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  • Writer's pictureKim

Grooming During Isolation

Updated: Sep 5, 2022

Is your precious fur ball looking like a cross between Cousin It and Big Foot after 5 weeks without grooming? While some dogs enjoy the whole process (lucky you!), others do not appreciate the need for bathing and brushing at home, even tho they may do great at the groomers. Go figure.

I reached out to our favorite pro, Breonna from Easy Breezy Pet Groom and Grub, to offer input and helpful strategies for home maintenance. We have have included grooming tool

recommendations, training ideas, and games that can make the process easier for you at home, and for your groomer when they next see your very furry beasts.

Bathing: (from Breonna)

  • Let's start by saying bath time is a very important part of grooming. Depending on your dog’s coat and skin, bathing can make a world of difference.

  • Be aware that some dogs have allergies and need specific shampoos and conditioners/lotions to keep their skin healthy.

    • Make sure to always use supplies approved for dogs. Just because the human shampoos/conditioners that we use are amazing (and/or sometimes expensive), does not mean they can be used on a dog’s skin. 

  • A good brush out before a bath is a must.

    • Always brush dog before they get wet in any way.

      • If it is raining outside, and you need to take your dog out to go potty, be mindful that if they have not been brushed in a few days, they will most likely have some matting. Going out into the rain will only cause the mats to get worse as your dog is running around sniffing bushes.  

  • Brushing during the bath can be extremely beneficial for a dog who is still matted after dry brushing.

  • Having some conditioner on the coat will help loosen mats and this is the best time to brush out some of those mats/tangles.

  • Double coated breeds: While bathing your dog in the shampoo, brushing the hair can help a lot to release any excess undercoat. 

  • Rinse thoroughly and towel dry. Patting, rather than rubbing, with the towel to avoid tangling.

Brushing in depth: (Breonna)

  • Brushing between baths is a must.

  • 2 - 3 times a week (full body brush out), depending on coat type, coat thickness and coat length.

  • If you have a tight curly haired dog, or a dog that is very active, you might want to consider brushing them more often, between 4 and 5 times a week, even if it is just in trouble spots.

  • It is recommended that you use a de-tangling spray or diluted conditioner spray. 

  • For Doodles and other Oodles, separate fur into sections so you are working through small areas at a time. 

  • Never brush the same area for more than 10 strokes at a time. Better to come back to it later if you need to.

Training tricks for brushing (from Kim)

  • I use the Bucket Game for Boomer who was not a fan of sitting to be brushed at first. This game gives your dog some sense of control over an unpleasant situation, while still letting them know it has to happen, so you can get some ‘buy in’ from the dog. It really helps. Let me know if you would like some tips on the bucket game.

  • A Licky mat is a great distraction tool for dogs who just 'tolerate' brushing. It can be stuck to the refrigerator door, smeared with a bit of peanut butter or cream cheese, and will keep your dog focused and happy while being brushed or trimmed.

  • Some dogs love to be groomed. Lucky you!

Matting (Breonna)

  • Use your fingers to remove small mats. (Hint from Kim: I sometimes run my fingers through Boomers hair while we are cuddling on the couch and gently pull apart small mats without him even knowing.)

  • There are special tools that can help with larger mats if brushing doesn't seem to help.

  • Groomers never recommend home cutting on large unruly matting. Far too often they see injured dogs from owners taking matters into their own hands. 

  • If a mat is too large to be brushed, there are other options besides cutting it out and potentially harming your dog. For instance…..

  • Corn starch can be your friend! Seriously, this works.

  • If your dog has a bad case of matting, try putting corn starch on their fur and rubbing it in to the mats. Gently brush through the mats using your brush. This is very messy...Put a towel down, or have vacuum ready for clean up. ALWAYS wash your dog after doing this! You do not want your dog to lick remaining cornstarch as it could potentially make them ill. It is safe to use for short periods to brush through mats, and is used in many salons. 

  • Note from Kim: Breonna and I also discussed the reality that there will likely be many dogs coming in for grooming with significant matting after pro grooming is allowed again. Please recognize that groomers love our dogs and want them to be gorgeous, but they cannot work miracles and dogs with severe matting may require some shaving. This is a good time to play some muzzle prep games just in case your dog does have more matting than usual. It could make the difference between an unpleasant situation that could change the way your dog views grooming and one your dog finds tolerable. Train for the situation, not in the situation!!! (See matting games below.) I am guessing there may be a new cut for summer that will be all the rage for our dogs and I am calling it The Covid Clip!

General tips (Kim and Breonna)

  • Keep any grooming session fun for both of you!

  • Use yummy treats and reward when dog is calmly accepting of the brush or comb.

  • If you are just starting to groom your dog at home, keep sessions short (you can always finish later) and stop before your dog gets antsy (not once he starts getting feisty about it.) Learn to read your dog’s level of tolerance until he has learned to enjoy grooming.

  • Dogs have long memories for things they did not enjoy!! (And they remember back to seemingly unrelated events that preceded the experience and associate those with the thing they did not enjoy.)

  • Patience is your ally!

  • Do not forcefully hold your dog down, grab their muzzle, or reprimand as this will pretty much guarantee that they do not like you grooming them and could lead to more serious behaviors.

  • Do not let them ‘convince’ you that brushing is not necessary. They can read your emotions if you are nervous or uncertain. So if they cry over even the most gentle brushing (and you know there is no reason for them to be in pain) they may be trying to see just how much you will put up with before stopping.

  • Remember to be patient while continuing to remain calmly in control of the situation. However, if your dog shows signs of real anxiety or aggression (ie: growling, snapping, freezing, not taking even yummy treats) stop and consult your trainer or behavior specialist. Pushing a dog who is fearful can result in a bad situation for you both.

  • Be mindful of areas that your dog really does not like touched or brushed. Behind the ears, paws (legs in general), base of tail, tummy, and sanitary area can be trigger spots.

  • Respect the fact that these areas are difficult for your dog and reward with yummy treats, a toy, or praise for allowing you to bring the brush near those areas. Then, over time, gradually increase how much they will allow you to do in those spots.

* Note: Boomer used to pull his front paw back when I got near it with the comb. Now if

I hesitate briefly he offers the paw to my hand for combing. (Thank you Bucket game.)

* Note from Breonna: Boomer was also not happy with his groomer brushing his belly. But after lots of rewarding and persistent grooming, he never has a bad report.

* Note from Boomer: I love you Breonna!

While clipping is not addressed in this post,

my son took the plunge last week and used clippers on his pup Rosie (Boomer's grand cousin.) You can see the licky mat stuck on the front door. He did a super job and said it is good to know how to do in a pinch. But it does not sound like he plans to give up his day job.

Muzzles: (Kim and Breonna)

Let’s be honest... No dog owner wants to hear that their groomer had to muzzle their dog. But bottom line is that muzzles sometimes are a must. Some dogs absolutely will not tolerate any kind of grooming and will try to bite you. Two of the most common types of biting seen in the grooming salon are Fear biting, and Nervous biting. To most people, all biting is the same no matter what, but they are actually very different. 

  • Fear biting dogs will appear to be in more of an attack mode and bite for blood. They are what trainers refer to as “over threshold” - so scared that their brains 'black out' and all training and smarts go out the door. They simply cannot think about anything else going on around them. Because it is based in fear, this kind of biting is difficult to train away as we must change the dog’s perception of the situation. And while it is not often seen in the salon, a good groomer, using extreme persistent rewarding, timing, and a lot of patience, can train this behavior out of some dogs. But dogs that exhibit this kind of biting behavior must be muzzled during any grooming.

  • During this time when salons are closed, remember that Vets are still open. If your dog is this scared and needs to be groomed, you might seek out your vet for recommendations on either prescribing an anxiety medication to help, or paying for the vet to do the groom. (This can be expensive, but it sometimes is a must!!) 

  • Nervous biting dogs are those dogs that do great for most of the grooming except one or two parts. Learning where the trigger points are that make your dog a nervous biter is crucial to not getting bit. These dogs will bite when you get to a spot they hate being brushed. (Usually the feet, face, tail, and belly) For some dogs it is a must for you to muzzle before you get to those areas. Your dog will thank you for it... and you will be thankful you did it. Just because your dog doesn't like those spots to be brushed, does not mean you can skip them and never do those areas. Also consider that if your dog is really nervous, it could be an environmental issue or a past memory of uncomfortable grooming. Try going to a quieter place in the house, or somewhere less distracting for them.

  • Again note that your Vet is still open, and they will have medication to help with anxiety to help ease at home grooming. Some people find that CBD is helpful for dogs with mild anxiety to grooming.

  • (Kim) While many people think a muzzle is a cruel restraint, positive reinforcement trainers recognize what a blessing it is for dogs in many situations. We do not want our dogs to be penalized for fear or anxiety they cannot control. For instance, what if your dog were to get injured and was in serious pain? Even the sweetest, most mellow dog may resort to uncharacteristic growling, snapping and head butting when in pain. Handling them could be more than challenging and even dangerous. At that point a muzzle may be the only way to make transporting to veterinary care safe for the handler. Preparing your dog for any possibility by making the muzzle acceptable to them is one of the kindest things you can do for them (and your groomer, and anyone who may need to provide help to your dog.)

Training tricks for Muzzles

By using games, you can make wearing a muzzle fun (or at least comfortable) for your dog. And then if/when the time ever comes (for grooming or injury) your dog will not be further traumatized and will not be penalized for snapping out of fear or pain. Learn each game in order before moving to the next.

  • Hand Touch: Place a treat or piece of kibble in your palm, under your thumb. Extend your hand, palm facing forward at dog’s eye level and wait for dog to come snif. Do not use any verbal cue! When dog approaches mark ("Yes!!") and reward from your opposite hand. (Offer the reward below the level of your dog’s chin as this will help them understand that the behavior is keeping the nose at the level of our hand and discourage lifting nose up.) Reset by moving hand away from the dog, or toss a toy away for dog to get, and then re-extend hand. Be sure you are not inadvertently helping by moving your hand toward the dog. Let dog approach you to offer a brief nose touch to your palm. When dog is happily touching, stop using the kibble in your palm and add the Cue “touch” … but only say it once. (Do not nag your dog with the cue.) Slowly add duration before rewarding. You should begin to feel your dog pressing his chin down into your palm a bit. You can advance this game to doing multiple touches (use both hands) before rewarding. This is a fun game to play while you are sitting watching TV and dog is looking for something fun to do. Most dogs catch on to it quickly. It is also a great game for getting your dog to follow you (or move off the bed, or get up when they decide the walk is over and have planted themselves under a shady tree.)

  • Cone Game: Use a red solo beer cup, agility cone, or other similar item. Place a piece of kibble or a tiny smear of peanut butter just inside the lip. Mark (“Yes!”) and reward any interest dog shows in the cup. Hesitate as dog approaches to see if they will put their nose a bit further in. DO NOT PUSH THE CUP TOWARD THE DOG. It is important that they come to the cone on their own and decide how far to put their nose in. Work slowly and patiently, happily marking with “Yes!” and tossing a treat to reset each time. Begin to fade out the use of the treat inside the cup but continue to mark (“Yes!”) and reward. Continue until your dog is happily offering his nose into the cup. Slowly add duration of nose inside the cup (however, do not encourage or train long duration where the dog cannot get a breath unless there are holes in the cup.) Do not play this game for more than 3 minutes at a time. 

  • The Muzzle Game: Once your dog is happy playing the Touch and Cone games, start all over again using a muzzle. The rubber Baskerville ones with the open grill are best as dog can pant and take treats through it. Start by holding the muzzle and when dog approaches to check it out give a super yummy treat! High value treats are very important for this game. Do not make any attempt to have dog put his face into it or place it on them yet! Continue until dog is happy to check it out. When dog is comfortable around the muzzle, place a tiny treat just inside it and let dog come get the treat. You will train much like you did with the Cone game. But with the open grill you can work up to rewarding from outside the muzzle as dog slides nose into it. Mark (“Yes!") and reward every tiny step of the way. Let the dog do all the movement into the muzzle. Do not go for any duration yet. When dog is willingly pushing nose into muzzle, place the strap next to his neck. Mark (“Yes!”) and reward. Continue repetitions with increase in how far the strap goes on. Take it slow. Do not play this game for more than 3 minutes at a time. When you start to play again, start a step or two back from where you ended. When dog is able to have muzzle fully on and strapped, leave it on for no more than 3 minutes. If dog is rubbing it around the floor, let him, but when he stops rubbing briefly, mark and reward, then remove the muzzle. Slowly build length of time he wears it.

  • It takes time, but once your dog is comfortable with the muzzle, you may not need it except in very rare situations, tho I recommend playing this game once every few months or so to keep it reinforcing for the dog.

Grooming tool recommendations: (Breonna)

  • For dogs that have long hair of any kind (curly, straight, double coated): Paw Brothers makes a 1" slicker brush that is used in many salons. Highly recommended. 

  • For dogs that have shorter hair, or a thin wire coat: Paw Brothers makes a slicker brush that has coated pins on the tips. This is a nice brush to snag those pesky tangles. 

  • For those double coated dogs, during the shampoo phase this tool is very handy at getting out that under coat: FURminator Grooming Rake. This tool can seriously hurt a dog if not used properly, be mindful when brushing and not applying too much pressure. Always brush with the grain (How the hair grows!!) Also make sure you have the right product! FURminator Grooming Rake, DO NOT GET Furminator Undercoat Deshedding tool (This will hurt your dogs skin!!) 

  • For help with pesky mats: Paw Brothers Coat Breaker is a great tool. This can be used for smaller mats that are hard to get with the brush or comb. 

  • Combs are extremely important for brushing: Andus Pet Steel Comb is the way to go! 

  • For Doodles, Standard Poodles, And other Large hairy dogs! Special combs are required! Paw Brothers Super Comb.

Wrap Up (from Kim):

In my opinion, nothing beats a professional groomer. They have the magic touch and make our dogs happy about that bath and blowout. I want to give a huge shout out to Pete, Jessica, Breonna, and the entire team at Preferred by Pets. I referred a client of mine who's dog needed to be muzzled for grooming and they were more than happy to discuss it and offered to work with me if need be to help the dog. What they suggested for how they would handle it was spot on and it seems to be working. Kudos.

In the meantime, while we are still confined, I have heard that OB Dog Wash reopened last week for a limited number of do it yourself tubs at a time, and for nail trimming which is getting to be an even bigger concern for people.

There is nothing like having to do things yourself to make you appreciate the trained professionals we hire to do those things for us. Be sure to tip your groomer well as we now

realize how much we rely on their skill, patience, and artistry.

Stay safe and healthy and we look forward to seeing you out in the real world soon.

Now go play games with your dog.

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