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I took my pup to have her nails trimmed. When I returned to pick her up, the groomer said that she had a hard time with my dog and that she had to muzzle her. The groomer said I need to do something. What on earth can I do?
-Sylvia from Gloucester
Grooming is a very personally invasive procedure for many dogs. Owners need to be sensitive to this and begin early on to make grooming a pleasurable, or at least a non-threatening, experience. To desensitize your pup to nail clipping, you might proceed as follows over the next few weeks. Be sure to give lots of praise and loving reinforcement at each step. You can start by gently wiping her paws every time she comes in from outside. This forces her to stand still so that you can attend to her dirty feet. Whenever you are sitting quietly with your pup, you can gently pet her, working your hands from her shoulders down her legs and towards her paws. From there, begin touching her nails. When this has become no big deal, start gently inserting your fingers between her toes and massaging there and the pads of her feet. Next take out the nail clipper and put it on the table. Let her see it, but don’t make a big deal out of the fact that it is there. Leave the clipper on the table and begin tapping on her nail with your fingernail. Try to make it fun, i.e. “this little piggy went to market.” Next, you can try holding the paw up so that you can look at each individual nail. This might be a difficult step. Over a period of time, calmly persist. If you are successful in holding up her paw, next you can tap her nails with the clipper. Once she can accept this, you are ready to try to cut one nail or perhaps all of the nails on one paw. Don’t try for too much. If you only get one nail clipped, you are doing well. Remember this process could take many days or weeks. Don’t rush it if your ultimate goal is to be successful.
Sadie gets very agitated when I try to give her a bath. Recently she even snapped at me when I picked her up to put her in the tub. All of the dogs I have had in the past loved the bath. What gives?
-George from Haverhill
As is the case in many situations in which a dog shows fear or discomfort, a little detective work needs to be done to figure out the precise cause. In your case, for example, it may not be the bath per se that is the source of the problem.
You need to break down the bathing process into as many component parts as possible. Then you can desensitize her to each step in a calm, unhurried, unthreatening atmosphere. You say that when you pick her up to put her in the tub she gets agitated. What you don’t say is whether you pick her up at times when she is not going to get a bath. If not, then maybe that is the problem. Maybe she gets nervous when you envelope her or surround her with your arms. Or maybe it is the lifting that is the problem. If so, you need to desensitize her to these movements, away from the bathroom, in a more fun-filled, relaxed way.
For some dogs being in the bathroom with the door closed can be unnerving. They sense when their possible exits have been cut off and eliminated. Closing the door also changes the look and sound of the room. With the door closed, the room suddenly becomes smaller; this may make Sadie feel more claustrophobic. Possibly, it is the sound of the running water in the tub. Also, most bathrooms have a hollow, echo-y sound. You must get her used to the sounds and the closed door without all the excitement of the impending bath. Another area of concern to Sadie might be her footing while in the tub. Standing in a wet, slippery bathtub can be a very unsettling feeling for a dog. You need to provide or devise something that will give her better footing, for her sense of security and for her safety. Get her used to the tub when there is no water in it. As you can see, poor Sadie has to face quite a few challenges just to get—what in our minds is—a simple bath.