Hey there folks, Terrie here from TLC dropping in to give you some tips, tricks and how-to’s on how to care for and maintain your dogs at home.
Today I want to take a few minutes and go a bit deeper into the brushing techniques specifically on the head, face and ears.
The three most common reasons why dog owners skip head, face and ears entirely are:
- They are afraid they are going to hurt their dog.
- They are unsure of how to properly hold their dog.
- They are not comfortable using their tools.
Always remember that practice and repetition is a win-win situation.
You are teaching your dog that grooming is a part of their lives, so they will be less WILD on your table. By practicing often, you will not only gain more confidence that you do in fact know what you are doing. But you will also spot troublesome areas faster and be ahead of the knots and tangles before they become actual mats.
Grooming Your Dog’s Head
The head area is generally the last part of the dog that I work on.
I work on the legs and feet first. Then the body. Then the tail and then move toward the head.
You do it however you choose, but the important thing is to do your work in sections. So however you choose to go at this, is your call. You will achieve optimum results if you break the work down into sections of the body. It helps you to not get lost.
If you use the same techniques each time you work on your dog, you set both of you up for success.
You will get better, faster, more confident and that ultimately supports your dog in understanding clearly what is expected of them.
When they have a clear understanding from us, they become confident. When you are confident in your skill and handling, they are more joyful. Practicing this a few times a week will turn challenging things into fun and bonding relationships. Honest.
Start at the Top
When I work on a dog’s head I generally start at the top of the head. I hold their beard with my holding hand. It’s OK to take a bit of hair in your hands and use that beard hair as a bit of handle. You won’t hurt them, it’s OK. With my brushing hand, I’m holding my brush like a “paintbrush” and I am brushing from the back of the eye area, back toward the neck area.
Use the Comb for Detecting Tangles
I won’t proceed onto the face or any other area of the head until I have brushed the entire top of the head completely out. Gone over the same area with my comb to ensure that there are no knots or tangles.
If my comb detects a snag? I put the comb down and go back over the spot or spots with my brush.
Be Gentle with Tangles and Mats
Sometimes I’ll find a mat that I can pick up and lay over my free hand. I’ll often just let go of the beard with my holding hand and the dog will often rest their face directly on the table. I’ll let them do that and if I can lay a matted area over my free hand? I will do that, and brush the hair out over top of my hand. Sometimes I do the same over my fingers. It depends on how big the mat or tangle is, and where it is.
The point being, if I can brush out tough areas with my own hands or fingers as a barrier to the dog’s skin directly? I will. These areas can get pretty messy and we don’t ever want to go so diligently at working out knots and mats that we end up causing brush burn. That can happen quickly and easily so be mindful of that.
Sides of the Face
After I have brushed the top of the head, I’ll move to the sides of the face. I’ll flip the ear back behind their head. Hold the ear between my thumb and index finger. That’s my holding hand remember. The dog’s face is resting in the palm of my hand. I hold my brush like a paintbrush and I my brush strokes are down the sides of the face. I’ll do a couple of passes with the brush back toward the ear. Put my brush down. Pick up my comb and pass my comb through my work to check it. As always, if you get a snag, you know what you need to do.
Beard and Muzzle on One Side
If there are no snags, I proceed to the next area. The same side of the head that I was just working on, I will start to work on the beard area or the muzzle area itself. I let go of the ear that I was holding and switch the grip of my holding hand. When I work on the sides of the beard or muzzle, I typically hold the very front of the chin hairs between my index finger and thumb. Just a few hairs.
When that feels like I am knot and tangle free, I pass my comb over the exact area I just brushed. If the comb passes through with zero challenges, I then move onto the chin area. A dog will often want to drop their head to the table to avoid the brush. That’s normal, and what I do to gently bypass their tactic hold the very tip of their chin on the tip of my thumb. Or, I’ll hold just a few beard hairs between my thumb and index finger. I hold the head UP just a bit so I can have a clearer line of sight under the chin, and into the neck area. Same as the other areas. When I think I’m clean and done, I pass my comb over it.
Switch to Other Side
Then move onto the other side of the face and repeat the same process on the right side of the face. Flip the ear back, hold with your fingers, brush downwards. When you’re done, have a pass with the brush back toward the front of the ear. Don’t forget you are not done until you have made a clear pass with your metal comb.
Brushing Your Dogs Ears
Voila, the head has been brushed and combed out. We started at the top and made a complete circle around the entire head. Tops, sides, chin, the other side, boom! Now I move onto the ears and there are four key points to remember when brushing ears.
4 Steps to Brushing
- Hold the ear FLAT in your hand.
- Brush and comb the top side.
- Brush and comb the underside.
- Brush and comb behind the ears.
Start at the Top
Every ear that I brush I ALWAYS hold flat in the palm of my holding hand. If the hair is “snaggy” or tangled or matted? I will pinch the ear hair between the palm of my hand and my thumb. The intention here is to prevent tugging and pulling on the ear itself. That is not at all pleasant for the dog, so this is my strategy to avoid that.
I use the same method with my comb as well. Remember you have got to do the top side and then the underside. Just because your metal comb didn’t find any mats in the tops side does not mean that there isn’t something hiding on the underside.
Repeat for the Underside
Which is why you have got to flip that ear over and repeat the same process as you did above. You just have to do it gently for the underside. Can you feel the ear leather? Can you see the ear leather? If you can’t be 100% sure that what you are looking at and seeing is in fact the actual ear? Look closer folks. I’d say half of the dogs I groom each week have what we call “pillows” for ears.
Common Ear Misconception
The ears are matted like fluffy pillows but their hoomans think that the matted hair is actually their dog’s ear. This one trips people up ALL the time. So remember to look and feel because most dogs do not have ears that are an inch or two thick guys. I’ll write more about caring for the ears another time because this one can be a long winded topic to cover.
Next Brush Behind the Ears
When you are confident that you have completely brushed and combed out both ears. Move onto behind the ears. I will hold the ear forward with my holding hand, again between my thumb and index finger. Generally I hold it toward the front of their face so that I have a clear line of sight and access with my brush to the back of the ear.
I hold my brush like a paintbrush in my hand and I brush from the back of the ear toward their rear end. I will use a gentle short picking action with my brush rather than long strokes or short aggressive strokes. As always, I follow up with my metal comb to be certain I have in fact done a thorough and complete job.
Importance of Grooming a Dogs Head Regularly
This of course is a quick walk through of the process I use to brush and comb out the entire head of most dogs. I wanted to set some time aside to put this out there for people because I honestly find that most pet parents get nervous and worried about working in this area.
They worry about catching an eye with the brush or comb. Most don’t even think about brushing the ears out at all. Then the face itself seems to be an area of just “too much yucky.” Understandable, a dog’s face can be quite smelly, especially if they have bad teeth and gums.
Even though it is one of the harder areas to work on, it’s important that it isn’t forgotten about. Those faces get mighty filthy and when you are on top of a regular system for grooming your dog at home, you are spotting potential problems.
It could be something as simple as a sticky hair around the mouth because they licked the yogurt dish sparkling clean. But that yogurt can also get dry, crusty and nasty if it goes untouched. Once you get in that area with your tools you will be relieved that you took a few minutes to investigate further.
Making sure that the ears are mat free is also a very big deal. If you do it right, it will not hurt them at all. Like I’ve said before many times. When a dog’s ears become matted, their owners are generally totally unaware. I know it sounds strange but it’s the truth.
They think that the ear is just thick with hair and it is. But most of the time those ears are a solid weight of matting. The matting can become very heavy on the ear, which is uncomfortable. The blood flow to the ears can also be affected. As in, the blood is not flowing freely and easily in and around the ear. When and IF I have to shave the hair off, is when it can get tricky for the dog.
The Trouble with Matted Ears
What can happen is, once that excess weight is removed, AKA the matting. The blood rushes to the ear and the ear swells with that rushing blood to that area. Think of it like not being able to breathe because there is something covering your mouth and nose. Remove the obstruction and you’ll take a huge breath. It is a bit like that. Remove the obstructive matting and “WHOOSH” the blood flows faster because it is no longer being cut off. (I know, creepy topic but it’s a big issue in dog grooming and dog owners are not aware until it’s a problem. Then they feel terrible…so I want to avoid those upsets, which is why I do this).
The dog often starts to shake their head because their ears feel strange. Right? They are used to this extra hair on them that has been weighing them down. Remove it and all heck can break loose, which often results in a trip to the vet. To clear up a secondary issue caused by excessive matting. So this is why I encourage pet parents to be aware of what is and what is not happening in and around their dog’s ears. Get familiar with all of your dog’s body parts and comfortable handling those parts. It’s a good thing.
The Eye Area on Your Dog
Lastly there is the eye area. True we don’t brush the eyes, of course. But by keeping up with brushing and combing the head on a consistent and regular basis. We are observing what is going on around the eye area. Dogs with shorter snouts or larger eyes often have a considerable amount of discharge in the eye area. When you are comfortable with holding your dog and working with their head and face you will also become more familiar with looking deeper into troublesome areas. The eyes are definitely an area that you want to pay attention to. You want to keep this area clean, dry, and free of hair and debris.
I’ll do a separate posting on the eyes to help people out with this because it is a huge challenge for many and I know they could use some support in this area. The point of this posting is realizing the importance of brushing and combing of the head, face and ears. In doing that, you will also see other things that may need to be addressed with your best friend.
I recorded a two-part YouTube video with my friend and client, “Archie,” the Goldendoodle. Part 1 is a video demonstration on how to brush out the body with tips and techniques. Below is Part 2, a video demo on how to brush out the head on your dog.
Brushing and Combing Demo with Archie, the Goldendoodle, Part 2
In case you missed it, below is a list of where I buy my favorite brushes and combs to use in the shop.
Where I buy my brushes and combs:
These are not affiliate links. The preferences listed below are what I prefer to use in my salon. I’ve shared them with you to use as a guide in acquiring your own quality set of brushes and combs.
Miracle Coat Brush that I get from “Ren’s Pets” here in Canada: 🔗 Link to Rens Pets Website
The other brush is “Chris Christenson’s” that I buy from a local distributor: 🔗 Link to Wheatley Wares Website
Greyhound Aluminum comb that I also get from “Ren’s Pets:”
🔗 Link to Rens Pets Website
Is the snow wreaking havoc on your dogs coat? I wrote an article addressing common grooming issues during snow season and give you actionable steps to prevents tangles and mats in your dog’s coat during winter:
I hope you found this tutorial helpful. If you have additional questions, or other grooming challenges that you’d like me to address, drop me a comment below.