Grooming Your Toller
Brush the entire dog: head, back, legs, tail, chest and paws. And don't miss behind the ears, in the armpits, between the back legs...these are all out of the way spots where matts love to form! Make sure you are brushing down to the skin, but be sure to not brush the dog too firmly or you will "brush burn" the skin. Brush only a small section of the dog at a time, lifting the unbrushed hair out of the way. It is usually easiest to brush starting at the bottom of the dog and working up to the top....also to start at the rear and work your way to the front. Brush with the direction the hair grows. After the dog is all brushed, it is time to comb. The best comb is a stainless steel combination comb, with wide-spaced teeth at one end and narrow-spaced teeth at the other. Start with the wide end and comb through the coat just as you brushed it. Once it is gliding through the coat, comb it again with the narrow toothed end. This way you will catch any tangles that may lead to matts if not removed!
You want to handle paws often, as you will need to trim their nails approximately every 2-4 weeks. For nail trimming, you will want to buy a trimmer for large dogs. The large plier type with orange handles is the best, and I recommend it. I do not recommend Resco style trimmers, as they tend to split the nails. You will also need some "Kwik Stop" just in case you cut too close. Never trim nails unless you have some Kwik Stop by your side (Cornstarch can also be used, but the Kwik Stop works much better!). Nails bleed a lot. If you do trim too close, do not make a big deal out of it. Calmly apply the Kwik Stop and go onto the next nail. I am sure it hurts some when we do this, but sometimes it just happens, and they recover very quickly. As in, as soon as you are finished and let them down off the table! I see dogs regularly that strongly object to having their nails trimmed and I have to either muzzle them, or refer them to a vet. This is pure silliness! Work on this care of your Toller's feet is very important. Nails that are not trimmed can be injured, requiring a trip to the vet that could be costly, not to mention painful for the dog. If you don't feel comfortable trimming the nails yourself, then pop into the local groomers or vets for a nail trim on a regular basis.
When bathing, use a good quality mild shampoo. Puppies get dirty fast and bathing them when they are young is easy and part of the learning experience. Puppies can be bathed in the kitchen sink for the first month. Puppy coats dry fast. However, you want to make sure your puppy is dried well and does not catch a chill. This is a great time for some crate time with a towel to play with, followed by a trip outside when he is dry and a playful brushing. Before bathing, stuff a cotton ball (or part of one, you want a nice tight fit!) in each ear to help keep out water, then wet down the entire coat. Never put shampoo directly on the coat. Use a squeeze bottle and a couple ounces of shampoo diluted in water to apply to your already wet puppy.
Make sure you scrub every square inch of the dog...this includes the head (careful to avoid soap in the eyes!) face and ears, between the toes, in the armpits, under the tail. It is very important you get all the shampoo rinsed out, or you will have a puppy with flaky skin. Rinse until you are sure you removed all the shampoo, and then rinse thoroughly one more time! We call bathing a dog, giving the dog a "bath". Actually, it's giving the dog a shower. Tollers have double coats and it's almost impossible to get all the shampoo out of the coat unless you use the shower method. I never fill a bath tub with water and "bathe" a dog in standing water. You really need some type of hand-held shower sprayer to rinse the dog effectively....a bucket just won't do a thorough job.
How often to bath? As often as your dog needs it! Even weekly baths are okay as long as you use a top-quailty mild shampoo with conditioners. For the average Toller, a bath every 1-3 months will suffice. You can always do just a plain water rinse-down in between baths to freshen up. And most of the dirt and mud will fall off the dog anyways after it dries.
Ears. Your Toller's ears must be kept clean and dry. Tollers can be prone to ear infections, mostly due to moist conditions related to the drop ear flaps. If your puppy's ears smell foul, consult your vet. I clean ears every other week, but check them weekly. I only use real cotton balls, not cosmetic puffs. The puffs have fibers that irritate the ear. You can use ear cleaners that you purchase at a pet store for mega bucks, or you can make your own equally as good ear cleaner for next to nothing: Mix 50% apple cider vinegar and 50% rubbing alcohol. The alcohol dries the ear canal and the vinegar changes the pH balance in the ear preventing yeast growth. 99.9% of ear infections in Tollers are yeast infections because the ears are a warm and moist place for yeast to grow. Please understand this is a preventative only, not a cure for yeast infections. If you have problems with the ears, do not assume anything. Take your dog to the vet. Careful using Q-Tips to clean ears, even though it's extremely hard to damage the ear drum due to the construction of the canal. Q-tips can push wax or objects down into the ear, hence requiring a vet visit. I flood the ear with cleaner and massage the ear canal, then clean out with a cotton ball. This helps expel rather than force things down further. Carefully cleaning afterwards between the ear folds with a Q tip may be okay, but don't stick it where you can't see!
Adult coat care during the "shedding season" requires brushing out dead undercoat. For this, a handy tool to have is an undercoat rake. You can purchase them at a good pet supply store. They really cut your grooming time and when used properly are often easier on the skin than a slicker brush. When using an undercoat rake, be gentle. Pull away from the skin, do not rake the skin. A Zoom groom is another tool good at removing loose coat.....this one is a rubber brush with conical bristles.... it gives a nice massage and many dogs love it. The Zoom Groom also works great in the bathtub for rubbing in the shampoo and working up a nice lather.
Trimming the hair. The only coat the needs any trimming on a Toller is on the feet and the ears. The tools you need to do this trimming are thinning shears, fine toothed comb, and a slicker brush. Lets start with the feet. Take your slicker brush and brush the hair on the feet backwards so the long stuff sticks up. Then lift up the foot, take your thinning shears and trim the hair. You want the tip of the thinners to point towards the dogs nails, not the leg. (Cutting with the direction of hair growth, not against it) Also try to keep the thinners at the same angle as the foot. Only do one or two snips before combing through the hair and brushing it backwards again, then re-trim as necessary. Snip, snip, comb, brush, snip, snip, comb, brush..... You can use your fingers to pull any excess hair between the toes up so you can trim that too. If you are real careful, you can use a small pair of regular scissors to trim around the toes just above the ground to give a nice rounded foot, and then trim the hair on the bottom of the feet so it is level with the pads. Don't try to scissor between the pads or toes, you will likely cut the webbing! If there are matts there, you are better to use a small electric clipper (such as a mustache trimmer) to get them out. If that doesn't work, then off to the local groomer you go!
Now on to those fuzzy ears. Many Tollers grow tons of fluff on and behind the ears. Not only does this look untidy, but the soft hair matts incredibly easily! Start out by thoroughly combing out the ear area with a fine toothed comb. Next you want to use the comb and/or brush to try to make the hair stand up on end. Now you need the thinning shears.....on the ears you want to do the opposite of what you did on the feet, so now you will cut against the growth (starting at the bottom of the ear, with the tips pointing towards the top of the dogs head. Make a few snips about halfway between the tips and roots, then brush the ear to see how it looks. Never make cut after cut after cut without brushing or combing....you will make ugly holes in the hair! You don't want to remove all the hair on and behind the ears...just enough that it looks neat and tidy and isn't sticking up all over.
A final word on grooming....the anal glands! These are a small pair of glands located one on either side of the rectum, and their job is to help lubricate the bowel movements by emitting a small amount of very offensive-smelling liquid. Dogs may also empty their glands if very frightened. The problem is, the glands do not work effectively in some dogs and can clog up and get overly filled, to the point of absesses and bursting in severe cases! It can be diet related (too much or not enough fiber), or just the way the dog's glands are built (too small openings, etc). The most common sign of clogged, overly-filled glands is the dog dragging its bum on the floor. Contrary to the often heard myth, this does not mean the dog has worms, it means his anal glands are bothering him and he needs to have them emptied. I generally recommend taking your dog to a groomer or vet to have this done, as although it is not difficult to learn to do, it is not espercially fun for you, can be uncomfortable for the dog, and is often just plain messy and stinky. If your dog is one of the dogs with continuing gland problems that need attention regularly, you may consider having the vet or groomer teach you to empty them yourself.