Acclimating your dog to grooming (Bath, Nails etc)

For some dogs, grooming only requires an occasional bath & nail trim. For others, every 6 weeks or so they get a full body trim, ears plucked (ouch!) and face trimmed. Most of us humans enjoy the idea of a cut/color/blow out, but your pup did not choose to have a high-maintenance coat & long nails. He has no idea who you’ve just dumped him with or that it’s better to get bathed, combed and clipped now to avoid mats later. Rather than just dropping him at the grooming shop (or plopping him into the tub), spend some time acclimating your dog to grooming to help him have a good experience and avoid unnecessary trauma.

Here are a few tips to help your dog learn that grooming isn’t so scary after all:

Bathing:

Allow your dog to acclimate to the idea of getting a bath slowly and make it fun! Turn getting into the tub into a game! You can do this at home in your own tub, or you can go to a self service dog wash to avoid hair down your drain. Some dogs may wiz through these steps in one or two training sessions while for others it may take dozens of training sessions. Be patient with your dog and remember, doing the work now will pay off for your dogs entire life.

  1. Start by bringing your dog into the bathroom and feeding him some treats. Allow him to acclimate just to being in the room. If he already seems a bit nervous, leave the room, and come back later and repeat several times each day for several days until your dog feels comfortable in the bathroom.
  2. Next, try tossing some treats into the bathtub (or my favorite: smearing peanut butter on side of the tub where your dog has to jump in to get it). If your dog can’t physically jump in on their own, once you see they are interested in where the treats went, you may help them into the tub. Allow them to jump out as they please, but if they stay in, keep tossing treats in there for them (or re-supplying some peanut butter). If your dog seems a bit nervous, again leave and come back later repeating several times each day for a few days until your dog feels comfortable being in the tub.
  3. Next, while your dog is eating the treats, turn the water on, keeping it away from your dog. This may spook your dog and they may want to jump out. Encourage them to stay in the tub by continuing to feed treats and being playful & affectionate with your dog. If they jump out, start back at step 2 then try again. It may take a dozen attempts to get your dog to stay in the tub when the water comes on, but stick with it and be patient.
  4. Hopefully by this point your dog is really excited to get into the tub. Now we start the actual getting wet part. Most dogs don’t like this part, even dogs that like to swim, so take your time doing a little at a time and feeding (or having them lick the peanut butter) while you wet them down. The first time, just wet them down a bit, then dry them off and let them be done (hopefully they will want to stay and eat treats, but they may not). As your dog gets more comfortable, you can actually begin to give a full bath. Congrats, you’ve just made bath time less stressful for you and your dog!

Tip: If you prefer to send your dog to the groomer, you can do this at home to prepare your dog for their grooming session. It is also advisable to find a groomer who will help you keep your dog enjoying baths by giving him/her some treats while at their appointment, so be sure to send some special treats with your pup to the groomer.

Your dog may never love being bathed (unless they are a Labrador), but will learn to tolerate it easily in exchange for a tasty treat.

Nail Trims:

Trimming a dogs nails can be difficult if your dog is uncomfortable with it. Check out this video below for some tips on making your dog feel more comfortable with having their nails trimmed. Be sure to use some high value treats such as chicken or cheese to make the process move along more quickly. The higher value reward makes the dog more motivated to tolerate handling.

If you aren’t comfortable actually trimming your dogs nails yourself, you can still work with him at home to become more comfortable with handling his feet, and touching his nails with something metal (like a spoon or metal tool) before sending him off to the groomer.

If your dog is showing aggression during nail trims, it is advisable to acclimate your dog to wearing a muzzle. Click here for a how to video.

Hair Cut/Trimming:

Most dog owners don’t do a full groom at home, but you may want to do simple things like trimming feet or your dogs tail. It’s a great idea to acclimate your dog to the idea of trimming even if it won’t be you doing it.

  1. Start by finding some hair cutting scissors and either a trimmer of some kind or something that sounds like one (electric toothbrush). Allow your dog to inspect these items before beginning.
  2. Next, allow the dog to acclimate to the noise the tools make by holding the tool near to the dog while feeding treats.
  3. Now begin lifting feet and ears and handling your dogs muzzle with the tools in hand making noise nearby (continue to feed treats & praise your dog).
  4. If your dog can handle the noise of the tools in conjunction with handling, you can now begin some actual trimming. Take your time and stop to feed treats intermittently to keep your pooch happy.

If your taking your dog to a groomer:

  1. Make sure your dog is comfortable being crated.
  2. Find a groomer who understands your dog may need a little extra TLC to help them have a good experience and is willing to spend the extra few minutes to feed your dog treats and comfort him.
  3. Allow your dog to acclimate to the grooming salon slowly, over a few visits. Start by going in, greeting everyone and having them give him some treats. Come back another day, and this time hang out for 5 minutes so your dog can see what goes on in the salon. The groomer may even give the dog a few strokes with a brush. Next time leave your dog with the groomer for a quick nail trim (maybe even just a toe or two if your dog is anxious) before finally leaving your pup there for a full groom. Now the groomers won’t be strangers and the salon will be familiar which will greatly reduce your dogs level of stress. For highly anxious dogs, you may need to take things much slower than this, but it’s a good starting point.

A good groomer should be completely on board with your plan for gradual introductions. Let the groomer know that if your dog seems too stressed, they don’t need to complete the groom and risk frightening or hurting your dog. You can always come back another day to have it finished.

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