Feet and Nails
One of the most beautiful characteristics of a Golden Retriever is his feet. Just look at those big strong feet. In order to keep them beautiful, strong and healthy, they’ll need some routine grooming.
Many owners are fearful of this area. Don’t be – with a little forethought and some clever work on your part, you can easily get your retriever to feel comfortable with you examining and working in this area. Here’s the secret to getting him not only to accept you working with his feet, but actually enjoying it!
Take a moment to examine his feet. Especially look at the long hair between his foot pads. This hair can reduce traction on smooth surfaces. That means when he comes bounding in from outside, he may not be able to stop when he hits that smooth kitchen floor. He’ll look more like a cartoon dog skidding across the room than a real canine. While it may be comical, it certainly isn’t safe!
This hair is also a natural collection site for burrs, small stones, ice balls . . . well, I’m sure you get the idea. Check his feet often and keep his hair here trimmed.
Overgrown nails can also be a hindrance to your dog making good contact with the ground. There’s an even more serious threat at play here – long, uncut nails can potentially distort his feet – permanently. This can make it very painful for him to walk. How can you tell if his nails are too long? Just listen. Can you hear them click, click, click when he walks? Then they’re too long.
This means you’ll have to clip his nails. Many parents prefer to take their friends to a groomer for this task, and that’s fine, but not necessary. You can do it yourself.
Just make sure you prepare the little guy for the experience before you clip. (And here’s the secret I was alluding to earlier!) When the two of you are just kicking back, hanging out together, relaxing and enjoying the moment, handle his feet.
Taking one foot at a time, gently massage and flex his toes. See what’s happening here? You’re teaching him that having his feet handled isn’t an unpleasant experience. Actually, most Golden Retrievers love a good foot massage (Go figure!). You can do this through several daily sessions.
Once he accepts you handling his feet, then you can think about trimming those nails. If he struggles during his first session, trim just that one toe nail then. Give him a treat, then release that paw. Don’t let him run off just yet – handle his other paws while he’s there.
Don’t trim any more nails though. Just return to the experience he remembers as being pleasant. Quit the session. Allow him to go to other things (and you go off and do other things as well!).
Continue, though, throughout the day to handle his other paws. Don’t make any attempt to clip them – at least not on the same day. Wait a little more and be patient. You’ll find yourself clipping all of his nails in one stress-free session soon enough.
The Fine Art of Trimming Nails
Perhaps you’ve heard horror stories about trimming Golden Retrievers’ nails? Don’t believe them. When you trim his nails, two requirements must be met, though. First, your friend must be comfortable. Second you need a good source of light under which to work.
Many owners ask me how they should position their pup for a nail-trimming session. Actually, it doesn’t matter. He can be sitting, lying down or even standing. The only necessary element you need from him is his remaining still.
However you can accomplish this is fine. If necessary, you may want to put him on a leash and tie his leash to an object, or you may feel more comfortable with a second person present who can help hold him and talk with him – at least at first.
Hold your dog’s paw firmly but gently. Press on the bottom of the foot pad. Then extend the nail slightly. Trim the nail just below the area where the nail narrows and curves down.
Look at his nail. Do you see a black dot near the center? That’s what called the quick. It’s the living part of the nail. If it’s in the center, you’ve clipped enough. If it’s not, clip a little more. Don’t clip past the quick though. It will not only hurt your pup, but it will bleed.
If this happens, styptic powder or cornstarch will stop the bleeding. Just place a little in a shallow dish, or even in the palm of your hand and dip his nail into this.
Ideally, you should have his nails trimmed every three to six weeks. Of course, this schedule depends on how quickly the nails actually grow as well as how much the nails are worn down when they come in contact with rough surfaces.
Paying Attention to the Ears
The ears of your Golden Retriever are beautiful, make no mistake about it. But they’re also, unfortunately, a magnet for various problems.
Why? Problems pop up partly due to what’s called the “ear leather.” You and I normally call it the ear flap. The ear flap lies particularly close to the head and readily retains moisture in the ear canal. This moisture can create an ideal breeding ground for yeast or bacteria. These conditions may easily grow out of control – especially if your dog has any allergies or hormonal problems.
Your Golden may also be prone to ear mites, those small arthropods related to spiders and ticks. More commonly found in felines, ear mites could irritate your dog’s ears if he is allergic to their saliva.
And, of course, being the active breed that your Golden Retriever is, he can get dirt, plant matter, and any thing else in his ears which can lead to irritation or injury.
To avoid problems, check your Golden’s ears at least once a week. The skin inside her ear should be pink or flesh colored. It should be clean and not inflamed. You’re bound to find some ear wax, and that’s normal and necessary – it actually protects your dog’s ears. What’s not normal is a great deal of dirty looking discharge. There should be no odor coming from the ears.
Your dog may be giving you hints about ear problems though, just by his actions. If you see him scratching or rubbing his ears, he may have a problem. He may also be experiencing an ear condition if he shakes or tilts his head often.
Ear infections are indeed painful. They are also difficult to cure in Golden Retrievers. Now, mount on top of this that they have the potential to cause a permanent hearing loss. For all of these reasons, you need to have your veterinarian look at your pet’s ear problems. It will take a trained professional to accurately diagnose the problem.
If, on the other hand, no symptoms are present, then you can easily monitor his ear health at home through regular checking and cleaning. Simply by using a commercial or even a homemade ear cleaner you’ll be doing quite a bit in the way of preventing future problems. If his ears are very waxy or if he regularly plays in the water, then you’ll want to clean his ears about once a week.
Before you tackle this chore, though, realize that the process has the potential to get messy. You may consider cleaning his ear outdoors or in a room where “flying ear cleaner” isn’t going to matter. In other words, don’t clean Goldie’s ears in the living room on the new carpet in front of the new couch.
Once you have that special place selected, insert the cleaner into her ear. Using her ear flap, cover the opening of the ear, then gently massage the area. This helps the cleaner to penetrate the area. When you’re done, be prepared!
Goldie will do some circulating of the cleaner herself. She’ll shake her head to clear her ears. You’ll want to stand back a bit! (I tried to warn you about “flying ear cleaner.”) Once she finishes shaking her head, you can gently wipe her ears with a cotton ball and let her continue with her day.
The “Eyes” Have It
Yeah, I know. Your heart just melts when your Golden Retriever looks at you. Me, too! So you obviously want to do everything within your power to ensure his eyes stay that bright and healthy.
This is relatively simple to do actually. The first action you can take is to ensure you’re protecting his eyes from injury due to “risky situations.” By this, I mean exposure to soap and other chemicals. These can harm a Golden Retriever’s eyes more than you can ever imagine.
This means you need to use special precautions to protect his eyes when you bathe him or apply any type of insect repellent or flea products on him.
When your friend rides shotgun with you in the car of truck, don’t allow him to stick his head out the window. It’s far too easy for a bug or a piece of dirt to fly into his eyes at a surprisingly high velocity.
We used to call them “sleepers” – the eye gunk that builds up in the corners of your eyes. Your friend gets these too. But don’t let them linger for long. These are the perfect breeding grounds for bacteria that can lead to an eye infection.
All you need to do is take a warm, moist washcloth and wipe the gunk away. Usually, you only have to do this once – at most twice – a day. Your pup will appreciate it, too!
Despite the best of care you provide, there may come a time when your pal acquires an eye infection. You can suspect something might be amiss if his eyes redden, become inflamed or tear excessively.
If you find you’re cleaning more “eye gunk” than usual out of his eyes, you may suspect an eye infection or even a serious scratch on his eye. This requires a trip to the vet – as soon as you can get an appointment. Quick treatment is the key.
As your friend ages, you may notice a cloudiness develops over his eye, called nuclear sclerosis. Believe it or not this condition seldom affects his ability to see.
The presence of the cloudiness, though, may also be an indication of a cataract. This can affect his vision, and may eventually cause blindness. Don’t take chances here, either. Take him to the vet the moment you notice changes in his eyes.
We’ve covered just about every aspect of grooming there is. Did you recognize just how intimately good grooming habits are tied to your Golden Retriever’s health? We’ll cover more about his health in an upcoming chapter, but keep in mind that grooming your friend not only makes him more handsome, it helps to keep him healthy and energetic as well!