Grooming … Stay Still, I Said!

Bet you can’t imagine that busy ball of fur you call your puppy behaving long enough to get a full grooming done. Spending a little training time teaching your puppy to lie or stand still can pay off – it will make grooming go more quickly. Plus, you’ll have taught him some other lessons that will be useful in many settings – such as at a professional groomer’s, your vet’s office – and he’ll have learned to pay attention to you.

Here’s how one owner taught his Wheaten how to lie down for a grooming.

Learn the basics of clicker training

You can even do it without a clicker! The basic idea is as follows:

  • Dog does a desirable behavior — doesn’t pull his paw away.
  • You immediately give the click or its equivalent; let’s call it the bridge. For grooming, your hands may be too full to also hold a clicker. Instead, use the word, “Gooood.” As the spelling suggests, use a particular pronunciation of the word good only in these training situations.
  • Reward lying down. You give the dog a treat. Basically, the bridge means, “You got it right, a treat is coming.” A treat ALWAYS follows the bridge. You can give lots of other praise, “atta boy, nice dog, pretty, boy,” or whatever, without treating, but the bridge signal always means a treat is coming. Step one of this technique is to teach the dog that bridge = treat. This is easy. Just click (or say the bridge-word) and then treat. A couple of 5-minute sessions should have your puppy looking for the treat as soon as the bridge is heard.

Now put it to good use

Handle your dog every day, trying to touch every part of its body. This step is particularly important for puppies. Handle every toe, look at its teeth, feel its ears, tummy, rump, etc. Exercise gentle insistence and don’t let the dog win. Your dog will probably pull his foot away when you try to feel between his toes. When this happens, pick up the foot and try again. You have to win at this game. Puppies will likely try to nip your hand during this process. You will have to use your anti-mouthing training methods here, e.g., yelling “oow,” distracting, etc. When he allows you to touch an area without pulling away or trying to mouth you, bridge and treat. When your dog is good at this massage and touching session, you are ready to move on to doing other things like brushing teeth, combing hair, trimming nails, etc.

Prepare for brushing and combing

Teach your dog to lie on its side with his head on the floor or grooming table. If his head is down, he can’t mouth you or get up. In the words of clicker trainers, you have to shape this behavior. At first, just try getting your dog to lie on his side quietly while you stroke him with the pin brush. Initially you will need to bridge and treat whenever the head is on the floor. If he lifts his head you may gently guide it back. Follow a simple rule: The bridge is given only when the head is down.

Keep the treats small!

For a puppy, you can use pieces of hard cheese less than 1/4 of an inch cubed. You will need to treat lots to get through your initial grooming sessions and large treats will fill up the dog.

As the dog learns to keep his head down…

You will be able to comb more and more before bridging and treating. As you proceed to lengthen the time between treats be prepared to back off if the failure rate (lifting his head or squirming) gets too high. Don’t set a goal of a treat-free session. After all, the dog has to work hard at this and deserves some pay!

When can you quit

Eventually you may be able to dispense with the formalities of the bridge and treat. You might need to reach an agreement – he occasionally gets treats as long as he keeps his head down. If he pushes his side of the bargain, ignore him.

What about standing

At some point, you’ll need your dog to stand. You can use the same clicker training for that. Decide on your goal and shape the desired behavior with the bridge (click) and treat technique.

— Thanks to Richard Marsh for this contribution

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