Monday, July 20, 2015

Luke vs the Skunk

Spoiler alert.
It was about 10pm and I was out with my two German Shepherd boys, watching them compete in their daily pre-bedtime marking contest. Pax was into it, but Luke's participation was half-hearted. I know he'd heard or smelled or seen an animal in the yard earlier that night because I'd caught him fussing at the window. 

Instead of peeing, he was sniffing around, hoping the whatever-it-was was still around.

As I watched him scan the darkness, I automatically went through a mental checklist of what sort of animal he could be looking for.

It wasn't a deer. He'd been very interested in them when we'd first moved in, but our yard is like a deer buffet. There are so many passing through on a regular basis that Luke completely ignores them.

He still gets excited about the squirrels, though. And there's a pair of chipmunks living in a den beside the back porch steps.

It was too late though for those guys. So maybe it's a...?

Luke interrupted my thoughts by gathering himself up and charging towards the side of the house. The boys were on flexi-leads (I, like most groomers, hate flexis on principle, but they make pee-time easier, so I do use them in the privacy of my own yard). I hit the lock button and dug in my heels. Luke leaned forward, straining and deadly quiet, which meant that whatever was back there was right there, close enough to spit on.

I dragged back on the flexi and angled myself so I could see around the corner. Backlit by the back porch light was the very clear signature hunch-backed, fuzzy-tailed outline of a skunk.

Luke did a half jump-lunge and managed to drag me forward an inch or two. The skunk ignored him, digging placidly around in my flower bed. That nonchalance was a red cape to Luke, who pawed and snorted, straining to win the tug-of-war and get a face full of eau d' eww.  

"Oh, hell no," I said, turning and digging in, heading in the opposite direction. 

I mentioned earlier that Luke is one of two German Shepherds. This is the part of my story where things could have gone really badly. It didn't, though, because Paxy is the good one.

Not only is Pax not interested in wildlife, he also doesn't like to stay outside for very long. He was rescued years ago from a bad neglect situation. It took him a while to get comfortable with the notion of being in a house with people, but now he's very much committed to his indoor lifestyle.

He'd finished marking and went to stand anxiously by the front door. Bless that dog. If I'd had two dogs like Luke, we all would have gotten sprayed.

But since I only have one bad dog and I outweigh him by at least 50 pounds, Luke's choices were follow or be dragged. Disaster averted. He stopped pulling and we all retreated into the house. 

Of course that little episode got me thinking -- what if things had gone a different way and I had a skunked dog on my hands?
  1. Minimize collateral damage: I would have tried to sneak Pax inside before Luke noticed. I wouldn't put it past Luke to try to rub skunk-juice all over his brother and force me to deal with two skunked dogs. No, thank you.
  2. Contain the victim: I would have tied Luke's flexi to the porch rail and left him outside while I went in and gathered supplies. Under no circumstances would I let him in the house - he'd be rubbing skunk oil all over everything.
  3. Stock up: I would grab a bucket, a roll of paper towels, minty mouthwash (optional but helpful), baking soda, peroxide, and original formula Dawn. If I didn't have peroxide, I would substitute vinegar. If I didn't have the Dawn, I might try Palmolive or Dove, but nothing off-brand or harsh. Better to skip the dish soap if there's a risk it'll cause a skin reaction. 
  4. Further precautions: I might change my clothes -- put on something ratty I didn't care about. I'd fill the bathroom with anything I might need for the bathing process later.
  5. I'd go outside and blot Luke with the paper towels as best I could. Absorbing the oil into something disposable makes clean-up a lot easier.
  6.  Start with mint: I'd soak some paper towel in mouthwash and dab it lightly wherever I thought he'd gotten sprayed. Mint neutralizes the smell, so adding a drop of mouthwash to a skunky spot helps pinpoint where those spots are. I'd keep dabbing until I couldn't find any more smelly spots.
  7. Prepare the deskunking recipe: I'd put a handful of baking soda in my bucket, add a squirt of Dawn, and then drizzle in just enough peroxide to make a thick paste. 
  8. Apply it: I'd scoop some of the paste up with a paper towel and smear it all over the skunk-sprayed areas. Since Luke would probably have gotten it right in the face, I'd be using a lot of paste there. Keep in mind that peroxide is a bleaching agent (it can turn black dogs a rusty color) and most of these ingredients are relatively caustic, so don't get them in anybody's eyes.
  9. Be thorough: I'd let that all sit for a while, sniffing at his fur, trying to locate any more skunky spots. Skunk smell is tricky (when it's really strong, you feel it in your gut more than register it as a smell). I'd want to be thorough. But if I noticed Luke blinking or rubbing at his face at this stage, I'd assume he got skunk oil in his eye. In that case, I'd hurry up and get him to the tub.
  10. Make a beeline: I'd lose the flexi and grab onto Luke's collar to take him into the house, straight into the tub in the bathroom. Do not pass go, do not try to play with your brother, no you cannot have a drink right now. Right to the tub. Before I turn the water on, though, I'd do one more quick sniff check. It's important to understand that water spreads skunk oil around, allowing it to travel down the hair shaft to the skin, where it's impossible to remove. 
  11. Check again: before you add water, make sure you've blotted and baking-powder-pasted every fine, misty droplet of that oil.
  12. Rinse away the paste: I'd try not to get water anywhere I didn't put deskunking paste, that way, if I missed a spot, I can still get it later. I'd start out by flushing Luke's eyes, very gently with lukewarm water. I'd do that for a good minute at least, making sure his eyes look clear and clean. He'll hate it and shake his head a lot and get me and the bathroom soaked, but it's better to annoy him than to leave skunk oil, soap, baking soda, peroxide and/or vinegar in his eyes. Any of those things can cause major irritation and possible permanent damage. Then I'd get the rest of the pasty spots.
  13. Repeat as necessary: After he's rinsed, I'd towel Luke off and do another sniff-check. Apply more paste as needed.
  14. Wrap it up: Either bathe him or put him to bed.
If you're not a groomer, you might want to skip bathing and live with the leftover skunkiness until you can get your dog in to see a grooming professional. If you've followed my steps, you might be OK to do a full bath, but you'll get better overall results if you let your groomer handle it.

That said, you might not be able to get into your regular groomer right away (the good ones are always booked out). Bigger shops are more likely to have walk-in services available than smaller shops. The big box stores often have the best availability. Wherever you go, be sure to tip well.

In any case, you will likely catch subtle whiffs of skunk on occasion. This can last up to 6 months. The smell will get stronger when the dog is wet. It's the nature of skunk oil and even the best deskunking can fail to remove 100% of the oil. Misting the dog with vinegar and dabbing some minty mouthwash on his collar periodically does help, though.

Since Luke did not get skunked (and never has, knock on wood) I bought him a cute skunk plush dog toy. I got mine at Big Lots and he's terribly cute. I looked online for him and couldn't find any, but if you want a skunk toy for your dog, this one from Amazon is pretty cute and doesn't have stuffing, which is probably better anyway.

You might be wondering, "What about those deskunking products they sell at pet stores?" I've deskunked a lot of dogs and I've tried quite a few commercial deskunking products, but I've never found one that works better than the baking soda and peroxide recipe. Feel free to try one and let me know how it works out for you.

Anyway, the skunks are out there and they have every right to defend themselves from nosy hoodlums like Luke, so if you have a dog, check your cabinets and make sure you've got some peroxide and baking soda hanging around. Don't mix them together until you need them, though. The bubbles don't last and it's that oxygenated bubbling volcano effect that makes combining the two such a good cleaning agent.

Above all, remember that prevention is the best cure. Power up your flashlight and check your yard before you take the dogs out, especially after you catch catch them fussing at the window at night!


  1. Ha, yeah, a skunking is a real bummer :) And I've met dogs who get hit yearly! Those dogs usually have lethal intent - the urge to kill overrides their better judgement. For the benefit of everyone involved, those owners really need to step up and make sure the coast is clear before turning their dogs out. Luke, on the other hand, just wants to make friends with everyone. It wouldn't be the worst thing for him to learn the hard way, but I'm still glad we were spared :)