Grooming: How It Affects Your Dog’s Behavior

By Kathy Diamond Davis

Canine Behavior Series

Stroking our dogs provides emotional and physical benefits for humans, even lowering blood pressure. Dogs given the right conditioning to human touch come to benefit from this interaction with their families just as much as the humans do.


Good grooming conditions dogs to the handling that is so precious in our relationships with them. The natural reaction to being touched is defensive. We learn-and so do our dogs-to enjoy touch only when we have the right experiences with it. Puppies who are cuddled get the right start.

Rough handling obviously harms the dog’s trust in being touched, and handling that is too tentative can do the same. If you touch the puppy and the puppy decides to protest, backing off gives the puppy the wrong message. Pups handled this way get the idea that people actually want to be informed of a dog’s wishes through growls, snarls and snapping teeth! On the other hand, if you overreact and come down on the puppy for protesting, you can make the puppy more defensive.

A regular grooming schedule gives structure to your puppy’s experiences of human touch. With the job of grooming to get through, you’re inclined to hold steady in the face of a puppy protest. Because you want the puppy to cooperate so you can accomplish the grooming, you’ll learn how to make grooming comfortable for the puppy. This brings balance into your touch relationship with your puppy, and leads to incredible benefits.

Well-groomed Dogs Get More Cuddles

A dog’s response to touch needs regular maintenance, which doesn’t happen when the dog is too dirty to handle. It’s easy to cuddle a clean dog many times a day as you move through other activities. Not so easy to give the dog equal attention if you then have to go clean yourself up every time.

For dogs with long coats, tangles can quickly mat and create skin sores. Now it hurts the dog to be petted, but the sores are hidden, causing people not to realize why the dog resents being touched. Communication and bonding between the dog and the family can quickly break down in this situation.

The Long and the Short of It

Long-haired dogs benefit when their people realize right from the start that grooming will be required. Dogs such as Poodles who require professional-caliber grooming can greatly benefit from the training given them by a skillful groomer.

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For best results, find a good groomer and keep taking the dog back to the same one. This is the happiest situation for the dog. Shopping around for the best price on dog grooming can be a mistake.

Between professional appointments, keep the long-haired dog clean and free of tangles in the coat. Work with the groomer to determine the best interval for coat trims. Dogs who go for grooming more often tend to enjoy it, while dogs not taken often enough can find it painful and frightening.

If a groomer says the coat needs to be cut down rather than combed out, listen to that advice. Preserving coat is not worth subjecting the dog to an ordeal. If you want your dog’s coat long, you’ll need to groom more often.

Don’t overlook your short-haired dog’s grooming needs, either. The skin oils need to be distributed through the coat, loose hair needs to be removed, toenails and teeth need attention, and the dog needs the daily handling. You’ll also keep best informed of your dog’s physical condition by spending this hands-on time every day. Families who do this for their dogs have healthier dogs, because they detect physical problems in the earliest, most treatable stages.

Consult your breeder, veterinarian and groomer about the best tools to use for grooming your particular dog. Follow your veterinarian’s instructions on tooth cleaning. If you plan to trim toenails at home, ask your veterinarian to show you how. Have the veterinary staff or a groomer trim the dog’s toenails if you’re not comfortable performing this task.

Foundation Training

The basic care you provide for your dog through grooming is one way of being a good leader to your dog. Grooming daily will deepen your bond with your dog. It will also increase your ability to communicate with the dog, and the dog’s ability to communicate with you.

Watching a good groomer work with dogs is an amazing experience. Groomers develop knowing hands and voices, a real “way with dogs,” that comes from day in and day out interacting with dogs in this special way. You can have the same thing with your own dog! Everything else you need to do with your dog will be easier as a result. Training will be a breeze, and the dog will respond to you more readily in all situations.

Until you experience it yourself, it’s hard to understand how daily grooming could make so much difference. But think about what happens when you go over your dog’s entire body with a comb, brush, or hound glove. The dog has to hold still for you to work. You have to elicit this cooperation from the dog. That means communicating effectively. Stay exercises in training become simple for a dog and handler who know how to do grooming sessions together.

Your dog also learns acceptable ways to tell you when something hurts, and you learn how to respond so that the dog feels safe with you and doesn’t threaten to bite. You learn what’s normal for your dog’s body. Your dog gets used to your movements and learns to behave calmly with humans. You will be able to handle your dog more securely at all times, including times of great stress and emergencies, because of the foundation built through these regular daily times.

Grooming sessions may seem long at first, but soon they’ll become efficient because you and your dog will develop skill. Your dog may start off resisting grooming. If you will patiently persist with the daily sessions, the dog will learn to love this time with you. Grooming daily will feel good to the dog and the routine will become familiar. Don’t be surprised when your dog dozes off.

The dog falling asleep during grooming provides yet another benefit, by conditioning the dog that being awakened by a human touch is not reason to attack. This reaction, like all other response to touch, is a matter of conditioning rather than of what the dog “understands.”

In order to live safely in close contact with humans, dogs need conditioning to human touch. Grooming is the ideal way to provide this conditioning. There’s no more productive training you can do with your dog than to spend a few minutes every day on grooming. Try it for two weeks, and you’ll be convinced!

Kathy Diamond Davis is the author of the book Therapy Dogs: Training Your Dog to Reach Others. Should the training articles available here or elsewhere not be effective, contact your veterinarian. Veterinarians not specializing in behavior can eliminate medical causes of behavior problems. If no medical cause is found, your veterinarian can refer you to a colleague who specializes in behavior or a local behaviorist.

Copyright 2003 – 2010 by Kathy Diamond Davis. Used with permission. All rights reserved.


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