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Overview of Basic Dog Care

Dogs require a lot more care than some people realize. This is an overview of basic dog care, especially for those who have never owned a dog before. I will have other posts about some of these topics and other dog-related topics, as I have time to complete them. I have linked the posts that I’ve written so far within the topics that they fit in.

Basic Coat Care

Depending on the type of coat your dog has, you may need a slicker brush, comb, rake, curry comb, pin brush, or soft bristle brush to take care of your dog’s coat. Slickers, pin brushes, rakes, and combs are for medium to long coats, while rubber curry combs and soft bristle brushes are for shorter coats. Dogs with continuously growing hair will need haircuts and ideally are groomed every 6-8 weeks. However, hair brushing should occur daily for longer-haired dogs and at least a few times a week for shorter-haired dogs.

All dogs, even smooth-coat breeds, need to be brushed to spread the oils throughout the coat and over the skin to keep it healthy. All dogs shed, even those said to not shed, they just do it in different ways. Certain breeds like the Poodle or Bichon, generally, shed back into their own coat, meaning that brushing and regular haircuts are even more important to prevent matting. For other dogs, regular brushing can help cut down on the amount of hair that is shed all over the house.

For the longer-haired breeds, using a slicker and going back through with a comb is ideal for being sure there are no tangles that can turn into bad mats. Pin brushes can also be used on these dogs, I just find them less effective. Double-coated breeds need extra care in spring and fall to keep up on the undercoat “blowing” out to get ready for new growth. Rakes and slicker brushes are ideal for this. Curry combs can be used in the tub while bathing your shorter-haired dog to help release all the loose hair, but the curry comb is also great on a dry coat. Soft bristle brushes really only work on smooth coats or to run over the coat for loose hairs from haircuts and other brushing. I have more information and product recommendations on my Dog Grooming Products post.

Ear Cleaning

Not all dogs end up with ear problems, even if they are rarely cleaned. Dogs with upright ears like German Shepherds, tend to have fewer ear infections. This is likely because there is plenty of air flow. It is always a good idea to still check your dog’s ears to be sure there is no build-up of wax or dirt. Floppy-eared dogs are more prone to ear infections and should have regular ear cleanings.

The best way to clean your dog’s ears is to get cotton balls and a dog ear cleaning solution. Get the cotton ball wet with the solution and wipe what you can see. Don’t go down into the ear canal where you can’t see, or you may injure the ear. Sometimes you might notice your dog’s ears don’t look normal. Swollen, red, and itchy ears can indicate an infection, but also that the dog may have an allergy. If you see anything out of the ordinary, set up an appointment with your vet. They can treat ear infections as well as help you figure out if your dog might have an allergy instead. Dogs can be allergic to their foods or even have seasonal allergies like people. I have more information and product recommendations on my Dog Grooming Products post.

Nail Trimming

Some owners are afraid to trim their dog’s nails. This is understandable when you know that if they are cut too short it can hurt the dog and make the nail bleed. If you are uncomfortable with this, you can set up a time to have a groomer or vet do the nail trim. Some will even show you how to do the trim if you want to learn to do it yourself.

Nail clippers or Dremels can be used for maintaining nails. If clipping, you can generally see the pink quick in light-colored nails. You will want to trim just a little bit in front of that. If the nail is dark, the best bet is to look at where the nail starts to curve down and cut just a bit in front of that. You may want to start out just clipping little bits at a time. As you near the quick, you will see a darker spot in the center of the nail if you look at it directly, stop there. Grinding requires you to put light pressure on the nail while holding the paw. This can help get the nail shorter than clipping and smooth it out so they aren’t as sharp. Just watch for long hair and keep your fingers and anything else out of the way. If you need supplies for nail care, I have some products listed on my Dog Grooming Products post.

Anal Gland Expression

Anal glands are something that many owners don’t seem to know about or feel awkward discussing. Dogs have two small glands on either side of their anus that produce a fluid that is used to mark territory. Dogs often express these when they poop. Some even will “shoot” this fluid when very stressed or scared. Sometimes, if they have soft poop all the time, these don’t get expressed and some dogs just seem to have more of a problem regardless. Many dogs have no issues with their anal glands, but when they start scooting their back ends across the floor, or excessively licking or chewing the area, it could be a sign that the glands are not working properly. Some groomers will express these, but they can also be taken to the vet. If the glands are unable to be expressed naturally, they can become infected, impacted, and just plain uncomfortable. It is not recommended for an owner to try and express these themselves, as it is possible to rupture them.

Dental Care

Another serious health problem that people face with their dogs, is too much tarter build up on the dog’s teeth. Some dogs refuse to have their teeth brushed, or it gets forgotten with our busy lives. Ideally, a dog would have their teeth brushed at least a couple of times a week. Some dogs that are allowed to chew bones can help keep that tarter from building up as much. Just be sure the bones are not splintering. Poultry and fish bones should never be given, as they splinter terribly and can cause injury to your dog. Large animal bones like beef, pork, and even deer bones or antlers are ideal.

You can use a small toothbrush or one made for dogs, and dog toothpaste to brush your dog’s teeth. Some accept it readily and some will take some time to get used to it. After brushing, you can put a dental gel on your dog’s teeth to help keep them cleaner longer. There are also water additives that may work as a wash for the teeth. Along with these, dogs should ideally have a dental at the vet, once a year. Possibly less often if you keep up on their dental care. The vet will help you decide when one is needed and, during the dental, can look for any bad teeth or abscesses. I have a few recommendations on dental care products on my Dog Grooming Products post.

Feeding Your Dog

Most people don’t think much about what is in their dog’s food. They figure about anything should be fine. The truth is, many of the lower-end commercial dog foods, contain a lot of fillers like corn and by-products. These are the cheapest foods, but they can also mess with your dog’s digestive system, cause gas, cause your dog to need to eat more to get enough nutrition, and even contribute to your pet becoming overweight. They are also more likely to contain allergens that will bother your pet.

The best foods have whole meat as the main ingredient, no corn, no by-products, no BHA, BHT, or other unnatural preservatives (they will use mixed tocopherols which are from Vitamin E), and no dyes. Always double-check ingredients. Understand that even if the food is more expensive per pound, your dog likely will be eating less and be healthier. This means a longer life and fewer vet bills. If you could help your dog live longer and be healthier, wouldn’t you want to? I have a separate post, Choosing a Pet Food, giving more detailed information and some recommended brands. I also have recommendations on treats in my Dog Care Products post.

Preventative Health Care

Dogs should ideally have yearly checkups, be kept on flea, tick, and heartworm preventatives, and be kept updated on vaccinations. Your vet can guide you in what is best for your dog. Preventing fleas and ticks can prevent many illnesses and some parasites. Preventing heartworms can save your dog’s life. Heartworms have to be treated with poison that can even possibly kill your dog. If they are bad enough, heartworms may not be able to be treated and your dog will, sadly, need to be euthanized to avoid suffering a painful death. Yearly exams can catch health problems early. Staying up to date on shots can prevent many illnesses, some of which are also deadly to your dog. Do not take your dog’s health care lightly. You can even order your preventatives online from They will confirm with your vet that the products are what your dog needs, so it’s super easy!

Most people also know that spaying and neutering their dogs is ideal to prevent some reproductive cancers, as well as pyometra in females. Pyometra is a terrible infection in the uterus and is fairly common. If a dog is not spayed when she has this condition, she WILL die. Spaying and neutering also prevent unplanned puppies. This is good because there is a massive overpopulation of dogs in the world. Sadly, many are euthanized every year because there aren’t enough homes for them. Fixing your dog also can help keep your dog from wanting to roam as much, or trying to find a mate, and will very likely prevent unwanted behaviors like marking and humping. Dogs have been known to tear through, dig under, and leap over fences to go after a female in heat. Needless to say, a female in heat can also create a mess and would not only have to wear diapers like these but be kept from any intact male dogs. Fixed dogs tend to be better behaved overall.

Exercising Your Dog

Some dog breeds can run for hours and not really tire out, while others are content laying around most of the day. What amount of exercise a dog will need, depends on the age and breed of the dog (or a mix of breeds). Even some dogs of the same breed may have different exercise requirements dependent on their individual personalities. The gentle giant breeds, tend to be more calm and happy with sitting on the couch, watching TV with you. Terriers, herding, and sporting breeds tend to be the most energetic.

Several breeds will find playing fetch or catch to be a decent substitute for long walks or runs, but be prepared to play for quite some time. You can also help them burn more energy by providing jumps and other agility equipment for them if they are a high-energy dog. Another thing to consider is the intelligence of some breeds. You will need to stimulate their brains by working on training and tricks. A combination of physical and mental exercise is ideal for most dogs, but especially herding and working breeds.

Research the breed (s) you are getting. If you are adopting a rescued/shelter dog, ask what their energy level is. If possible, get to know dogs of different breeds and the dog you will be getting so you know what to expect and can decide if they will fit into your home. You can check out my post Choosing a Breed of Dog to learn some specifics of different breeds.

Training Your Dog

Some dogs go through life without any training or very minimal training, but almost any dog can benefit from even learning simple commands. Obviously, all dogs should be housebroken or trained to use litter boxes or potty pads. Ideally, a dog would learn to only go outside, but in some cases that may not work for a specific home.

Dogs should have a basic set of rules in your household and be trained enough to not cause problems for you or any guests you may have over. Simple rules like not being allowed to beg for food, having to sit and take treats gently, not being allowed to jump on anyone, and having their own beds to rest in should you not want them on your lap. Sometimes a trainer may be needed to help you with certain behaviors or issues. It is much better to hire a trainer than to get so frustrated with your dog that you feel the need to re-home him. Training does require patience and time. I have some links for dog training that can be done from your home on my Dog Training for Pet Owners post. Or you can just pop over to the Dunbar Academy site that I linked on that post.


In conclusion, dogs do require a lot of care and sometimes can cost a lot for vet care. If you need to hire a trainer or do classes there can be a bit more. Just remember that you could have them for 15 to 20 years. They are a long-term commitment, but they are so worth the effort! Dogs are some of the most loyal pets, who give unconditional love for their whole lives. Having a healthy, happy, and well-trained companion for possibly up to two decades is a wonderful thing. If you need to know about products I recommend for your dog and I have used myself, I have a post called Dog Care Products. Don’t forget to scratch your dog behind the ears and give plenty of belly rubs. Who else in your life would do anything to get that?