Groom your dog lots. More is better, and too much is not enough. Grooming is an essential of pet partnership. It's not just about beauty; it's also about bonding.
What Is Grooming?
Grooming for your dog is like your self-care routine: shower, shampoo, shave, manicure, pedicure, with occasional trips to a pro for maintenance and indulgence. Dogs groom themselves to a certain degree, but only the Basenji is meticulously cat-like in his ablutions. Dogs also groom each other as part of socialization. If your dog starts nibbling on you with his little front teeth, he's "fleaing" you -- take it as a high compliment. Grooming builds trust and affection. It also makes it less stressful for your dog when someone else has to handle him, such as the vet or the groomer.
Groom your dog in some way every time you touch him. Get your hands on every part of him every day, but not necessarily all at one time; make it part of play time and couch time. Run your fingers through his coat and check for masses of tangled hair called mats. Scratch under his front legs while you feel for lumps and bumps. When he rolls on his back, rub his belly and part the hair to look for the little black specks that mean fleas. Keep his brush by the TV remote and use it during commercials.
What About Bathing?
It's trite but true to say, "Bathe your dog when he needs it." Unless he rolls in mud or something smelly -- he thinks a dead frog or cat poop is perfume -- this might be every three months or so. Dogs with oily oats will develop a certain ... um ... aroma that signals, "Time for a wash." Dogs with white coats need more frequent baths or they turn greige (a sophisticated color, but not for a Maltese or Bichon Frise). Dogs with dry skin need fewer baths and special bath products so they don't itch to death; ask your groomer or vet for advice here. Bathe your dog the way you'd bathe a baby -- gently and with constant attention. Do your best to make it pleasant and even fun, but don't let it turn into a romp.
Paws and Claws
Check your dog's nails regularly to see if they need trimming. Depending on his age and lifestyle, they may need shortening every week or only once a month. If you've been handling his feet regularly to check for mats or foreign objects, he won't mind … much. Use sharp trimmers and take off only tiny bites until the nails clear the floor when the dog is standing. Be careful not to cut the quick. Overlong nails can make your dog walk funny and strain his toes and legs.
Learn From the Pros
Take your dog to a professional groomer and ask for advice on the basics and the fancy stuff. Good groomers are often helpful in showing you how to maintain your dog's coat in optimum condition, because it makes their work easier, and they know techniques to make grooming easier on you both. These include how to brush your dog's particular type of coat (curly, silky and wiry coats need different brushing techniques and different brushes) and how to get your dog to let you trim his nails. If your dog acts out when you're there, watch from a distance (out of sight and smell) or make an appointment to watch the groomer work on another dog with a similar coat or behavior issues.