Today, I want to talk about grooming. In all my years of training, and time spent grooming it is an area of struggle that comes up often. Why? Well, oftentimes when owners get a new puppy or bring home a new dog they get so focused on teaching basic commands, or establishing house rules that teaching a dog how to be groomed gets forgotten. Taking a bath, trimming nails, brushing, shaving, and all the other things we do to maintain the coat of our furry companions are not things that come naturally to our dogs. Therefore; they must be taught how to respond to them. The great news is that it is never too late to start working with your dog, and it is a great way to bond and build trust.
A lot of times with grooming I like to use desensitization, which is the process in which you slowly introduce a new item in a calm controlled manner, and reward the dog to establish a positive association before submerging them in the full experience. This is an excellent technique to use when it comes to training a dog to be groomed, because for some dogs grooming can be overwhelming. There are many ways to desensitize your puppy or dog to things that may be scary for them during the grooming process. Clippers, nail trimmers, blow dryers, and even the sound the brush makes moving through their coat can spark a reaction.
As with all things we do with our dogs we want to set them up for success! Therefore, before you start any grooming session you want to drain excess energy and get your puppy/dog into a calm relaxed state of mind. Think of it this way, trying to groom a puppy/dog with excess energy is like trying to brush the hair of a hyper 2 year old child. Things are not likely to go as well as they could if the 2yr old was calm and relaxed. So, go take a walk, play fetch, or go to the dog park. When I groom boarding dogs, we always go for a nice long walk before I start.
Another thing to keep in mind is that each puppy/dog's ability to handle grooming and the speed in which they learn to accept it can differ depending on their age, temperament, and past experience. Done correctly, most puppies will quickly learn to accept and enjoy grooming. While some older dogs that have had bad past experiences, nervous dogs, or dogs that have never been groomed before may take more time to warm up to the idea. For those dogs you are going to want to pick one or two areas to start working on.
Remember to always maintain a calm confident energy. If you are worried about it, then they are going to worry about it. Leaders exude confidence and that confidence affects the pack, so be sure you are in the right state of mind before you begin.
When you are ready here are some tips to start working on grooming:
Brushing: Brushing: This one of the simplest parts of grooming to teach your dog as it requires less stimulus than other parts of grooming. As with any new thing you are introducing to your dog you want it to be a positive experience. Before you start make sure you have a brush that is appropriate for the type and length of your dog's coat. A soft brush is best for short hair breeds, while longer coated dogs may require a brush with more teeth that can properly comb through the coat and remove tangles. Get some treats, and begin by showing your puppy/dog the brush and allow them to investigate it while rewarding them. Then move to do a single stroke while offering treats or toys as a reward. Continue to do single strokes, rewarding each one. Once your dog is comfortable, lessen the frequency in which treats are being offered.
Bathing: For some dogs taking a bath can be a very scary experience. So, you want to set things up for success! Using a suction treat dispenser (link below) is a great tool to use. You can place canned food or peanut butter in the grooves of the feeder, then freeze it. When it's time for a bath you suction it to the wall, and your dog/puppy can enjoy a rewarding snack while you scrub away. If your dog is extra nervous, you can introduce the idea of the suction dispenser in another room they feel comfortable. Then offer it in the bathroom, without putting them in the tub. After they are relaxed with that, you can suction it to the side of the tub, then inside the tub while they take a bath. Another step you can take if needed, is placing the water you will be using in a bucket and giving your dog sort of a doggy sponge bath opposed to using the nozzle at first. The sound and pressure from the forced water can be a little too much for some dogs if they are generally nervous or you're trying to work through past bad experiences.
Clippers: If your puppy/dog requires being clipped, whether that's an all over shave, trimming or just cleaning out the pads of their feet, there are things you can do to prepare them. Start with getting your puppy/dog used to the sound the clippers make. You can use treats, or a toy to reward them when they hear the sound. If they are not put off by the sound, then you can show them the clippers and allow them to investigate it. Once they are doing well, gently touch their body/paws with the handle end of the clippers while it is on. This will help get them used to the feeling of the vibration the clippers make without anything overwhelming happening. Once your dog is comfortable with the sound, and vibration sensation you can move to clipping.
Nail Trimming: From the day you get your puppy or bring your new dog home you are going to want to start working on handling their paws. This is the first step in nail trimming. Start by gently touching your puppy/dog's paws while rewarding them each time you touch. If they are handling it well ,or once they are, ask for more. Reward for allowing you to lift the paw, or while applying soft pressure. Continue to up the ante by holding onto the paw longer each time before rewarding them with the treat. Once your puppy/dog is allowing you to handle each of their paws without a fight, move to working on the nail trimmers. If you will be using traditional trimmers you can start by using the nail trimmers to trim pieces off a wood skewer. The noise the skewers make when they are clipped is similar to the sound that is made when you trim the dog's nails. Offer a treat after each trim, so that your dog learns to associate the sound with something positive. After a few repetitions, you want to move to putting pressure on the nail with the nail trimmer, before moving to fully trimming the nails. The same process is followed with using a Dremel tool. You start rewarding the dog when you turn it on. Then place the handle end on their paw, and let them feel the vibration on the nail, before removing it and rewarding. Once your dog is comfortable with hearing the Dremel, and feeling the vibration on their paw you can move to grinding the nails.
Blow Drying: For longer coated dogs blow drying can be a necessity as it can take a very long time for their coat to fully dry on its own. When starting to work with your puppy/dog and a dryer you want to start with letting them get used to the noise. Set the dryer on the lowest setting, and reward your puppy/dog when the sound comes on either with treats or toys. When your dog is relaxed around the noise very briefly blow air onto them, and reward right away. Continue to increase the time you are letting the air blow on them, before you reward them with a treat. The more comfortable they get, the closer you can get with the nozzle, and the longer you can maintain the airflow on them. You may not get your dog fully dry the first couple times you dry them, but continue to extend the drying period a little each time and they will be ready for a full dry in no time.
Ear Cleaning: Keeping your puppy/dog's ears clean is critical to ensuring your dog does not end up with painful ear infections. Begin working with your puppy/dog by touching their ears, while rewarding them with a treat or toy. From there move to gently lifting the ear flaps up, and then to holding them up for a few seconds. Once your dog seems relaxed while you are handling their ears, use a piece of tissue to lightly touch the dog's ear flaps while using a treat to keep their attention. You will then start increasing your request by moving to wiping the interior of the ears.
I like to end each grooming training session with play or a short walk. This takes the edge off, relieves any stress that builds up during the session, and creates a positive association with the experience. Any time you are working your dog the goal should always be to further build on a foundation of trust, relationship, and leadership. Remember our dogs look to us for direction, so we need to make sure we are doing all we can to lead them well.
Stay Calm. Stay Confident.
Lead with Purpose!