bed and stop the bleeding. Styptic powder, aka QuickStop can be bought at most pet supply stores or through an on-line catalogue. If you don’t happen to have any on hand, using flour or corn starch can work in a pinch though not as effectively.

Also important in routine grooming care is bathing. Service dogs generally need more baths than the average house dog due to their increased interactions with the general populous. Frequent bathing can help to reduce allergens and cut down on excessive dog hair in the environment. Depending on your dog and situation baths should be given anywhere from once a week to once every two months. When bathing your dog you can bath him at home, at a self serve dog wash or hire a professional groomer to bath your dog. If you choose to bath your dog at home be sure that you are using a dog formulated shampoo and conditioner that will not be as harsh as a human grade one on your dog’s coat.

If you have a service dog with medium to long length hair or fur, you will also need to keep up on the neatness of his coat or hair by trimming various areas such as the feet, ears, private parts, face and possibly the entire body or hire a professional groomer to keep your dog trim and tidy. If cost is an issue, try contacting your local Professional Grooming School or Agricultural High School as in many groomer training programs they will offer free or reduced price grooming to service dogs. If you would like to learn how to trim or clip your service dog yourself, but don’t know how, try speaking with a groomer to see if they would be willing to teach you for a fee or contact your local Recreation Department and see if they offer any short term Dog Grooming Courses to the public for a fair price. Many Recreation Departments will offer their courses to disabled individuals with financial need at a reduced price.

In conclusion, grooming your service dog can be a very relaxing and enjoyable time for both of you if you keep to a daily grooming routine. Many dogs find grooming pleasurable and will rejoice when they see their brush and other grooming tools come out every day. Presenting a clean and well cared for dog to the public is critical if service dog handlers across the globe are to continue to be welcome in public spaces with their canine partners at their side.


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Individual Daily Exam