How to Brush a Scared Dog

Hard
5 - 10 Minutes
4 Week

Introduction

Mike was so excited to bring his rescue dog Sassy, a Retriever mix, home from the shelter. He had everything ready: a bed, toys, dog dishes, and brushes to give Sassy a good brushing and keep her neat and tidy, so she could be in the house and his landlord would not be horrified by large clumps of Retriever fur and yard debris all over Mike’s rental suite. 

Sassy loved her bed, her toys, and her dishes, but when Mike brought out the new brushes he had purchased for her, Sassy immediately started to cower, whine, and shake. Mike talked to her calmly and petted her, but Sassy shook so bad, tucked her tail between her legs, and even snapped at him, during their first short brushing session. Obviously, something had happened to make Sassy terrified of being brushed. Either that or she was never brushed before, but for some reason, she associates the brushes with something to be afraid of. Mike needs to brush Sassy, as she has long fur, sheds, and likes to romp outside where she can easily become tangled and dirty. Because he rents his home,  Mike has agreed to keep his new dog clean and the house relatively hair-free. Mike is going to need to come up with a way to brush his scared dog, and hopefully, reduce her fear along the way.

Dog's Perspective

A dog that is scared when being brushed, may have experienced trauma associated with brushing in the past. Often a previous owner may have punished the dog by using a brush to hit or threaten the dog, which develops a negative association and fear of the brush. Another reason a dog may be scared of being brushed is if they previously had a badly tangled or matted coat that was brushed out too aggressively, resulting in hair and skin being pulled and excessive pain when brushed.  Still, other dogs are just scared of everything, and if brushing is new to them they are scared of that too!

The Pain-Free Brushing Method

Effective
0 Votes
Spray
Slicker Brush
Pin Brush
Step
1
Use brushes in good repair
Make sure all brushes are in good repair, with no broken bristles that could poke, scratch or snag your dog.
Step
2
Use soft brushes
Make sure you use as soft a brush as possible, that does not scratch your dogs skin. Dog with short hair may need softer brushes. Dogs with long hair usually benefit from a brush with lots of bristles, rather than fewer bristles, that spreads our tension when brushing through hair.
Step
3
Remove static
To remove static, wipe your pet with a pet wipe or mist with detangler spray or even water, so static electricity does not build up during brushing.
Step
4
Pet and groom
Remove debris with fingers and work out tangles while petting. Use a rubber grooming mitt and incorporate into petting.
Step
5
Short brushing sessions
Brush with short strokes, gently and perform several short sessions, rather than one long session that might cause your dog discomfort.
Recommend grooming method?

The Reduce Fear Method

Effective
0 Votes
Slicker Brush
Pin Brush
Step
1
Exercise first
Exercise your dog. Take him for a good long walk before brushing--a relaxed dog has less energy to put into being scared. As an added bonus, walking your dog builds your relationship with him, establishing a pack mentality and building trust, which will reduce scared behavior.
Step
2
Use alternative calming methods
Incorporate aromatherapy, such as lavender scent on brushes or your dog's coat, and soothing music to create a calm environment and mitigate fear.
Step
3
Sedate the first time
If your dog is very matted or tangled, which can occur if a dog is scared of being brushed and owners have been unable to brush the dog for an extended period of time, consider sedating the dog and brushing him through or de-matting the first time. This way, you can start with a clean slate and will not have to work out tangles or mats and pull hair on a scared dog.
Step
4
Pair with food
Create a positive association with brushes. Leave them out near food dishes during feeding and run the brush over your dog when your dog is eating or when you're petting him. Use the brush out on walks or during play for a few moments and touch your dog with the brush while praising him.
Step
5
Use an assistant
Have an assistant distract, play, praise, and provide treats to your dog during brushing. The assistant can provide reassurance and help to calm your scared dog during brushing.
Recommend grooming method?

Caution & Considerations

  • Never punish or threaten a dog with a brush.
  • Make sure the brush you are using is appropriate for your dog. Brushes should not be too hard, and should not have broken ends or bristles, which can cause discomfort.
  • Be gentle, but firm and confident. Do not become distressed or pay too much attention to your dog's scared behavior, as this will only escalate it by rewarding or validating it.  Reassure your dog by talking calmly and continue brushing.
  • Do not brush a scared dog for long periods of time, so they become too worked up. Rather, conduct lots of short sessions until your dog starts to calm down. Gradually increase the length of brushing sessions.

Conclusion

While brushing your scared dog can be a challenge, do not avoid it. A tangled, dirty coat will require more brushing to clean and detangle in the long run, which will be more stressful to your scared dog then addressing it in the short term. An unbrushed coat can result in mats and soiled fur that can contribute to painful skin conditions and increase scared behavior. Use the right tools and minimize discomfort while brushing and never punish a dog with a brush! Use tools like food, exercise, and praise during brushing to mitigate fear. 

If you provide short sessions, reassurance, positive reinforcement, and do not cause discomfort, your scared dog should eventually learn that there is nothing to be scared of after all!

Success Stories and Grooming Questions

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