Individual preference is going to rule in terms of what you love or don’t love. I have to always put that disclaimer at the top, because I am sure there’s somebody out there who is saying “Why doesn’t she mention that strawberry smoothies are fabulous at softening paw pads?” and then I am going to get in trouble.
If you DO have a magic concoction or unexpected recommendation, please throw it against the comment wall and see if it sticks :D.
In my kitchen (and, yes, it’s still there, just covered in soot and dirt and water) is an enormous plastic crate completely filled with grooming products. I LOVE trying out new products, and of course going to Groom Expo in Hershey last year gave me waaaaay too many opportunities to hand over a couple bucks for the latest little tube of canine beautification. I’ll come home and grab whatever dog is looking like she needs some attention and chuck her up in the sink and see what magic I can create. So everything I’m going to recommend has been on my own dogs at least once.
The types of liquid products you’ll need depend on what issue or issues you’re trying to address in your dog. I’m going to go over a few, but by no means all. Please let me know if I’ve forgotten an important one.
If you want to have an easier solution than mixing and matching and experimenting, if you’d rather just pick a single line and order everything at once, there are two I recommend the entire line of: Chris Christensen and Plush Puppy. Both of them are show-dog lines, which means that they will feel normal and natural to you as you use them (they have the thickeners and foam stabilizers and so on that make people feel like the products are doing their job), and they’re made to be used every week or even every day, which means they’re “gentle” (weak and dilute) and won’t burn the crap out of your dog if you don’t dilute them properly. I’ve gotten very good results from just about every item in those lines.
Additionally, for coats that should lie down and be soft (spaniels and the like), I really like the Best Shot three-step system of shampoo, conditioner, and finishing spray. It’s a very good product and it leaves the coat feeling silky, soft, and just heavy enough to look good. It would soften the hair much too much for use on show dogs that are supposed to feel hard, but if you just want a very nice hand-feel to the coat it’s a great system. The shampoo is LOW-FOAM. Don’t try to put more and more on to try to get suds. It’s not supposed to foam a lot. Put on enough that the coat feels slippery and then rinse it clean; ditto with the conditioner.
The normal coat
My favorite products for everyday shampooing are Plush Puppy Wheat Germ Shampoo, EQyss Premiere shampoo, Chris Christensen Day to Day, and Best Shot Ultra Wash. I haven’t tried the Nature’s Specialties shampoos but everyone seems to love the Plum Silky.
The icky and gross
Parasites (fleas, ticks, mites of all kinds): I strongly recommend AGAINST using any flea shampoo except the ones with d-limonene (which is basically just orange oil and doesn’t do anything to kill fleas but MAY repel them a little). The chemicals in flea shampoo are very strong, very nasty, and readily absorb into your skin and your dog’s skin. Skip the flea shampoo and go buy some Capstar. If you just need to knock down a heavy flea infestation on the dog so the Capstar or Frontline (which should be applied 24 to 48 hours after the bath, not right away) only have to kill a few live fleas, any shampoo left on the dog for five minutes or so seems to stun them enough that you can wash a bunch of them down the drain.
Ticks: If your dog is a nightmare of ticks (and this is hopefully only a situation you’d encounter in a brand-new rescue who has not had any care for a while), I’d apply Frontline and wait a day before bathing. You can pull the ticks out as you bathe, but you’re still leaving the mouthparts in and the dog will get giant lumps and scabs everywhere that happened. It’s better to let them be killed and fall out on their own before you bathe.
Mites: If you suspect mange of either sort, a trip to the vet’s office is in order. Don’t try to address it with bathing.
There is another kind of mite, called cheyletiella, that causes a skin reaction that looks JUST like itchy dry dandruffy skin. It’s very common, so if you have a dog that has flaky skin and itches a lot, ask the vet about checking for mites before you chalk it up to allergies or dry skin. Again, this is not one that can be addressed through a bath.
The icky conditions that CAN be addressed through grooming include
Too much oil: Cocker spaniels, anyone? Poorly bred Cockers are absolutely notorious for overproduction of sebum. Other frequent offenders include members of the hound group.
My first caution would be that any abrupt change in coat or skin should be taken as a sign to see the vet. Addisons and Cushings present as coat issues first, as does thyroid. So if there’s a sudden problem that you haven’t seen before, check in with your vet.
Assuming your dog is healthy, you need to cut the oil. There are three methods you can use to do this: Absorb it, dissolve it, or oil it. Yes, oil it. Oil dissolves oil, so a hot oil treatment or just a good scrub with any vegetable oil and then a thorough shampooing until there’s no more oily feel in the coat can actually work really well.
You can absorb oil by pre-treating the coat with grooming powder (NOT chalk; Crown Royale or similar) or with cornstarch or corn flour (masa harina, not corn meal). Pack it into the coat, wait 15 minutes, brush as much out as you can, and then bathe.
To dissolve the oil, you need the harsher detergent shampoos. Kelco’s Filthy Animal and Double K Grimeinator are two that I’ve used. Chris Christensen makes Clean Start. BBird likes EZ Groom dEZolv (ah, the grooming industry, source of many bad puns). Be very careful to follow the dilution directions on these; they are not friendly to skin at full strength.
Off-the-record-you-didn’t-hear-it-from-me: Goop hand cleaner and Dawn dish detergent work when nothing else does (Goop is an absolute staple for cat grooming, believe it or not). Just be sure to rinse VERY well and follow up with nourishing shampoo, because these will really strip the coat.
Bad smells: Ditto with considering a vet check, especially if the smell is new. Changing diets is a good idea. Also, be sure the dog doesn’t have an anal gland issue. The approaches above that get rid of grease should also get rid of odor; if you don’t see a dramatic difference you should do a little detective work to see where it’s coming from. Besides the anal glands, ears are a common source (and should be looked at by a vet), as is damage to the coat under the collar.
The dry, burned, frizzled, and fried
There are a bunch of products, good ones, for sunburned, pool-water-burned, overdried coat. But first, here’s my kitchen-cupboard secret.
Go to your grocery store and go into the natural foods aisle. Look for COCONUT OIL. Not any other kind. It’s white or clear and may be semi-solid, like shortening, or a clear liquid depending on how warm the store is. You want the “virgin” oil, not the processed kind.
Coconut oil is very, very close to natural skin oil and it tends to do very nice things to coat in terms of making it look moist and healthy again. Using it is a very light variation on the old show-groomer trick of putting a dog “in oil,” but you won’t be leaving enough of it on the coat to attract the dirt and dust that coat oil does.
What you want to do is finish your whole shampoo/conditioner regimen, whatever that is, and then in the final rinse (empty the sink so there’s no soapsuds left, then re-plug it), you’ll add about half a teaspoon of the coconut oil to a half-gallon or so of warm water. You can play with this recipe – use as much or as little as you want, as long as you’re not leaving the coat feeling oily. It won’t want to mix, so you need to shake it or vigorously stir it and keep shaking it as you’re pouring it. Pour it over the dog and then keep picking it up and pouring it over and working it in to the coat.
You don’t do any further rinsing; just pull the dog out and towel and then HV. If you’ve done it right, you should see a great improvement in shine and texture, but the coat should not feel at all oily or gummy.
You can also use a heavier application of coconut oil as a hot-oil treatment (shampooing it out afterward) or apply it straight (take a little and rub it between your palms until it’s liquid) to paw pads, dry skin on elbows, or lightly on the split ends of spaniel ears and the like.
Commercial products I’ve used: Nature’s Specialties Re-Moisturizer feels to me (at least in my hands, on the dog) like an “intense repair” moisturizer for human hair. Much too heavy for my frequently bathed and raw-fed dogs, but if you have a dog whose coat is really fried, there’s no question that this would put some softness back into it.
I’ve used probably a dozen products to whiten stained coat, and the one I keep coming back to is my faithful Shiny Silver Ultra from Sally Beauty. It works as well as the super expensive products and it rinses very easily (a must so you don’t burn the skin).
Whitening shampoos are always applied full-strength, because you need the purple pigment to be deposited on the hair. You should apply pretty heavily, suds it up just a little, and then wait three to five minutes or whatever the bottle recommends. Then rinse thoroughly. Whitening shampoos can be used across the entire coat of a merle, grey, white, or light dog. They won’t hurt red or brown coats, but they may make them look a little funny.
Whitening shampoos are cumulative in nature. They make some difference the first time, more the next time, etc. I use them once a week on the Cardigans and they are perfectly white down to their toes. If I slack off and try to repair staining right before a show, I am never pleased with the result. You have to use them steadily.
Other brands of whiteners I’ve used and like: Chris Christensen, Plush Puppy. I’ve used and do not like Quik Silver and Blue Ribbon (both labeled for horses, which means nothing; it’s all the same stuff). Both of those feel thin and do not take away stains as well.
Isle of Dogs has a whitening shampoo that uses optical brighteners rather than purple pigments. It’s a light blue shampoo. I have a love-hate relationship with all the IOD products – they do work, but they have ingredients that can trigger major reactions. It was IOD shampoo that gave Clue such a terrible chemical burn that she still has thickening of the skin almost a year later. The IOD whitening works, it works well, it won’t make your red dog purple. It too has a cumulative effect and should be used over time. JUST DO NOT USE IT STRAIGHT. Dilute it a minimum of 20:1 before applying it to your dog, and be sure you are rinsing like crazy, rinsing until you feel completely foolish, if you use this brand.
There has always been black shampoo for black coats and purple shampoo for whitening, but tons of grooming companies are now putting out what are in effect semi-permanent dye shampoos for dogs. You can get a color for every dog from a blonde Golden to a black Sheltie and back again. The major brands are Pet Esthe and Dyex. And of course the human hair dyes have been used to blacken masks and cover scarring for decades. I personally don’t mind grey faces or faded color on older dogs, but if it really bothers you go for the shampoo or the Miss Clairol. Just don’t bring the dog into the show ring.
The black shampoos that are NOT dyes I’ve tried: Chris Christensen (has a green pigment) and Isle of Dog. Again, always dilute the IOD. I think both of them work, sort of, to make the red tinge on backs and bibs a little darker, but it’s honestly not something you’re going to be shocked by and it won’t actually change the appearance of the dog. So those I don’t mind on show dogs, and will continue to use myself if only to give me something to do with nervous hands before we get in the car and go to the show site.
OK, now we’re getting into conditioners. If you’re looking to calm down some curls on your dog’s coat, this is the combination I swear by:
After the shampooing is all done, rinse the dog completely clean and apply Chris Christensen Thick and Thicker Foaming Protein. This is not the same as T&T spray; it’s actually like a very light shampoo. Work into the coat and leave for, I think, five minutes (check the bottle before trusting me). Then rinse out. Now apply Chris Christensen After Bath over everything that is supposed to lie flat (I do it from the back of the neck to the tip of the tail). Let sit according to directions, rinse out thoroughly, squeeze with towels (don’t rub back and forth) to dry.
If you immediately put the dog on the table and HV it straight back, never pointing the hose toward the nose, laying down the coat repeatedly with the t-brush, until the coat is COMPLETELY BONE DRY, you should see a dramatic reduction in curls. Of course, the dog will get itself all rumpled in the car, but I re-mist with a water and just a touch of Crown Royale spray and then blow it all back toward the tail again at the grooming setup and all the marcelling disappears.
To give a double coat more oomph, the Thick and Thicker Foaming Protein in the bath is a must. Then, before I do the final blow-out at the show site, I use Plush Puppy Puffy Dog and apply liberally from the top of the shoulders to the ears, on the cheeks, on the front legs, and in the “pants” and tail. Puffy Dog is a mousse but does not change the texture of the hair; it doesn’t feel crispy or crunchy. HV all of the areas you just moussed, but do it against the lie of the hair – push it toward the nose. Just be sure to avoid the topline hair that you just spent so long lying down flat! This is when I use my slicker brush; I slicker against the lie of the hair while the HV is drying the coat. Step back, let the dog shake, and the ruff and chest should look beautiful. If it’s standing out too much, don’t touch it. It will break down in the ten minutes before you walk in the ring. Put your slicker in your back pocket and do a little repair if necessary right before you walk in the ring.
To address that stubborn topline dip (which Clue does not have, thank you SO much you good girl, but Bronte does) I use a very stiff human mousse, something called City or Urban or Party or words along those lines. Those are usually the stiff ones, unlike the ones called “touchable” or with words like Soft and Gentle in the titles. I put the mousse right there, HV it straight up in the air, and then lay it down gently RIGHT before I’m heading toward the ring.
With both types of mousse, remember that there cannot be any obvious product in the hair. Cardis are not poodles. Your object is to make sure the coat flatters, not to create a helmet around the dog. If there’s any change in the texture of the hair, any crispies, you need to brush through them or spray them out and re-HV before heading to the ring.
A lot of what owners call “sensitive” skin is actually either caused by parasites or by poor diet or by allergies. So try to get the dog’s skin healthy from the inside out before you try to work it from the outside in.
If you do have a genuinely sensitive dog, use a shampoo with very few extraneous ingredients (the Bichon Bubbles recipe I posted earlier would be an excellent one) and with no fragrances or botanicals. You must also dramatically dilute the shampoo; use a tablespoon in a quart of water, shake it, and pour over the dog and work in. Rinse, re-do. Better to do lots of mini-washes with very dilute shampoo then try to really scrub any section.
Second, rinse VERY VERY well. Most owners do not rinse enough. You have to rinse with your fingers in the coat, rinse absolutely everywhere, until there is not even a speck of slickness or shampoo residue anywhere in the coat. Don’t forget the stomach, between the legs, and the tail; you probably shampooed there but didn’t rinse it as well as you did the back and neck.
Third, after the grooming is over, as a final step ruffle the hair back and spray EQyss Micro-Tek in toward the skin, then use your fingers to work it in and coat the skin over any problem areas. Finish your ear grooming with Micro-Tek as well. It’s a fabulous healing spray and you can use it every single day to help with the redness and irritation of sensitive areas.
OK! One more time I didn’t get to the end of the story before I have to go to bed. Tomorrow will be the medium conditioners and how to de-shed using them, as well as a review of the various finishing sprays.