Run your hands over your dog’s body. It’s key to maintaining your dog’s health. Reach every nook and cranny! You want to check up for cuts, scratches, foreign bodies, hot areas, sore bits, tangles and mats.
You can do this methodically, once a week. Or you can do what a lot of people do - that is to use cuddle time as an opportunity to feel all over your dog and check him out.
It’s surprising how many people miss this. It can lead to nasty problems, especially where ears and feet are involved. The fashionable fluffy dogs have lots of fluff-related problems.
One fluffy dog I was boarding for the day was squatting to poo but nothing dropped to the ground. I checked him out. He had a basket of hair matted with dried poo covering his whole anal area. Yuk! Ten minutes with sharp scissors was all that was needed to remove this, trim the surrounding hair back neatly, wash him, and expose his very sore red bum to the air to heal. Fluffy dogs really need a lot of grooming to keep them healthy, and I think a lot of those who fall for these designer dogs don’t realise this before they purchase.
Learning all about how to handle your dog or puppy is an integral part of both these online courses:
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Did you know that an innocent-looking grass seed can become a time-bomb? If it penetrates the foot - and its pointed, torpedo shape makes this easy - it can actually work its way up the leg and reach the internal organs. That last is rare. But a rampant grass-seed loose inside your dog’s body can only lead to trouble.
Hairy dogs have hairy ears, with hairs sometimes growing right down the ear canal. Did you know you have to pluck the hairs out? Untended, these ears can be a source of constant pain and infection.
There are lots of less dramatic things to check for, but they can all add up to a lot of discomfort and misery for the helpless dog. I met two cocker spaniels once, whose coats were so matted that they had dreadlocks and huge mats all over them. These mats were like large balls that swung as they walked. Their feet were like soup-plates. Where the hair had matted tightly, at armpits and round the ears, the skin was being pulled and pinched. What else was harboured in these mats doesn’t bear thinking about! These poor dogs were suffering constant pain and aggravation. The tragedy is that the owner just couldn’t be bothered. She had plenty of money to pay for a groomer, but couldn’t be bothered. These dogs needed to be completely shaven so their coats could start again.
Even small mats behind the ears and between the legs can cause constant irritation. Some dogs’ hair is soft and wispy and very easily mats.
Ask for permission!
It’s important that your dog should be happy with this interference. If you’re starting with a puppy it’s standard practice to get them happy about being handled all over - lots of treats for standing still for a split second while you touch them. Time will gradually stretch out.
For an older dog, or a rescue who may have a history of fear of hands, you need to progress in the same way, but take your time. Ask permission to handle your dog, in the same way you would ask permission of a person to touch them - even if you were brushing a spider off their neck you’d still ask! So afford the same courtesy to your dog. Don’t just grab and yank and pull!
I’ll take you through a checklist here so you can ensure that none of these horrors ever befall your dog.
The Weekly Once Over - how it’s done
I’ve alerted you to some of the dangers of neglecting the weekly once-over. So here’s how to do it.
Start with his mouth - especially the corners. Check there’s nothing jammed between his teeth or pressing into the gums, like shreds of a twig or bone shards.
See that his eyes are clean and not runny. Trim excess hair from bushy eyebrows that may be poking into his eyes. Ensure he can see clearly. Don’t be a fashion victim!
Ears - these are very important - especially if you have a flop-eared dog, and/or one with a lot of ear feathering. Very hairy dogs, e.g. fluffy poodle types, will need to have the hair inside the ear removed from time to time, to prevent infection. The easiest way to do this is with a haemostat.
Spaniels are notorious for getting ear problems. This is because their long hairy ears sweep up foreign bodies into the ear canal. The ear flap then clamps down and ensures a nice moist hotbed for triggering infections. So these busy little dogs, with their snuffling habit and love of deep cover, need their ears checked after every walk.
The spaniel we had as our childhood family dog would go out foraging in the snow and be quite unable to get back through the fence gaps he’d gone out through. The snowballs which formed on his ears and flanks made him twice as wide and he looked like a Christmas tree! They had to be broken up and melted off before he could come back in the house and lie in front of the fire to dry.
Burrs, grass-seeds, insects, dirt, mud - all can create problems. So a quick once-over of the ears after every walk is a habit which will take no time and could prevent a lot of suffering. The best natural remedy I’ve found for this? Thornit. You’ll find it on Amazon. It will also dry up wet skin patches and helps to draw splinters. Invaluable.
Move further back
Keep working back down the neck. Check there’s no collar damage, and that his collar is still comfortable. We tend to put them on the dog and forget them till they drop off. Wear and tear can produce sharp bits which chafe. And has he got a bit tubbier since you last checked the fit?
Feel the ribs. You can feel them all? Good! That means your dog is not secretly gaining weight under his coat.
If your dog regularly plays with other dogs, check over his flanks carefully. This is where grabs happen in a chase game. As it’s often only a skin-rip there may be no blood and no obvious sign without feeling for it. A dog’s skin is not like ours - it’s more like a loose-fitting overcoat - a breach in this protective layer can let infection in.
Check the tail for lumps and bumps. If your dog’s tail is magnificently feathered, you’ll need to hunt for twigs, bramble spines, thistles, thorns, burrs, and probably a mouse nest or two! Check anus is clean and trim the hair there if necessary.
Legs - run your hands down the legs firmly, checking for any reaction or flinching from your dog. Move the joints (only the direction they’re meant to move!) and see that there is freedom of movement.
Feet - these should be clean, claws nice and short and blunt, the hair between the pads regularly trimmed away, and no mats or mud between the digits. This last can lead to painful “scalds” - chafed red sores between the knuckles which make walking painful. Once you remove excess hair from the pads you reduce the danger of thorns and grass-seeds penetrating the foot. These little torpedoes can actually travel up inside the leg. They may emerge again further up the leg, or in rare cases they can get into the bloodstream and cause havoc.
Best thing for trimming foot-hair? The little handheld gizmo your hairdresser uses to shave hair on the back of your neck. Very quick, very easy, no danger of cutting the webs.
My collies regularly have their feet shaven and neatened up. The poodle needs to be shaven regularly. The only one who escapes these ministrations is Cricket the Whippet who has fine hair and neat feet. Check this page for more info and some remarkable before-and-after photos on what you might consider a short-coated dog.
Underside: check his belly, armpits, genital area. Some dogs have very soft wispy hair on their undersides which mats in a moment, tweaking the skin painfully. So scissoring the wispy parts fairly short will prevent this.
All over: while you’re at it, part the hair in a few places (back of neck, rump, base of tail, for instance) and check for flea-dirts, spots, scabs, and any evidence of scratching.
This sounds a lot! But it actually takes a fraction of the time it takes to read all this. If you do this regularly this once-over should only take a minute. You can be towelling dry at the same time.
Anything you discover that needs fixing will take longer - schedule a time to deal with it the same day. A lot of things can be dealt with on a first aid basis. A stitch in time saves nine, and this regular once-over can save you a lot of vet visits! And there are natural remedies you can have always on hand. They work for the rest of the family too.