This article is part of a 4 piece work on how to remove tangles and mats the gentle way so your doodle will love you not just way before and long after grooming but also right before, right after and meanwhile for keeping them comfortable.
Many doodle owners get pretty surprised when their pup's hair grows surprisingly and uncontrollably and they feel like they are working on a never ending story... Have you heard?
"You can only stop brushing, but you can never finish."
Well, good news! It may feel like it'll never end, but I have the tools for you so you'll see the end of the tunnel! :) Bright and clear, closer than you think!
Brushing can be done pretty fast, once you have the right tools and the knowledge to keep everyone comfortable on either end of the brush or comb.
In this article, I'll cover the first part of the magic spell.
- What is the most optimal place to keep a dog still for grooming? (Environment)
- What makes a brush comfortable for dogs? (Equipments)
- Dealing with tangles - Brush, Comb, Cut or short shave? (Tangles vs. Mats)
- Preparing your pup for a spa day (prevention training, socialization, treats)
I find it very important not just that my pups would cooperate, but what are their reasons are for cooperating? You may say my dog lets me do this and that, but I don't want pups letting me do things, meanwhile they are frozen by fear. We both will pay for it eventually.
I want to ensure them that whatever happens is fun, they can give it a try and will make it fun in case they are not comfy at first and won't continue any further than they are ready to, to build trust. Taking the time to go with their flow means everything for them. I don't know about any other faster way than this one. Forcing pups to do stuff with loops and muzzles is sometimes inevitable, like when a dog's nails have grown into its skin, so it's in a lot of pain, but most of the time, we have time to work on things which come up for you all and turn fear to comfort and willing cooperation.
Environmental Comfort Measures
Sounds / Noises
Fun facts first. :) Scientists say dogs can understand the tone of your voice and the meaning of your words. Doggy hearing is a mesmerizing feature. The frequencies that dogs hear are much higher and much lower than what humans can hear. Dogs hear a frequency range of 40 to 60,000 Hz while a human range is between 20 and 20,000 Hz. Because of this, dogs have a much more difficult time around very loud noises. And from a grooming perspective, with noises in general.
Because of that, it is super important to reduce noises (triggers) when it comes to grooming.
What kind of noises can steal the dog’s attention and make them startle or wiggle? In one word: any. :) Your voice, other human voices around, TV, radio, music, doorbells, sirens, other dogs barking, cats meowing or scratching in the litter box, other pets moving around (parrots, ferrets, etc...) the noise of a car door, collar, carabiner on the leash, fireworks, alarms, treat bag, cookie jar lid where you keep the dog food, squeaky toys, sounds of you putting the “dog walking pants/shoes” on, etc... I bet you can fit in quite a few of things that your doggy loves to hear and goes nuts for and those that he hates and goes nuts for or gets scared of. And that’s awesome because the more you are aware of, the more stuff you can do to get your dog prepared or eliminate the triggers and enjoy a calm and relaxing grooming session.
Seriously, anything can more/less trigger a dog. Our challenge of the day is to figure out which noises influence our pup and how and how much. Once we know that, we can rank those which positively influence the doggy and we can try eliminating those which are “not beneficial” for us around grooming time.
Observing your doggy’s behavior and how he/she reacts to those mentioned above and other noises will help you lay out a plan to keep him/her still for the pedicure session.
Generally, I eliminate all noises I can possibly think of, so the doggy won’t be too distracted.
Movements are another big trigger, and we’ll cover that next.
Movements / Visual Distractions
When the doggy’s vision is intact, visual distractions can have a big impact on keeping doggies still or inviting them to move around.
The care provider’s body language is crucial and the surrounding happenings are almost equally important. In this chapter we’ll cover those as a second and third layer which will work as an amazing support to get a doggy stay still for brushing and combing.
Care Provider’s Movements
When you are around doggies, I bet you already know a few tricks. For example, when you run or make fast movements, most of the time, some doggies take it as a “Let’s play and run” sign, but others will be super frightened and scared and they freeze. I bet you have tried to pet a pup who got shy when you reached down to let him sniff your hands. Some of us may even got bitten for one reason or another related to this.
The biggest take-home message is that our behavior and movements can be a big impact on how different doggies behave around us and with us. Often times it will determine whether we’ll create trust and a cooperative dog or we'll get bitten. The fear of getting bitten causes the most sweating among care providers (and owners), hence the overuse of muzzles.
The biggest reason why many care providers and dog owners with high energy level dogs are having so hard time working with wiggle butts is that they don’t know the dog's triggers and they are not aware of the following tips how to behave around a high energy level dog to alter their energy to get stuff done while everybody's needs are getting met.
Golden Rules/Guidelines about movements: (will talk about them briefly later)
- Move like a snail when you change positions.
- Move the least of your body when changing position.
- Always keep at least one hand on the dog (especially when you have the dog elevated) when you change positions. Even the tiniest movement counts, like putting the shears down to get the clippers. (for advanced pups verbal cue will do here later on.)
- Move like lightning when there is danger either to the dog or to you.
- Think ahead about a few “backup plan” ways to move your hands, arms, limbs away. (eg. don’t get tangled up with the dog so much that if you had to move your arm super fast, you’d end up hitting the dog with an elbow.)
- Facing the dog full body means “Stop, stay there.”
- Turning away (even with your eyes or head, especially with your body) means “Let’s go” to the dog. So if you need to grab some equipment, be extra slow and cautious.
- Always give a cue for jumping off of the table. Never let a dog jump off of the table without the release cue and moving it to the lowest setting. In case you let them jump whenever they please, obviously they can get hurt, and they’ll learn that it is OK to do so.
- Get familiar (and take notes, so you can monitor any changes) with the dog’s behavioral triggers (from owner and from the dog itself) and make a plan where and which position will possibly work best for you all.
Other People’s Movements
I find it incredibly distracting if other people move around me while I groom dogs, even “for quick procedures”. The closer they are, the bigger impact their movement has on the dog. A still, quiet person is usually well tolerated by the dog (and me :) but anything moving affects the dog’s movements and our blood pressure, big time. I try to keep anything moving out of sight and hearing distance from doggies in case I want them to stay still. It’s just like you not trying to teach kids math in Disneyland because they are way too distracted by Minnie Mouse, noises, smells, lights and tastes. The same applies to doggies: Whatever moves is like either Disneyland or Scare City, so avoiding distractions as much as possible is the fastest way to get a cooperative and still dog. There are some pro pups who’re either super chill and/or super well trained, or both and it’s not really a challenge for them. They are rare.
With this article series, I'd like to help you to better understand your pup so you'll be able to do magic and get your high energy level doodle pup to work with you for grooming as well.
My general guideline is like Cesar Millan’s: No touch, no talk, no eye contact. That seems to me the least distracting way in case the owner needs to stay. In most cases I ask the owners to move out of sight and make no noise. No phone calls, no digging in their purse, just being there, being quiet. It helps enormously. Some doggies will still wiggle in case they figure out that their owner hasn’t left. For those, I usually ask them to leave and wait in their car or check out a coffee shop. I often show them a video of their doggy being amazingly still on the table while I am working on them and will let them know about the doggie’s triggers so they will know what to practice at home. And that’s one way how those rare cases increase by number rapidly here. :)
Other Pet’s movements (indoor/outdoor)
Most doggies do pretty OK if their buddy is hanging around. And I mean a pack mate. New pets are like Minnie Mouse. A distraction. Most of the time well meaning, but a distraction all the same. That is the #1 reason why I work by myself and only one doggy or one pack’s pups at a time. That way I can control happenings amazingly smoothly; doggies will engage with me right away and they’ll cooperate incredibly well, off leash on the table.
Believe it or not, something like 95% of my canine clients behave perfectly with my cats. And that wasn’t the case all the time. I have 3 cats. It’s more like 2.5 though, since Miss Luna is a 6 lb poppy-seed-size rescued little black pearl we live with. She is the toughest though. I keep them separate from doggies who are described by their owner as not kitty compatible at first, but most of them are just fine after the first kitty butt sniff. And it often happens here that I have at least one cat in the grooming room if not on the grooming table while I am working.
So cats, unless the doggy we're working with has a real trigger for them, the cat is running or they are a visual trigger for doggies, are fine around grooming after we let the pup sniff the cat. Again, if they are running and playing with each other, that means movements -- a no-go for those times. You can just shut the door, and you’ll are good.
Moving curtains, blinds and other hidden “ghosts”
If you are blessed with an A/C, it can sometimes cause a smaller heart attack for timid doggies and for you at the same time. It is especially problematic when you’re trying to do very precise work, like nail trimming. E.g. when the A/C was off and starts working automatically, and the air moves the curtain for example, some doggies theoretically poop their pants just because of that. So for very timid doggies, we’ll need to be extra cautious about the surroundings and possibly provide care for them on the ground to prevent accidents, like suddenly flying off of the table.
Shiny surfaces can scare doggies, too. Narrow hallways or stainless steel tables are not the BFFs of doggies. Most of them do not like it, so it’s a good idea to keep that in mind on your way to the groomer/vet. It never hurts to let the care provider know about your doggy’s preferences.
Most of the care providers will be pleased to get any info about your dog’s sensitivities, so they don’t have to figure them out by themselves and experience a milder cardiac arrest. I deeply hope though that the care provider would ask you about it up front before you’d need to say anything. That is a reassuring sign of a caring care provider. In case they do not ask about sensitivities, behavior, etc., I would perhaps proceed with their service, but I would not leave my dog there by himself for sure. Find more info about how to pick a high quality service and a caring care provider later on in a separate chapter.
Try to think about any triggers the doggy has in advance, so you’ll be able to prevent accidents from happening.
Just to put it into perspective, dogs have about 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses, compared to humans, which have 6 million. Their smell is about 40 times greater than ours.
Here is a super interesting TED Talk about dog’s smell. After checking out this video, you’ll no longer wonder why I have a strict no perfume / no cologne / no fragrances rule in my shop. Not on dogs, nor on humans.
Smell of Places
Every place has a unique smell. Grooming shops, vet clinics, boarding facilities, home, surfaces, like a grooming table, etc.
After you’ve seen the video above, you’ll realize how incredibly important it is to pick a place and a care provider who can keep the doggy calm and relaxed. In case the doggies were anxious in that place before, they’ll leave “anxious scents” after themselves and new furry clients will pick it up. Right away.
(It is useful to distinguish between a doggy who is generally behaves like that in most places and those who are one wiggle butts all the time, but put on the brakes at specific places, like at the groomer’s. It is worth it to figure out the triggers and work on them, even if it means finding a new care provider.)
Smell of People
Every human has a different smell that doggies can distinguish. And I am talking about our natural smell, without perfumes.
It gives dogs a sense of security in case they are able to or allowed to sniff you (and other pets as well).
In my practice I patiently wait for my turn to get sniffed at and I enjoy all the benefits afterwards, a calmer, more trusting, more cooperative dog.
I highly recommend avoiding colognes, perfumes, and fragrances on yourself at grooming time, if possible. Your doggy will feel such a huge relief, will be super happy and will probably even reward you with calmer behavior.
Smell of Treats
When it comes to smells, we have the jackpot in our hands. Treats are best friends for most canines. We can do magic with powerful treats and can calm a wiggly pup down to focus on us, big time even in scary situations. I have dedicated a separate section to treats, since it is important to have the right type, size, smell, texture, etc. for the specific happening around, so that you’ll be able to reinforce your dog’s behavior fast, on time, and or a longer period of time without filling him up. Prepare to get a well-behaving pup and to get sticky! :) See the Emotional Comfort Measures for more details and the most Irresistible recipe! :)
Temperature is another factor which we can play around with. Some doggies prefer hot, some cooler weather or room temperature. I know pups who lie out in the sun to sunbathe, even here, in Texas, summer time! :D I know, right? I’m from Europe and before I moved to Austin I was convinced I love hot weather. It turned out I had no idea about what hot weather is! :D
With the A/C we can play around with the heat in the grooming area or we can move outside if the weather is not windy or rainy or too hot/cold.
Some dogs, especially elderly dogs, get so cold and uncomfortable on the cold and hard tile and prefer to lie on towels or blankets.
In case you have a dog who doesn’t really want to cooperate, spending 5-10 minutes outside together with the dog in the warm weather in the shade often helps them appreciate the cooling effects of the A/C indoors a lot more so they’ll just relax. Make sure you call off the fun run before your pup would overheat. Sometimes they are having so much fun, they lost track of time.
I have a rubber mat on my grooming table to keep pups from sliding so they'll feel comfortable. They appreciate it so much, so am I their trust and cooperation in return. :)
I prefer grooming doggies on my table. It has many advantages, the biggest one you'll experience is it saves your back. I'm flexible moving down for an elderly one, but having all dogs groomed on the floor would be a great deal for my chiropractor. :D
The location of the table is crucial and will either make or break the deal of a still pup for you.
If it's set up like below, it'll most likely result in a super cooperative dog. I call this phenomenon: dogs turn into grooming mode on my table. And I do not use any kind of leashes, harnesses, groomer's helper nor grooming loops.
My table is pushed right to the wall with its longer edge. It's a great "movie theatre" for my clients. They look through the window, check out birds and squirrels and they feel entertained. It's exciting, so boom, positive reinforcement right away.
I put stuff on the other 2, short edges, too sort of a barricade, so it won't encourage pups to jump off there.
One short side has an equipment holder and a shelf covering it, the other one has the trash bag a light stand and the wall within 2 feet of reach. So it's too busy there too for my pups to wanting to jump off.
On the other long edge, there I am with my mindful movements from the beginning of this article.
With those tricks above, your doodles will understand you are wanting the best for them and they will trust and cooperate willingly, off leash, from their heart.
Hope you'll find the above tricks useful!
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate contacting me!
Belly rubs to your pups!