Haircoat, Ears, Teeth & Nails


Continued from PART 1


During or following the semi-annual major hair loss, you can bathe the dog, if he still needs washing, with a good pH-balanced shampoo especially formulated for dogs. Baby shampoo will do as well, and as long as you don’t wash him too frequently, plain old hand soap is good enough. Bathing will help loosen and remove much of the rest of the dead hair. This is especially helpful if you don’t take time for daily prolonged combing during these shedding periods. Have the dog lie on the concrete run or wooden porch, soak him with water from the hose, then work in shampoo or bar soap until you get a good lather, rolling him over to get the belly and other side, then the head and neck. Hold the head almost all the while, or the dog will struggle to get up and shake. After he is soaped from ears to tail tip, let him up to run around for about five minutes while the dirt is emulsified and any ectoparasites are drowned (fleas and ticks will survive under plain water, but cannot breathe in soapy water, and die, to be removed during rinsing). By the way, I believe the flea shampoos might be only a wee bit more effective than just letting the dog’s coat stay soapy for quite a few minutes.

Then rinse every last residue of soap with clear water from the hose, or you will encourage itching and allow dried soap flakes to show later. Soap remaining in the coat will often look like dandruff when it dries, and may even promote moisture retention and hot spots, as will clumps of dead hair that remain wet. The dog can “drip-dry” if the weather permits and the yard is grassy, otherwise he’ll want to roll on the ground and may get muddy. If that is possible, towel him off thoroughly before allowing him to run and roll. Use the damp towel over your finger to “ream” out his ears. If you live in the north and must wash him in the winter, you might consider doing this whole operation in your shower (minus the running around wet in the house). A proper rinse will also remove any insecticide that was in the “medicated” soap. 


Unless your dog has mites or gets seeds or dirt into his outer ear, the natural production and outward flow of wax will keep the ear lined with a light protective layer, and all you need do is put some tissue paper on your little finger and ream out his ears during your weekly “combing and quality time” sessions. If you notice more than the normal amount of wax, get out the ear cleaning kit. This includes rubbing alcohol, cotton, paper towel, and Q-tips™ or generic equivalent. If you find an infection and/or infestation, you’ll also want to have on hand the combination antibiotic/fungicide and perhaps the miticide. Using the cotton swab-on-a-stick, twirl it in one direction only, on the way into the ear canal as well as on the way out. If you pull off the dirty cotton and twist fresh onto the stick, do so with that same directional motion, or it may come off in the ear. With the dog lying on his side, use the heel of your hand to keep his head down while pulling up on the pinna with the thumb and first two fingers. In this manner, you can partly straighten out the sharp bend of the canal so you can get the swab all the way in. (The bend is actually a little more acute than in my drawing.) Despite warnings in the popular dog press and elsewhere about touching the eardrum, I have done this for well over thirty years with no problem. With a gentle touch, you can feel the swab bottom-out, and with a firm hand and soft voice you can keep the dog still while you clean the entire outer ear canal.

Some dogs often lack natural and sufficient hormonal activity to prevent flea-bite allergy and other signs that the thyroid and other glands are not working optimally. It may be fighting merely a holding-action battle instead of winning the war, but there are things you can do to alleviate most of the discomfort. The skin, especially in certain areas such as belly, underarms, and pelvis/croup regions, may be affected. But it is the ear that usually is the most obvious place of irritation and symptoms. If the ear canal has an abnormal amount of wax, and if the accumulation is dark and smells unpleasant, it needs cleaning, but you should also attack the cause, not only the symptoms. I mean the immediate cause, as the underlying original cause may be that the immune system has been damaged from too-frequent and unnecessary 5-in-1-type vaccines and inoculations. There’s always a chance that the dog may have ear mites, but this is infrequent enough that until you get some miticide or schedule a possible vet visit if you can’t handle it yourself, you’d be wise to treat the symptoms.

Some people claim some success with hydrogen peroxide, but I have found over the years that cleaning with a 50/50 dilution of cheap white vinegar does as good a job as anything, and at minimal cost. It would mean doing it daily or a few times a week, but that should be preferable to making payments on your vet’s Lexus SUV. Wet a thin cloth or a strong paper towel with the solution, and with your little finger ream out the ear as much as you can. Then, while it is still wet, use the Q-Tip I mentioned, and clean out all the channels, then all the way to the ear drum. If you waited too long, and the ear is sore, you will have to persuade the dog that the pain is for his own good, and it will be better in a day or two as the open sores heal. Vinegar has a low (acidic) pH, and that’s what you need because the opportunistic fungus (which is always in the air) does not do well in acidic environments. Do it every day until you can try every other day with success in controlling it. Meanwhile, try to mitigate some of the damage to the immune system by giving vitamin-E supplements.

If you do find that the dog actually has a rare case of mites, put some of the medicine on the tip of the tail as well, as experienced breeders have long said that the same mites are usually found there, too. In fact, that may be one of the only excuses for frequent bathing until the critters have been killed or banished.
Geriatric dogs that have been damaged by over-vaccination frequently have the same foul, rancid smell emanating from the entire external integument (the skin) that you had earlier noticed only in the ears. Again, it is probably too late to cure or to erase the damage, but you might be able to control the smell by frequent bathing, a weak vinegar solution rinse, immune-system dietary boosters, and you might have to let the dog sleep outdoors or in a ventilated room of his own.


It always disappoints and dismays me as a dog-show judge to examine dogs in the ring and find a few filthy (which very seldom happens) or many with neglected teeth (which happens regularly—even in the majority of cases in some breeds such as the GSD in the AKC ring). Without good, home dental care, they teeth may recede into swollen gums with gingivitis, or they may even fall out by the time the dog is nine or ten years old. It’s as if the owners think, “Well, the dog will only last that long or a little longer, so why bother?” While it is true that dogs wear down or break off their teeth by about the time they will soon no longer need them, there is no excuse for ignoring the dog’s need for regular cleaning to the point that we cause him to reach that stage years before the natural consummation of his life. To rely on dry dog food to scrape tartar off the teeth is no different than to rely on exercising your jaw muscles by eating only corn flakes with milk.

The dog should be given the proper occasional bone and rawhide or other chewy, and the best method is to give him a frozen (raw) chicken quarter once a week. Just as you might nibble little bits at a time of a popsicle, the dog will gnaw through meat and bone together, little by little and work it down to a tiny nubbin. No separation of bone from meat, as happens when cooking, and no splintering as you could get in a thawed piece. The gnawing chewing action that utilizes almost every tooth really cleans them as no other method or chewy or toy could. Just as good as is scaling the teeth with a dental pick, but less work for you and more enjoyment for him.

If you do not use that method, you should scale the teeth once a month and, depending on what food you give your dog and how fast he builds up a coating on them, you might want to also brush them a couple times a month as well, to keep them in good condition. The “brush” can be one of your used toothbrushes, or a rough cloth wrapped around your finger, with toothpaste applied. When the judge, vet, or friend looks at your dog’s teeth, the color brown should be as embarrassing to you as it would be on your child’s exposed underwear.

If you don’t have a dental pick, you can use a short-handled, short-bladed screwdriver on a dog that hasn’t had his teeth cleaned in a while. Sit on the floor with the dog lying on his back and snugly supported by, and locked in place between, your legs. Start with the easiest tooth, the big canine. With almost all the tool hidden in your hand and just the smallest part of the blade showing, push the gum back a little and firmly push the hard tartar toward the tip of the tooth. If the finger of your other hand is there, when the tartar breaks loose, you’ll be able to prevent the blade from gouging into the tongue or gum of the opposite jaw. After you get practiced and the dog learns not to wiggle, use the sharp-pointed dental pick. Always, with each tooth, start underneath the normal edge of the gum and chip the plaque away. With just a minimum of practice, you can save bill vet bills and use the vet only for things you cannot do.


Another, but less frequent or serious an example of neglect is in the care of the dog’s claws or, as we non-veterinarians usually call them, the nails. Every dog should become used to getting his nails trimmed every couple of months. Put it on your calendar. Make it a habit, along with heartworm preventative, teeth cleaning, combing, inspection of the coat and skin, etc., though many of these are monthly or weekly activities. I don’t want to use the word “chores” because these should be times of strengthening bonds, not just performing duties. A whetstone, a short-bladed, short-handled, and very sharp knife, plus a good nail clipper made for dogs are all you need. Find a shady spot outdoors with good indirect light, or a well-lighted area in the house where it will be easy to sweep up the trimmings.

Use the same dog-between-legs, escape-proof posture of sitting on the ground that you used when scaling the teeth. Dogs tend to wiggle and complain at first, but eventually they’ll be willing to get the nails done if you are the boss, keep your patience, and use lots of soft-spoken praise when they lie still.

The first digit on the front paw (erroneously called a “dewclaw”) doesn’t touch the ground except during full gallop, so it doesn’t wear down by itself the way the others can; you’ll have to cut that one deeper or more often. All of them contain a cushion-soft core called the “quick” (meaning “alive, having blood”) that is covered on top and sides by the hard chitin or keratin type material that enables the animal to scratch, dig, fight, or aid in traction. This hard shell grows in a downward curve resembling a parrot beak, and where it obviously hooks past the flat or “level” portion of the quick underneath, is where you want to cut with the clipper. However, the horny part which is thickest on the dorsal surface, continues to wrap around on the sides (although thinner there) and, if not properly maintained, tends to grow together and enclose the softer sole. And with it, dirt and other junk you don’t want to be there.

The best way to handle the nail that has been neglected this long is to snip off the “beak”, then with your frequently-sharpened little knife, pare the thinner horn from the plantar area (bottom) and sides, a little sliver at a time, taking care not to slice into the corium (core, or quick). Use a sawing motion, but toward the centerline of the nail, otherwise it will be much more uncomfortable if you cut and peel away from the center. Then you can better see the remainder of the beak, and cut another section of that off. The first digit should be especially well manicured, and even smoothed with a sapphire file or emery board, because the dog uses this claw to scratch his muzzle, clean his teeth or muzzle, and even get foreign material away from his eye, and you don’t want a sharp or ragged edge on that one.

The quick is rich in blood vessels and nerve endings, so if you cut it, the dog will probably protest and bleed for a while. That is another good reason for doing this job outdoors. You can go to the bother of using styptic powder or flour to help stanch the flow, but it’s easier to just wrap that nail in a piece of paper towel and go on to the other nails. If it’s still bleeding when you release the dog, let him run around normally until it stops. The other potentially uncomfortable part of the operation is the pull you might exert on the nail, so make sure the knife is kept sharp to cut easily in a twisting, carving motion.

After having used the paring knife, you will find that you did not cut as much of the surplus nail off as you had thought, so carefully use the clipper again and trim it off closer to the quick, especially on the front and on the side edges right next to it.

Of course, you can use an electric tool to trim nails, but my approach requires merely tools you can carry in a pocket or purse (unless you are boarding an aircraft). As in my lecture-teaching sessions, I offer the simple, common-sense, economical, and convenient way to groom dogs for health and livability.


Fred Lanting The Total German Shepherd Dog Canine Hip Dysplasia and Other Orthopedic Problems Conflict: Life, Love and War

Fred Lanting Fred Lanting is an internationally respected show judge, approved by many registries as an all-breed judge, has judged numerous countries’ Sieger Shows and Landesgruppen events, and has many years experience as one of only two SV breed judges in the US. He presents seminars and consults worldwide on such topics as Gait-&-Structure, HD and Other Orthopedic Disorders, and The GSD. He conducts annual non-profit sightseeing tours of Europe, centered on the Sieger Show (biggest breed show in the world) and BSP.

All Things Canine  consulting division, Willow Wood Services. Tel.: 256-498-3319  Mr.GSD[at]
Also use this address for inquiries regarding judging or lecturing schedule and availability.

Canine Hip Dysplasia and Other Orthopedic Problems
It covers all joints plus many bone disorders and includes genetics, diagnostic methods, treatment options, and the role that environment plays. This highly-acclaimed book is a comprehensive (nearly 600 pages!), amply illustrated, annotated, monumental work that is suitable as a coffee-table book, reference work for breeders and vets, as well as a study adjunct for veterinary students, for the dog trainer and the general dog owner of any breed.

The Total German Shepherd Dog
This is the expanded and enlarged second edition, a “must” for every true GSD lover. It is an excellent alternative to the “genetic history” by Willis, but less technical and therefore suitable for the novice, yet very detailed to be indispensable for the reputable GSD breeder. Chapters include not only such topics as: History and Origins, Modern Bloodlines, The Standard, etc., but also topics of great value to owners of any other breed, such as Anatomy, Nutrition, Health and First Aid, Parasites and Immunity, Basics of Genetics, Reproduction, Whelping, The First Three Weeks, Four to Twelve Weeks, and a Trouble-shooting Guide.

Conflict: Life, Love and War Volume I – a “War and Peace”-size novel of love, war, joy, suffering, and the meaning of life. Ask about it.

Click here to purchase books by Fred Lanting

The views and opinions expressed on this web site are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of, the staff, and/or any/all contributors to this site.