When on their own, dogs can groom themselves efficiently—even though their standards may not be close to what we would consider “good.” Unless you own a particular breed of dog that requires the attention of a groomer for all needs, your dog is likely taking matters into her own paws to make sure her coat is in good shape. Here are six ways dogs try to naturally maintain their own hygiene and take care of themselves.
1. Drying Off
Chances are that if you have ever given a dog a bath, you've experienced that terrifying moment when she shakes off the excess water (or shampoo). A dog’s natural instinct is to shake off the excess water so that the coat will dry more quickly. By shaking, the average dog is actually able to remove about 70 percent of water from her fur in a matter of seconds. In nature, cold and wet animals can face hypothermia if they are unable to dry themselves, so that signature shake-dry technique can be a real lifesaver in certain circumstances.
2. Brushing and Combing
Oil glands located within the body can help dogs maintain a healthy, shiny coat. Dogs will nibble and scratch their coats with their teeth or nails to stimulate these glands. A dog gently nibbling on her coat is not anything unusual—this is just the process of the dog using her teeth as a comb to remove any debris or dirt from the coat. However, excessive scratching could indicate the presence of a problem.
3. The Whole Body Shake
It is likely that you've seen a dog do the well-known whole body shake. Dogs often do this after they have just rolled around on the floor, if they have just stood up after a nap, and even after you've been petting them for a good, long while. This is because dogs have several nerve receptors on their hair follicles. Because of this, they can feel varying degrees of pressure and detect foreign matter, such as dust or debris. A full-body shake is often a dog’s go-to approach for eliminating foreign material from the coat.
4. Paws as a Washcloth
Dogs will sometimes lick their paws before rubbing their them on their faces, on their snouts, and around their eyes. This technique allows them to clean a number of hard-to-reach areas. They may also use their back paws to scratch inside of their ears and clear out any loose debris hanging around in there that needs to go.
5. Cleaning the Rear
Since dogs do not have the same dexterity as humans, they rely on their tongues to groom themselves—even in hard to reach places like the rear. Their flexible backbones allow most dogs to reach their private areas for grooming. However, it is worth noting that excessive licking could indicate the presence of health problems, like discharge or irritation.
6. Massaging Their Back
You may have seen dogs rubbing themselves up against people's legs, on furniture, or against walls to scratch their backs. They will also do this by rolling on their backs on carpet or even outside on grass. This massaging can help to eliminate the dead hair that builds up with shedding.
Canine Grooming Skills Are Impressive, But Human Assistance Is Still Necessary
Of course, it’s important for dog owners to remember that even though dogs are capable of grooming themselves, it doesn't mean they are capable of doing everything necessary to keep themselves clean. Instead, owners should take their dogs’ grooming cues as a sign that they may need some help, and a responsible owner will keep a steady grooming schedule and take care of any unforeseen grooming issues (surprise encounters with skunks, impromptu romps through the mud, etc.) as they arise.