Creating kinder, gentler experiences for pets


     

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Gentle Grooming

Some dog and cat breeds are routinely professionally groomed, while others may never set foot in a grooming parlor in their lives. Even these pets will periodically need bathing, and combing and brushing should be done on a regular program.

The goal is to introduce all aspects of grooming as early in the pet's life as possible, and to try to make it a positive experience.

The wrong lesson: First, know what not to do when you're introducing a dog to grooming. Here are common scenarios that teach puppies the wrong lesson about being groomed:

- Squealing: The first time he is brushed, the puppy squeals. You stop brushing him and start cuddling and comforting him. The puppy has learned that squealing stops brushing and prompts petting.

- Squirming: The puppy squirms. You stop grooming her, and she dashes off for a romp—another triumph for the pup.

- Nipping: The pup nips at the hand holding the brush, and you stop brushing him. The puppy has learned to bite the groomer. Although he has won in the short term, a lifetime of muzzles, tranquilizers, and restraints await.

- Don't despair. Most dogs and puppies will try some of these maneuvers. However, if you make it clear that such conduct is not appreciated and continue grooming, most dogs will settle down.

The first step in establishing good grooming behavior is teaching your dog to accept handling on all parts of his body.

The right things to do
Here are some ways to make grooming a more positive experience:

Massage: The first step in establishing good grooming behavior is teaching your dog to accept handling on all parts of his body. Many dogs prefer that you don't touch their feet; others don't want their tails or rears handled. Pick a time when you are both relaxed, for instance when Fido has settled down for a post dinner snooze. Sit down next to him and speak softly while massaging his body all over. Encourage him to lie quietly and enjoy the process. Begin with the top spots on Fido's "petting hit parade," such as his belly, ears, and rump. When he is enjoying this, progress to places that don't make his "Top 10 list," like the tail, thighs, hocks, toes, nails and pads. Praise him for lying still and relaxing.

Repeat this routine for a few minutes every day until the pet is calm, relaxed, and seeking attention.

The brush: Once Fido has started eagerly anticipating time with his "personal masseuse," the time is ripe to introduce the brush. Don't attempt any serious grooming at this point. The object is to get Fido used to the feel of a brush and have him link it to the pleasure of massage. Perhaps most important is to ALTERNATE the brush stroke, with a hand stroke. If possible do the entire process when the pet is tired and relaxed.

Brush for a few moments the first time. Each succeeding day, intersperse a little more brushing than massaging. Make sure to brush all parts of the pet's body, not just the ones he likes best. Praise him lavishly for good behavior and maybe even give a special treat at the end of the session.

The great escape: Inevitably, he will decide that he has something more important to do than getting brushed. It must be you, not the pet, who determines when the grooming session will end. You will know that Fido is planning his escape when you feel his body tense up. Before he can make his move, place your hand flat on his neck, a few inches below his ears and firmly say "STAY!" Praise him when he relaxes. Continue brushing for a few more seconds before letting Fido make his exit.

Complaints: Growling or snapping will not make for a good session. If this occurs, it probably means that you are going too quickly, or that there is some distrust. Begin a program of requiring a SIT or DOWN before meals, going out doorways, or giving any attention. Slow down the massage, and mix in some food treats with the brushing.

Noisy equipment: If the sound of electrical equipment, like clippers or dryers, frightens your dog, wait until he is relaxed and introduce him to such equipment gradually. Turn the clippers on at a distance where the noise arouses interest but doesn't frighten him. While the equipment is running, feed him treats and pet him until he relaxes. Repeat this procedure for several days until he is completely confident, then gradually move the equipment closer until he accepts it at close range. Finally, let him feel it on him body, the same way you introduced the brush to him.

Grooming tips: Grooming is a two-way street. Your dog should behave for you, but you owe it to her to make grooming easier for her. Here are some tips for producing a well-groomed pet:

- Always use a conditioning spray before grooming. It smoothes tangles and makes brushing more comfortable.
- Brush all the way to the skin. Brushing only the top of the coat will leave the undercoat matted and dirty.
- Ask your groomer or breeder about the best methods and equipment for handling your pet's coat.
- Dematting tools with sharp, bladed teeth can easily injure your pet. If your pet requires dematting, take her to a groomer who is trained in how to handle such problems.
- It is kindest, if very matted, to have the groomer clip her coat very short – "a buzz!"

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