GROOMING YOUR BERNESE
"..... It's not what you use it's the way that you use it ....."
And that just about sums up grooming a Bernese ! So please don't think you've been "doing it all wrong" by using different grooming methods to those described here. If your efforts result in a shiny, tangle-free, beautiful Bernese - why change?
Here I outline procedures based on my training as a professional groomer coupled with 'hands on' experience during 32 years of Bernese ownership. They are procedures that have worked well for me and my dogs and should you be facing a problem with any aspect of Bernese coat care, then I hope they will work for you too.
Regular grooming is as essential to the health and well-being of your Bernese Mountain Dog as his daily meals and exercise. Although the Bernese coat is not particularly difficult to manage, it does require regular attention to keep it smart and comfortable. In addition, the breed's striking colouring will be seen at its best only if the hair is clean and glossy. Regular grooming will help achieve this and maintain your dog's coat and skin in good condition.
However, if your dog is host to parasites, receiving an unbalanced diet, insufficient exercise or is overweight or unfit in any way, then even the most energetic grooming routine will be mostly wasted effort. The Pet Health Council recommends worming a dog at least every six months to eradicate roundworms and tapeworms; your vet will know the best preparation to prescribe. Many people worm their dogs when the clocks change in Spring and Autumn and this can be a good way of making sure you remember to worm regularly.
Always keep a constant lookout for external parasites and act immediately to eradicate them. Lice and ticks can be a real nuisance in some areas and at certain times of the year and may cause health problems if ignored. Fleas can be a problem throughout the year, thanks to our centrally-heated homes, although a regular spraying regime can help control the problem. Apart from the misery they cause to dogs allergic to their saliva, fleas also act as an intermediate host to the dog tapeworm, so extra worming may well be necessary if your dog has a flea problem. Once again your vet will advise you.
If your dog is overweight or generally unfit, his coat will suffer, although this may be the least of his problems. Your vet is the person to advise you on the best course of action to get your dog fit again. If feeding one of the commercial 'complete' diets made by a reputable company, you should have no worries about providing a balanced diet. The 'traditional' meat and biscuit diet may require a little more thought and effort but it too, can provide perfectly adequate nourishment to keep your dog healthy.
Regular exercise is an essential and enjoyable part of every dog's life. Although the exercise requirements of a Bernese puppy are outside the scope of this booklet, the adult dog will benefit from free running off the lead together with controlled road walking, to keep his feet and nails in good order and improve muscle tone and condition.
It's often overlooked, but one other factor that can adversely affect coat condition is stress. Its effect will not be immediately visible but a change of owner or home, quarantine, an extended change in family routine or attention received by the dog will eventually show itself in the coat.
Overall, general fitness and health in a dog that is happy and secure will provide the essential basis for a healthy coat that will shine from the inside out. A regular and thorough grooming routine will help keep it that way.
However, grooming is not just about coat care. Eyes, ears, teeth, nails and feet also require regular attention to ensure your dog's comfort and the detection of any problems as they arise.
The obvious answer is to make the dog look smart but there are other, very important, reasons which will bring benefits to both dog and owner.
1. To stay healthy, skin requires access to air and the well-groomed coat allows this. Matts and tangles restrict this essential air circulation causing the skin beneath to become sore. If neglected, the skin will soon become wet and soggy and will eventually 'break down' resulting in eczema, skin infection, etc. and a great deal of discomfort for the dog.
2. The early detection of anything untoward in the dog's skin and coat, such as:-
· a)Lumps and bumps
· b) Grass seeds, burrs, thorns or other foreign bodies working down through the coat or into the feet.
· c) External parasites - fleas, ticks, etc.
Prompt action on any of points 1 and 2 above can help save a large vets bill.
3. The prevention of tangles makes grooming sessions faster and less effort.
4. Daily grooming during the moult not only speeds up the moulting process but also drastically reduces the amount of hair shed on carpets and furniture. This saves housework and can prolong the life of your vacuum cleaner.
5. Pride of ownership - a grubby, unkempt coat reflects the owner's real attitude towards their dog. No matter how well fed and loved, a dog that is habitually un-groomed is a neglected dog.
Those are some owner benefits but what does the dog gain from regular grooming?
1. The stimulation of his skin and its underlying blood vessels brought about by grooming makes a dog feel good.
2. The prevention of tangles keeps him comfortable. Whilst small matts and tangles can tweak the skin and cause soreness, neglected matts will cause considerable pain.
3. Where several dogs are kept, grooming sessions may be the only one-to-one attention a dog gets from his owner.
Take advantage of the opportunity to get to know your dog as an individual, make him feel he's the only dog in your life
In short, make grooming an ENJOYABLE experience
TRAINING A PUPPY
The secret of trouble-free grooming in the future is to start early and to think ahead.
It makes sense to start training your puppy as soon as possible so that he becomes used to being gently restrained and handled all over. Grooming sessions will then become an accepted part of his routine.
Such training will also bring obvious benefits when veterinary attention is required. A dog that struggles or violently objects to having any part of his anatomy touched or examined, will jeopardise effective treatment, waste the vet's valuable time and make the owner look extremely silly.
A short daily session with a young puppy will set the scene for later life. It may be more convenient now, to start brushing him on your lap but this is unlikely to be the case when he is fully grown. It really will pay dividends to plan ahead.
Try to decide from the start, where grooming sessions will be most convenient and comfortable for you both when your dog is adult. Will you want your dog standing up or lying down? On a table or low platform, or on the floor?
Will you want to save mess by grooming on newspaper, or a special mat? Whilst any or all of these considerations are not a matter of life and death, you can help build up an association of ideas in the young dog which, in turn, will help him accept grooming as a matter of routine.
The first grooming sessions should be kept very short and every part of the puppy handled gently, but firmly. Baby puppies cannot "keep still very long and it is essential that you, and not the puppy, decide when to end the session. Two minutes is far better than a twenty minute session which ends because the puppy gets tired and fractious, or 'escapes' and gets away with it. As with all other training, you are the boss - not the dog.
Before you start, allow the puppy to examine the brush and comb if he wants to but don't permit him to chew or play with them. Grooming is not a game. The puppy's enjoyment should come from your hands and voice, and your undivided attention to him.
TRAINING AN OLDER DOG
If you have taken in an older dog or if you neglected to train your dog to accept grooming as a puppy, don't despair. It is never too late to show him that grooming can be a pleasant, relaxed affair. Of course, it may take a while longer than with a puppy, but it can be done.
The first task is to break the vicious circle that has caused the dog to resent being groomed.
Grooming sessions that have become a battle of wills and strength between dog and owner are unlikely to be eagerly anticipated by either party. Thus, while the owner puts off grooming the tangles in the dog's coat get thicker and more difficult to remove. When infrequent grooming sessions do take place, the removal of tangles is painful for the dog who, understandably, will not want to stay still, and frustrating and time-consuming for the owner, who will not be able to do a good job under such circumstances anyway.
Sometimes, a dog has been allowed to dictate when grooming will cease, either by running away and not being brought back, or by giving a warning growl, causing the owner to retreat rather than to discipline. In these cases, the scene is definitely set for future problems. Such behaviour, under any circumstances, is totally unacceptable and must be stopped immediately.
Start to retrain the older dog as you would a puppy, with very short sessions. If he's used to running away either have an assistant to hold him or tie him up to something secure. It's essential that he cannot escape, also that you don't hurt him, so ignore tangles at this point. Run a brush gently over his coat, tickle his tummy at the same time if he's worried or afraid; if he fights you or the brush, reassure him but carry on brushing until he relaxes, brush him for a few seconds more - then stop! Praise him lavishly, give him a tidbit (if his figure will allow it) and let him go.
Repeat the procedure at least once a day, more often if you have time. It will get easier and easier because you are teaching the dog two important things -
1. That being 'groomed' doesn't hurt and can be an enjoyable experience.
2. That he cannot avoid your attentions until you allow it.
As the dog becomes more relaxed during these sessions, and it doesn't take long, gradually increase the time and intensity of your grooming to deal with any small knots that can be eased apart with your fingers, but again, be careful not to hurt the dog.
Eventually you will be able to deal with the larger tangles. If they are very thick, you may need specialist equipment such as a mat-splitter or de-matting comb, or you may prefer to cut them out, carefully, with blunt-ended scissors whilst protecting the skin with a flat comb. Quite often though, the hair 'reclaimed' from large matts is so stretched and full of static electricity as to be useless. Don't ever be afraid to carefully cut out, or even clip out, large mats - the hair will grow again, but resolve to keep the coat under control in future.
Your attitude to retraining is of vital importance. You must be positive and determined to succeed because your dog will already be an expert at getting his own way where grooming is concerned. A half-hearted approach at this point will give the dog an even greater sense of power if you back off at the first sign of resistance. Whilst any sign of aggressive behaviour must be swiftly quelled, there will be no need for beatings, shouting, or any other strong arm tactics, just quiet firmness and the resolve that you will win this time. It may take 30 seconds - or 30 minutes but your insistence will be rewarded - the dog WILL give in.
The choice of grooming equipment is very much a matter of personal preference although to be suitable the tools you choose should:-
1. Be comfortable for you to use
2. Cope efficiently with the Bernese coat
3. Not damage the dog's hair or skin
BRUSHES: there are several types on the market and those most commonly used by Bernese owners appear to be the pin brush, curved wire slicker or pure bristle. If you decide on pure bristle then buy the best you can afford. Cheap bristle brushes are false economy and apart from shedding their bristles very quickly, they can also damage a dog's coat. Cat slicker brushes are ideal for baby puppies, being smaller and softer than the standard dog slicker.
COMBS: Again there is a wide range of styles available so choose one that is comfortable to use although most people find a handled comb puts less strain on their hands. Check carefully for quality before buying. Some combs have teeth that are metal coated which, when worn, can snag the coat and scratch the skin.
SUGGESTED ITEMS FOR A BASIC GROOMING KIT
For general body use and furnishings
For face, ears, front of legs and feet
For removal of old coat during moulting
Blunt ended, straight/curved for trimming feet
To remove ear streamers (optional)
To break up knots and matts
MATT SPLITTER or
For use on larger knots and matts
The order in which you groom your dog is entirely up to you and whether you start at the head, tail or middle really doesn't matter. What's important is that the dog is completely and thoroughly groomed down to the skin on a regular basis.
For light to medium coats, a daily comb-through with one or two full grooming sessions a week will probably be sufficient to keep the coat free-flowing and tangle-free. Heavy coats or those thickened by neutering may well require 'the full works' four or more times weekly to be kept in order.
The easiest and most efficient way to groom a dog the size of a Bernese is to brush the coat in small sections, dividing each section into thin layers. This ensures that the brush can reach down to stimulate the skin and clear dead hair from the base of the coat where potential tangles start. At the same time you will be able to check the skin for signs of parasites, soreness, flaky dryness, skin trouble, etc. Just running your brush and comb along the surface of the coat may well tidy the top layer of hair whilst leaving the base of the coat undisturbed.
Such superficial grooming will very soon result in a matted, uncomfortable dog who will need lengthy and strenuous grooming sessions to bring his coat back into good order.
SAMPLE GROOMING SESSION
Have all the grooming equipment you will need within easy reach plus a container to collect the combings. Ensure that you and your dog are comfortably positioned for the grooming session. Gently run a wide-toothed comb through the coat to loosen it up and detect the presence of any tangles. Start brushing the coat in layers, a small section at a time, making sure you get right down to the skin. Always protect your dog's skin as you deal with matts and tangles. Remove any small tangles as you come across them, using either your brush or the point of the comb. Larger knots may need to be broken up with thinning shears whilst solid matts will need to be eased apart with your fingers or a splitting tool, but again, be careful not to hurt your dog. Continue dividing and layering the coat until the whole body has been groomed. Don't forget to gently brush the long hair on the tummy and insides of the thighs. In males, pay special attention to the area in front of the sheath which can become soiled and matted if neglected. Be careful also, to protect the testicles with your hand when grooming around that area.
Leg furnishings, front and back, are best groomed in layers with a wide tooth comb unless tangled, when they should be brushed out first. The hair on the head and face, and front of the legs and elbows, although short, is very dense, and dead hair can easily 'dull' the colour if allowed to build up. The use of a fine to medium tooth comb or a wire slicker on these areas will prevent this. Pay careful attention to ear streamers if your dog has them. This hair is very soft and prone to matting and requires thorough grooming to keep it free of tangles.
Be aware of the danger areas of your dog's coat - places where the hair is very fine or very thick, or just a bit awkward to get at.
The main grooming 'trouble spots' are:-
1. Behind the ears;
2. Side of neck/mane;
3. Inside/outside thighs;
4. Crease of loin;
5. Tummy and around testicles;
6. Base of tail;
8. Back of hocks.
When you are satisfied that every part of your dog, from head to tail, has been thoroughly groomed, you can turn your attention to the extremities. You'll need to clean his ears and eyes, check his teeth and nails and carefully trim any excess hair from around the pads of his feet.
Always try to end each grooming session on a 'high' and if that means brushing your dog's chest, or his tummy, twice, because that's his favourite bit, so be it. He'll come away with a good feeling that will stand you both in good stead for the next session.
When finished, your dog will probably have a really good shake to arrange his coat as he wants it and you can stand back and admire the results of your efforts.
Finally, praise your dog, let him know you are pleased and proud of him and, whether his figure allows it or not, give him a treat - HE DESERVES IT.
EARS: Check in and around your dog's ears daily for foreign bodies using your eyes to detect any redness and swelling and your nose for the characteristic smell associated with many ear problems. Prompt veterinary attention is essential in all cases of ear trouble.
Cleanse each ear gently, using fresh pads of cotton wool dampened with a non-greasy solution such as Aserbine (Beecham). Restrict your cleaning activities to the top part of the ear and the inside of the flap; never prod and probe deep into the ear nor use anything rigid.
EYES: Wipe away any dried mucous with a pad of cotton wool dampened with tepid water, using a fresh pad for each eye. Any sign of redness /soreness or a persistent discharge should receive prompt veterinary attention.
If your dog has undergone surgery to correct entropion (ingrowing eyelashes), both eyes should be carefully checked at frequent intervals for evidence of further pain and irritation. It is not uncommon for further surgery to become necessary as the dog matures.
TEETH: It is far easier to prevent build-up of tartar than to remove it. Either provide a large marrow bone at least once a week for your dog to gnaw on, or train him to accept teeth cleaning sessions with a toothbrush or rag and toothpaste.
Nowadays there are a variety of canine dental preparations and your veterinary surgeon should be able to advise you on what's available.
Excessive tartar may endanger your dog's general heath in addition to causing gum disease and bad breath. Its removal usually has to be performed under a general anaesthetic with all the associated risks to your dog. Care of teeth is definitely a case where 'Prevention is Better than Cure'.
NAILS: On the whole, Bernese have exceptionally good feet and rarely require attention to their nails. Sometimes the dew claws grow excessively - usually in the older dog, but it is worth checking them regularly throughout the dog's life - just in case....
If you feel your dog's nails are overgrown, an increase in the amount of road walking can often work wonders. If the nails do have to be clipped, unless you know exactly what you are doing, either get your vet or someone experienced to trim them for you or at least to show you how.
FEET: Ideally, feet should be checked after each walk. In wet or snowy weather, mud and grit can accumulate between the pads and toes causing soreness and discomfort, whilst in summer, grass seeds, if not quickly detected, can penetrate the skin with dire results. Routine trimming of the excess hair from around the pads will help minimise these problems but there really is no substitute for constant vigilance.
ANAL GLANDS: Firm, solid motions are the key to self-emptying, trouble-free anal glands but be prepared for your dog to be the exception to the rule! Excessive licking and rubbing of the anal area in a dog that is obviously uncomfortable are the usual signs of a problem in this area. Manual emptying is not a job for the faint-hearted - the smell is indescribable and inexperienced hands can cause pain and damage to the dog. Definitely a job for the vet.
GENERAL HYGIENE: In males, keep a close eye on the area in front of the sheath - excessive discharge can cause the hair to become wet and matted resulting in smell and soreness. If necessary clip or trim the hair around this area for the dog's comfort. Some bitches may need extra attention during their season to prevent excess licking which can cause matts. Where hormonal changes in neutered dogs and bitches have caused coats to lengthen and coarsen, a little judicious trimming around the back end will help to prevent them soiling themselves.
PRESSURE POINTS: These usually affect the elbows and are supposedly caused by dogs lying on hard surfaces in kennels, yards, etc. although one can see quite extensive calluses on the elbows of Bernese living in fully carpeted houses. Regular and thorough grooming of susceptible areas may well help prevent, or at least minimise the problem by maintaining air circulation to the skin and preventing permanent flattening of the hair in pressure point areas.
Presuming that you will use the family bath for your dog's ablutions, thorough preparation of both dog and equipment is the key to successful and stress-free bathing. The following method involves the use of a tap mixer spray rather than standing the dog in a bath full of water. And as bathing a dog the size of a Bernese is unlikely to be undertaken for fun, it makes sense to get the best results for the not inconsiderable time and effort involved. This is not achieved by cutting corners.
The way in which you introduce your Bernese to the bath can make or mar his attitude to this very important part of his life. An 8-10 week old baby puppy requires only gentle restraint and quiet reassurance during his first bath and introduction to the hair dryer. His size makes him easy to handle, quick to bath and dry, and the whole operation can be completed with minimum stress to both pup and owner. More importantly, it has set the scene for future trouble-free bathing. Putting off that first bath can cause real problems when you consider the stress and sheer effort required to bath a strapping adolescent Bernese who is convinced his owners (note the plural) are trying to drown him. And if you've already taught him that the bathroom - be it upstairs or down - is out of bounds, it seems unreasonable to expect him to happily follow you into 'forbidden territory' and be fully relaxed. Once again, it's a case of thinking ahead.
Before wetting a single hair of your dog's coat you will need to prepare the following: -
1. Clean bed and bedding
2. Clean grooming equipment
3. Everything you need to bath and dry your dog
4. A well-groomed, tangle-free dog
1) Rigid plastic-type beds can be washed and scrubbed clean in hot soapy water, rinsed well and allowed to dry, whilst the nozzle attachment of a vacuum cleaner will clear accumulated dust and hair from basket beds. Clean bedding, be it Vetbed, blankets, or whatever, should be well-aired and dry before use.
2) Brushes and combs should be washed and clean ready for use. Insecticidal dog shampoo is as good a cleanser as any for this job.
3) In the bathroom have everything you will need within easy reach because you must NEVER leave your dog unattended in the bath.
HAVE TO HAND:-
Dog shampoo - diluted and full-strength
Tap mixer shower spray
Non-slip bath mat(s)
Supply of dry towels or a moisture absorbent cloths
Something to pad the side of the bath as your dog jumps in
Receptacle for loose hair
Chain or fabric collar/lead to control dog when he gets out of bath
YOU WILL ALSO NEED TO HAVE READY:-
Hair dryer or moisture absorbent cloths or towels (lots)
Receptacle for combings
Clean Vetbed or similar for your dog to lie on
All the above should be prepared and ready for use BEFORE you put your dog in the bath.
4. Don't be tempted to think you can 'save time' by not grooming your dog before bathing - if anything the reverse is true because .....
a) loose hair and tangles invariably matt when wet and are then very hard to remove.
b) it takes a lot of effort to work shampoo into an un-groomed coat making it difficult to penetrate right down to the skin.
c) working shampoo into the un-groomed coat is as nothing compared to the effort required to rinse it out after it's soaked into tangles -rinsing will seem to go on for ever and is unlikely to be 100% successful.
d) trying to dry and groom out a matted, soapy coat becomes a
nightmare for you and your dog.
SO DO YOURSELF AND YOUR DOG A FAVOUR DON'T SKIMP ON THAT VITAL PRE-BATH GROOMING
Before putting your dog into the bath be sure to line the base with a rubber mat to provide a firm foothold. Croydex manufactures an extra long mat with drainage holes and suction cups which is ideal, or a couple of ordinary ribbed rubber car mats can provide a satisfactory alternative. What's important is that the dog feels secure underfoot.
Next, dilute a small quantity of shampoo in a large container of warm water, - use just enough shampoo to slightly tint the water. This is for your initial wash - call it a pre-wash if you like. It'll not only break down surface grease and soak into the coat very quickly, it'll also save you money - decent dog shampoo is not cheap and you can use an awful lot of it trying to penetrate a barely wet coat.
And on the subject of shampoo, please don't be tempted to use human hair products on your dog - especially anti-dandruff preparations, many of which actually lift off a layer of skin, making them far too harsh for canine use. In an emergency use a mild baby shampoo but dog shampoos are best for dogs. And if you're thinking of using washing- up liquid please try it out on your own hair first, be sure to get some in your eyes and I guarantee you'll leave it on the kitchen draining board where it belongs.
If you have trained your adult dog to jump into the bath on command, please remember to place a thick folded towel or similar article over the bath edge to form a pad to protect the underbelly from possible damage. A male is particularly at risk here as his sheath can catch painfully against an unprotected edge so to be really safe, shield this area with your cupped hand as well while he jumps in. Alternatively, you may prefer the dog to be lifted into the bath and this method is preferable for adolescent, arthritic, and elderly dogs
In order to monitor water temperature, be sure to keep your hand between the water flow and your dog at all times. Even modern plumbing can't always prevent changes from warm to ice cold or very hot if water is drawn from a tap elsewhere in the house and either contrast could give your dog a very nasty shock.
With warm water (temperature around 85°F) flowing through your tap mixer spray, start wetting the coat from the neck down as best you can. Surface dirt and grease will prevent water alone from soaking into the coat so follow through with the diluted shampoo, working it into the coat with your fingers. It'll feel slightly odd and there'll be no lather but by the time you've given a quick rinse, your dog will be soaked to the skin and ready for the next stage.
Using undiluted shampoo this time, start at the neck and work it well into the coat and down to the skin - use your fingers like claws and really massage the skin to loosen grease and dirt. Make sure you reach all the fiddly bits - brisket and underarms, tummy and groin, back of legs and tail, and massage shampoo well into the feet and between the pads and toes to remove all traces of mud and grit.
One thorough application of undiluted shampoo will usually be sufficient unless your dog is particularly dirty or greasy when you may wish to rinse the coat lightly and shampoo again.
Using warm water and keeping your hand between the water flow and dog, commence with a general rinsing at first to slacken off the suds, then, as they subside, you can start to concentrate on each area in turn. Quantities of loose hair may be dislodged at this point so be sure to keep the plug hole clear so that the soapy water can run away freely. It may seem silly but whilst rinsing, your hands rather than your eyes can tell you how well you are progressing. It's only a rough guide but;
· When the coat feels smooth and slippery - there's a lot of soap left
· When loose hair starts to stick to your hands - you 're about halfway through
· When the hair feels resistant - you're almost finished hut keep rinsing for a while longer
Only when you're absolutely positive that every trace of shampoo has gone - rinse just once more to be really sure. Soap left in the coat will cause dull sticky patches and can irritate the dog's skin so thorough rinsing is absolutely vital. Don't be surprised to find that you will likely be rinsing your Bernese for around 30-40 minutes, probably longer for a male in full coat and definitely longer if you didn't groom out first. It really is essential that every trace of soap is removed from the coat.
You'll notice from the above description that, as yet, the dog's head remains untouched. Very few dogs enjoy having their head/ face wetted and no matter how careful you are, there is always the risk of getting soap and water in ears and eyes. So unless the dog has rolled in something nasty or is really dirty around the head, wiping with a damp cloth will often be all that is necessary. If however, you do decide to shampoo the head and face, leave this operation until last as it will encourage the dog to shake himself continuously in an effort to get dry. A tip about shaking. Many dogs automatically shake themselves as soon as they feel water on their coats. This is fine after the bath and some dogs can be trained to shake themselves on command but during the bath, shaking is bad news.
You can sometimes help prevent, or at least minimise this by placing your hand firmly in the middle of the dog's back as soon as he starts to shake. Sadly, it doesn't always work but it's worth trying if you'd like to stay reasonably dry yourself.
How often to bath depends a lot on the dog, his lifestyle and his grooming regime. There's little doubt that a regularly groomed coat stays cleaner than an un-groomed one though, as much of the dirt and dust gets brushed out. Around • 10-12 weeks between baths seems about average, with coats starting to look a bit dull and greasy after this time, but more frequent bathing won't be harmful. Indeed, it may well be necessary if you regularly apply coat dressings/instant shine products, as these can build up on the coat to attract dust and grime.
Many owners are reluctant to bath their old dog for fear he may "catch cold", which is a shame because these old timers can really benefit from the feeling of freshness and well-being, not to mention the extra attention bath time brings. Unless you have veterinary advice to the contrary, your old dog can be bathed as often as necessary and, dried quickly and thoroughly afterwards, will really feel and smell better for it.
Dry shampoo is not really a viable option for regular use but is OK as a one-off or in an emergency situation.
Left to his own devices, the freshly-bathed dog will rub himself against and into anything that he feels will help get him dry, be it upholstered furniture or a flower bed in the garden. It makes sense therefore, to have him well under control in the immediate post-bath period. The worst of the wet can be dried off before he even gets out of the bath and a moisture absorbent cloth is ideal for this because it can be wrung out time and time again and is far more efficient and labour-saving than ordinary towels.
When you've dried as much surplus water as possible from his coat he can be allowed to leave the bath on a collar and lead. A chain or fabric collar is best at this time because leather will sometimes shed dye when damp and mark the coat.
If the dog is to jump out of the bath onto a slippery floor, please remember to provide a non-slip surface for him to land on - a spare rubber mat or a wrung out moisture absorbent cloth will do. Once out of the bath lead him quickly to your chosen drying area. On warm summer days, a brisk walk with plenty of opportunities to shake (but not to roll!) will cut drying time considerably and if not already bone-dry on returning home, the dog can be dried further with a moisture absorbent cloth or towels before being groomed out. It is most important however, that he is kept warm until completely dry - don't let him lie around to get chilled whilst his coat is still damp.
A hair dryer is not only the fastest and most efficient method of drying, but used in conjunction with a wide-toothed comb, gives a far better overall finish to the coat. This drying method is essential for puppies (and good training for the future) and older dogs, who should not be allowed to remain damp for any length of time.
One of the main objections from many owners to using their bathroom for Bernese ablutions is the task of clearing the aftermath. If the dog has accept bathing as part of his routine before leaving the bath, then water splashes will be minimal.
The main problem is usually that of Ioose hair sticking to walls, paintwork, etc. and which is virtually impossible to remove whilst wet. The best way to deal with this is to grit your teeth, close the bathroom door 'forget" about it for an hour or so while you finish drying your dog and have a well-earned cup of tea or whatever.
Once the hair has dried, the soft brush attachment on your vacuum cleaner will quickly and easily remove all traces of it from walls and painted surfaces.
Dogs are best accustomed to the dryer in puppyhood but it is possible to teach an older dog to accept it.
Only ever use the cool or warm settings and be sure to monitor the temperature in use by keeping your hand constantly between the air flow and the dog. Keep the dryer moving as you comb through the area being dried - your dog could be burned if you focus the heat on one spot for more than a few seconds. And please don't let the air stream blow into your dog's face as very few appreciate this.
Once used to this method of drying, most dogs seem to relax and enjoy the sensation of warm air through their coat and will even snooze through it. If your dog lies down whilst being dried, placing him on a Vetbed will ensure he won't be lying on a damp surface.
When your dog's coat is completely dry, comb him through once more and if he's to be mixing with other dogs, it's quite a good idea to finish with a quick squirt of flea-spray.
Apart from the routine scissoring of hair around the footpads for the dog's comfort, trimming elsewhere is really an optional extra as far as Bernese are concerned - there are no hard and fast rules. Some show dogs are 'tidied up' around the feet and hocks, with conformation often being the deciding factor on whether ear streamers are left or removed. If left though, they must be well groomed and not allowed to form a rather solid pair of 'extra ears'.
Trimming should ideally be unobtrusive and, to look natural, it's necessary always to trim with the grain of the hair when using scissors. If cut across the grain, the hair will form 'steps' which are unattractive and take an age to grow out.
If you want to trim your dog it's a good idea to ask someone experienced in the breed to show you how to do it correctly and safely.
If you decide that you have neither the patience nor the determination required to correct grooming problems, or if you have tried your very best - and failed, then for your dog's sake it is worth engaging the services of a reputable and preferably, qualified, professional groomer. Even owners who have no grooming problems on a day-to-day basis will, occasionally have their Bernese professionally groomed and bathed, perhaps before a special show or when it is not practical to use the family bathroom.
Most large towns have a 'Poodle Parlour' or similar establishment, whilst in rural areas, a 'mobile groomer' who comes to the owner's house, is more usual. Choose a groomer with care. You will be entrusting your dog to her so don't just take 'pot luck', ask around to find out who has the best reputation in your area. Your veterinary surgeon or local boarding kennel should be able to help or, if you see a smart, clipped breed in the street, you could ask the owner who grooms it.
It is worth mentioning that, at present, ANYONE can buy grooming equipment and, without benefit of even the most basic instruction, set themselves up as a professional groomer. Whilst many groomers acquire their basic skills on one of the short, private training courses offered by established salons, the standard of tuition is mostly a matter of luck.
The introduction of a City & Guilds qualification for professional groomers offers an important step forward for the profession and, to a certain extent, a safeguard to the owner. However, recommendations from satisfied owners can still be the best way of choosing a groomer. No matter how well qualified, one who is impatient or rough with your dog, or who cuts corners in her work, will do more harm than good.
When you find someone, it is essential to mention that your dog resents grooming or has shown aggression, if that is the case. Although skilled at handling difficult dogs, fore-warned is fore-armed; a bitten hand or finger could cost a groomer several days work, resulting in postponed appointments and loss of earnings.
Remember also, to discuss your requirements, i.e. bathing, grooming, de-matting, etc. with the groomer before leaving your dog. A reputable groomer will know that a Bernese should not be 'clipped out' but, stranger things have happened! So, be specific, but also be realistic as to what can be achieved with a neglected coat in just one session.
Whilst all matts and tangles can and should be removed, it may take some time for the coat to recover. De-matting a heavy coat is hard and time-consuming work, so expect to pay accordingly the first time and be prepared to take your dog back at frequent intervals. The groomer will advise on a suitable length of time between appointments. Please don't wait until the coat is out of control again. Nothing is more disheartening to a groomer, who, having spent considerable time and effort de-matting, has the same dog presented in its original condition six months later.
If the groomer is coming to your home, whilst you may find it interesting to watch the proceedings, this is not always a good idea. Many dogs play up when their owner is present, but behave beautifully when alone with someone unknown to them. So, if the the groomer suggests working alone, it is not because she wants to beat your dog into submission, just that she will manage better without you.
Professional grooming can provide an acceptable alternative for owners faced with handling problems, lack of time, suitable bathing facilities, or whatever, but do choose your groomer with care and don't be afraid to find someone else if you are not satisfied.
The old saying about spoiling the ship for a ha'porth of tar' is never more true than when applied to the care of collars and leads. When properly maintained, leather is one of the few things that really improves with age. It softens, darkens and, with regular nourishment, achieves a burnished shine that can only enhance the appearance of an already well-groomed dog.
Sadly, collars and leads are all too often neglected, resulting in hard, brittle leather which is as unattractive as it is dangerous, being liable to snap under strain when in poor condition. In addition, a hard collar can cause the dog discomfort and even hair loss from constant friction in the neck area.
There are many products available for maintaining leather in good condition ranging from the traditional saddle soap bar, applied with spit and a sponge, through to the light oil dressings such as 'Hydrophane'. The choice of product is a matter of personal preference - they all do more or less the same job.
To clean collars and leads, first use a damp sponge to remove any surface dirt or mud and dry immediately with a chamois leather. Any excess water will soon rot the stitching so it is important not to make the leather wet. Once dry, apply your chosen dressing, working it well into the leather whilst paying special attention to the parts that are bent round buckles, clips, etc. If the leather is very dry, repeat the application after a couple of hours but don't be too generous with the dressing - little and often is best. If using saddle soap, some residue inevitably becomes trapped in buckle holes but these can easily be unclogged with a matchstick or nail.
Don't forget to polish the metal trimmings on collars and leads, together with your dog's identity disc - especially if made of brass. Well burnished brass always looks especially smart and it's easy to keep clean with one of the wadding metal polishes.
Whilst cleaning, be sure to check all stitching very carefully and at the first sign of wear, for safety's sake, get the item repaired. You don't necessarily need a saddler for this - some shoe repair shops will do the job for you at reasonable cost.
Good quality leather is an expensive item these days, so it makes sense to give collars and leads regular care to make them last, to keep them safe and comfortable for your dog to wear and to enhance, rather than detract from, your dog's overall appearance.
For the patient owner, regular grooming will yield an extra bonus in the form of combings which, when sufficient have been collected, can be spun and made into garments. Combings are best saved loosely packed into paper bags or a cardboard box so that they can 'breathe' and, although they will accumulate fairly slowly, the end result will be a completely original garment.
Unfortunately for the spinner, 'dirty' combings are easier to spin than clean ones although these can also be utilised and because Bernese combings are a reasonable length, they don't have to be blended with other fibres to be spun.
The dog papers sometimes carry advertisements from people willing to spin dog hair, but your local library or Citizens Advice Bureau will probably be able to provide contacts for craft or spinning clubs in your area.
1. Grooming should be an enjoyable experience for dog and owner with both of you relaxed and comfortable throughout. Check that your dog is in a comfortable position - he's unlikely to stay still if you have him, however unwittingly, in a half-nelson, or if his leg is pushed back against a joint.
Remember also that elderly or arthritic joints require respect. They neither move as fast nor as far as they used to, so ease them slowly and gently into the required position. It may often be easier to move around the dog rather than to move him.
2. Be aware of the tangle danger zones in your dog's coat -where the hair is very fine or thick, a bit awkward to get to, or in a sensitive place, and pay special attention to these areas.
3. Never lose your temper with your dog whilst grooming. If you should be rough with him it's likely that whatever you have in your hand, be it brush, comb, or scissors, could hurt him very badly. If you feel your temper rising, give him a pat and walk away; far better to lose a grooming session than lose your dog's trust.
I do hope this article has shown that grooming your Bernese can, and should be more than a chore. That grooming is not just about dragging a brush or comb through your dog's coat when you happen to think of it, nor is it just about your dog's appearance.
A regular and thorough grooming routine will:-
1. Help protect your dog's health
2. Enhance his comfort and well-being
3. Reflect your real attitude towards him
Maggie Davis © 2011