I am not a groomer, but one of my best friends is a grooming manager at a Petco in Oregon. All of us in the pet world have an opinion on grooming supplies. I won't go into details about clippers or things I don't know about, so we will stick with at-home grooming and what to look for in a professional groomer.
Shampoos are not all alike. Just as with human shampoo, it is important to look at the ingredients of the product and the quality. First important thing to know is to choose a shampoo that is soap free. All dog shampoos are. Soap free you say? What? Soap like Dawn or other dish soaps dry out a dog's skin and strip the oils from their coat. Dogs need oil in their coat to keep it looking shiny and beautiful. Stripping those oils will create a dull coat and dandruff. Next thing is to be cautious about using human products on dogs. These products are more harsh than a dog shampoo because they do have some drying element (we don't like our hair oily!). There are some people that advocate using a baby shampoo on dogs because it is more gentle, but baby shampoo is not concentrated and you would have to use quite a bit on your dog. Why not just buy a product made for dogs in the first place? It will save you money!
What dog shampoos NOT to buy
Don't buy shampoos that have ingredients you can't pronounce. The shampoo below is a product carried by Petco that is advertised as a tearless puppy shampoo and unfortunately has some rave reviews that it "smells good." It is too bad that people are simply choosing to stick with a shampoo due to the scent.
Cleansing agents (sodium laureth sulfate, disodium oleamido MEA sulfosuccinate, cocamidopropyl betaine), conditioner (cocamidediethanolamine), soothing agent (aloe vera gel) and fragrance.
As you can see, there is only ONE natural ingredient in this shampoo (aloe vera gel). We can do better!
Shampoos you should buy
My two all time favorite shampoo brands are Cloudstar and Earthbath.
Purified water, natural cleansers, colloidal oatmeal, aloe vera, almond and vanilla essences. All ingredients are natural, 100% biodegradable, and extra gentle on you and your pet.
Coconut shampoo base, aloe vera gel, essence of lavender, essence of mint, chamomile extract, sage extract, nettle extract, rosemary extract, wheat protein extract (natural deodorizing agent), tea tree oil, vitamin E and vitamin C.
There are lots of other small brands that have great natural shampoos, but sometimes they disappear due to lack of consumer awareness. The two mentioned above have been around for a while and will stick around. These shampoos smell fantastic, have a lingering scent on the dog for at least a week, are conditioning, concentrated and economical. There is no reason to buy the garbage once you try the natural brands.
Even if you don't cut your dog's hair at home, it is a good idea to have nail trimmers, grooming spray for in between baths, a brush or two and some ear cleaner.
I used to be a fan of the guillotine style nail trimmers, but have learned they get dull quite fast. Now I prefer the kind used most by groomers, what I call the "hedge trimmer" style.
It is actually quite easy to cut nails once you get the hang of it. Simply put the dog's nail in the device and squeeze the two handles together. Of course, the tricky part is not to quick your dog and make her bleed. If the dog has white nails, you can see the vein (it is a red line) in the nail. DO NOT trim past that line. Nails bleed for a while unless you put some sort of blood coagulant on it. I use cornstarch because I am cheap, but there are commercial products that are less messy. If the dog has black nails, you just need to take little tiny pieces until you get an idea for how long that dog's vein is (kind of guess work, I know). Strangely enough my black dog, Lex, has white nails and Lucy has black nails. So I cut his nails first so I have an idea, and then cut hers the same length since I groom them at the same time a few times per month. Most dogs are going to need their nails done twice a month.
A grooming spray is kind of like a doggie perfume to use in between baths when you want to freshen your dog up. I like the Cloudstar Buddy Spray due to the same reasons why I love their shampoo.
The brand of the brush doesn't matter. The trouble most owners have with brushes is finding the right one for their dog's coat. Puppies are even more difficult because their coats will change before adulthood and owners want their pup to be used to brushing.
Dogs with short, horse-like fur do great with curry brushes, mitts, and shedding blades.
For curly coated dogs, like poodles, be sure to use a curved slicker brush and brush up to fluff the dog.
When picking an ear wash, I look for one that is alcohol free to avoid any stinging. I am just looking for a wash that will clean the dog's ears. I tend to stick with a tea tree and aloe wash.
Now that we are done with basic supplies, let's go over what to look for in choosing a professional groomer.
Not all groomers are created equal! There is not really a law that says groomers have to be certified, so basically you are looking for experience, ambiance of their facility and their grooming practices. There are three basic grooming "places." Pet store grooming, mobile grooming and privately owned grooming.
Pet Store Grooming
Pros: All the groomers are certified through a program that the pet store created. Any medical expenses incurred due to something happening at the groomers, will be covered by the pet store's insurance. These groomers are busy most of the time and see a wide range of dog breeds. Their prices are pretty competitive. Cons: The skill of each groomer can vary (as with any). The shampoo products used are not the highest quality (though you can bring your own). Your dog will be in an assembly line of sorts due to a high volume of clients. Dog is washed first, placed in a drying kennel, then grooming begins, back in the kennel, brought out later for a touch up. This can be a 5 hour ordeal. For some owners, this is great because they need to work, but some dogs can't tolerate the stress of the kennel, the noise level, the lack of opportunity to go potty.
Mobile groomers have a truck/van outfitted with all their equipment and come straight to your house to groom your dog in the driveway! Pros: Your dog will be done straight through without any dogs or kenneling in between. If your dog is reactive, this may be a good route since there won't be other dogs in the truck. You can check in on your dog if you would like and you don't have to drive your dog/pick him up later. Cons: generally, this is expensive. The groomer needs to pay for gas and has her own overhead to worry about. Equipment can be high quality or low (same with skill), so do your homework!
This form of groomer is going to vary the most depending on if that groomer is working alone, or has a team of groomers under her. For the most part you can find private owner groomers that don't cage dogs, do them straight through and give you a reasonable price. Cons: the price will be higher than the pet store and these groomer's skill will vary the most since the investment in a truck and supplies is not as high and since they are not working for a retail store that requires certification. I have personally not been too happy with the cleanliness of the private owner places I have come in contact with.
So there you have it! Grooming questions answered!
Mel: (google is being weird about me commenting, so here is your answer)
For a dog with hair, like yours, you could bathe him a few times a week if you really wanted to. A dog with fur, like most dogs, don't do well with a shampoo more than every other week. When my dogs used to herd sheep weekly, I would hose them (no shampoo), just to get the mud and sheep poo off and actually wash them every other week. Even with soap free shampoo, their fur gets brittle if washed too often.