Grooming Your Pyrenean

The beautiful white coat of the Pyrenean Mountain Dog is one of its joys. However, to keep it looking nice you will need to groom your dog regularly.  This is also important for the health and welfare of your dog as a matted coat is not only uncomfortable and pulls on the skin, it can stop air flow to the skin, trapping dirt and moisture and causing hot spots and sores. That said, a proper Pyrenean coat will not require too much upkeep for most of the year provided you groom regularly. 

Grooming tools. First lets look at the basic tools for grooming your dog.  Shown in the picture on the right they are (1) Coat Conditioner/Detangler, (2) Comb, (3) Slicker, (4) Scissors, (5) Pin Brush, (6) Undercoat Rake, & (7) Nail Clippers These are the tools that will help you keep your Pyrenean well groomed.  As we go along I will tell you a little bit about each of these tools and give you some tips on how to use them.

Lets get ready.  The first step when grooming your dog is to decide where you are going to groom him.  A grooming table is ideal if you have one.  This will raise your dog up to a good height where you don't have to bend to brush him.  Much easier on your back!  If you dont have a grooming table, a ledge (where you are standing lower than your dog), a low bench or platform for your dog to stand on (make sure it is very stable and doesn't rock about!), or even a few bales of hay in the shed or barn, will do ok and make your job a little easier. Another way is to teach your dog to lie down for grooming so you can sit or kneel beside him.

Start training your Pyrenean to stand still for grooming from an early age.  Do this from the moment you get your pup home!  It is a good idea to get your pup used to being handled all over - including his legs, tail, rear end, face, eyes and ears.  Be firm but kind and praise your pup when he is being still (even for a short moment in the beginning).  Naturally a pup will not be able to stand still for long at first, but the more often you do it, the better he will get. Much easier to spend time teaching your pup when young than end up with a  fully grown dog that is difficult to groom. 

If you do have a dog that doesn't like grooming though, a little tip - groom more often not less! One of the reasons dogs learn to hate grooming is because it hurts and is uncomfortable.  The longer you leave it between grooming sessions, the more uncomfortable it becomes for both you AND your dog.  Shorter sessions more often are more pleasant for both you and your dog, and eventually your dog will begin to learn that grooming means a nice 'one-on-one' session with you rather than something stressful and painful.

Where to start?  Ok, so now you have your dog ready to be groomed and your tools assembled (make sure they are all in easy reaching distance).  Usually I find it best to start with the nails.  Why the nails first? Basically so you don't leave them until the end and forget to trim them!  It is very important to keep your dogs nails trimmed to a nice short length.  In particular it is important to make sure your Pyreneans dew claws are trimmed. Left untrimmed dew claws can become very long, and the rear double dew claws in particular can curl around and grow back into the leg. This is very painful for your dog.  Longer claws are also more at risk of catching on things and tearing. If you are diligent about keeping them trimmed however, there is rarely a problem. Check them about every two weeks, or at a maximum every month. 

When trimming your dogs nails, look for the pink bit on the inside (easy to see on white nails, but unfortunately not on black).  Wet the nail if you need to so you can see it clearly.  This is the 'quick' which is the blood supply to the nail.  You want to trim below this line. If you cut through the quick your dogs nail will bleed.  Dont panic if you do! Most people will do it from time to time although we all try not to.  Keep the dog still and apply either some styptic powder (available from good pet supply stores) or some flour (cornflour is good but any will do).  This will help reduce the bleeding.  If you are worried about cutting the quick just take a little bit off the nail at a time, working your way back until you get a length you are happy with.

Ear ear! Now is a good time to also check your dogs ears and eyes.  Gently wipe any sleep or gunk from around the eye with a damp cotton ball.  Are they looking bright and healthy?  If they are red, weepy or look irritated it may be wise to get them checked by a vet.  Lift up the ear flaps and look in the ears.  Are they relatively clean and looking pink and healthy?  Or are they dirty and smelly.  If they are dirty or waxy, clean them with an ear cleaner from the vet or a good pet supply store.  If it looks red and inflamed, is particularly smelly or seems sore (your dog may not like you touching it or he may be shaking his head more than usual) a trip to the vet may be in order.

Lets be methodical.  Now we have the nails done, we can start on the coat.  I find the easiest way to do this is to have a system that I follow every time. Divide your dogs body up into sections in your mind.  For example you have the back legs, the tail, The pantaloons (that long fluffy hair on the rear) the croup and thighs, the ribcage and back,  The stomach and between and under the legs (dont forget the 'armpits'), the shoulder, the front leg, the chest and neck and the head.  Of course you also have a right and a left side!  As you work with your dog you will begin to develop a system that suits you.  I like working from the back to the front.  Other people prefer to start at the front and work backwards.  Really it is up to you as long as every bit gets groomed in the long run.  Being methodical also helps if you need to keep your grooming sessions short and don't do a full groom in one session.  If you work on one area at a time and a different area each session you will eventually groom the whole dog, rather than just doing little bits here and there.  It will be much easier to keep track of where you have groomed.

A squirt in time saves nine.  So now we can brush our dog...well....almost!  There is something we need to do before we start brushing and that is to spray the coat with some conditioner or detangler.  There are a range of products you can use to do this job.  A glob of human leave-in hair conditioner mixed with some water in a spray bottle, or products designed for horses manes and tails such as
Absorbine Show Sheen, Cowboy Magic or Equinade Showsilk Hair Polish will work well and are reasonably economical.  There are also many products designed for dogs such as Plush Puppy OMG, EZ Groom EZ Glide Detangler, 'The Stuff', Chris Christensen Ice On Ice & 'Secret Weapon' (which is one of my favourites) to mention just a few.  Whatever you choose it will make your job easier. 

Looking slick.  So, which brush do you use first?  For an older dog, I like to start by using a slicker.  The slicker is an excellent tool for the heavier areas of the coat where the undercoat is thick.  The pantaloons for example.  With a pup I would not use a slicker as their coat is not yet thick enough and there is a danger that you will scratch their sensitive young skin.  With a pup I would start with a pin brush. Now you have your slicker (or pin brush) in your hand, lets get down to work. Choose your spot to start and with your free hand part and lift the coat.  This is important as if you just brush over the top you will be leaving all the mats underneath.  Spray a bit of conditioner/detangler on the section you have exposed and then brush downwards on the exposed section of hair from the root to the tip (being careful not to press too hard on exposed skin).  With each stroke you will take a little bit more hair from the section you are holding up out of the way, working your way along a little bit at a time.  If you can't get all the way to the skin, work slowly on that section with the brush.  With each pass of the brush you will loosen and straighten more and more hair until you can brush all the way along the strands.

In a tangle. What happens if you get a section that won't brush out with the slicker?  Sometimes our dogs will develop mats in the undercoat.  Often these are located around the rear end (in the pantaloons and between the back legs) or behind the ears. There are heaps of dematting tools on the market, some of them more useful than others.  You can deal with these problem areas however, with a simple pair of scissors.  Before you race off and grab the scissors and start hacking into the coat though, lets learn how to use them.  It is VERY IMPORTANT to use scissors with care and caution when attempting to deal with mats in the coat, as used the wrong way you risk cutting your dogs skin and ending up at the vet for stiches.  The safest way to use scissors to help deal with mats is to remember the golden rule that you always cut AWAY from the skin - never towards or across.  To do this we carefully work the tip of the scissors into the mat at the base and then cut up and outwards through the mat.  Do this several times so you divide the mat up into smaller pieces.  Now give it a spray with your conditioner/detangler and brush it out with your slicker.  You will find that once the mat is divided up it will brush out fairly easily. You can use your comb too if you like, particularly for places such as behind the ears or on puppy coats. 

Thar she blows!  At certain times of the year, you may find that your dogs coat starts coming out in handfuls. This is often referred to as 'blowing coat'.  When this happens you will find you need to do quite a bit more brushing than usual.  This is important as if you leave the dead coat on the dog it can get very tangled and matted.  This is very uncomfortable for the dog and a MUCH bigger grooming job for you later on. Better to put a little more effort in now.  One tool that is very useful for dealing with this excess loose hair is the undercoat rake. As you did with the slicker, lift the coat with your free hand and work in sections.  Soon your yard will look like a snow field!  Another thing that can help when your dog is shedding is to use a forced air blow dryer.  These are not like human hair dryers but blow cooler air very fast through a nozzle.  They literally blow the dead hair off the dog! If you don't own one yourself (most pet owners won't) you can either take your dog to a do it yourself grooming shop that has one or get a groomer to bath and blow dry your dog for you. They won't be able to get rid of all the shedding hair (as it doesnt shed out all at once) but it will help make your job a bit easier.

Paws for thought.  Now that your dog is basically brushed out, lets do a little more tidying up. One of the joys of the Pyrenean is that it is a very natural dog.  No fancy trimming or shaping required. It sometimes helps however, if we trim the hair on and around the dogs paws.  This looks neater and can help reduce the amount of dirt tracked into the house, as well as helping to stop your dog slipping on hard surfaces like tiles or wooden floors.  Get your scissors ready and lift up your dogs paw (as an alternative you may find it easier to have your dog lying down for this first part).  Trim the hair between your dogs pads so that it is level with the bottom of the pads.  While you want to check between the pads for knots and remove them gently, there is no need to remove all the hair right down between the pads.  Now turn the paw over.  Tease out the hair between the toes so that any long pieces are sticking up.  Trim these off level with the top of the foot.  Just take a little at a time until you get a nice neat natural look.  Check between your dogs toes and gently remove any knots from there too.  Again it is not necessary to remove all the hair from between the toes.  If the hair is really long around your dogs rear dew claws and on the backs of his legs you can gently trim the hair so it is not trailing on the ground.  Don't trim too much though!

A nice finish.  Now that you have your dog all brushed out, tidied, trimmed and mat free, lets give it the final touches. For this we use our pin brush and comb.  The pin brush is a great tool for brushing your dog, but it can't get through really heavy coat or mats. This is why we use the slicker first.  As mentioned earlier though, if you have a puppy or a dog whose coat is well brushed out the pin brush is a great choice.  Give a final light spray over the coat with your conditioner/detangler, then brush the coat upwards and forwards towards the dogs head with the pin brush.  This lifts and separates the coat and help you brush all the way to the roots.  Once you have done this, go over the coat again lightly brushing it back into place.  Use your comb to tidy around the ears and head and on the legs.  And there you have it!  One nicely groomed dog all ready for plenty of cuddles.

But what about the bath! How often you bath your dog is up to you and your lifestyle.  Dogs who are show dogs or who do things such as visiting nursing homes or hospitals may be bathed quite frequently, even once a week.  If you brush your dog regularly however, you may only need to give him a bath a couple of times a year. Don't panic if on a wet day your dog gets covered in mud.  It may look bad now, but a correct Pyrenean coat is fairly resistant to dirt and when dry it tends to fall off again.  Just dry your dog off with a towel as best you can and put him somewhere he can dry.  When dry give him a good brush.  You may be surprised how clean his coat becomes.  When it comes to bathing your dog it can be a reasonably big job.  If you don't own the equipment yourself, you may find it easier to get a groomer to wash and blow dry your dog or find a do it yourself grooming shop that you can use (you can use your bathtub or a spot outside though if that is what you prefer.  Just be prepared to get as wet as your dog!)  A blow dryer is a particularly useful tool for a Pyrenean coat as it helps get rid of the dead undercoat while it dries.  A thick Pyrenean coat can sometimes take days to dry in winter so if you wish to wash your dog when the weather is cold, a dryer can be very useful to ensure your dog does not stay damp too long.  Don't try using a human hair dryer to do this though.  Human dryers are too hot and don't blow enough air to be effective on such a big coat. If you do wash your dog yourself, I recommend using a good gentle shampoo.  My favourite brands are Panagenics (I use the Panagenics shampoo and conditioning system on my show dogs. See the Panagenics website for special information on using these products), Plush Puppy, or  Fidos Herbal Shampoo.  Mixing the shampoo up with some warm water before you apply it will help it spread through the coat a lot easier.  Make sure you rinse very well too as any shampoo left in the coat may irritate your dogs skin. I recommend finishing by giving a final leave-in rinse with a product such as
Plush Puppy Seabreeze Oil.  Put a tiny bit in a bucket of warm water and sponge it over the coat.  It will make the coat look nice, feel nice and smell nice, and will make grooming a lot easier too.  A real winner in my eyes!

Copyright Tracy Bassett 2010.  All rights reserved.