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K9 Corner, Feb. 7

By HELEN PALMER

Contributing writer

A friend who has observed how I work with my dogs over the past 30 years, asked me recently if I really thought it was necessary to groom pet dogs once a month. After all, she said, they stay inside a lot of the time.

So we talked about grooming. I told her that my dogs in the past were allowed to romp and play outdoors each day for as long as they wished or until I needed to leave the house and they had to come in. Even my little papillon needed time outside for exercise and sunshine. So it is very possible that the animals needed grooming after a month of playing outside.

If a dog is living on a farm, and goes hunting or investigating in the fields, it is probable that it would collect burrs and mats during its travels. This would make grooming imperative.  A badly matted dog would probably need shearing since that is quicker and less painful to the dog than trying to pick the mats and burrs out. 

However shearing in the winter can stress the dog and requires more attention from the owner since it takes about four months for the coat to grow out sufficiently to keep the dog warm. Therefore, it might be necessary to keep a sweater on the animal while indoors and a winter coat when it goes out to relieve itself.

Mats and burrs are harmful to the skin of dogs. Burrs stick to the hair and, unless the animal is able to chew each one loose, a burr keeps wrapping more and more hair around itself, pulling on the roots of the hair and traumatizing the skin. Some burrs will even scratch the skin, and one or two varieties will actually penetrate the skin causing sores.

Mats also grow, starting out as just a few hairs twisted together and ending up in a felt-like pad that covers the body hiding fleas, hot spots and sores. When a groomed dog gets wet, a good shake will start the drying process, and the body heat filtering out through the individual hairs finishes drying the dog. A matted dog does not have this protection. There is no way to shake the water off a heavily matted dog, so the animal stays wet. Anyone who has sat out in the rain to watch a football game knows how cold it seems when the wind blows against the wet jacket or coat.

Age is also important. Any dog over six years of age needs to be protected from chilling if it has been sheared. Arthritis is frequently a problem with older dogs and these animals need a warm, cuddly bed to sleep in.

Besides keeping the coat clean and shiny, I like my dogs to smell nice too, especially since I always invited them into my bedroom to sleep in their crates. Pet dogs sleeping in a family member’s room helps with bonding and the correct formation of the dog’s pack.