Training dogs for grooming is a import process most pet owners don’t consider. The majority of dogs feel uncomfortable being groomed. Some become so nervous and fearful they require the use of sedatives. This can be the result of a number of factors: the dog may not have been properly socialized to handling and grooming procedures during his puppyhood or he may have suffered a bad or traumatizing experience whilst being groomed. Dogs may become afraid of the scissors, the blow dryer, the water… or even the groomer!
And what about nail clipping?
This procedure can also cause many dogs to behave in an aggressive way. Clipping a dog’s nails can be painful if done incorrectly but, sometimes, things aren’t always as simple as they may look like. If the dog has black or darkened nails, the quick may be impossible to see. Thus, the groomer (or the veterinary professional) will have to guess how much to cut. Also, if the dog won’t stop moving his paw, it is possible to cut a bit too much; by hitting the quick, the dog will experience pain and the nail will start to bleed.
Coat Brushing Can Be Painful
Brushing can also be a painful procedure for some dogs! When the dog’s coat is filled with knots, trying to brush it may be extremely uncomfortable. Long-haired dogs, such as the Shih Tzu, the Maltese or the Pekingese need to be frequently brushed. When people fail to provide them with adequate grooming care, things can get a lot more difficult and stressful for the dog.
Training Dogs For Grooming Essentials
Here’s a few questions we should be asking when we are training dogs for grooming:
- Am I happy to dedicate the time to train my dog to accept to be groomed??
- Can we help dogs feel more comfortable during these procedures?
- Can we teach dogs to enjoy being groomed? If so, how can we do it?
- What can we do if our eight months old puppy growls and bites when we try to clip his nails?
The first step is to prevent the problems from happening. For example, if we adopt a Shih Tzu puppy, we know he’ll have to be brushed and groomed throughout his life; he will also need to have his nails trimmed. As a consequence, we shouldn’t wait: the sooner he learns to accept (and even enjoy) these procedures, the better! During the socialization period, puppies are very eager to learn and love to explore their surroundings, hence, this is the perfect time to start the training process.
Here’s what you should do:
Grab a few pieces of food, such as the puppy’s kibble. Start by gently touching one of his ears, whilst offering him a treat. As soon as the puppy finishes eating the treat, stop touching him; the process should be simultaneous. Repeat this step a few more times and pay attention to the puppy’s reactions.
Does he look uncomfortable or scared?
If he does, reduce the intensity of the touch. If he seems relaxed, you can move on to the next step. Now, you will touch the puppy’s ear and offer him the treat afterwards. As a consequence, the puppy will have to accept being touched in order to get the food. He learns that every time someone touches his ears, he receives a yummy treat!
This process should be applied to the puppy’s ears, paws, legs, abdomen, mouth and tail. Simply put, if we’re going to force the dog to be handled and touched by a total stranger, every time he needs to go to the vet, we have the duty to teach him that it’s not a big deal, quite the contrary!
These handling exercises are relatively simple to perform and can have an extremely important impact on the dog’s life. They should be done to every puppy, especially on long-haired breeds. If the dog is already an adult and hasn’t had any traumas related to grooming, this training process can also be effectively applied.
What about dogs who act aggressively?
Well, obviously it’s a little too late to invest on prevention. However, there are a few behavior modification techniques that can be used to help decrease the severity of the problem.
First, you should contact a positive dog trainer or a certified behaviorist. Without the help of a trained professional, it can be very difficult to effectively change the dog’s behavior. A competent professional will probably use counterconditioning and systematic desensitization; these techniques are extremely effective, when correctly done.
They will change the dog’s emotional response to the frightening stimuli, which will lead to a change on the dog’s behavior. If the dog isn’t afraid of the nail clipper anymore, why should he growl when he sees one?
The trainer will start by exposing the dog to the scary stimulus in a way that doesn’t make him react. If the dog is afraid of the dog grooming scissors, the scissors will be presented away from him. Once he sees them and doesn’t react, he will offer him a treat. He will make sure he repeats this step a few more times and, then, move the scissors. They’re a bit closer to the dog now. Did he just look at them and remained clam? Great! He should be offered a treat.
Gradually, the trainer should increase the intensity of the scary stimulus and reward the dog for exhibiting appropriate behaviors. At the same time, he’ll be creating an association between the scary object and something the dog really likes. At the end of the process, you should be able to trim his hair without the risk of losing a finger.
What if he growls, barks or tries to bite the scissors during this process?
If that happens, someone has moved too fast. You should go back a few steps and present the scary stimulus at a lower intensity or at a greater distance. Behavior modification takes time and patience. Your dog won’t learn to love the hair drier in a day when he’s been terrified of it for years! Also, please make sure you contact a positive dog trainer or a certified behaviorist if the dog is already exhibiting aggressive behaviors during grooming procedures. Always remember when training for dog grooming safety should come first!