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Positive Dog Parenting

by Rolan Tripp, DVM and Susan Tripp, MS/P

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Pet Professional Tip

Offer clients a grooming "start-up" package that includes the first few visits at a reduced rate to introduce the dog to the facility and groomer and to socialize the dog to the grooming table and tools with treats.  For older dogs, offer sedation, if needed, to prevent physical or mental pain.

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Establish positive human leadership

Every creature on earth requires regular grooming for good physical and mental health. Puppies and dogs are no exception. In addition to promoting good health and beauty, grooming also reinforces the human leadership role. If your dog does not accept and trust people to take a leadership role, then the dog will not cooperate with efforts to open it's mouth, hold its head still and other handling that goes with proper grooming techniques. Holding the dog's head and picking up the dog are seen by the dog as giving up leadership and control to the human.

Make a good first impression!

Always introduce your dog to new experiences in as positive a fashion as possible. Ask yourself how you can help the dog to see grooming as a good thing with nothing to fear. Initially, food treats may help to distract the dog throughout the grooming session and as a reward for appropriate behavior (e.g., letting you brush the hair coat while being relaxed and non-reactive). Over-time,  the dog may only require verbal and physical praise as motivation to be on his or her best behavior. Find a groomer that has lots of experience and one who specializes in gentle techniques. Inspect the facility for comforts. Do not leave your dog all day unless you are sure the dog will be allowed to eliminate and drink water throughout the day.

In addition to promoting good health and beauty, grooming also reinforces the human leadership role.

The key is to begin slowly and carefully

Take the time to introduce professional grooming in a very slow, and gradual manner.  The goal is for the dog to perceive a day at the Doggie Spa as a positive experience.  Prepare your dog at home before making the first grooming appointment. Buy a soft brush. Start by petting the dog with your hand - followed by a gentle brush stroke - followed by a hand - followed by a gentle brush stroke, etc. Initially, making grooming a positive experience is more important than the visual result.

Begin with a tired or relaxed puppy

The best time to start grooming is when the dog is already tired, sleepy, or simply relaxed. A good time is after a walk and before a meal. The dog is relaxed from the exercise.  The meal can be the reward for cooperative behavior.

Pulling fur out by the roots during grooming can be painful and is one of the principle reasons that dogs dislike the grooming process. Make sure you select the right brush for your dog's coat.  A slicker brush and comb is appropriate for long coats.  A slicker brush is one that contains several hundred bent metal prongs close together to remove old dead hair. Combs can catch hair and cause them to be pulled out. Combs should be very wide toothed and used VERY gently.  Do not try to comb a matt out. Instead, use your fingers to tease apart the mat without pulling on it. If it cannot be teased apart, it should be cut carefully above the skin, with your fingers pinching to protect the skin below. If the dog objects, you have been too rough. Pad the deck with more attention, treats and praise.

Professional grooming

Dogs with several, or repeated, mats should be clipped short by a professional groomer. If a professional groomer is required, find one willing to proceed slowly, with food treats to reward the dog for appropriate behavior, or find a veterinary practice that offers sedation with grooming to spare your dog physical and psychological pain.

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