Brushing & Combing

The following article is for general information only and not intended to serve as professional training nor replace professional training. We strongly advise professional training for every new groomer before they offer grooming services to pet owners. Based on our experience your charging fees for grooming services is legally interpreted that you are the expert in grooming, and not the pet owners you serve. Thereby you accept the risk of being responsible for the services you provide. You are responsible to interview every pet owner you serve to ensure that your services are not only aesthetic, but safe and appropriate for their pet. You are also responsible to disclose to each pet owner any and all risks your procedures may involve to their pet. Professional grooming requires professional training. Click for training opportunities. We wrote the Pet Care Services Brochure and Pet Groomer's Report & Health Alert in the book From Problems to Profits to exemplify one example of  the disclosure process for a professional groomer. Remember, every pet owner you serve is putting their faith and trust in you. Get the professional training required of a professional groomer.

Brushing a DogThe Basics

Brushing and combing dogs as part of a professional grooming is often the first step following a pre-grooming inspection. It's the essential task for every of grooming. Even short and smooth coated dog breeds benefit from a brief period of brushing with special rubber brushes. There are many types of brushes and combs, and part of being a professional groomer is to know when and how to use them.

Groomers would have far less work if more pet owners regularly brushed and combed their pets between professional grooming appointments. The wise groomer will offer maintenance brushing and combing training to interested clients, and even the public in general as a way to attract new customers. Ironically there are owners that regularly brush and comb their dogs, but when the dog comes in for its next appointment you still find matts, plenty of undercoat and a chore to clean up.

Why is that? Unless owners have had proper instruction to brush and comb long coated dogs, they typically brush and comb the outer coat and leave hair shed to gather and matt in the undercoat. Welcome to the wacky world of brushing and combing dogs.

Regular brushing and combing contributes to the health of skin and coat, but it is the responsibility of the pet owner. To groomers brushing and combing is necessary to clean and style pets on grooming day. Proper brushing and combing does contribute to pet health in the end though as coated pets with matts and tangling are uncomfortable, and may have organic matter like weeds poking at their skin under the coat. In general, matted coats are uncomfortable and prevent healthy air circulation from reaching the skin.

Brushing and Combing Frequency During Grooming

Medium and long coated pet's may have repeat brushing periods as part of: 

- Pre-Bath procedures.
- Fluff-drying procedures.
- Start of finish styling procedures as needed.

Every breed and mixed breed has coat characteristics known to professional groomers. You can use the breed information links in the column to the left to learn more about coat characteristics for over 130 breeds. 

Brushing and combing before the bath has three purposes. First, it loosens dirt and dander, and foreign matter. Second; it removes hair shed. Third, it stimulates the skin and allows natural hair oils to circulate. Fortunately, brushing and combing brings the professional groomer's focus to the whole of the dog's body and many observations of pet conditions are made. These include potentially serious conditions that require veterinary attention. For example, scabs, cuts, sores and various skin conditions hidden by medium or longer coats can be discovered by keeping a keen eye on the dog during brushing and combing procedures.

Groomers styling pets require that all undercoat is removed, the pet is clean and the coat properly dried and final combed before the art of styling begins. If it isn't, the styling cannot be successful; that's how important brushing, combing and bathing procedures are to the finished product. A skilled pet bather (bather-brusher) is a joy to full-charge stylists.

Brushing and combing tasks increase with matted coats. If the problem is severe, brushing and combing ceases and groomers may have to advise the pet owner that the task of de-matting would require excessive brushing and combing not advisable for the comfort of their pet. Severely matted coats are then "removed" (clipped short) with clippers equipped with the proper blade.

Initial brushing and combing (and de-matting as necessary) is usually done before the bath. Dogs freed of undercoat before their bath are more quickly bathed. Also, the advantages of a bath are greater without undercoat because shampoo, conditioner and rinse water is reaches through the coat down to skin far more easily.

Bath water can start the matting process immediately when heavy undercoat is still present, especially on the Bichon Frise. Only highly-skilled bathers should opt to bathe a pet without the undercoat already removed.

Brushing and combing session
after bathing. Most don't seem to mind when done by a caring trained groomer!

Photo: A Day in a Pet Grooming School Photo Exhibit

A Closer Look

There are practical reasons for brushing, combing and de-matting (as needed) pets before their bath from an operations point-of-view. Bathing releases some undercoat and debris that can block drains. Tubs should be equipped with drain traps, but you can over-work them unnecessarily by not removing more undercoat before bathing.

If you wait to remove undercoat after the bath, while the pet is being fluff-dried, the blow dryer will help eject a lot of bothersome undercoat. However, be ready for hair flying around the bathing area which may be annoying and increase cleaning chores. Finally, you actually slow down the fluff-drying time by not removing undercoat before the bath. The delay may mean that other areas of the pet's coat not yet fluff-dried will curl and dry before being brushed dried. This type of curly hair not appropriate for finish styling. Curly dry areas must be moistened with water from a spray bottle, and then fluff-dried by hand until the hair is again dry but straightened.

The most common grooming brushes are the "wire slicker brush" and the "pin brush." They are usually used on medium to heavy coated pets. Rubber brushes work well on short-coated dogs. Your professional training should include choosing the right brush for the right coat and skin type.

Exerting too much downward pressure on a brush and thereby pushing it against the dog's skin can result in "brush burns." Wire slicker brushes applied this way scratch the skin, and even break small blood vessels and further redden the skin. They are noticeable, especially on light color skin dogs, and you can expect pet owners to ask what happened.

Actually there is no reason for wire slicker brushes to make harsh contact with skin. The key to brushing with them is to angle the brush near the skin, not against it, grasp the coat just about the skin, and then brush outward usually with the grain of coat growth. On all dogs the skin around the stomach, anus, and male sheath is very sensitive to any kind of brushing. Brushing techniques vary with coat types; you need experience brushing and combing all major coat types as part of your school training or apprenticeship.

Combing done before the bath removes tangles and undercoat broken up from brushing. Start with wide spaced tooth combs in matted and tangled areas, and follow-up with finer tooth combs thereafter. After bathing, combing in the direction of the hair growth sets the coat back in its normal lay and uncovers any tangles or matts you may have missed. At the end of a professional bathing procedure, a comb should easily glide through the coat. Combing before finish styling lays the coat in order for cutting and scissor styling.

Most short smooth coated dogs don't require pin or wire slicker brushes or combs. Instead, rubber brushes for hound breeds are excellent on these types of coats. They loosen hair shed and dirt, and stimulate coat oils and skin circulation. Groomers with advanced training may use shedding blades to remove excess hair shed on some short smooth coated breeds.

For more information on grooming tools and supplies click here. See also grooming suppliers.