Flashback Friday: Grooming

Original Post Date: 2May 26, 2009

The first night is always the hardest.

Wrenched from their warm, cozy kennels where they slept curled up in a pile of fluffy friends, thrust into a strange room with only one other being nearby who sleeps separately from them, it’s no wonder that most new Seeing Eye dogs cry throughout their first night with their new human partners.

Prada rather graciously kept her unhappiness to herself until the early morning so I didn’t fall much farther behind on my sleep-debt. She still tries to take my arm with her whenever she gets her former trainer in her sights, but I know that’s a temporary distraction. Knowing that circumstances will favor her bonding to me once we’re back home helps me handle my own feelings of anxiety.

I tried to remember my first night with Greta, but ironically I’m sleep-deprived at the moment The memory won’t come. If I had to place bets, though, I’d guess neither of us slept well the first two or three nights together.

While The Seeing Eye teaches a basic routine for dog care, every dog is different and trainers encourage us to observe and experiment within certain limits to find out what works best for us. For instance, most dogs want to eat, then go outside and park. Prada insists on parking first.

This isn’t the only thing she prioritizes over food. You’d think shepherds would eat like horses, since they’re such big dogs. Prada stands to my waist, and I’m a rather tall woman. But apparently they are notoriously picky eaters. Prada, for example, finds food uninteresting unless I move the kibble around enough so she can see the bottom of the bowl.

I remember how worried I was by her disinterest in kibble. It had never occurred to me that a dog would be indifferent to food. My sheltie growing up was a grazer, so I knew not all of them hoovered up their meals but I was convinced for the first week that Prada’s refusal to eat was an omen that our bond was doomed to fail. I was incapable of calming her enough to eat, therefore I’d fail at convincing her to bond with me.

This was a persistent theme throughout her life, however. I used to joke that if the stars weren’t aligned properly,, she wouldn’t eat. Unfortunately, I had a boyfriend in college who once proposed the theory that Prada took her cue for me. He was convinced I didn’t eat enough, that I needed someone to remind me to eat, and that Prada took her cues from me. It didn’t occur to me until years later just how toxic that theory was.

The only drawback I foresee in our training is the heat. Even my room on the second floor is too warm for my new “Walking Carpet.” Naturally, Prada’s solution is to share her fur coat with me.

Ironically, at this point I didn’t know what “Prada” was. I spent a while confusing it with a Russian Newspaper, Pravda, until someone finally enlightened me. But I didn’t see the movie until after I graduated college, and I still haven’t read the book. It’s on my ever-growing list, though…

Posted Later that Day

We received a hands-on grooming lesson today. Beyond the very practical reasons for grooming such as managing dog hair and keeping your dog looking neat and professional, grooming serves a wide variety of essential functions in a dog-human relationship, and one or two particularly important for service dog teams. But since Prada is a long-haired, or coated, shepherd, those practical reasons would be more than enough to motivate me to add it into our future routine together.

When brushing a dog you end up running your hands over the entirety of the dog’s body. From head to neck to back to sides, legs, tail, chest, you’ll be able to feel for lumps, bumps, scrapes, skin irritations like hot-spots, or other evidence of injury or illness. It’s a completely tactile wellness check. It’s also a great time to bond with your dog. Dogs both speak and receive love through physical touch. Brushing just might be a great way for both of you to wind down, concentrate on each other, and let the rest of the world take care of itself for ffteen minutes.

This should mean that Prada loves grooming, right?

Wrong. Our first grooming session was a bit of a wrestling match. It’s likely due to my inexperience combined with her anxiety, so I think we’ll get used to each other. But for now it’s going to be a challenge. I can feel my motivation draining away already…

Regular grooming is also important for your dog’s health. Just like brushing your own hair and exfoliating your own skin, brushing helps to regulate the dog’s oil production and overall skin and coat health.  And, finally, it gives your dog a sleek appearance, helping to promote the image of a professional, capable team navigating all areas of the public. You don’t want to take a dog that looks like Hank the Farm Dog into your board meeting, do you?

What about bathing?

Like everything else, TSE has recommendations on that, too. Too-frequent bathing can dry out the skin and coat. TSE suggests baths every 2-3 months, 4 if possible. It turns out that a lot of that “dog smell” people complain about comes from an imbalance of skin and coat chemistry, so keeping it regulated is more important than frequent baths. It seems a general assumption around here is that we’ll take our dogs to professional groomers. But I’m a country girl; I grew up bathing my own dogs outside with a water hose and inside in the bath tub. I don’t see a reason to change that now.

The previous version of this post included a step-by-step explanation of how to brush a dog. I’ll leave you to find more professional grooming instruction from better sources. What I’d like to emphasize again is the personalization – dog-ization? – of a grooming routine. No two people have the same skin and hair chemistry, and so it is with dogs. Some respond better to moisturizing shampoos, others need limited ingredients. Some need more or less frequent baths than the recommendation above. All I’m willing to put my foot down on is the need for daily – or as near daily as you can get – brushing. It’ll help you stay in touch – pun intended – with your dog’s grooming needs.

Prada never did learn to love grooming, and it was frustrating for both of us. Knowing what I do now, I think I could have made the experience more enjoyable for both of us. It’s a lesson I’ll definitely keep in mind for future dogs. Fortunately, Miss Greta loves a good, thorough brushing. She comes running when I pull out the brush, and returns the favor with extreme vigor. Grooming in dog packs is a group activity; I receive a loving bath in return for my efforts.

4 Comments

  1. Wonderful post, I’ve never managed to give my dog a bath and he is 12 years old. He struggles too much, yet when the hosepipe is on in the garden he loves it. Don’t figure. I love reading about your getting to know Prada and the different ways each dog has.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. If you think about it, the process of bathing as we humans know it is pretty unnatural for a dog. They have a grooming instinct that doesn’t involve getting slathered or brushed or blow-dried or toweled off, yet playing in a stream of water from a hose is something that could occur in nature. Not from a hose, but a small stream, a small waterfall in a stream. It takes a lot of conditioning to get most dogs to accept human-style bathing as a normal part of their existence. Incidentally, my current guide, Greta, is at the groomer right down the block from the coffee shop where I am writing this comment!

      Like

  2. You are right: every dog has a personality. The human partner and dog lived in a pack. I hope you and your dog have much more fun together in the coming days.

    Thanks for sharing your experience- it’s a very informative and interesting article. xx

    Liked by 1 person

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