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Eight Fascinating Ways Dogs Groom Themselves

Left to their own devices, dogs are quite efficient groomers making sure their coats are dry and well-maintained. Dogs might not meet our much more stringent standards when it comes to the grooming department, but they sure deserve an applause for the effort. Unless you own a high-maintenance dog that needs to see the groomer often, your dog will likely engage in several activities that are meant to keep his coat in good shape and remove any dirt and debris that shouldn't be belong there. Following are eight fascinating ways dogs groom themselves.

Doggy Body Shake

doggy body shake

You have likely witnessed the doggy body shake at one time or another. Your dog wakes up from a nap or has just finished rolling against the floor, he gets up and then shakes his whole body in a wave-like motion, starting from the head, then the whole body and then ending with a slight flutter of the tail.

Blessed with several nerve receptors located on their hair follicles, dogs are quick to detect any pressure or the sensation of something just not "feeling right" on their coat such as the presence of dust and debris.

A full body shake will therefore effectively remove any foreign material from the coat, especially after the dog has slept on a grassy area, dirt or hay as seen in the picture.

dog rinse cycle

Doggy Rinse Cycle

We are all familiar with the doggy rinse cycle, that sudden complimentary shower of ubiquitous droplets we receive right after giving dogs a bath. Dogs surely know when their coats are wet, and they will shake their wet fur to expedite drying. A dog shaking the coat when wet may seem like a useless activity from our perspective considering that we have access to towels nowadays, but turns out that dogs know what they're doing and Mother Nature knows best.

In Nature, getting wet in cold weather can mean serious trouble, considering that animals can easily face hypothermia if unable to dry up quickly. By oscillating their bodies, furry animals are able to dry themselves within minutes, explain Andrew K.Dickerson, Zachary G. Mills and David L.Hu in a study published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface. This quick body shake is therefore far moreenergy efficient than carrying a heavy load of fur drenched with water and shivering to generate enough heat so to allow the water to evaporate. 

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Did you know? The average dog is estimated of being capable of removing about 70 percent of water from his fur in four seconds. Quite remarkable, don't you think?

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Doggy Brushing and Combing

dog scratching

Dogs are covered in fur and their coat is kept shiny and healthy courtesy of several oil glands. When dogs nibble on their coats or scratch, they are relying on natural ways to stimulate those oil glands by either passing the nails or their tongue and teeth through the coat.

It's not unusual to see a dog sometimes gently nibbling on his fur. This nibbling action using the incisor teeth in a comb-like fashion is meant to remove any dirt, debris or burrs caught on the dog's coat.

"Scratching is a natural way to stimulate the oil glands of the coat. However, be aware that excessive scratching suggests the presence of a skin irritation." ~Dr. Bruce Fogle

dog paws

Doggy Pedicure

Think only people trim nails for their dogs? Think again. Some dogs will take grooming to the next level and will trim their nails on their own by simply chewing them. Many owners are aware when their dogs do this as they make a distinct chewing noise.

"Chewing their own toenails can be a normal part of self-care for some dogs, who do it as part of their grooming ritual. However, it can also be a reason to go to the vet, who can tell you if there is an underlying problem." ~Tracie Hotchner

Doggy Toilet Paper

mother dog

Deprived from opposable thumbs and manual dexterity, dogs must rely on their tongues to groom themselves, and that includes their private areas. It's one of the first things newborn puppies experience: unable to eliminate on their own, momma dog uses her tongue to stimulate them to go potty and cleans after them the same way.

Once grown up, dogs learn to use the same technique for cleaning up those hard to reach places. Courtesy of their flexible backbone, even large dogs are capable of turning and reaching their private areas for a quick lick.

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Keep an eye on your dog though if this seems to happen too often: a dog licking those private areas too often may be having discharge or irritation. Excessive licking of the under-the-tail area could be a sign of a urinary tract infection, an anal gland problem, and in intact female dogs, a sign of going into heat.

Four-Legged Groomers

dog grooming

Sometimes, dogs may take advantage of having other doggy friends who are willing to do the grooming. Among animals it's known as "social grooming."

Dogs may be lying side-by-side when one dog may start gentling nibbling one dog and the other may exchange the favor in a cute grooming session involving mostly the ears, eyes and mouth area.

"These behaviors are done by individuals closely associated to each other," points out veterinarian Dr. Bonnie Beaver in the book "Canine Behavior: Insights and Answers." 

dog grooming back

Doggy Massage

While dog friends are great to get those ears, eyes and face groomed, the back is often a body part that is neglected. It feels good to get a massage on the back, and one of the best ways for Rover to do this is by rubbing against surfaces such as walls, furniture and people's legs.

Another option for a dog to get some grooming is by rolling on his back. Before dog grooming became popular, dogs had to figure out a way to remove all those dead hairs from their coats when shedding time was in full swing.

What better way to accomplish this than by rolling on their backs? By rolling, dogs get to groom themselves by shedding some of their undercoat, explains Karen L. Overall, in her book " Clinical Behavior Medicine for Small Animals."

A rough carpet, dried grass or hay may be appealing areas to roll on so to get a nice a back rub. Even best, why not try asking the owner for a nice back massage? Here are five ways your dog may be asking for one.

Doggy Wash Cloth

While you use a wash cloth to wash your face, your dog may use his tongue and paws instead. Yes, some dogs seem to borrow kitty's face licking techniques when it comes to facial cleaning. Dogs will lick their paws and then pass those paws on their faces making sure to reach all little those nooks and crannies in their faces. Watch this cute dog washing the face like a cat.

Dogs Still Need Grooming!

Just because a dog is chewing his toenails and rolling on the carpet doesn't mean that he's capable of doing all the grooming himself. Actually, often to the contrary, when dogs self-groom themselves it's often a sign that they need some help.

Those toe nails may be getting too long and perhaps he is shedding a lot of hair and could benefit from some brushing. Grooming a dog is important to provide general cleanliness of the dog, but also for the purpose of monitoring the dog's health by checking for any cuts, lumps, bumps and signs of possible parasites.

Not to mention that grooming also play a role for forging a closer bond between dog and owner! A win-win! So don't let Rover take his grooming needs into his own paws, help him out and lend him a helpful hand!


  • Clinical Behavioral Medicine For Small Animals, by Karen Overall, Mosby (Feb. 1 1997)
  • Canine Behavior: Insights and Answers, By Bonnie V. G. Beaver, Elsevier Health Sciences, Nov 11, 2008
  • If your dog could talk, by Bruce Fogle, Dorling Kindersley, 2006

Photo Credits:

Flickr Creative Commons, Lee Haywood Scratching, Taken during the Mela Weekend at Nottingham's Arboretum Park. CCYBY2.0

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