Teaching your dog to enjoy grooming is an essential part of living a happy life with your dog. Some dogs require more grooming than others but all dogs need their body taken care of. The less stressful you can make grooming for your dog, the easier it will be for you to take care of them.
You have two options when it comes to grooming your dog. You can do it yourself, or you can pay for a professional dog groomer to do it for you. Both of these options have their pros and cons, and both can be done with great success, or be traumatic failures.
If you are going to groom your dog yourself you must become familiar with how to groom your breed of dog. Spend time researching this on the Internet, read breed specific books, or ask your dogs breeder for assistance. A good breeder will spend time with you demonstrating how to groom your dog, perhaps by using one of their older dogs. An excellent breeder will allow you to bring your puppy back to their home for grooming classes. I’m lucky, Ben’s breeder comes over to my house with some of her dogs (Ben’s sister included) and grooms Ben for me. This is the kind of after adoption support that a good breeder will offer you.
Bath time, nail clipping, and ear cleaning tend to be the events that cause the greatest distress in humans and dogs where DIY grooming is concerned. Start when your puppy is young with each of these events, and it will help your dog become accustom to being groomed.
Bathing can either happen at home or at a dog salon hydro bath. Smaller dogs can be bathed in the laundry sink but the larger dogs will need to be washed outside or in a hydro bath. Hydro baths are a great invention, they are very effective at removing deep down dirt and keep your dog nicely contained. They do take some getting used to though. Hydro baths make a loud noise and the water out of the hydro hose comes out with a lot of pressure. This can scare your dog. Luckily, hydro baths come fitted with a regular hose which is softer and quiet, use this on your new dog or puppy to start with. Over time you can work in short sessions with the hydro hose.
Some DIY hydro baths are located in the same area as the main grooming area. I try to avoid these as the noise of dogs and grooming equipment is often unbearable to me let alone, my dog. Find a salon where the bath is away from the main grooming area. Also, make sure that when you hydro bath your dog, that the water in the hydro bath well is fresh, skin disease can be spread with recycled water.
The down side to DIY hydro bathing your dog is the cost, usually between $15-$30 for each session. If you have a large dog and cannot afford to use hydro baths you could invest in buying a hydro bath yourself, or get a hot and cold mixer tap installed outside your own home.
Clipping your dogs toe nails are other issue many owners and their dogs struggle with. Purchase a good pair of nail clippers and start to clip one foot or claw per night while your dog is calm and relaxed. Make sure that you do not cut in to the nails’ quick. The quick is the part of the nail where the nerve endings start. If you cut this your dog will scream, their nail will bleed, and they may never trust you again. If your dog has clear nails you will be able to see the pink quick so you will know how far to cut. On the other hand, many dogs nails are black and you are flying blind in this case. I always err on the side of caution, and only take a slither off each nail. I would rather do this regularly, than take a whole chunk off and risk hurting my dog and damaging grooming training.
If you have a dog that hates having their nails clipped (possibly due to a bad experience early on) you will have some remedial work to do. First, get your dog used to having their paws and nails touched. Work at your dogs comfort level, by this I mean, watch your dogs’ body language, and if they are starting to become even a little concerned stop. This will be your threshold point. Over time, with lots of successful touching sessions, your dogs’ threshold will increase.
When your dog is comfortable with having their paws handled, you can start to introduce the clippers. Clip (or pretend to clip) one of your dogs nails while they are relaxed and leave it at that for the day. Progress until you can do a whole paw in one sitting with out your dog becoming stressed. Lots of rewards will really help too. As soon as your dog shows any signs of stress you must stop.
The same steps can be taken for ear cleaning and other grooming activities. Often dogs who have had ear infections develop a hatred of having their ears cleaned. Having ear drops squirted in your ears is no picnic. The best way to avoid this is by regularly checking your dogs ears and cleaning them out. I like to use baby wipes to clean out my dogs ears, it dries quickly, and the dark wax is easily removed. You do not need to go very deep to clean your dogs’ ears. Similar to our ears, if you try to clean too deep you may push wax deeper down the ear canal. Regular, superficial cleaning, under the ear flap, and around the outside of the opening, will be enough. Again, you must watch your dog for signs of stress and respond by easing the pressure. Many successful sessions of grooming will build trust, and will create new feelings about these events.
If you do not have the time or patience to groom your dog yourself you can outsource this to a professional dog groomer. However, you will need to find the right one for your dog to be happy. Spend time talking to other dog owners about groomers they have used and go and visit the dog grooming parlors in your area. I would even encourage you to go without your dog and ask to watch the groomers in action. Any good dog groomer would allow you to do this.
The best way to introduce your dog to the groomer is to make regular short visits with your dog. In the beginning try to make sure you have the same staff member grooming your dog. If your dog can bond with one person at the groomers they will be much more comfortable there. Perhaps the first visit could be a meet a greet session where you take your dog to the groomer, you and the groomer feed them lots of treats, and give them lots of pats. You should do this as much as you like.
Progression of this, may be a bath without the hydro hose and with a towel dry only. Obviously you may not get the most clean outcome, but you are training for future visits. Your groomer will thank you for it too, if a dog is more comfortable they are much easier to groom. Work up to leaving your dog for an entire once-over, it may take several months. Regular short visits in between grooming sessions will also help. In the mean time you can also practice some of the DIY tips at the start of this article so your dog becomes used to be handled.
Often the dogs will be nervous at the groomers and this is understandable, but what you are watching for is the following; do the staff interact with the dogs in a positive way at all times? Do the staff respond appropriately (backing off) when a dog tries to lash out? Do you feel comfortable leaving your dog at the groomers? If you are worried about how your dog is being treated at the groomers it is a sure sign that you should talk to your groomer or find another groomer.
Some dogs need to be muzzled while at the groomers. This is not helping the dog in any way, and remedial work (with a dog trainer or behaviourist) must be undertaken with such a dog. Muzzling a dog is never a long term solution, it should be done with the view to removing the muzzle eventually. After all, dogs usually need to be groomed every six weeks for their whole lives, this is too regular an occurrence to simply ignore by muzzling. If remedial work is not being done to change the dogs’ anxiety level eventually the aggression will come out in other areas of the dogs’ life. Your dog should never be forced in to a position where they feel they have no other option but to scream or bite the groomer.
You know your dog best, and you have to live with the consequences of poor handling, so never be afraid to ask a groomer to stop what they are doing- trust your instincts. These steps may sound over-the-top but this is your pet dog, a family member, and possibly your best friend. Don’t simply shrug an uncomfortable feeling off (the same advice goes when using vets and dog trainers), if you truly have concerns talk to your groomer about them, they may be able to help, and if not, go elsewhere.
If you cannot find a suitable dog groomer, or your dog has major issues with being handled, then you should seek out a good dog trainer who can teach you to do it yourself, until you are ready to try another groomer. Work up slowly, your dog will accept being handled by you faster, and better than they would by a stranger.
Dogs get in to all sorts of funky smells and situations. You cannot avoid grooming your dog, so you might as well teach them to enjoy it so everyone is happy.