Regular bathing and grooming will help your Coton de Tulear look and feel his best. Grooming sessions also allow you to examine your dog's coat, teeth, eyes, ears, and nails for signs of problems. One of the advantages of owning a small dog like the Coton de Tulear is that they can easily be bathed and groomed at home. Don’t let their profuse cottony coats scare you! With a few simple tips, and a bit of practice, you can achieve professional looking results without leaving your home!
Since Cotons are a companion breed, they are pampered pets, and often allowed on the furniture, and they often sleep in bed with their owners. So they need to be bathed and groomed regularly. How often depends on your yard, your surroundings, your weather, and how much dirt and debris they pick up during their daily activities. There is no hard and fast rule, other than they need to be bathed when they are dirty! A healthy coat is a clean coat.
Before your Coton even gets NEAR the water, line brush him well. This can't be stressed enough. Line brushing and dematting are subjects worthy of their own lengthy discussion, so I won’t be able to cover them in this article. However, if your Coton has knots, tangles, or mats, they must all be removed before you bathe him. Don't expect a conditioner to remove the mats, because it won't. In fact, if you bathe your dog without first brushing him thoroughly, the dirt and shampoo will remain in the mats, creating more of a problem by making the mats tighter. So you must brush and/or comb your Coton all of the way down to the skin before his bath. It is never an ideal situation to be forced to brush a dirty, grimy coat, as this will normally cause significant breakage, yet it is important to line brush your Coton before his bath – so this is often a Catch-22! The only solution is to never let the coat get so grimy and matted that pre-brushing before a bath will damage the coat. Never brush a dry coat (even a clean, dry coat), as this will further facilitate breakage. Always mist the coat with a grooming spray, or spray your brush with grooming spray to allow the brush to glide smoothly through the coat. When you believe the tangles are gone, run a large greyhound or poodle comb throughout the entire coat, making sure to reach the skin. If you find more tangles, work them out with your fingertips, then continue checking the rest of the coat with the comb. In particular, pay special attention to the areas behind the ears, under the legs, on the feet, and on the belly and groin area.
Set out soft, absorbent towels.
Set out shampoo and conditioner.
Dilute shampoo and conditioner according to label directions.
Set up blow dryer and grooming table.
Set out brushes and combs and grooming spray.
Cleanse ear canals.
Cleanse the eye area to remove any debris collected underneath the eye.
Brush the teeth.
Some people use “people” shampoo for their dogs, and I've even heard of some who use dish washing liquid. Both are much too harsh for your dog's skin and can cause skin and coat problems in the future. While there are some products made for people that are very mild (such as baby shampoos), there is still a difference in the "pH" of the products. The pH is a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of the products. The pH of dog shampoo is two points different than people shampoo, which is a huge difference. Using products made for people can really dry out a dog's coat. In the long-run, it's cheaper to buy a high quality dog shampoo and dilute it according to the label instructions. I recommend the Vellus Show Shampoo and/or the Vellus Clarifying Shampoo, and the Vellus Show Conditioning Concentrate. Alternately I use the All Systems Super Cleaning and Conditioning Shampoo or the Les Poochs Pooch Bright Shampoo. It is best to rotate shampoos occasionally to prevent product buildup. If you are sensitive to fragrance, Les Poochs makes a wonderful fragrance-free shampoo, Botanique Hypoallergenic Shampoo. There are many excellent shampoos/conditioners on the market that are suitable for the Coton coat. I have mentioned just a few of my favorites. I suggest avoiding any product that contains lanolin.
Be extremely careful with your pet's eyes during all parts of the grooming process. For the eye area you will need a safe, effective under-eye cleanser like Gimborn Eye Clear. This is the best eye cleanser I have found, and you should use it daily to clean area below the eye with a cotton ball. This cleanser can actually be used as drops in the eye, so it is an extremely safe product. Another excellent brand of eye cleaner is the Butler Eye Rinse which many vets use. The Butler Eye rinse contains almost identical ingredients to the Gimborn Eye Clear. Both products can be easily purchased online. Contact lens solution or other saline solution products can also be used to clean the eye area, and can be used after the bath to rinse the eye of any contaminants. Professional dog groomers often apply an ointment (or mineral oil) to the dog's eyes before bathing in order to protect the cornea. However, the trend is to move away from this practice because some ophthalmology specialists believe the ointment may actually trap irritants that run into the eyes during the bath. Shampoo and other debris can get trapped behind the oil in these products, and cause serious eye ulcerations. The ointment can actually CREATE a problem, rather than PREVENT the problem, so my recommendation would be to simply use the saline solution to cleanse the eye after the bath.
For the ears, I recommend the Gimborn Ear Cleaner and Gimborn Ear Powder. Never use cotton-tipped swabs or Q-tips in the ear. Use a cotton ball dampened with an ear cleaning solution. Always use 100% natural cotton balls when you are using eye or ear products, not the synthetic cotton puffs. If you notice a strong smell or signs of redness in the ear, your dog may require a trip to the vet. Keep an eye out for mites, as well. Dog breeds having pendulous ears and/or profuse hair around the ears may be susceptible to more ear problems and need more frequent attention to the ears due to lack of airflow into the ear. If your Coton has excess hair growing from inside the ears, this is an ideal environment for bacterial growth, in which case you can use the ear powder to grip the excess hair for easy removal. Follow up with the liquid ear cleaner, as you should never allow the ear powder to remain in the ear canal where it can cake or crust, and possibly cause problems. If you wish, you may place a cotton ball in each ear during bathing to prevent water from entering the ear canal, yet this technique is controversial, as some veterinarians believe the cotton will act like a wick and actually draw MORE moisture into the ear. I do not use the cotton balls in the ears; instead, I follow the procedure mentioned above with the ear cleansing solution prior to the bath.
A Coton can be bathed in the kitchen or bathroom sink, a deep laundry tub, or in your bathtub. You can even take a shower with your Coton! A hose attachment or a hose type shower massage can be a big help when using the tub. It helps to lay a rubber bath mat or a towel on the floor of the sink or tub to prevent slipping.
Wet the coat. Use a degreaser like "Grease Magic" (from Ryan’s Pet Supplies) on feet, ears, muzzle, and any other extra dirty areas. Lather and rinse. Shampoo with a premium quality pet shampoo. Massage the skin and the hair as you work from the root to the end of the hair, gently squeezing. Never rub in a circular motion, as this will cause tangles and mats. Rinse, rinse, and rinse again! Apply conditioner. Avoid products with lanolin or mink oil as they are heavy products and will weigh the coat down and eventually cause build-up which is difficult to remove. Rinse.
Wrap your dog in a towel, and gently blot the excess moisture from the coat. Do NOT rub or twist the coat. Allow your Coton to shake, which will remove excess moisture.
If room temp allows, it is advantageous for the coat to air-dry naturally for about 10-15 minutes. This will hydrate the coat, as water is an excellent moisturizer for both the skin and the coat.
Allow your Coton time to adjust to the idea of getting a bath. If you have a puppy, the bathing process may be somewhat frightening, so take things slowly. Placing a favorite waterproof squeaky toy in the tub can help your dog feel more at ease. Be ready to hand out lots of praise and a few treats to make the bath a pleasant experience for your puppy.
A hand-held sprayer comes in handy to shampoo and rinse your dog. Always test the temperature of the water, as the water should be barely lukewarm. Gently spread the shampoo through the entire coat, paying particular attention to the paws, the feet, and under the tail. Suds the rear of the body first, then work forward, sudsing the head and face last.
You can wash the face with a washcloth to remove dirt and grime from the face, mouth and beard area. While rinsing the head and ears, tilt the head backwards so water and shampoo does not enter the eyes. When rinsing the face, make sure that water does not run into the nose, and direct the water away from the eyes and mouth using your fingers. Rinse the shampoo first from the head, face, and ears, and then the body and legs. Don't forget the underside of the dog. To reach that area, have him stand on his hind legs by lifting his front paws. Keep rinsing until you no longer feel shampoo anywhere on the dog and the water runs clear. The dog should feel “squeaky” clean! Any residue of shampoo remaining on the dog can cause itching, flaking, and skin problems.
A good quality conditioner should now be applied. Some Coton owners prefer to pour a small amount of conditioner in a large bucket and pour over the dog. Or you can dilute the conditioner in a mixing bottle and apply by hand and gently massage throughout the coat. The strength of the conditioner will depend on whether your Coton will be kept in “maintenance” mode or in “pre-show” mode. For daily maintenance, you can apply a heavier, less diluted strength of conditioner. Prior to a show, use a lighter dilution of conditioner, apply more sparingly and rinse more thoroughly so as to not weigh down the coat.
Excessively wet hair stretches, which can cause breakage, so do not start the drying process until you have allowed the excess moisture to be removed from the coat. Letting your Coton hydrate for 10-15 minutes is always a great idea.
Place your dog on the grooming table and lightly spray the entire body with a quality grooming spray. Distribute the spray from the roots to the ends of hair with your fingers. Blow dry your Coton's coat from the roots outward. It is important to concentrate on drying the root area, and the rest of the hair will dry almost by itself. When the coat is almost completely dry, put your dryer on a stand or dryer holder and brush each area of the dog as you continue to blow dry for that "finished look”. This is an excellent time to clip your dog's nails. The nails are still softened from the bath, and the dog is already becoming tired from the grooming session, so offers less resistance. Run a comb through the entire coat from the skin all the way to the tips to check for any missed tangles.
For a grooming spray (spritzer) I use the Vellus Static Stabilizer. I also like the Nature’s Specialties Quicker Slicker grooming spray. For a very dry coat, the Vellus Satin Crème can be applied. Rub a small amount between your palms and apply sparingly to the coat as a dressing.
You will probably want to eventually purchase a professional dryer as hair dryers like the ones you use on your own hair are not efficient for the adult Coton coat. Cotons look best when dried with a powerful forced-air dryer with no heating element. Too much heat will dry the coat.
Start drying from the rear of the dog. Place the dog in front of you and begin drying from the bottom of the feet in an upward direction. Work forward, doing the face and head last. Turn the dryer volume down a notch (if you are able) to concentrate on the face area. Do not use a back and forth motion in drying your Coton, as this can actually create tangles and mats. Work slowly and carefully, one section at a time, from the bottom upward, and from the rear to the front, against the lay of the coat. I prefer to use only the dryer hose nozzle to dry the coat in the preliminary stages of the drying process. I use a technique with the dryer nozzle similar to line brushing that actually removes tiny tangles at the skin, without even using a brush. This takes some practice, however. I do not use my pin brush until the coat is almost completely dry. When the coat is approximately 2/3 dry, I attach the dryer hose to a stand, and complete the drying process using the pin brush. I use a line brushing technique AGAINST the lay of the coat with a pin brush, aiming the dryer hose to the area I am brushing The volume of air coming from the dryer nozzle actually helps separate the strands of hair, facilitating the line brushing. When the coat is completely dry you will not see any waves or ripples down the center of the upper back of your Coton. You should attempt to achieve the straightest look possible, avoiding any appearance of a curly coat. Damp hair under the ears or on the neck or upper back, if left to dry naturally, will curl or wave.
I recommend the Chris Christensen pin brushes for the Coton coat. I prefer the medium length pins (27mm) in either the oval or the oblong, depending upon your preference. The gold tipped brushes are very nice (my preference) but not necessary. Their new Fusion Brush is excellent, and is definitely my new favorite, especially for a dry climate where static electricity can be a problem. I also use a gentle, small slicker brush from Chris Christensen (the Mark I X-Small) for the feet, and their stainless steel "butter" comb model #002 (coarse teeth, 7 1/2 inch spine) to finish the body of the coat. And the #006 comb 5" FACE/FEET comb is great for finishing/shaping the face and beard.
When the coat is entirely dry, free of wave, and free of any pesky tangles, comb through to the skin one last time to double-check your work. For very dense coats in a dry environment, finish off with another spritz of grooming spray or lightly dress the coat with some Vellus Satin Crème. Apply a top-knot, if desired, to keep the hair out of the eyes.
Congratulations -- you're done! Give your dog a treat, and you'll probably get a nice kiss in return. Your dog might be a bit tuckered out, so a nap may be warranted. Put your feet up and relax, too! If you are gentle, the bathing and grooming process can be a very pleasant experience for your Coton and a nice way for the two of you to bond. Cotons love the attention! When a Coton is clean, dry and tangle free, they are gorgeous. And do you know what else? THEY know it, too! They will strut and prance like kings and queens!