Brushing your dog is essential for maintaining a healthy coat. Aside from removing dirt that’s caught in fur, brushing also spreads natural and beneficial oils across your dog’s skin.
Unfortunately, many dogs dislike being brushed. Some love it, some tolerate it, but others may move away or even become defensive. Continuing to groom a dog that doesn’t enjoy it, is likely to make the problem worse.
But, good news! Teaching a dog to love being brush is relatively easy. Here’s a step-by-step process using only positive training methods.
Before you start the desensitization step, it’s important to check your dog isn’t suffering from a health condition. Skin conditions such as bacterial infections and hot spots can make brushing uncomfortable. If you’re not sure what to look for, ask your vet at your next check-up.
You should also check you’re not using a brush that’s too hard or painful for your dog. Brushes with metal bristles, for example, should always have protective ends to avoid pain. Make sure you research which type of brush is best for your dog’s coat too.
It’s also important to avoid violently pulling on knots. Instead, use a combination of detangler spray and a softer brush to gently tease out minor knots. For severe mats or tangles, you may need to contact a professional groomer.
The first step is to link the brush with a positive stimulus. This is called desensitization in the dog training world. In many cases, this stimulus is likely to be a tasty treat, although some dogs are more motivated by toys and play.
Start by teaching your dog that good things happen when the brush appears. Leave it on the ground near the dog, then allow them to investigate it. If they need encouragement, place a few treats near the brush.
The next step is to repeat the process while you hold the brush. Let your dog come over in their own time, then give them treats and praise whenever they look at it. At this stage, don’t attempt to brush or even move towards the dog – you’re simply showing him the brush is a positive thing.
Take your time with these steps. It’s important that your dog is completely comfortable being around the brush before moving to the next stage.
Once your pet is happy to be near the brush, you can progress to gentle touching. It’s vital that you take this slowly, as rushing the process can ruin the positive association you’ve been working on.
Begin by gently touching the dog with the brush, while giving them praise and lots of treats. Don’t hold your dog or force them to keep still– allow them to move away if they want.
The first touches should be calm, short and on a non-sensitive area of the body. The chest is a great choice, as your dog can see the brush.
Gradually increase the time the brush is touching the body, until you can hold it there for several seconds. Then progress to gently brushing with one or two strokes on different areas of the body, while continuing to give treats.
When your dog is happy to be gently brushed, you can start normal brushing. The progression should be slow, and you should watch for signs of stress or anxiety. If your dog moves away or seems uncomfortable, you’ve progressed too fast.
Take a few brush strokes, then reward and give treats before brushing some more. Keep sessions short, fun and positive. It’s much better to practice brushing daily for a few minutes, than longer sessions once a week.
It’s best to avoid tackling major tangles until your dog is comfortable being brushed, as these can be painful to remove. Never get frustrated or angry when brushing, as this teaches your dog there is something to be worried about.
By desensitizing your dog to the brush, and slowly teaching him that brushing is associated with rewards, nearly all dogs can learn to enjoy the grooming process!
Thanks to our guest blogger, Richard. He is a dog expert who is passionate about positive training methods. He's currently head editor of The Dog Clinic, a website dedicated to helping owners learn more about their dog's behaviour.