Friendly, fun, eager to please, and low-maintenance, it’s no surprise that since 1991, a Labrador Retriever — black, yellow, and chocolate — has scored the top spot as the most popular dog breed in the U.S.
Naturally, you’ll want to keep your Lab well-groomed and looking in tip-top shape. Paying attention to your dog’s coat, feet, teeth, ears, and eyes gives you the opportunity to spot any medical problems, such as lumps or skin infections, and seek veterinary care before these issues escalate.
Although bathing a male Lab who weighs 65-80 pounds or a female who weighs 10 pounds less may seem overwhelming, know that Labs are no strangers to water.
Bred to hunt waterfowl or upland game in the icy waters of Newfoundland, leaping into a bathtub and getting wet means nothing short of a good time.
You can forget about doing a lot of fussy coat maintenance on this medium-size breed, too.
“Their short, dense, weather-resistant coats should never be clipped or trimmed,” says Marilyn Little, judges’ education co-chairperson for the Labrador Retriever Club.
Labs will need some basic care. Count on regular brushing, a bath, nail trims, oral care, and ear cleaning.
Taking the First Plunge
But before rushing your Lab into a total spa experience, Terri Becker DiMarino, president of the California Professional Pet Groomers Association, recommends preparing your dog for accepting touch.
“Handle your Lab’s body—feet, face, mouth, and ears for several days prior to grooming to accustom the dog to the sensation of touch,” says DiMarino. “If you plan on taking your Lab to a groomer, this training will be a good preparation for a new handling experience in a strange place.”
Once your Lab is comfortable with someone’s touch, establish a regular schedule to groom your dog. When the time arrives, assemble everything you need before beginning.
Here’s a list of grooming essentials:
- Wide-tooth metal comb.
- Quality canine shampoo.
- Thick, absorbent towels.
- Canine cool air hairdryer.
- Canine bathtub or indoor bathtub or shower.
- Canine grooming table or outdoor picnic table.
- Canine blunt or sharp scissors.
- Canine Dremel.
- Canine toothpaste and toothbrush.
- Disposable dental wipes.
- Veterinary ear cleaning solution.
- Flea and tick medication.
To prepare Labs for getting their nails trimmed with a grinder, DiMarino encourages owners to turn it on and off for a few days before using it for the first time. If a dog has never been exposed to a canine hairdryer, prepare him for the experience by plugging it in and letting it run a few times before using it. Offering food treats while the grinder and dryer are running will help the Lab look forward to the new noises.
“This gives the dog time to become accustomed to the different sounds,” says DiMarino.
Preservation breeders handle their puppies from day one. They often start trimming their puppies’ nails, lightly brush their coats, and check their ears a few weeks after birth. The pups receive their first baths before they go to their new homes, if not sooner.
Coat and Skin Care
“Comb your dog before a bath,” says Little. “This gets rid of any debris that might cling to the coat and remove any tangles.”
For Labs who spend most of their time indoors, Little recommends bathing once every four to six weeks. Dogs who compete in conformation shows are bathed four to five days before they are shown.
“Labrador Retrievers shed twice a year in handfuls,” says Little. “Combing them every day during heavy shedding and bathing in warm water gets rid of the dead hair and saves it from falling all over your floor.”
Use a quality canine shampoo, rinse with clean, warm water. If your Lab goes for a pool swim, it’s a good idea to bathe the dog to remove the chlorine, which could otherwise dry out the coat.
To retrieve in the field and to prevent foot injuries from happening in companions around the house, Labs need strong feet with well-developed pads. Keeping nails short helps maintain healthy well-arched toes.
“When you hear clicking on the floor, it’s time to trim your dog’s nails,” says DiMarino. “If you’d rather not wait that long and want to keep your dog’s feet in healthy condition, rev up the grinder once every three to four weeks.”
Owners and handlers who show their Labs in conformation usually trim their dogs’ feet the day before the competition.
The hair between the toes on the pads needs trimming, too. If not, your dog will slip on slick surfaces when walking. As your Lab ages and isn’t as steady as in younger years, this job plus nail trimming becomes more important. Use canine scissors–either blunt-nosed or sharp for trimming the hair on the pads.
If you don’t feel confident trimming your dog’s nails or the hair on the pads, ask your breeder for lessons or take your dog to a professional groomer to get the job done.
All dogs need oral care. Veterinarians recommend brushing your dog’s teeth once a day with a canine toothbrush and paste. You can also use canine dental wipes. Periodically your Lab will require professional cleaning, so check with your veterinarian.
Ear, Eye, and Skin Care
The Lab’s ears round out the breed’s soft expression but often block air from circulating underneath. This makes them a target for infections. To prevent them from becoming serious, check and clean excessive wax buildup. Your breeder or veterinarian can demonstrate how to safely clean the ears and keep them debris-free.
Kind, friendly eyes complete the Lab’s in-your-face appeal. If you notice any yellow or green discharge, notify your veterinarian. Otherwise, wipe them with a clean cloth after a romp in the field or a swim in the lake.
For skin and health protection, keep your dog tick and flea free. The Lab’s double-thick coat gives these pests a great place to hide. Here’s where the daily comb and monthly bath will help you find these troublesome irritants before they have a chance to wreak havoc on your dog’s body.
What’s the payoff for keeping your dog well-groomed?
“This is a wash-and-wear breed, so a little regular care goes a long way,” says Little.