Mark Vette – Internationally renowned Animal Behaviourist, Educator, Author and TV personality

How to desensitise a dog to grooming

How to desensitise a dog to grooming

Train your dog to be relaxed and comfortable when you need to brush them or clip their nails! 

It’s no fun to try and restrain a wriggly or uncomfortable dog so that you can brush the mats out of their fur or trim their nails, but these things need doing sometimes right? Today I’ve got some tips on desensitising a young puppy to being groomed (the ideal scenario if you’re lucky enough to have a young pup that hasn’t yet developed an aversion). But don’t worry, I’ve also got advice on how to treat an existing sensitivity to grooming in an older dog!

Desensitising a puppy to grooming

Here I show how you can start to desensitise a young pup to being groomed. It’s all about starting when they are young (ideally before 12 weeks), and using the clicker and food  rewards to keep pup distracted while you introduce grooming experiences such as  brushing, handling the tail and nails etc.  In the very early stages, you just click and reward as they accept you touching and handling different parts of their body – back, ears, mouth, feet etc. Then you gradually introduce tools like a brush or nail clippers, always starting slow and click and rewarding continuously if she handles the touch without reacting too much. 

Treating existing sensitivity to grooming in older dogs

If you have an older dog that already dislikes being groomed, the technique is a bit different. You will still use the clicker and high value food rewards, but you’ll need to go  much more slowly.  

  • First, introduce the clicker if you haven’t already and use it to teach some basic commands such as Sit and Down so your dog understands how the clicker works and  what it means. Check out this blog on how to introduce a clicker.
  • Ensure your dog is nice and hungry for this training. Skip breakfast and use high value  food rewards!
  • Clip your dog up to a clip station to keep her in one place (or put smaller dogs up on  a table). Start by doing some Sit and Zen Down commands using the clicker and food  rewards to get her focused on you and the treats, and in a calm learning state.
  • Begin by patting your dog gently as you click and reward, with the grooming tool such  as a brush sitting nearby 
  • Then begin to brush your dog with the back of the brush, not the bristles, starting on the chest area as this is the least intimidating. Click and reward for relaxed, non-vocal  responses. Move to the back area if your dog is coping well. 
  • Gradually move to brushing lightly with the bristles, always clicking and rewarding your  dog if she is quiet.  
  • Gradually begin to brush more vigorously as you click and reward. 
  • Always wait until your dog is coping and accepting treats before moving to the next  stage. You’ll need to work at the edge of your dog’s comfort level, so she may be a bit  uncomfortable as you progress but if she’s accepting treats, then she’s coping. If she  stops taking treats, move back a step.
  • Some dogs do well if you groom them in the bath or shower, and smear peanut butter on the wall for them to lick off as you do it. Or you can buy a Lickimat!

Use the same technique when desensitising your dog to having their nails clipped.

  • Start with some calming Zen Down and Sit commands using a clicker and food rewards

  • Click and reward your dog as you handle their paws and nails, initially without the clippers
  • Then do the same with the clippers nearby and in sight, but still don’t use them
  • Then touch your dog’s paws and nails with the clippers as you continue to click and reward with high value treats. Don’t yet actually clip the nails, just touch the nail clippers to their paw and nails area
  • When your dog is coping well with this, begin to do some very gentle clipping – only clip the very thinnest tip so there is no chance you’ll hurt your dog. Click and reward as you go.
  • You may do this over a few different sessions to gradually ease your dog into it, particularly if your dog is already reactive to even the sight of the nail clippers

If your dog is seriously phobic or sensitive, our Virtual Dog School covers desensitisation training in greater detail, including how to get your dog in a Learning State so that she is focused enough to progress with this training. To learn more, click here.

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