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I’ve heard many pet parents exclaim, “my dog hates getting brushed!” It’s even more common to hear about dogs who don’t like getting their nails clipped or teeth brushed. There’s a reason a whole industry exists around grooming dogs! The thought of using unfamiliar tools on sensitive body parts is enough to make any pet guardian leave those tasks to the professionals.
But there’s no reason your dog can’t learn to love (or at least willingly tolerate) grooming. All it takes is the right approach. Try these steps for introducing your dog to brushing, nail clipping, and tooth brushing in a positive way.
Training your dog to get brushed
Many dogs love to be brushed, but not all do. And unless they got a lot of practice with it as puppies, they may be suspicious when you first introduce them to the brush. Approaching brushing slowly, with positive, non-threatening interactions, is more likely to result in a smoother grooming routine.
- Before you even set brush to fur, let your pup make friends with the tool. Start by placing the brush on the ground and throwing high-value treats around and on top of it, encouraging your dog to investigate the funny new object at their speed.
- The simple act of reaching for your dog with the brush can be scary for some dogs. Next, work on reaching out with the brush to very lightly touch your dog’s body with the edge of the bristles. Each time you reach out with the brush, immediately follow it with a high-value treat. Be sure to take extra care (and time, if needed) when brushing around the ears, legs, and genitals.
- When your dog is comfortable with step 2, move on to brushing the fur. Start lightly, alternating each stroke with a reward. Over time, work your way up to pressing more firmly and brushing for several strokes in a row.
Introducing your dog to nail clipping
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Just like with brushing, let your dog make friends with the clippers before touching their paws with them. This can make a big difference in whether your dog will tolerate having their nails clipped.
The trouble with nails is that it’s very easy to cut too close to the quick, causing pain and bleeding. If this is a concern, try using an electric dog nail grinder, which works like a turbo-charged nail file.
- Place your clippers or nail grinder on the ground and throw high-value treats around and on top to allow your dog to check it out.
- If using a nail grinder, the next step is to repeat step one with the nail grinder on, this time holding it in your hand but keeping it steady. Skip this step if you are using clippers.
- Continue the desensitization process by reaching towards your dog’s feet with the clippers, touching a nail gently, followed by a reward. If using a nail grinder, start with the machine in the “off” position. Turn it on when your dog becomes more comfortable with the nail-touching process.
- Move on to clipping or grinding the nails. If your dog is willing to eat, try spreading some peanut butter or baby food on the refrigerator door or a tile wall to give them something to focus on. A puzzle toy filled with delicious goodies may also work as a distraction.
Teaching your dog to accept tooth brushing
We’ve probably all been told by our vets that dogs require regular tooth brushing. It helps them avoid a diseased mouth later in life, and promotes overall health. However, not many of us actually do it very often! Here’s how to build the habit.
- Begin with a jar of peanut butter or baby food. Put a dab on your finger, then gently bring it to your dog’s mouth. Rub a tooth or two with the food when your dog opens up. As your dog becomes more accepting of this, try keeping your finger “brushing” around larger sections of their teeth or gums.
- Next, repeat step 1, this time putting the peanut butter or baby food on a proper dog-sized toothbrush instead of your finger.
- When your dog is comfortable with the toothbrush, you’re ready to switch to doggy toothpaste (never human toothpaste). If possible, use the same flavor of toothpaste that you used in your training.
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