Jump to section
Imagine walking into a pet grooming salon. You watch all the different dogs being groomed. Some are so relaxed that they are practically falling asleep during the session. Some are growling and trying to bite the groomer during the session. Some look terrified but don't move. Some excitedly wag their tails every time that the groomer talks to them or touches them. The grooming experience is vastly different for each dog.
You look down at your dog, who has never been groomed before, and wonder how he will handle the experience. You begin to feel anxious for him, wondering if there is anything that you can do to make the experience more pleasant for him. Right now he is young, only four months old, but grooming is something that he will have to experience for the rest of his life, especially with his long fur and floppy ears. You want to start your Shih Tzu off right and create positive associations with grooming, so that he will not dread it later.
In addition to making the experience more pleasant for your dog, training your dog for grooming can also make the experience so much more enjoyable for yourself. Grooming a fearful, aggressive, or just plain wiggly dog is stressful. If you dread grooming your dog, your dog will probably either be groomed less often or will have to go to a professional to be groomed, which can be quite expensive over time. Although you might enjoy having your dog groomed by a professional from time to time, simple grooming procedures such as brushing your dog or clipping his nails can easily be done at home between professional grooming sessions if your dog is trained for grooming.
When training your dog for grooming, the method that you choose will depend mostly on which part of the grooming process your dog needs help with. If your dog is uncomfortable being touched, then you will need to use 'The Handling Method'. If your dog is afraid of the grooming tools, then you will need to use 'The Tools Method'. If your dog tolerates the tools and being touched well but is too wiggly to groom, then you will need to use 'The Stand Method'. If your dog is completely unaccustomed to any of the aspects of grooming and is uncomfortable being touched, is afraid of the grooming tools, and will not stand still for grooming, then you will need to use all three of the methods, starting with 'The Handling Method' first, then moving onto 'The Tools Method' second, and then finishing with 'The Stand Method'.
Be patient with your dog while training this. Grooming can be intimidating for a dog, and he will need to learn to trust you and your use of tools on him. It is also important to be gentle while grooming your dog so that grooming is not painful for him. If the grooming is painful every time then no amount of treats and training are likely to convince him that grooming is OK. There will be times when grooming will be uncomfortable for him, like when you encounter a knot in his fur or accidentally cut a nail too short, but if grooming is normally pain-free and fun, your dog will be more likely to recover from the incident and continue to cooperate for grooming because he expects grooming to be fun or at least tolerable most of the time.
If your dog is still young, then start the grooming process as early as possible. The earlier that you get your pup used to being groomed and help him enjoy being groomed, the easier grooming will be in the future. Even if he does not need certain types of grooming yet, practice those types of grooming anyway, to prepare him for what's ahead. For example, if your young puppy's nails have not grown enough to need trimming yet, then spend time getting him used to the clippers by just clipping the tiniest tip of his nail off while feeding him treats. The nail will not be significantly shorter, but he will still be getting used to the feeling of having his nail clipped.
To get started you will need lots of small treats that your pup loves. You will need a calm location, and gentleness and patience. If you are using 'The Tools Method' then you will also need all of your dog's grooming tools to practice with. Such tools might include nail clippers or a nail Ddremel, brushes and combs, a spray bottle with water, scissors or clippers, a dog toothbrush and toothpaste, cotton swabs, possibly a hair dryer or towel, and anything else that you will use to groom your dog in the future. If you are using 'The Stand Method' then you will also need a slip leash or a four or six-foot leash that can be clipped to itself. You also might need something stationary above your dog that you can attach the other end of the leash to, so that you can have your hands free when it is time to practice with the tools. Above all, you will need to be encouraging, to help your dog love grooming and trust you.
The Handling Method
Get set up
To begin, grab lots of small treats that your Shih Tzu loves. Find a calm location, and call your dog over to you.
First, get your pup used to being touched by gently touching different areas of his body and giving him a treat each time that you touch him. For example, touch his ear and give him a treat, touch his paw and give him a treat, touch his abdomen and give him a treat, and touch his tail and give him a treat. Repeat this with every part of his body, and if there is an area that he is especially uncomfortable having touched then be extra gentle with that area, give him extra treats when you touch it, and touch that area more frequently, to help him become comfortable.
Repeat touching Fido in different areas while giving him treats, over the course of several weeks. Do this until he enjoys being touched in those places because of the treats.
When Fido is comfortable being touched all over, then get him used to being rubbed. For example, run your hand down his back and give him a treat, run your hand down his tail and give him a treat, run your hand down his leg and give him a treat, run your hands gently down his face and give him a treat, run your hand from the front of his neck to his chest and give him a treat, and run your hand from his chest to his lower abdomen and give him a treat. Repeat this with every area of his entire body, giving him a treat each time that you rub him.
Repeat rubbing Fido and giving him a treat each time for several weeks. Do this until he is comfortable being rubbed anywhere. Continue to practice your touches during this time also.
When your pup is comfortable being touched and rubbed all over, then get him used to being handled in other ways too. Practice gently opening his mouth and then giving him a treat, flipping his ear back and gently touching a cotton ball to the inside and then giving a treat, gently wiping his eye with a sterile cotton ball or gauze and then giving him a treat, lifting up his tail and then giving him a treat, gently pressing on his paw and then giving him a treat, and slipping a slip leash over his head and taking it off and then giving him a treat. Also practice anything else that he is likely to experience during a grooming session that has to do with being touched.
Practice gently handling your pup while giving him treats, until he is comfortable being handled. Continue to practice touching him, and rubbing him, while giving him treats, during this time.
Once your buddy is comfortable being touched, rubbed, and handled, then continue to practice each exercise with him occasionally throughout his life, to maintain his love of grooming and to help him overcome any unpleasant grooming experiences that might be necessary from time to time.
The Tools Method
To begin, gather all of the tools that your pup is likely to be exposed to while getting groomed. For example, grab nail clippers or a nail Dremel, scissors, brushes, a dog toothbrush, a spray bottle with water, a towel, and possibly a blow dryer.
Show your dog the tools
Show your dog each of the tools, one at a time, and every time that he touches, sniffs, or explores the tool give him a treat. Do this until he is comfortable being near each of the tools.
Turn it on
If the tool is something that makes noise, then turn the tool on a few feet away from your dog, and toss him treats while it makes noise. Every time that your dog gets closer to the tool praise him and toss him more treats. Do this until he is comfortable being right next to the tool while it is making noise and you are tossing him treats. Expect this step to take some time.
Next, very gently touch each tool, one at a time, to the part of your dog's body that it will be used on, and feed him a treat while you are touching the tool to him. Do this until he is comfortable being touched by the tools.
Use the tool
When your dog is comfortable being touched by the tools, then practice using the tools on him, one at a time, just a little bit, while giving him treats. For example, gently brush a small section of your pup's fur with a brush while you feed him a treat, or gently clip the very tip of your dog's nail with nail clippers while you feed him a treat. Practice this with each tool until he is comfortable with each tool being used on him a little bit.
As Fido becomes more comfortable with each tool being used on him, gradually increase how much you use the tool on him overtime, giving him treats frequently while you use a tool on him. Go slow during this process to prevent him from becoming scared again.
Continue to make grooming fun
When you can use each of the tools on your dog the way that the tool was intended to be used without him becoming afraid, then begin to groom your dog normally. As you do this continue to give him treats during his grooming sessions, to encourage his love of grooming and to make the grooming process go smoother because of his continued cooperation.
The Stand Method
Assess your dog
To begin, if your dog is afraid of being touched or is afraid of grooming tools, then practice the 'Handling' or 'Tools' method before using this method. If your dog is comfortable being touched and is comfortable with grooming tools but moves too much during grooming sessions, then continue with this method.
Add a leash
First, get your pup used to a slip leash by slipping the collar portion of the leash partially over his head and giving him a treat, then taking it off again and giving him a treat. Repeat this process, giving him a treat every time. Gradually slip the collar all the way over his head as he becomes more comfortable with it. Do this until he is comfortable wearing the slip leash. If you do not own a slip leash, then you can make one by clipping a regular four or six foot leash to itself, so that it makes a collar portion at the bottom, or you can use a regular collar and leash if your pup cannot slip out of his regular collar when wet. Do not use a retractable leash for this, for both you and your dog's own safety.
When you dog is comfortable with the slip leash, then put the leash on your dog and gently lift up on the leash so that your dog stands in place. Tell your dog "Stand" while you do this, and give your dog a treat while he is standing. Do not choke your dog at all with the leash, the leash should only be tight enough to keep your dog from walking away or lying down. Every two minutes that your dog stands in place while wearing the leash, praise him and give him another treat.
If your dog begins to sit down, then tell him "Stand" and place your hand under his abdomen and gently lift up, so that he is standing again. After he has stood for three seconds, then give him another treat.
If your dog fights the leash, then calmly wait for him to stop, and when he stops and is standing still for a couple of seconds, praise him and give him another treat.
After your dog has stood in place for three minutes, then when he is standing still, tell him "OK" and take the leash off and allow him to leave. After you remove the leash, ignore him for several minutes. You want him to want to stand more than he wants to be released, so that he will tolerate standing for longer, because he receives attention and rewards while standing but receives nothing once he is freed.
Practice having him stand for three minutes while wearing the slip leash and receiving treats. Do this until he can easily stand for the entire three minutes without trying to get away or sit down. When he can stand willingly for three minutes, then add more time. Add only one minute at a time. As he improves, add another minute and then another minute. Do this until you have worked up to fifteen minutes or longer.
Once your dog can stand for fifteen minutes or longer then add grooming. To add grooming, slip the slip leash onto your dog and either hold the leash with one hand or attach it to something above him that is at the right height for him to be comfortable but not able to lie down. When you have your dog and the leash set up, tell him to "Stand", and then grab your grooming tools. Using only one tool at a time, begin to gradually groom your dog, giving him a treat every couple of minutes. Go slow and keep the grooming session short at first. If your dog is afraid of any of the grooming tools or does not like being touched, then use the 'Handling' or 'Tools' method to get him used to those things before doing this.
As your dog becomes comfortable with being groomed while he stands in place and receives treats, gradually increase the amount of time that you groom him for, until you can have an entire grooming session.
When your dog can stand in place for an entire grooming session, then you can experiment with not using the leash anymore. Some dogs will continue to need the assistance of the leash to keep them still enough for precise grooming, such as trimming, but others can do without it at this point. It also might be a good idea to continue to occasionally use the leash if your dog will be groomed by a groomer other than yourself at times. Since a professional groomer is likely to use a slip leash on your dog while grooming him. Once your dog is comfortable standing in place and being groomed, then continue to occasionally reward him for his cooperation during grooming sessions, so that he will continue to look forward to being groomed regularly.
By Caitlin Crittenden
Published: 04/13/2018, edited: 01/08/2021