Our canine companions rely on us for everything — most importantly, keeping them happy and healthy. Regular grooming is essential to meeting these needs.
Sadly, many owners neglect routine grooming because it makes their dogs uncomfortable or afraid. This can have serious consequences for the dogs’ well-being, especially when it comes to high-maintenance breeds.
The good news is that grooming doesn’t need to be a struggle! All you need is a little patience and some guidance.
Here’s how to make your dog look forward to bathtime, nail trimming, and other common grooming tasks:
1. Start Them Young
The first obstacle to grooming any dog is getting them comfortable with the concept of being handled.
How do you accustom your pup to having their face, stomachs, ears, and paws touched by you or a stranger? Start practicing as young as possible.
Be sure to associate this handling with positive experiences like yummy treats, dedicated playtime, or your dog’s favorite toys.
Practice handling your dog as much as possible before introducing grooming tools to the equation.
Remember: While it’s best to practice handling your puppy as soon as you bring him or her home, it’s never too late to start building positive associations with being touched!
2. Invest In The Right Tools
Yes, high-quality grooming tools are expensive. But they are 100% worth the cost.
Not only can the right tools make grooming faster and easier on you but they can also help keep your pooch comfortable.
Using the improper brush or comb could pull at your dog’s coat causing discomfort. Dull or incorrectly sized nail clippers can create unnecessary pressure and even pain.
By using the correct tools for your dog’s physical traits, you can prevent negative experiences that often contribute to grooming avoidance.
3. Encourage Positive Vibes
Even if your dog is semi-comfortable being touched and restrained, positive reinforcement can go a long way in building their confidence.
Training treats are a simple, low-calorie reward for staying calm. Extremely anxious dogs may require high-value treats at first like diced chicken, sardines, or cheese. If you want to control the calorie intake or ingredients, consider baking your own treats at home!
While food is a powerful motivator, it’s equally as important for you (or anyone else helping groom your pup) to stay positive through the whole experience.
If you show signs of stress or frustration while grooming your pup, there’s a good chance he or she will pick up on those cues as well!
4. Use Distractions
Food isn’t just an excellent tool for building positive emotions around grooming. It can also be used to keep your canine companion calm and still during sessions.
Offer your dog a slow-feeding treat like frozen peanut butter or yogurt. A fillable Kong toy is a great choice for nail trimming or brushing. For bathtime, try using a treat mat with a suction cup as a distraction.
Of course, treats aren’t the only distraction worth trying — high-value toys also work. You may even own some of the best puppy toys to keep them distracted without even realizing it!
If toys and snacks aren’t doing the trick, consider distracting your pup with physical affection from a favorite person (someone else will need to perform the grooming).
Every dog is different, and only you know what will grab your dog’s attention best!
5. Go At Their Pace
Once you’ve earned your puppy’s trust, it’s extremely important to keep it. Pushing your dog to accept grooming when they aren’t comfortable is a recipe for fear and anxiety during future sessions.
Let your dog become comfortable with any grooming equipment before using it.
Reward calm, confident behavior with yummy treats to build a positive association with each grooming tool. You may need to give your dog several opportunities to inspect new tools before using them.
Once your dog is comfortable being groomed, don’t force anything.
Take a break if your dog seems overwhelmed or uncomfortable. Multiple short grooming sessions are best for young puppies and nervous adult dogs.
6. Teach Basic Commands
Whether you groom your dog at home or rely on a professional, teaching your pup a few simple commands can make the entire process much easier.
Commands like sit, stay, lie down, and shake can all be used during grooming to position your dog where they need to be.
Following verbal or visual commands can also be less stressful for your dog than being physically moved into the necessary position.
Be patient with your pooch when training these commands. It may take some time for them to follow commands in an uncomfortable setting like the grooming shop or vet clinic — even if they listen perfectly at home.
Don’t forget to offer plenty of positive reinforcement via treats, praise, or play.
7. Take Shortcuts If Needed
In a perfect world, you could regularly groom your dog’s coat, brush their teeth, clean their ears, and trim their nails without issue.
Unfortunately, very few dogs will put up with such an intense grooming schedule.
While some grooming tasks just can’t be skipped, there are some shortcuts you can take to keep your dog as comfortable as possible.
Puppy-safe wipes can be used to fight odor and remove dirt between baths. You can also use dry shampoo to wash your dog’s coat without water.
Water additives, dental treats, and chew toys can help maintain oral health if your dog hates the toothbrush.
And if the sight of nail clippers makes your pooch run for the hills, a scratchboard might be the perfect alternative.
8. Stick To A Routine
Once you’ve built up your dog’s confidence with grooming, stick to the tools and setting they are comfortable with.
Abrupt changes to their grooming routine may require reconditioning your dog with treats and other rewards.
Reconditioning may also be necessary if your dog is accidentally hurt during a grooming session.
Remember that grooming is often scary for dogs because they don’t understand what is going on. Sticking to a routine is the best way to show your dog that grooming is a predictable, safe experience that they don’t need to fear!
Like feeding, exercising, and training, grooming is a necessary part of dog ownership. It’s also one of the most stressful.
Training your dog to be comfortable with being handled doesn’t just make grooming easier. It can also be a godsend when visiting the vet and in day-to-day social settings.
That’s why it’s so important to show your pup that grooming is not something to be feared. Instead, it can be a fun, rewarding experience for you both!
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