Saint Bernard coats come in both short- and long-haired varieties, and both coat types need a moderate amount of care. See below for details on how to maintain the coats of both variants, other areas of care, and info on shaving a long-haired Saint Bernard's coat.
Both the short- and long-haired coat varieties need moderate care, so overall Saint Bernard grooming can take a good bit of time. Both coat variants shed constantly (and a great deal during the spring and fall shedding seasons), and the long-haired types can mat and tangle, so brushing is necessary (for both types) 3-4 times per week. Baths are only needed occasionally, if your Saint Bernard becomes especially dirty or stinky, because bathing can remove the water-resistant oils from the coat. And though most breed owners don't give their Saint Bernards "styled" haircuts, some have their dogs (particularly the long-haired types) clipped shorter, both to make the coat more maintenance-free and to keep the dog cooler in hot weather.
Brushing a short-haired Saint Bernard will require a rubber curry brush, and long-hairs will need both a pin brush and a 2-in-1 comb. Brush your Saint Bernard in the typical line-brushing method (which, given these dogs' massive size, may take a while!); use the comb to work through stubborn mats and tangles on the long-hairs (which usually form on the thighs or behind the ears). During shedding season, many owners say they brush their Saint Bernards daily, and some also use a shedding blade--a curved, toothed brushing tool available at pet stores--on their dogs once a week.
Bathing these huge dogs can present a problem: unless owners have a big walk-in shower, Saint Bernards will need to be bathed outdoors using a garden hose--but if the weather is too cold, indoors is best. Whatever the case, use canine shampoo (and for long-hairs, conditioner too, if desired); lather and rinse well, towel-dry, then give the coat another quick brush-through to make it look clean and neat.
If you choose to shave your long-haired Saint Bernard down (and more info on the process can be found in the Styling & Haircuts section), the dog will need a trim every 2-3 months. It can be done at home with practice, but it's a good idea to visit a professional groomer at least once, as he or she can demonstrate the process and provide tips on how to groom a Saint Bernard in general.
Owners will need to devote some time to brushing a Saint Bernard. Most of the time these dogs will require a brush several times per week--and each brushing can take a while given their huge size! The best dog brush for a Saint Bernard is either a rubber curry brush (for short-haired dogs) or a pin brush (for long-hairs); a greyhound comb will be good to have on hand as well.
How to brush a Saint Bernard: first wet the coat with water mist from a spray bottle, then go through the coat section by section with the brush, moving in the direction of hair growth. If you run across a tangle, first try separating it with your fingers, then if needed continue working through it with the end teeth of the comb.
During shedding season, daily brushing is best. Some owners like to also use a de-shedding tool once or twice during these periods (and periodically throughout the year) to help with dead hair collection.
Bathing a Saint Bernard can be difficult--mainly because of the space required. Regardless, these big dogs will only need baths two or three times per year (unless, of course, the dog gets especially dirty or stinky and an "emergency bath" is in order).
For your Saint Bernard bath, it's important to use shampoo (and for long-haired dogs, conditioner too) that's made for dogs. Human hair products have a different pH, and will usually irritate the dog's skin. The best shampoo for Saint Bernards includes brands like Earthbath, Burt's Bees, and 4-Legger--all of which have canine conditioner products as well.
Before bathing your Saint Bernard, give the dog a good brushing. These enormous dogs will probably have to be bathed outdoors using a garden hose--the problem is, in cold weather the bath will need to happen in a warm area.
Wherever it happens, here's how to bathe a Saint Bernard: first wet the coat thoroughly, then apply a generous amount of Saint Bernard shampoo to the dog's back. Lather well, working downward and outward as you go. (And don't forget the legs, underbelly, and tail!) Clean the dog's face, head, and ears with a washcloth, then make sure to rinse the coat completely; leftover soap residue can cause further skin irritation. If using conditioner, repeat the entire process with that.
Towel-dry the coat, then give it another quick brush-through to make the dog look clean and neat.
Though most owners don't give their Saint Bernard a haircut (and some groomers advise against it), some have their long-haired Saint Bernard shaved into a Puppy Cut (or some version thereof) because they want the coat to be lower-maintenance, they want the dog to stay cool in the summer, or the coat is simply matted or tangled beyond repair. Be advised, though, that a shaved Saint Bernard is highly susceptible to sunburn, and in some cases the hair may not grow back properly.
If you do choose to shave your Saint Bernard, a Puppy Cut done by a professional groomer is recommended. If you decide to do it yourself, you'll need some high-quality dog clippers with a #10 or #14blade, and a pair of scissors for areas unreachable with the clippers. Clip the coat by slowly running the clippers along the coat in the same direction as hair growth. (Two things to watch for: make sure the clipper blade doesn't cut into the dog's skin, and make sure the blade doesn't get hot enough to burn the dog. If it gets too hot, pause for a minute or two to allow the blade to cool.)
Besides its coat, a Saint Bernard will need care in these areas:
- Tear Stains: Like many white-coated breeds, Saint Bernards are prone to tear stains, a naturally occurring (and harmless) discoloration of the hair under the eyes caused by excessive tear production. Minimize this staining by wiping the area frequently with a damp cloth (sprinkled with hydrogen peroxide, if desired) or by using commercial tear stain remover (available at pet stores).
- Teeth: Just like a human's, Saint Bernard teeth need regular brushing to prevent tartar buildup and bad breath. Brush your dog's teeth 2-3 times per week; use canine toothpaste, as the human kind can make a dog sick if swallowed.
- Ears: Check inside a Saint Bernard's ears regularly for dirt and debris (like grass and twigs), and if necessary clean the area with a cotton ball and a gentle, vet-approved cleanser.
- Nails: A rule of thumb is that if a dog's nails "click" when it walks/runs on hard surfaces, it's time for a trim. Clip the nails with standard nail clippers--but don't clip them too short! (Doing so can cut into the "quick," the vein running through the nail, and make it bleed and be painful.)
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