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:


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.


Your Newly Adopted Dog

Bringing home a new dog can be very exciting, but it can also be a real bummer if the transition doesn’t go well. Here are my top 10 tips for success with your newly adopted dog.

1. Establish a routine: Dogs love routines, especially a dog who is trying to adapt to a new environment. Set up your routine so your dog knows what to expect each day and that will help him better cope with the stress of a new home. Plan meal times, walks, playtime etc and try to stick to a similar schedule each day. Your first few weeks should be low key (nofficeo dog park trips or large gatherings) to help your dog adapt more quickly.

2. Teach your dog to love his alone zone: Generally, a crate is a great place for a dog to be while you are gone (at least until he has shown you that he is not destructive). Whether a crate, mudroom, bedroom etc, teach your dog to love his “Alone Zone.” Each time you bring him to this place, leave him with a stuffed Kong or other long lasting (and safe) edible. From day one, you should give your dog brief periods of confinement in his Alone Zone. Ignore any whining or barking when left alone, and instead give him attention for good behavior (such as resting or chewing his toy).

3. Teach some door & gate boundary control exercises: By teaching your dog to sit & wait at a door or gate, you are preventing door dashing. If your dog doesn’t already know how to Sit, start with that. Once he understands that cue, simply go over to a door and act as if you plan to exit. Reach for the door handle and ask your dog to sit. Once seated, begin to open the door. If he gets up, close the door and again ask for a sit. Repeat until your dog understands that the door only opens when he sits & waits in that position. Release him (with a word such as Break, Free or Release) when you are ready to go through the door. Initially practice on an interior door, then leash the dog to work on an exterior door.

4. Play the Name Game: If your dog has a new name, you’ll have to teach him that saying “Fido” means to pay attention to me. Simply say “Fido” and give a treat if he looks in your direction. If he doesn’t look your way, pause a few seconds before trying again, this time touching him gently right after you say it to get his attention. Again, reward him for looking your way. Practice initially in a quiet environment in your home, then work up to more distractions such as outside in the yard or while on a walk.

5. Teach your dog to chase you: A loose dog that barely knows you is difficult to catch, especially if he is fearful, so play the chase game (he chases IMAG1000you… not the other way around which will have the opposite effect) to teach him that running to you is a great game! Start with a bunch of high value treats, say your dogs name and run away from him. When he catches you, deliver several high value treats and praise him. Repeat, repeat, repeat until your dog sees running after you as a great game. In the event that he sneaks out the front door, all you need to do is say his name, and run back in the yard or house. To prevent him from nipping when he catches you, be sure to deliver the treats immediately when he gets close to you, so he doesn’t think to chase you and nip at your clothes, hands or feet.

6. Know how to prevent him from getting away from you & what to do if he does: The type of collar or harness you use when going on walks is important. A collar that is too big can easily slip off your dog. Make sure your dogs collar is snug or use a martingale collar (aka no slip collar) for prevention (and don’t forget the ID tag & microchip). It is also a good idea to set up some double barriers at all exits that lead to an unfenced space. Use gates, x pens or get creative with furniture to make sure your dog can’t slip out the door under your feet. This is especially important in homes with children who may leave the door open on accident or not know to stop the dog from going out with them. The boundary control exercises above will also help prevent this. If your dog does slip out, play the chase game above. If that doesn’t work, bring a bunch of treats to throw directly at him and while he is cleaning them up, you can grab him. Sitting or lying down can also be an effective way to get your dog to approach you, especially if they are running away the moment you get close to them. More often than not, running after the dog is not the answer. Try to stop and think. You can even try corralling him into a fenced yard for capture.

7. Try using some natural calming remedies to reduce stress: When you bring your dog home, consider using a calming collar,  calming spray, calming treats, DAP diffuser, or essential oils designed for use in dogs. This can also help prevent separation anxiety which is very common in shelter & rescue dogs.IMAG1892

8. Really get to know your dog: Learn about his likes & dislikes when it comes to affection (where does he like to be pet, or not like), play (does he like squeaky toys, playing tug etc), food (what are his favorite types of treats) and social interaction (how does he feel about strangers out in public or other dogs). Do a little at a time so you don’t overwhelm him, but see if he enjoys things like swimming, going for walks (surprisingly not every dog does) and more. When you figure out what your dog enjoys, you can begin using those things as rewards in training.

9. Dog proof your home: Don’t expect that he should know not to chew on your shoes or your favorite rug. Set up the space so he can succeed. Remove unnecessary things he might try to play with, and give him plenty of his own toys & chews of different types and textures.

10. Set him up for potty training success (even if he’s already trained): Take him to his toileting area immediately when you bring him home, and continue to take him there as often as possible to give him ample opportunity to get it right. Even for a potty trained dog, coming into a new home with new people and smells can throw them off, so don’t expect that there won’t be any accidents.


Often, the first few weeks of an adoption are the honeymoon period. The dog is unsure of his new surroundings and is just sitting back to figure out what is happening. Once he begins to settle in, you might begin to see some not so fun behaviors setting in. That’s why its a good idea to get your new dog into training classes or schedule private lessons in the first few weeks you have him so you have some help on your side to tackle the issues as they come up before they become a serious problem.

Dog Park Do’s and Don’ts

Dog parks can be a fabulous place for you to exercise your dog and for your dog to socialize, but they can also be a scary place for a fearful dog, or an unsafe place if there are owners who bring dogs who really should not be there. One negative experience with a dog can forever scar your dog and create both fear and aggression (the best defense is a good offense). Dog’s may also learn bullying play styles that can lead to other problems.

I have put together a bit of information for you so that you and your dog can have plenty of pleasant dog park experiences and avoid any potentially negative experiences.

Do: Learn how to read dog body language and learn what is appropriate vs. inappropriate play. Learning to read your dogs social signals is very important for so many reasons, but really is invaluable when it comes to interactions with other dogs at the dog park. The more educated you are, the better you can keep your dog safe. See additional videos & other resources at the end of this post.

Don’t: Try to bring your dog to the dog park to work on socialization issues. Work with a trainer or behaviorist in a controlled environment with well known dogs in order to address any fearful, reactive or aggressive behavior.

Do: Determine whether or not your dog is a good fit for a dog park. Not every dog is a good fit for a dog park, and that’s ok. Fearful or shy dogs may not be a good fit for a dog park during peak hours when there are a lot of dogs there. Young puppies are also not a good fit for dog parks. Not only should your puppy be fully vaccinated before going to a dog park, but they should also be confident enough to stick up for themselves (typically 5-6 mo. or older). If you puppy rolls over and squeals easily during interactions with other dogs, they may not be ready for the dog park.

Don’t: Listen to other attendees in the park who may not understand their or your dog’s needs or understand canine play and body language. Instead, educate yourself from dog professionals and be sure to stand up for your dogs emotional and physical well being. He shouldn’t have to put up with a rude dog just because “He’s just playing.”

Do: Teach your dog to come when called reliably. It is vital that you can call your dog out of play that may be inappropriate. Also, if a fight breaks out, you want to be able to call your dog away so they don’t become involved.

Don’t: Believe that dogs can “work it out” if you just let them do so. If your dog is growling, snarling or air snapping at another dog and that other dog is not listening, protect your pooch and get them out of there before they feel the need to take things further. Young puppies often do not listen to reprimands well. If the other dog respects the warning, that is great, but don’t allow it to go any further.

Do: Check out the entrance before entering to make sure there aren’t dogs congregating there. It can be very stressful for a single dog to come into a pack of dogs right as they enter. Some dogs may also become territorial of the park which can cause fights at the gate.

Don’t: Congregate with other dog owners and chat. Many fights happen when there are large groups of dogs and humans just standing around due to the fact that they don’t have enough personal space and owners are often not paying enough attention to their dogs.

Do: Keep moving. Even if you go to a small park (bigger is better), continue walking the perimeter and encourage your dog to follow you. You may stop for short play sessions with other dogs, but your best bet is to keep moving to avoid altercations.

Do: Remove your dog if it is bullying others or if it appears afraid.

Don’t: Force your pup to play with a dog he doesn’t naturally want to play with. Size is less important than play style, but it’s not safe to bring a very small dog (under 10lbs) into a park with unknown large dogs. Here is a good example of dogs of different sizes playing appropriately.

Do: Leave special toys at home to avoid resource guarding. Even if your dog doesn’t guard the toy, another dog might guard your dogs toy from him/her.

Don’t: Let all the dogs in the park know that you have treats. If you are working on training, only feed treats when no other dogs are near you, bring non smelly treats and keep them in a high pocket. Also, keep your distance from large groups of dogs.

Do: Encourage your dog to walk away from a dog who may be growling, snarling or snapping at him. These are communication signals that your dog should learn to prevent by not bothering dogs who give more subtle cues such as freezing & staring.

Don’t: Assume that a dog is aggressive when he is only trying to communicate it’s discomfort. Growling, snarling and snapping are a dogs way of saying “Please go away!.” That dog has a right to have space and not have to put up with puppy antics or rowdy play.

Overall, the most important aspect is to educate yourself so that you know what to look for when you are trying to spot problems in play. This is the best way to keep your dog safe! For more information, refer to the posts below and check out some of the Youtube videos below.

Additional Resources:

  • Language of Dogs (DVD) – Sarah Kalnajs
  • Body Language of Canine Play (DVD) – Terry Ryan
  • Dog Play (Book) – Patricia McConnell
  • Canine Body Language (Book) – Brenda Aloff

These books and DVD’s can be found on either or

Some good examples of good dog play:


Need help reforming your dogs dog park behavior? Click here to tell us about how we can help you.

Puppy Socialization: In the Spotlight is Hank!

Puppy Socialization

Meet Hank! Hank is an 8 week old Laborador Retriever who is lucky enough to be both enrolled in Puppy Class & taking private lessons. His owners are commited to having a well trained and socialized dog for their family. In my classes I have chosen to allow puppies 8 weeks and older with their first set of vaccinations. I personally feel that socialization is far more important than the small chance that your dog may contract an illness before being fully vaccinated, and so does the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior. Click here to view their position statement on puppy socialization.

When it comes to creating a well rounded canine companion, nothing beats good socialization. Training is obviously important as well, but socialization is the key to creating a dog that will not be fearful or reactive/aggressive towards people, dogs, objects & places. The main socialization window is from 6-16 weeks of age. During this time, your puppy is most open to new experiences. After that time, your dog becomes less and less open to new things and more set in his or her ways, so socialization becomes significantly more challenging. For this reason, early socialization is a must, so create as many positive socialization experiences for your dog as possible! Even though the main socialization window is short, that doesn’t mean you should stop socializing after 16 weeks. Continue socializing for the remainder of your dogs life to maintain their social skills. Imagine being locked away in the house without ANY direct human contact for months or years. It may become a little difficult to reintegrate into a normal social life.

Because this is a small window of opportunity, you may be feeling bummed out that you missed this window with your dog or should have socialized them more. Don’t worry, it is possible to continue socialization with an older dog, just a little more difficult so I would suggest that you work with a professional trainer to be sure you are using the right techniques. Many people think that just exposing the dog continuously to whatever makes them uncomfortable can solve the problem (desensitization). While this process can be useful, if done improperly it can actually create more harm than good.

Early Socialization

Early socialization is extremely important in creating a well rounded adult dog. Puppy Classes are a great way to get your puppy started on the right paw. Not only do we get started with basic training, but we also allow the puppies to socialize with each other and with the other owners.

Ideally puppies should meet 100 different people of different ages, sizes and shapes, wearing different clothing including hats and boots and talking in different ways. They should also be able to meet just as many other dogs that are unique and different. It is important that each experience with this people and puppies is a positive one. After 16 weeks of age the socialization window slowly begins to close and your puppy starts to become less open to new things. While it is possible to socialize adult dogs, it is much more difficult, especially if the dog has had negative experiences (in their eyes, not yours).

In Puppy Class we also talk about problem solving puppy behaviors like nipping, chewing, jumping and house training This week I had a Puppy Class graduation and was able to snap some fun photos! Puppy Classes are taught at Pampered Pooch Playground in St. Louis Park!

Mental Exercise for your Dog

While physical exercise is very important, mental exercise is too. Imagine if it were you sitting in a small kennel all day just waiting for the moment someone arrived to let you out. That is a long day with nothing to do! Mental exercise can also be a good alternative to physical exercise on rainy or cold days.

Mental exercise in dogs is similar to things we do like reading a book, watching a television show, or browsing the net. Your dog will thank you for providing him with a little mental entertainment. Here are some ideas of things that you can do.

1. Buy interactive toys. There are many different types of toys including the Kong, Buster Cube, Tricky Treat Ball, Tug a Jug and more. These toys are a great way to keep your dog entertained, and make them work for their food!
2. Find it! Teach your dog to use it’s nose to find treats you have hidden around the house. The first few times you may need to help your dog, but they catch on fast!
3. Teach your dog a new trick or take a training class! Training is one of the best mental exercises. Try shake, roll over, play dead or sit pretty! There are plenty more tricks you can try once your pooch masters those as well as some great obedience exercises, agility, or flyball!
4. Hide and Seek. Play hide and seek with your dog. Have your dog stay (or have someone else hold him/her) while you hide. Say your dogs name and see how long it takes him to find you. You can also play this game when your dog is not paying attention to where you are.
5. Bubbles! Some dogs love chasing bubbles! Give it a try!

Clicker Training Your Dog

Clicker training uses operant conditioning which is a scientific term that describes the way animals learn from the consequences of certain behaviors. Positive reinforcement is a type of operant conditioning often used in dog training. There are different types of clickers, but I prefer the small and quieter iclick.

Clicker training, a common form of positive reinforcement, is a simple and effective training method. The clicker is generally a metal strip inside a plastic case that makes a distinct clicking sound when pressed. The click is much faster and more distinct than saying “good dog” and much more effective than using treats alone. To teach a dog the meaning of the click, a treat is given immediately after clicking. Once the dog learns the positive effects of the clicking sound, the clicker itself acts as a conditioned reinforcer.

Here are the steps to teach your dog clicker training:

• Start off with your dog in a room with minimal distractions.

• Have a handful of treats or a treat pouch ready

• Click the clicker and give your dog a treat (Repeat this process while walking through your home or about the room)

• After 20-30 repetitions, test your dog by waiting for him/her to be distracted or looking away and click the clicker to see if he/she turns their head expecting a treat. If the dog turns their head expecting a reward, you are ready to begin teaching behaviors with the clicker. If not, do 20-30 more reps.

• Once your dog is responding to the click, start clicking when your dog gives you a good behavior, for instance, ask your dog to sit and as soon as the butt reaches the floor, “click!” You can also click during a specific behavior such as while your dog is walking nicely by your side without pulling.

Once your dog has learned what you are trying to teach them, you can begin to wean them off of the clicker by just using it less often when you are training. Once your dog is really good at the behavior, you won’t even need the clicker anymore!