You might think that nail clippers are harmless and a bath is like a mini dog water park, but your pup knows everything grooming related is terrifying and should be outlawed in all states. A little counter conditioning coupled with positive reinforcement will change your pup's outlook on grooming.
Take some advice from the tortoise and go slow and steady. Few dogs will tolerate you whipping out a pair of nail clippers and shaving down their nails without warning. Instead of getting right to business, slowly condition your pup to accept each grooming tool and situation. If you grind his nails, for example, let him see the grinder and give him treats when he sniffs it, then touch it to his paws while it's off and give him treats. Keep upping the ante once he's comfortable with the current step, and he'll learn to associate the tools of the trade with rewards.
Groom him in a neutral location. If you groom your little guy in the same room every time and he freaks out every time, he's going to think that bad things happen in that room and immediately become nervous if he's shuffled in there. Choosing a neutral location may be impossible if you give him a bath, but clipping his nails or giving him a haircut or a good brushing should be done in an area of the house he's not afraid of nor particularly attached to. He probably won't associate his new grooming location with something bad as long as you use positive reinforcement and slowly introduce each tool.
Give treats throughout the process and talk to him. Make sure the fun and rewards don't end when he's used to getting all jazzed up. Give him a treat or two as you clip a few nails and talk to him as you brush him. It's easy to focus on grooming your little guy as a job, but making sure it's a reward for him from beginning to end will lead to more positive grooming sessions.
Keep the situation comfortable for your dog. Forget about any advice you hear that tells you to hold your dog down or secure him to something with his leash. Anytime you force your pup to do something or to remain somewhere he really doesn't want to be, you're going to make him freak out and panic. Instead, ask him to lay and keep him calm. Don't force him to the ground or force him to stick around. A little "Ah, wait" should be enough to keep him from bolting off, as long as he's been conditioned to enjoy the grooming process.
Tire your pup out beforehand. This usually isn't required, but it can help make certain dogs calmer, especially those who are hyper and full of energy. Take your little guy for a walk or play fetch for 20 minutes. Make sure you allow him to rest for 10 or 15 minutes between exercise and grooming. You don't want to make him too worked up that he makes himself sick.
- If you feel the only way to groom your dog is to restrain him physically, you might want to take him to a groomer. Some situations, such as nail trimming, can be dangerous if your pup is resisting and thrashing about.
- Slowly introducing each grooming tool and situation is the number one rule to follow and remember. It lays the foundation for everything else.
- Remember to act confident. If you seem nervous or afraid, your dog will likely pick up on it and show the same behavior.
- Yelling at or hitting your pup will not make him calmer. He might appear more calm, but he'll be much more nervous and fearful.
Located in Pittsburgh, Chris Miksen has been writing instructional articles on a wide range of topics for online publications since 2007. He currently owns and operates a vending business. Miksen has written a variety of technical and business articles throughout his writing career. He studied journalism at the Community College of Allegheny County.