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IT'S BATH TIME, DOGGONE IT

DETROIT - When Fido or Fifi needs freshening up, there's good grooming to be done in your bathroom, back yard or at a do-it-yourself dog wash.

"We keep dogs in our houses. We let them sleep in our beds, so it makes sense to wash them," says Sharon Robinet, a former groomer who owns Dunk N Dogs in Livonia, Mich., a do-it-yourself dog bathing business.

Dr. David Balaj, a veterinarian at Harper Woods Veterinary Clinic, recommends bathing dogs no more than once a month.

What's key, Balaj says, is diluting dog shampoo with water before applying it to the animal's coat and making sure to rinse thoroughly. "Dry skin can cause some other issues. And if you overbathe them, the body overcompensates and produces too much oil, and then you get a doggy smell," Balaj says.

Grooming your dog gives you a chance to develop hands-on knowledge of its body.

"If you do the basics with brushing and looking in their ears and mouth, you'll be able to spot signs of disease quicker," says Dr. Cheryl Good, a veterinarian who runs Dearborn Family Pet Care in Michigan. "And animals really respond to touch. I think it makes for a more relaxed pet."

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Dog bathing tips

Bathing: Where you bathe your dog depends on its size and coat. Small dogs can be bathed in a kitchen sink. Big dogs can go in bathtubs, but they're prone to shake off water, and that will get you, your furniture or your walls wet.

Michigan State University veterinary school technician Elaine Striler spotted a bathtub out on the curb on garbage day, and rescued it to recycle as a basement washing and grooming station for her three Labrador retrievers. Veterinarian Balaj says use warm water.

Drying dogs: The best thing is to towel dry your dog. And make sure you have lots of towels, so you're not rubbing a wet dog with a wet towel.

Some dogs, like Labradors or Portuguese water dogs, have oily coats that have adapted to water and dry easily by towel. But some dogs may benefit from having their coat blown dry. Otherwise, water and product residue can accumulate under dense hair and irritate the skin.

You can use a blow-dryer from a distance of a few feet, and on a low to medium setting, says Balaj. But make sure you stay with the dog. He has seen cases in which blow-dryers were placed close to the skin or left unattended and as a result, the dog was burned.

Brushing: "Every day wouldn't hurt, or every other day," Jeff Reynolds, president of the 3,000-member National Dog Groomers Association, says about brushing. All breeds benefit, Reynolds says, but especially long-haired breeds.

"It keeps the coat from getting tangled up and matted. It helps the skin and the coat texture. It gets the dog used to being brushed and combed out," he says.

Veterinarian Balaj says most people don't brush their dogs enough.

Hair trimming: Some breeds, such as poodles and bichon frises, have lots of hair in their ears. Trimming it might head off ear infections. Do not stick cotton swabs in their ears, because you can rupture a dog's eardrum very easily.

Talk to your vet about whether your dog's coat needs to be shaved or trimmed.

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