Get Your Dog Used to Being Groomed at an Early Age
I received a call the other day from a friend of mine who was very concerned about her dog. She sounded very worried. She said that her dog was absolutely terrified when it came to grooming. She could not understand why. She told me that he was constantly pulling her away from the grooming salon. He shaked tremendously and looked at her with his scared puppy eyes, trying to hide in the corner or escape every opportunity he had. It was like he was telling her not to leave him there. She felt that she needed to pick him up and carry him back home. She mentioned that she changed groomers a few times but it did not seem to make any difference. “Maybe I will just buy a pair of scissor and clippers and do it myself at home. He is my baby and I want the best for him. His groomer has a hard time grooming him, saying that he bites, which I do not understand. He is such a sweetheart at home. I just can’t believe he is even capable of biting. What shall I do?” – she asked. I realized that many people can relate to her situation and will benefit from some advice.
It will be helpful to start from the very beginning. In this chapter we will cover the very basics, describing valuable techniques to help a new puppy to get accustomed to the grooming process from day one. Further, we will address the issues an adult dog might have with the grooming process due to the lack of experience or negative associations. We will discuss possible approaches that can be applied to make your dog’s grooming experience less stressful and more enjoyable.
The fact is, even though, regular grooming is necessary to keep Fluffy clean and healthy, the human version of pet grooming does not come to dogs naturally. The puppies are not born to get a haircut or being bathed with a hose, shower sprayer or shampoo . Their mother cleans them by licking. If they lived in the wild, like wolves, they would wash themselves in the river, clean each other by licking, roll in the mud and dust to get rid of fleas, the nails would be grinded from digging, and the teeth would be cleaned by chewing the bones, tree barks and branches. However, it is not an option for our domesticated canines. Luxury comes with a price. In addition, people developed different kind of breeds with different types of coat that inevitably need human help to keep the dogs clean, looking good and healthy. The fact is, the dogs need grooming, but they need to learn the process from the very early stages of their life. The earlier we start introducing the pups to grooming the less stressful and challenging it will become.
Coming to a new place can be very challenging for the dogs. New smells, environment, people, noises can be stressful at first, but if introduced correctly and consistently, it will become the norm. It is common for a new dog owner to arrange a puppy class or work on the potty training. Sadly, less attention is paid when it comes to the introducing the puppy to grooming. Having a puppy is very exciting and joyful, but it can be very challenging too. However, if addressed properly and promptly, grooming can become fun.
The very first time at the groomers can take longer than you might expect. It takes a lot of patience to accustom a new puppy to the grooming process. The first time is crucial. It is the time when the puppy develops associations. The puppies are being introduced to the new environment, the funny feeling of the bush, vibration and noise of the clippers, air flow of the dryer and unusual nail clipping. The puppies need to get familiarized with the process, which can be scary at first. They might not like it and either try to avoid by pulling their paws away while the nails are being clipped, trying to escape from the tub, or challenge a groomer by biting.
The key is to reinforce the positive and ignore or correct the negative. A skilled professional groomer will work with the puppies to develop positive associations. However, one visit to the groomer is not enough for the puppy to conquer the science of pet grooming. It requires consistent work at home. The best thing you can do is to ask your groomer how to train your puppy at home. Touching your dog’s feet and nails in a calm massaging way, reinforcing positive reaction with favorite treats, eventually, will help with nails trimming; touching the face and holding by the chin will give the dog an idea that it is a normal process and it will make your dog’s facial grooming less stressful.
The more you work with the puppy at home, the better understanding he or she will have. It will not be so terrifying at the groomers. Bringing your dog to the groomers more often, not just when your dog needs a haircut, but just for a nails trim or simply a brush and bath, or even just for a visit will help to develop a positive relationship and trust between the groomer and the pup. Working as a team with your groomer will definitely make a big difference and you will have a happy, healthy, well-groomed, tail wagging dog coming home. Bringing the dog to the grooming salon without grooming the dog, but just staying at the salon for a few minutes reinforcing it with a treat, will develop a positive association with the place and your dog will be pulling you to the salon every time you pass by. Training your pup from the very beginning will establish a healthy relationship and reduce, if not eliminate, the stress of grooming. The earlier you introduce the puppy to the grooming the better.
It is hard work to train a puppy and it takes a lot of patience to develop positive associations with the grooming. However, it is much easier than changing the negative associations. It is easier to train a puppy, when everything they learn is new for them and they are biologically designed to absorb new information, develop and learn new thing. They are more flexible and get acclimated faster than an adult dog. It is harder to introduce an adult or older dog that has never been groomed before to the new environment and grooming process. Just like people, dogs learn faster and easier when they are still developing. Have you noticed, that a child can pick up new languages much faster than adults? Puppies are just like kids they learn at the accelerated speed when they are young. Grooming is a learning experience and is better if introduced at the early stages.
What if you adopted a rescue dog? What if you moved and had to change the groomer or groomer moved? Is it possible your dog is acting terrified because of abuse? Will it help or aggravate the situation if you stay with your dog during the grooming session? We will discuss these and a few more concerns in our next chapter.