In the animal world, spending time together grooming each other is not only highly valued connection time, it’s one of the number one signs of affection! Grooming is connection. Somewhere along the line in the human world this got lost in translation, and grooming our pets has become a source of frustration, inconvenience, and sometimes even fear! For some, it gets pushed to the side entirely and not done at home at all! Yikes! But it doesn’t have to be that way.
No matter what breed you own, long hair or short and smooth, purebred or a mixed specialty, grooming is connection, affection, and healthy well-being! Spending time with your pet brushing, combing, trimming, and cutting those nails can easily transform from a source of anxiety, into a beautiful moment in time shared bonding together.
All it takes is a little practice, and a few helpful tips from your friendly neighborhood dog blogger/ex groomer and trainer! Whether your pet regularly visits a professional groomer or not, grooming time at home is a critical part of their overall physical and social well-being, so here are six ideas to help transform your co-grooming experience!
1. Tip number one, and it’s number one for a reason…
Check in with yourself! This is the most important step, believe it or not.
Coming in from a stressful day at work, an anxious trip to the dentist, or a rushed ‘take the kids to school’ morning is probably not the best time to model a peace filled grooming experience to your pet. Does that mean you get a free pass to do it tomorrow? Probably not (unless you are truly unable to come back to your own grounded center, in which case yes!)! But it does mean that if working together on creating a connection based grooming experience is on the to do list today, even if your day has been blissful, you need to take a few moments before beginning to breathe and check in with what your energy is saying to them!
Your pet always knows if you’ve had a bad day, or even a bad thought, they are highly intuitive beings so this time is no different.
Are you feeling rushed to complete the task? Fearful of being nipped? Or perhaps nervous about getting it wrong or causing them pain?
All of these feelings are easily read and transferred over to our pets overall emotional state while grooming, so taking a moment to meditate, light a candle or incense, maybe stretch or tune in to your body in whatever way you feel comfortable is key to starting off on the right foot!
You are communicating trust, respect, confidence, and love. As you work to transform this experience it is key to keep yourself in this state of calm peace, even if your pet begins to shift into a state of anxiety, as well as to be mindful to only take your pet gradually a few steps out of their comfort zone at a time. PS- This tip also applies to the moment leading up to dropping your dog off with professional groomers! Your energy sets the tone for what they are to anticipate, so let them know you trust in your decision, are confident they will be treated with respect and love, and are sure they will feel incredible all cleaned up from their spa day away!
2. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when it comes to grooming!
If you’re feeling overwhelmed with tackling this experience in a positive way, there are professionals to provide you with guidance. Whether it’s what type of tool to use, tips on how to comb without pulling or tugging, recommended products, how to clean those ears, brush their teeth properly, or how to trim those nails without going too short, your professional groomers are here to help! They are a bundle of knowledge just waiting to share, it’s what they went to school for! Call ahead and ask for a time that would be convenient for you to have a consultation on better home care for your pet, after all those are some busy professionals and they may not have time should you drop in!
All groomers care for the well-being of the animals they groom, they wouldn’t be in the industry if they didn’t. Better home care and brush outs result in an easier and happier groom at your pets next appointment, and I haven’t met a single groomer that doesn’t desire that!
3. So now that you’ve tuned into your body and are feeling good, it’s important to create a high value situation around being groomed for your pet.
Making sure your pet feels loved, praised for amazing behavior, and rewarded for their efforts are big factors in creating an overall positive experience! Although they are intuitive, it’s always nice to know when you’ve done a great job right?
Depending on your pet’s previous experiences with grooming, this may take some incredibly high value treats to make a switch from fear to joy, and that’s ok! As you are being mindful of their experience after tuning in, you will notice when it’s time to take an energy shifting break, or to throw in the towel for the day! Grooming is about forming a connection. We want them to feel joy filled instead of fearful, and to make this moment incredibly special for them. After all, it’s a really important part of their lives that needs to happen frequently to keep them healthy! Why not have it be a recurring moment of joy instead of a moment of anxiety?
We all know how much our pets love treats, but we are going grandiose for this experience, think extra extra special! Items like pet safe peanut butter, roast chicken, cheese, and popcorn are some examples of extremely high value rewards you can give (in moderation!) to encourage a state of pure joy from your pet during this time! Talking your pet through this experience can also be a great source of comfort and reassurance for them. Although they may not ‘understand’ the words, the sounds we speak carry a frequency that can be felt! Just like when your dog knows when mama ain’t happy with them by simply saying their name, they also know when mama is super proud and happy too.
4. In behavior modification training, there is something trainers refer to as ‘The Three D’s’ of difficulty! The more of the ‘D’s’ that are asked, the harder the grooming will become for the pet.
The first two are super important to keep in mind while working on shifting your pet from a fear state to one of joy. The third ‘D’ is distance, referring to the physical distance from the human asking for a certain behavior or ‘trick’, and this does not particularly apply to grooming as it is a hands on activity. The first ‘D’ however, is Distraction. This applies to working in a very low distraction environment!
So for example, working on this experience while you’re at a dog park or around other animals, or while your kids wrestle on the living room couch is unlikely to be successful because the more distraction that is given the more difficulty is being added. At least in the early stages!
You can always build up to those kinds of distractions if you feel like it! However initially, think of creating a ‘spa like feel’ to help achieve optimal results while grooming. The easier it is for your pet and you to build a connection and feel peaceful affection, the better! This step also means low distraction for you! Putting your phone away, stepping away from the busy areas of the home, and setting boundaries on not being distributed during these moments are also key to creating an overall low distraction environment!
5. The second ‘D’ of behaviour modification is Duration!
This is something that is going to vary greatly for each individual pet. Remember it’s not a race, and it definitely does not all need to be done in one go! The longer the duration, the more difficult it will become for your pet. Duration during grooming is something that builds over time. Some pooches start out loving the experience, in which case you can keep going on your merry way! While sometimes for others you may only cut one nail a day, or only get one leg combed in a sitting, and that’s perfectly ok too! (Though be sure to keep a record of which ones you have trimmed/combed already, it’s easy to forget!). Frequent breaks to shift the energy, yours or theirs, are encouraged and help to keep the overall mood light and blissful.
This can include getting out a toy, switching environments perhaps out to the backyard, or even a snuggle break to reset the mood! You’ll know what it is your pet needs, and how long they can truly handle. Meet your pet where they are at, slowly push past your comfort zones, and as your connection builds so naturally will the duration of grooming that is tolerated.
6. Finally, bookend your grooming experience!
You both started in a place of calm and joy together, so let’s end it that way as well! Similar to the energy shifting breaks, ending your grooming session with a ‘jackpot’ of treats, a good game of fetch or tug tug, or maybe a special snuggle on the bed communicates to your pet that this time spent connecting was special for you. That you appreciated their hard work to come together with you in that moment! Taking the time to bookend your grooming experience will greatly help you and your pet reframe your thinking to a very positive outlook!
Remember, practice makes improvements and improvements take time!
This will be a journey for you and your pet to conquer together, it’s not a race, there is no perfect, and everyone’s journey will look incredibly different. We can never compare. While some pets adore being pampered, others have only ever experienced fear or even trauma during grooming and need a lifetime of a steady and peaceful hand to reassure them. Both are accepted and right! Keeping your focus on creating these recurring moments of joy in their life will ripple out and create shifts of joy and confidence in all areas of their world.