Most dog owners should be able to perform basic grooming maintenance with their dogs at home. This typically includes brushing and teaching dogs to accept being touched. The more comfortable dogs are with these actions, the easier it will be for their owners to perform them.
Basic brushing: All dogs can benefit from brushing two to five times per week. It allows owners to keep their pets cleaner and increases the chances of owners finding lumps or other skin ailments that otherwise might be missed. Brushing keeps shedding down and, over time, some dogs can really learn to love it. Brushing is also great for longer haired dogs, as it keeps them from becoming as matted and dirty between professional grooming appointments.
Note on equipment: If the dog is sensitive to being brushed, I like to start with a soft bristle brush meant for short-haired dogs. This is true even for long-haired dogs. This might sound strange, but the reason is that longer haired dogs typically require longer, more widely spaced bristled brushes. While these are more effective for longer haired dogs, they are also more likely to pull on the dog’s fur. I’ve had professional groomers roll their eyes at this initially, assuming that the dog trainer didn’t know much about grooming—they were right. I don’t pretend to be a grooming expert, but I do know behavior and how to modify it.
Just be up front with owners. Explain to those who are having this challenge that the solution might involve them purchasing a couple of different types of brushes and that once the dog has learned to like being brushed, the owners might not need all of them. In my experience, most owners are willing to spend an extra $10-20 for items that will make their dogs more comfortable.
Here is a behavior modification program I have used successfully:
Week 1. Take your dog brush and place it by the dog. Then, start the session by slowly and gently running your hands over the dog’s body. While doing this, praise the dog and once every 20 seconds or so, give her a special treat—something small and that the dog finds delicious. Stop after three minutes. Do this two times per day for four or five days during the first week. The reason you put the brush by the dog is so that she starts to associate its presence with positive things. Other than letting her see it, you don’t use it at all during the first week.
Week 2. Start the sessions this week exactly like you did last week, only halfway through each session, pick up the brush and, using the non-bristled part, slowly and gently rub it on the dog. Most dogs won’t respond any differently when touched with the brush at this point. Remember to praise and feed special treats every 20 seconds or so. The goal is three- to five-minute sessions two times per day, four days per week.
Week 3. Start the sessions with the flat part of the brush and halfway through, gently rub the bristle side on the dog. Remember the praise and food treats. Again, most dogs will accept this quite readily. Set the goal for session frequency to be the same as Week 2.
Week 4. By this juncture, you should be able to brush the dog gently for three to five minutes with no problem. At that point, you can lengthen the amount of time, although it is best to not increase by more than a minute or two over the next week.
Week 5. By now you should have a dog that tolerates and even likes being brushed. If the owner has a medium- to long-haired dog, they can move back to Week 3 with the correct brush and work forward from there.
As I stress in all my articles, many of the principles and techniques outlined here can be shared with owners by retailers. Pet retailers who can assist consumers with dogs that are touch- or grooming-sensitive will stand out over those who do not. Of course, every situation is different, and if owners trying the above methods run into challenges, retailers should suggest they contact a professional dog trainer.