Grooming Your Labrador Retriever

I wish I could tell you that there is no grooming involved with a Lab. Indeed, I hear there are some breeders out there saying Labs don't shed, in order to sell their puppies.  I think this cartoon says it all:


                                                             © ucomics.com
This isn't snow folks. This is my backyard after 10 minutes of grooming my Labs. Now tell me again how Labs don't shed.

I've blown up more vacuums than I care to count from coping with Lab hair.

Granted, my blacks only really shed twice a year (as compared to the yellows that shed 365/24/7) but when they blow out that coat spring and fall, let me tell you they blow. I'm not going to lie to you and tell you they aren't shedding machines. I don't want your phone call after your dog rubs up against you just as you're about to leave for work in your brand new outfit and covers you with hair.

To properly groom your Lab you will need the following tools:
A: Wire Slicker Brush
B: Short-haired rake
C: Narrow toothed comb
D: Wide toothed comb
E: Toenail clippers
F: Bristle brush
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The only time I use a bristle brush (F) is when my dogs aren't shedding and they just need a quick touch up. It will catch any stray hairs, but won't get to the skin of the dog. A bristle brush will help distribute the oils throughout the coat. When the dog isn't blowing coat you can get by with brushing twice a week. Plan on everyday if the dog is in a big seasonal blow.

Remember, this grooming procedure is what I do. Another Lab owner/breeder might not do things exactly as I do them. That's fine too. This is what I've done for a number of years and it works for me. Most Lab owners/breeders will agree, the sooner you get the dead, shedding hair out, the sooner the new coat will come in. My grooming procedure is based on that fact.

First, I take the rake(B) and rake the dead coat out. (I would recommend you do this OUTSIDE and do not stand downwind from your dog. Trust me on this one. Wear something that you don't mind getting hairy). I don't normally put a time limit on this. I just rake until my arm starts aching and I'm getting most of the dead coat out. Be gentle here. You don't want to hurt the dog and make him not like his grooming time.

A couple of things you can use instead of the rake is the Shedding Blade (left). Be careful you don't hurt the dog's skin with this. The second thing that you can use is the pink Zoom Groom (right). This is easier on the dog's skin and it really gets the coat out. Keep brushing this over the dog's coat until your arm feels like its going to fall off. The more you use these shedding tools, the quicker the old coat will come out.

Once you're done the first step, I take the wire slicker brush(A) and go over the dog again, getting out the clumps of hair the rake missed. The rake won't miss much.

With the wide toothed comb(D) I clean out the slicker brush and then lightly go over the dog with the wide toothed comb. This should loosen any mats.

Next is the most time consuming portion of the grooming routine; combing with the narrow toothed comb(C). During this portion, I will usually let my dog lay on its side while I work, then roll her over and work on combing out the other side.

Starting under the chin and around the ears, I work on combing out all the coat. This procedure will loosen the hair from the skin, allowing air to continue to reach the skin. This is important in the prevention of hot spots. I thoroughly comb each side, then make the dog stand and catch any areas I wasn't able to reach.

I go under the tail, through the "skirts" of the dog and then comb out the tail. You'll be amazed how much hair you'll dislodge doing this. Whatever you take out now, you won't have to vacuum up later. The last step in doing the coat is running the bristle brush(F) over the dog quickly to pick up any loose hairs.

Shaving a Lab

Do you want me to reach through the monitor screen and shake you? You never shave a Lab for maintenance. NO! NO! NO! NO! The ONLY reason to shave anything on a Lab is:

  1. For Surgery
  2. For a Hot Spot

If you dog is having surgery, let the vet shave the area that needs to be shaved. If you see a hot spot, then yes you need to shave the area where the hot spot is to keep it from spreading. Shaving a Lab for routine maintenance is just WRONG. As you can see, I feel very strongly about this issue.

Some people feel they must shave their Lab because all that hair must make the dog hot. WRONG. The undercoat actually keeps the dog cooler.

Some people feel if they shave their Lab they can keep the dog from shedding. WRONG. The dog will still shed. Shedding is natural for a Lab. What it will do is instead of shedding normal undercoat which is fluffy and soft, the dog will shed short, prickly hairs which will poke your skin if you make contact. Short, prickly hairs hurt.

Please don't shave your Lab. Groom it thoroughly instead. Your dog will thank you. Besides, your dog won't be the laughing stock of the neighborhood either.

Article on shaving dogs

Another article on shaving dogs with double coats

Still another article on shaving dogs with double coats

Shedding

Now that we have determined that yes indeedy Labs do shed, what can you do when they're in the middle of a spring or fall blow?  Plenty without having to resort to shaving.

The sooner you get the dead coat out, the sooner the new coat will come in.  So get yourself and your dog to one of those "self-serve" dog wash places if you're lucky enough to have one within driving distance of your home.  If you don't, you can do this at home but unfortunately you're going to bury yourself in dog hair while you do it.  This is why I like the self-serve places.  You can leave all the hair there. 

Wet the dog with the warmest water you can stand.  You want it very warm, but not hot enough to burn the dog's skin.  Either use your Zoom Groom or your fingers to work through the coat to loosen it up.  You do not need to use shampoo.  Work and work through the coat, washing it away and out of the dog. 

Then you blow dry.  Yep, that's right.  Take a blow dryer and blow that coat dry.  I will use a wire slicker or pin brush and brush the hair in the opposite direction that I'm blowing in.  (I guess I should have warned you not to wear something you want to wear out in public later that day since you're going to be covered in hair)  Blow and watch the hair fly.  Yes I know I don't normally recommend bathing a Lab, let alone blow drying, but the coat is dead anyway so you aren't doing damage to it.  You will be amazed at the amount of hair you get out of your dog.

If you can, try to do this 2-3 times a week and before you know it the dog will be done with the shed. 

To Twizzle Or Not To Twizzle

No, I'm not talking about having a break and eating licorice though that sounds like a great idea.

twizzle. This is a twizzle. Its the little curly-cue at the end of some Lab tails. It adds character, I think. Some people just have to neaten it up and trim it, which is ok too if that's your choice. I usually just leave it.

Nails

There is probably not anything in the grooming routine that owners hate more than doing toenails. It doesn't bother me since I'm an ex-groomer and my dogs are taught from birth that I WILL do those nails whether they like it or not, so they might as well lay there. For the most part, my dogs lay down and roll over when they see me get the nail clipper out.

If you don't even want to attempt clipping your dog's nails, then spend the $10 a week or every 2 weeks and have a groomer or vet do them for you. You can even use a Dremmel to grind down the nails. I don't do this, but here is a wonderful Link which shows you how to do it.

There are several different types of clippers on the market. The plier type(E) has worked the best for me. I do my dogs' nails once a week, because they grow so fast, so they don't over-grow and damage the dogs' feet. You can cause a splay-foot by not keeping the nails short. I admit, I have a Lab foot fetish. I like a nice tight Lab foot. Splayed-feet drive me crazy. Plus if your dog has dew-claws, that dew-claw can grow back into the dog's foot. Just think how painful that would be if it happened to us. Its painful for the dog too. So do try and do the nails if not weekly, then every 2 weeks. By just trimming off the tips when needed, you will save both you and your dog a lot of pain and aggravation

Yellow nails are by far the easiest of the nail colors to do. If you look close enough you can actually see the quick in the nail.

This is one of my yellows. Look close, can you see the pinkish quick? Its not the best picture, but you should be able to see it.

yellow-nail
yellow-nail2 This should help you. Look just above the dotted red line. The vertical red line is where you should make your cut. You will miss the quick this way. Sometimes shining a flash light back through the nail will help you see the quick easier.

Black nails can be a bit tougher to cut. You can't readily see the quick in a black nail. I'm here to show you how you can. Old groomer's trick. ;-)

Turn the foot over and look at it from the bottom. Look closely. See the little round part on the underside of the nail? That's your quick.

black-nail
black-nail2 Look where the arrow leads. See that little round part now? You would cut just to the right of that, where the solid red line is.

Its not hard when you know how.

IF you should happen to cut the quick even with these guidelines, don't panic. You can buy QUIK STOP at most pet stores. Just have it standing by before you start doing nails, just in case.

If you don't have QUIK STOP you can coat the bleeding tip of the nail in flour or cornstarch to help slow down the bleeding. Another good choice is a bar of soap. Dig the nail into the bar of soap to put a little blob of soap on the end of the nail. Its important to not let the dog lick the nail and take off whatever it is you've used to stop the bleeding.

Whiskers & Eyebrows

eyebrow Once again, it is my choice to leave them. However, one of Murphy's does curl down toward her eye. Rather than have the eye brow rub her eye and cause irritation, I will just cut the tip off to keep it from being in her eye. Other than that, I do not clip whiskers and eyebrows.

WHEW!

There, you're done. That wasn't so hard, was it? Once you get in the routine it doesn't take that much time. Its so worth it though. The more hair you get out with grooming, the less hair you'll have in your house and on your clothes.

You might have noticed I didn't include a section on bathing. That's because I rarely bathe my dogs. They don't need it. If you brush them 2-3 times a week it will keep them clean. The only time I bathe my dogs is if they get into or roll in something that smells disgusting. Then its only a spot bath on the parts that smell.

If the dog is really shedding and you just want that coat out, I will sometimes put my dogs in the tub and soak them with very warm water. NOT HOT. You want it about as warm as you can stand it without it burning. As you wet down the dog, work your fingers to the skin trying to work out as much hair as you can. Then blow dry. I will do this twice a week if needed. This goes with the theory that the quicker you get the dead coat out, the new coat will grow in.

Grooming also is a bonding process for you and your dog. It soothes your dog and its a known fact that stroking your dog will lower your own blood pressure. Plus, by grooming your dog on a regular basis you can usually find any skin growths or hot spots before they become large and a problem. It was through the ritual of grooming that I found small mast cell tumors (cancerous) on the breasts of both Robin and Murphy. Since I found them early, my vets were able to totally remove them and the dogs were able to live normal, long lives.

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