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Avoiding the ‘Brush-Off’! (Part Two)

All dogs need to be groomed – to rid the hair of dirt and debris, to check for parasites, stimulate oils and to avoid tangles, are just a few reasons.

How do we make sure though that the whole process is pleasant, or even something the animal may come to look forward to, rather than a negative experience or a battle of wills?

All dogs need to be groomed; the process should be pleasant.
(Photo by taylor griffith on Unsplash)

Turn grooming into a game

I like to use target training as a fun game with grooming issues. Essentially, you’re changing the whole association of the tool itself. I hold the comb or brush close to the dog’s nose (most are inquisitive) and as they dot it with their nose, I make a huge fuss and treat/reward.

Once I start work on this fun association, many dogs really start to love this game and cannot wait for the brush, comb, spray, or whatever, to be produced so that they can start the ‘nose dab’ game. It’s really fun to watch!

A note here, don’t have a spiky comb! And I also wouldn’t do this step with truly fearful dogs until after I had embarked upon a full desensitization program as I mentioned earlier (see Part One of this post).

Think about context

If your dog is thinking that she really doesn’t like being brushed, she is likely not just thinking about the action or implement but also has generalized the process to where it’s actually happening. Remember that context forms a crucial factor in how dogs form associations. (Picture dogs who put the brakes on when you approach the vet’s office!) So, you might change where you groom your dog. And before you do so, start building lots of really positive associations with this new space – play games, choose this as an enrichment space, feed the dog there, etc. 

Another idea is to utilize location or place training –  where you teach the dog that a specific mat is a positive and calm space. Work on this mat being the best place in the world for the dog to lie. Then this mobile and positive space can be used for anything you want, including grooming.

Give your dog another option

When we’re anxious, it often helps if we have something to occupy us, so allow your dog that opportunity too – the concept of overshadowing works great. We’re so lucky that there are a multitude of products on the market that can help here. You could try adding in some dog calming music and/or pheromone therapy as a good background environment.

Whilst brushing or combing, try offering a stuffed KONG or similar product with a tasty filling. Or attach a lick mat with suction pads to the fridge/wall/appliance or similar, which will help allow you to have your dog standing.

From brush-off to bonding

Necessary grooming should definitely not be something for the pet or owner to fear and dread, which sadly, I for one, hear about in passing conversation, all too often. If you’re expecting things to be a battle, or for your dog to be nervous, the process probably won’t be great! So, try to be calm when you’re grooming.

Remember, with careful, slow, and patient introductions, puppies can come to enjoy the whole process. But even when dogs have already become fearful, there are many ways to help them overcome and even accept the interaction well. In fact, grooming can be a fantastic way to improve the bonds between pets and their people!

About the Author

The post's author, Anna Bradley, with two dogs

Anna Francesca Bradley MSc BSc (Hons) is a provisional clinical, ABTC Registered Accredited & IAABC Certified Animal Behaviourist. “I love to create and restore a happy dog – owner relationship in a way that’s fun, relaxed and informal, involving lots of praise, play, pats and fun. Improving your dog’s behaviour isn’t about bullying, physical domination or using painful devices – those days are long gone. For me, nothing is better than watching dogs learn because it’s fun and enjoyable to do so. We’ve got to learn to listen to and respect our dogs as partners in a relationship – that’s what I’m all about!” Learn more at: 

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