Golden Retrievers For Dummies
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Grooming your Golden Retriever is about more than keeping your dog pretty or handsome. It’s also about hygiene and good health. It’s all body parts, not just the furry coat. Your own hygiene means more than a shampoo. It’s teeth, toes, underarms, and other appendages. Your dog has those same needs, too. In this article, we’ll dig out the brush and comb and groom your Golden buddy.

Grooming is a year-round job

A well-groomed coat is very important all year long. The flow of air through a dog’s coat helps regulate his body temperature, and that process is hampered if the coat is dirty, matted, or full of mud. During winter months, we have to pile on warm coats and heavy blankets. Not your Golden! He is blessed with a double coat of long outer hair and a downy undercoat that will protect him from those freezing temperatures. Keep it clean and well-brushed.

Summer grooming is just as important as winter care. Professional groomers tell horror stories about double-coated dogs like Golden Retrievers and other heavy-coated breeds like Samoyeds that arrive for grooming with their heavy coats hiding inch-deep holes in their flesh from maggot eggs. Flies love to visit unclean dogs and lay their eggs in filthy or badly matted fur. When the larvae mature, they eat into the dog’s skin or move up into the rectum. Severe cases can destroy huge areas of flesh and require surgery to repair the wounds. There are reported cases of dogs who died because the problem was so severe, but the owner never bothered to brush their dog or look under all that matted fur, so the problem was invisible to them.

Grooming does more than untangle and remove dead hair. It also stimulates the oil glands, which keeps the skin healthy, reduces dander, and keeps that Golden fur coat gleaming. It’s also a weekly body check for lumps and bumps and critters that hide in the skin and coat (especially important during summer months). It’s weekly ear checks, and cleaning those ears whenever necessary. It’s weekly dental care and monthly pedicures. If all of this sounds like overkill, remember, you’re the one who bought this dog!

Your attitude toward grooming can make it fun instead of inconvenient. Most Goldens love the hands-on attention involved in grooming, so think of this as bonding rather than a burden. It’s one more aspect of living the Golden life. Your toddler eventually grew up to bathe and shower without help. Your Golden never will.

Your grooming tool kit

You’ll need more than that slicker brush you bought when your Golden puppy first came home. You’ll also need a steel comb with wide and narrow-spaced teeth, a flea comb, a mat rake, nail clippers, and small sharp scissors. Some Golden owners use a pin brush. I also have a shedding comb, but I end up using my steel comb-slicker brush combination instead. (I also have one of those grooming gloves that collects loose hair when you pet or rub your dog, but I never use it. I like the feel of my dog’s fur between my fingers!) Pick your breeder’s or your groomer’s brain for good tool choices.

Now get out that brush and groom! Brushing will be easier if you follow a pattern on the dog. Always brush with the grain of the coat and start at his rear, working in small sections at a time (in the following figure, this owner is working on her puppy’s ears). Part the coat all the way to the skin as you brush along. Use one hand to hold the hair aside, and then brush from the skin outward through the hair. Work in continuous sections, always brushing upward and forward. Pay special attention to the feathering on the legs and behind the ears, and on and under the tail, as these areas are more prone to matting.

Remove mats and tangles slowly without yanking so that you won’t hurt your dog. On larger mats, rub in a few drops of a canine hair conditioner (you can also use a horse conditioner) and then work gently with a comb or mat rake. A slicker brush should handle smaller mats. If you must resort to scissors, cut upward at an angle into the mat rather than a straight-across angle cut, as that would leave an unsightly gap in the fur. (Even if he’s not a show dog, you don’t want him looking nerdy!) While you’re brushing, check for fleas and ticks, rashes, hot spots, and other skin problems.

Your choice of scissors can be confusing and overwhelming: — straight cut, curved, thinning, ear and nose, bent shank, and styling — and some cost more than a designer haircut. Most pet owners don’t need elaborate shears to neaten up their Golden. I use a good-quality, medium-priced thinning shears for everything from ears to toes with good results. But then I’m not prepping show dogs. I just want my furries to look tidy.

brushing your dog Close Encounters of the Furry Kind

Always use gentle strokes when brushing your puppy.

Don’t forget the paws

Feet and nails are the most neglected home-groomed areas. I see too many Goldens with paws that look like mops, with long hair spraying from between the toes. Can you picture those feet wet or full of mud?

Hairy feet not only look sloppy, but they collect burrs, ice balls, and mud — all uncomfortable for the dog. Trimmed and tidy feet also track less mud, snow, and ice into the house.

Clip the hair around the foot and between the toes and pads, cutting it level with the bottom of the pads. (The owner in the following figure is using a thinning shears to clip the hair beneath the foot pads.)

You can’t work on the feet without tending to the nails. There’s great value in 16 well-trimmed nails. They’re easier on your furniture and clothing, plus think of your dog playing with your kids and grandkids. It’s also healthier for the dog because nails that are too long can splinter or tear and cause sore feet. Long nails can also cause the toes to splay and spread apart. In the long term, that will damage the structure of the foot, which eventually affects the dog’s legs. It’s amazing what a good pedicure can prevent.

Trim feet with dog on side © Close Encounters of the Furry Kind

It’s easier to trim your puppy or dog’s feet if he is lying on his side.

There’s a confusing variety of nail clippers for your dog in the pet department. Ask your vet which one he recommends, and ask him to demonstrate how to use the clippers properly. It’s included in your puppy’s visit.

The awful truth is that most Goldens, actually most dogs of any breed, do not like to have their feet handled. (This might be an ancestral thing . . . who knows.) So, it’s best to begin the process when your Golden is still a pup. At first, you may have to settle for one foot or just a few nails. Take your time, and just nip the tip of the nail to avoid cutting the quick (the pink vein visible down the center of the nail). If that accidentally happens, the quick will bleed, your pup or adult Golden will instantly object, and you may have to end the session. To staunch the bleeding, apply a few drops of Kwik-Stop styptic powder or liquid (or use your own shaving styptic). A bleeding nail is not a tragedy, but it is to the dog, and probably for you, too (I’m no exception!).

Some Goldens have black or very dark nails where the quick is not visible. If you can’t see the quick, hold a flashlight beam directly under the nail to reveal the lighter line of the vein. If you’re not sure, make small clips in the tip or curved part of the nail. Always cut at a 45-degree angle with the clipper facing the same direction as the toes.

Trimming a small amount of nail often is better than trying to cut neglected nails that have grown too long. Walking on cement sidewalks or running and playing in concrete kennel runs helps keep nails ground down. Indoor dogs will need more frequent pedicures.

Handle your Golden’s paws frequently during play and petting, and give him a food reward during and after trimming so that he associates it with good times. That can help to minimize (sort of) his reaction to nail trimming. If you dread this chore, or it is or has become a problem for you, have your vet or groomer keep his nails trimmed regularly. Some major pet supply stores also offer grooming services that include nail trimming.

Never let your dog’s nails get so overgrown that they curl downward and under the toes. That can cause deformed feet and damaged foot tendons. You will need a veterinarian or very experienced groomer to fix those nasty nails.

Be a plaque attacker

Home dental care is vital to your Golden’s long-term health. Neglected oral hygiene will lead to periodontal disease, which is severe and irreversible. Once the disease has advanced, it will cause chronic pain (which your very stoic dog will instinctively hide, so you will be unaware of it), inflamed gums, tissue destruction, and bone loss.

Plaque and tartar are perfect hosts for bacteria, which break down gum tissue and leads to all the above oral damage. Worse yet, it can also cause systemic health problems that can affect the liver, kidneys, heart, and lungs. Your pet does not deserve such a fate.

Gum disease often has no outward signs or symptoms. Noxious breath can be one indicator of tooth decay and infected gums. Symptoms of more advanced disease can include bleeding or red gums, loose teeth, bloody or ropey saliva, chewing on one side of the mouth, and blood in his water bowl or on his chew toys.

Studies show that 80 percent of dogs show early signs of oral disease by age 3. Scary, isn’t it? Another survey conducted at one veterinarian congress in Vancouver, B.C., determined that dog owners can literally add 3 to 5 years to their dogs’ lives simply be providing routine dental care. Isn’t that reason enough to preserve that Golden grin?

Prevention is just a toothbrush away!

You don’t need a lot of fancy tools to work on your dog’s teeth. Cleaning teeth is more elbow grease than gadgetry. You can use a soft-bristled toothbrush and chicken-flavored toothpaste made just for dogs. (People toothpaste will make him sick.) Brush his teeth the same way you would do your own, from the gums down with gentle strokes (see Figure 13-3). If he objects, try wrapping a gauze pad around your index finger and rubbing it across his teeth instead. If your Golden has learned to accept your hand in his mouth since puppyhood, dental maintenance shouldn’t be a struggle.

Obviously, daily brushing would be best. But in the real dog-people world, that’s sometimes not possible. Twice weekly is probably a more reachable goal.

If your Golden isn’t fond of toothbrushes or gauze pads, try a finger brush, which is a flexible toothbrush that fits over your finger. You can find it in most pet supply catalogs and pet stores.

Dry dog food will help scrub his teeth as he chews. And plaque-attacker chew products like sterilized hard bones and Nylabones, hard Kong toys, and balls where you can hide treats will help keep plaque under control. Keep his chewie bucket full. Please, no animal bones or cow or pig hooves, which are not only stinky, but can also fracture his teeth.

Always include a dental checkup in your annual visit to the vet. Some dog’s teeth may need professional cleaning. Your vet should advise you when that is necessary.

Golden Retriever dental care Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and a toothpaste made for dogs.

Ear care for Golden Retrievers

Ear problems are easy to prevent. Just pay strict attention to ear hygiene during your weekly grooming sessions. Clean ears are pink and odorless and require cleaning only when you notice a change. Infected ears usually emit a foul odor and may have a rancid-smelling discharge. The ear canal will be red and inflamed and/or contain debris or a dark, smelly, waxy substance.

If your dog is scratching at his ears or shaking his head more than usual, or tilting it to one side, it may be time for an ear cleaning. However, if the ear is red and inflamed, smells yeasty, or if he is in pain, these symptoms could indicate an ear infection, ear mites, or allergies. Do not attempt to clean them as it can create more problems. Take him to your veterinarian.

Ear cleaning is really pretty simple and requires few supplies. You’ll need a quality ear-cleaning solution and cotton balls. No cotton swabs, ever. They can push dirt and debris deeper into the ear, and even cause damage to the ear’s inner structure.

If your dog is anxious, a few tasty treats can make him more accepting of the process. First, fill his ear canal with the cleanser, then gently massage the ear for about 30 seconds. You should hear a squishing sound as the liquid dislodges the buildup of wax and dirt. Then let him shake his head and prepare yourself for a small shower from the resulting spray. When he is done shaking his head, use the cotton balls to gently wipe the ear canal. If he shows signs of discomfort or pain, discontinue the process and see your vet.

A few “don’t’s” on ear cleaning:

  • Never use peroxide — it can irritate the ear tissue and even damage the ear canal.
  • Too-frequent cleaning can cause excessive irritation. Clean only when necessary.
  • Use only ear-cleaning products approved by your veterinarian. Most are available in pet supply stores. Homemade solutions can contain harmful or irritating ingredients and most don’t do a good job of cleaning.

Always check your Golden’s ears after every swimming session. Dry the inside of the ear and ear flap with a cotton ball to prevent moisture buildup. Floppy-eared dogs, especially water- loving critters like retrievers who love to wallow in ponds and puddles, are more prone to dirty ears and recurrent ear infections than those perky-eared little terriers. The long ear flap acts like a terrarium cover that prevents air flow and keeps the ear canal moist and ripe for organism growth.

Dog owners make two mistakes when fighting ear infections. They postpone going to the vet until the ear has worsened and the bacteria have multiplied into a more severe infection (what they can’t see doesn’t appear serious), or they stop treatment too soon, before the infection has been killed. If treatment starts as soon as possible, you will avoid secondary problems, and the cure is faster and easier on the dog and your pocketbook. Always continue treatment for the prescribed period, or the problem will surely reoccur.

Bathing your Golden Retriever

Bathing is an area that’s often overdone (in dogs, that is!). Most Goldens need a bath every few months, although some fastidious owners have their Goldens professionally groomed and bathed every month. The dogs usually don’t need it, but it makes their humans happy, and it does help to minimize shedding.

Goldens may need more frequent bathing in the summer if they swim in muddy ponds or have an oily undercoat that tends to smell. Two of my Goldens (who happened to be related) sometimes had an unpleasant body odor that is unique to certain types of skin and coat. (As a result, in the summer our bedroom often smelled like you-know-what.)

Your Golden’s coat must be brushed and dematted before you bathe him. Mats tend to set in like cement when wet, and you’ll have one heck of a time getting through them after a good lathering.

The after-bath process is just as important as the bath itself. If his coat is not thoroughly dried and brushed out, the damp undercoat can attract fungal and staph infections. Wet is the first half of bathing; drying is the second part.

Some ponds and lakes can be vulnerable to a toxin called blue-green algae during the hot summer months. These toxic “blooms” are actually a poisonous bacteria known as cyanobacteria. It often gives the appearance of algae when clumped together in bodies of water. Toxic algae is often found in non-flowing freshwater during hot seasons with little rainfall. Toxic algae can even grow in backyard pools or decorative ponds if they are not routinely cleaned. Swimming or playing in infected water can be toxic to canines and is most often fatal. Several fatalities were documented in 2019, with exposure to toxic algae suspected in more deaths. If you think he has come in contact with blue-green algae, rinse him off immediately with clean water and call your vet at once.

Harmful algae blooms can be blue, vibrant green, brown, or red, and can be mistaken for paint floating on the water. Be aware the toxins are not always visible. Your water-loving Golden can ingest the toxin just by licking his paws or fur. Keep him out of water that appears dirty, foamy, or has mats on the surface of the water. Never let him drink out of ponds and lakes.

Wet the entire dog with lukewarm water (a shower-type sprayer works well) and suds the entire body. If you bathe him outdoors, your garden hose works, too, although the water won’t be lukewarm. Outdoor bathing is obviously not possible in cold or winter weather, so move the chore indoors or use a grooming service. Some owners bathe their dogs in their personal shower space and claim it is easier on the dog as well as themselves. Just prepare yourself for a very wet bathroom!

Make sure you plug his ears with cotton balls and keep his eyes dry. I prefer a squirt or spray bottle to apply shampoo. Follow the directions for whatever shampoo you use (see the sidebar “Choosing a shampoo”) and be sure to rinse thoroughly. Shampoo residue can irritate his skin. A warm water rinse may help loosen the dead hair.

Most Goldens are eager movers and shakers, especially after a bath, so wear grubby clothes and be prepared to get a bath yourself. Towel your dog dry, and then use your hair dryer to finish the job. If he air-dries in warm weather, just make sure that he dries completely.

Cleaning the anal sacs

You have to make sure that both ends of your Golden are clean and in good working condition. That includes his anal glands, which are two scent glands under his skin, one on each side of the anal opening. The gland pockets fill with fecal fluid, and when a dog eliminates, the sacs empty from the pressure of the expelled solid matter. Sometimes the fluid collects in the gland, and the dog becomes uncomfortable. That’s when you see him scooting his rear end across your carpet doing the proverbial choo-choo — always in front of your nondog guests who will find it absolutely gross.

Not all dogs have anal glands that tend to fill and need to be “expressed.” But if your dog has “rear-end issues,” you should empty these stinky compartments before each bath, or every couple of months if bathing is less frequent. If you don’t want to do it, have your veterinarian or groomer do it. Anal glands can become swollen and impacted if not emptied, which can lead to infection and even surgical correction, so regular tending is important.

The glands are at 4 o’clock and 8 o’clock on either side of the anus. Using your thumb and two fingers of one hand, press inward and upward in those spots to express the fluid contents. Place a paper towel over the opening when you squeeze, or you risk a nasty shot in the eyes. Trust me — it’s not pleasant!

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Nona Kilgore Bauer has shared her life with Goldens for more than 40 years. Her dogs have won many obedience and other working titles, and Nona is a 15-time Dog Writers Association of America nominee (and winner). She has written over two dozen books on canine subjects, including the previous edition of Golden Retrievers For Dummies.

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