No portion of this article may be reproduced without permission of the copyright holder. Reprinted with permission from AKC Family Dog, May/June, 2010.
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Ah, summer-the trees, the sky, the rolling hills, a good roll in the sweet grass, a romp through the woods, ears pricked at the sound of every squirrel, a long stroll down a white beach, a rousing game of "fetch the stick from the lake." Summer is the perfect time to bond with your dog and Mother Nature, but after a long day in the fresh air and sunshine, the last thing you want to deal with when you get home is muddy paw prints all over your new khaki carpet, gritty sand on your clean sheets (how did your dog get under there?), or a house full of pollen your dog shakes off his coat as soon as he gets inside.
They say you can't fool Mother Nature, but nobody ever said you have to let her inside. In large part, summer grooming is about keeping the outdoors, well, outdoors. All you need to draw the line between inside and outside is a few simple tools and a new warm-weather routine.
The Pat Down
First, let's talk about your new routine. Your first line of defense against mud, dirt, stink, pollen, and other outdoor messes is to check your dog before you let him back inside. Dogs love routine, so once he gets used to this new one, he shouldn't mind at all.
Step outside rather than letting your dog step in. Check his paws, his coat, his rear, and his underbelly. Is he muddy, dirty, dusty, or stinky? Fix the problem outside and you'll never have to deal with it inside. It sounds simple, even obvious, but few people do it. This easy new habit can save you tons of work cleaning your carpets, furniture, and clothing.
Now let's consider the best way to clean up some of those typical summer messes.
Your dog is having the best time out there in the rain! Isn't it cute the way he's leaping around like that? But wait-before you let him back inside for his well deserved treat, you might need to do some mud control.
A shallow pan of water or a small child's swimming pool just outside the door can double as both a rehydration unit (read: great big water dish) and a paw-cleansing device. Keep a kitchen or bath scrub brush and a towel by the door, and train your dog to stand in the pan or pool for a few seconds before coming inside. Lift each paw, give it a light scrub, blot with the towel, and then let your dog inside. Problem solved, (If your dog drinks out of the pan or pool, empty and refill it after cleaning his paws.)
If this seems like too much work (although how much more work is it to clean your carpet every time it rains?), keep a container of baby wipes by the hack door. "Baby wipes are great to spotclean small soiled areas and they are excellent for muddy paws, unless your dog is heavily coated," says Daryl Conner, a Master Pet Stylist, Meritus, in Rockport, Maine.
By the way, dogs with heavier coats will clean up more easily if you keep their paws well trimmed.
For mud and dirt on your dog's coat, the best remedy is to let it dry first. Many dogs, especially those bred for outdoor work, tend to shed dirt from their coats easily as soon as it dries. If you and your dog can wait it out after a mud-puddle bath, a good shake and a few swipes with a brush can leave your dog's coat looking spotless, no bath required.
You know that look they get when they smell the smell: the irresistible scent that simply must be ground into their coats by rolling ecstatically all over whatever it is (you probably don't want to know). That's when you know you're going to be faced with some stink management. Those handy baby wipes you keep by the back door can get rid of the smell. Wipe down your dog, concentrating on the stinky area. Or try a dry spray-on shampoo that brushes out, until you can get your dog into the tub for the real thing.
If the stink obviously comes from a skunk, you will need to take more drastic action. Products specifically made for removing skunk odor work best, like NuHemp Omega Zapp Skunk Odor Conditioning Shampoo,
Dogs love the beach, but sand tends to stick in their coats and on their skin. Especially when it's mixed with a little salt water or lake water, sand can be difficult to get off your dog. Meanwhile, your dog will shed sand for the next few days, all over your house, and that can wear down your carpets and feel pretty uncomfortable between your sheets if your dog manages to sneak onto the bed before you give him a bath.
The best solution, according to Conner, is to give your medium- and long-coated dog a good brush-down with a slicker brush before he comes inside. "I prefer a curved-back slicker," Conner says. "They seem to cover more ground with each stroke. If the dog can crate-dry for a while and then be brushed outside, all the better."
Cornstarch is your other secret weapon, Conner says. To get any remaining grains, and to help loosen sand on short-coated dogs, fill a shaker full of cornstarch and sprinkle it on your dog's coat. "Rub it in a bit, then brush the coat. Do this outside, as it may be a bit messy, but the cornstarch really helps to add some slip to the coat and helps remove the sand and grit. A bonus is that it's so inexpensive and you already have it in your cabinet. It's also nontoxic," Conner says.
Sap, Tar, and USOs (Unidentified Sticky Objects)
When your dog gets into tree sap, tar, chewing gum, or other sticky objects that seem impossible to remove, try soaking the sticky area with a little bit of vegetable oil, then rubbing it off with your fingers or a towel. Vegetable oil dissolves most sticky substances.
Conner warns that to get nasty burrs out of long coats, time is of the essence: "The longer they remain in the coat, the more entangled they get." She recommends picking out burrs with your fingers, with the help of a metal comb to tease them out. "If you have some silicone coat spray on hand, a little squirt of that on the burrs will help them slide off the hair shaft. If you don't have silicone spray, try a little bit of cornstarch rubbed into the area. Let it sit for a few minutes. It works wonders," she says.
If you have allergies, your dog can make them worse by bringing pollen inside the house. The best way to eliminate this problem is twofold: Brush your dog thoroughly outside before letting him back in every time during allergy season, and give him a weekly bath with a gentle shampoo that doesn't contain detergents and chemicals. Weekly baths are good for removing all kinds of subtle built-up summer grime as well. Clean coats are healthy coats. Conner suggests using baby wipes to remove pollen after outside time.
To sum up: Keep a few key grooming tools by the door your dog uses to go in and out, and add a routine once-over before letting him back inside. Muddy, messy, stinky, sneezy summers will soon become a distant memory.
Eve Adamson is the author of more than 40 books, including The Simple Guide to Grooming Your Dog. She lives in Iowa City with her family.