Grooming your dog at home doesn’t need to be difficult

In this unfortunate time of a pandemic when many grooming salons are closed, you might want to do some basic grooming at home. So you think: I’ll just brush him a little bit to get rid of those mats that have been accumulating. You pull out brush and comb and want to get started but come to the realization: “Wow, he really is incredibly wiggly, he won’t let me touch his paw, he runs away!” The groomer never told you how on earth she got the job done! However: Do not despair! If we can teach zoo animals to comply with care voluntarily you can do the same with your dog at home. 

With a bit of patience and good humor you can turn the grooming session into a fun training/learning game for both you and your dog.

Groomed Dog from Dog Relations


  • Do not be in a rush! Do not feel you have to get everything done now! We humans can be very task oriented. Change your mindset to: Let’s see if I can actually teach my puppy not to run away when he sees the brush. As with everything in teaching: Success is inspiring, so if you make your goal attainable, the likelihood of being successful is much higher.  Baby steps are far better than wrangling with your dog and  “just letting you do it”. That would mean setting yourself up for more struggles in the future. All reinforced behaviors increase in intensity. So I can guarantee you that the dog’s fear and resistance will escalate. In other words: by stressing the dog out the opposite of what you really want to achieve will happen.
  • Second important point would be how to set yourself up for success. As with all things sometimes it takes a step back to get a step forward.
  • Decide on a spot where you are going to teach and eventually do your grooming. Can your dog relax on a mat or a bed? If yes: great! If not, I would greatly encourage you to start there. 
  • There are several recommended positions your dog can take: 
    • Lying on mat or table/grooming table if you have one
    • Any geographically defined surface (a dog bed, a towel, a yoga mat) will greatly help teach your dog that good things happen if I stay in that area.
    • Head Rest on your lap or seat of chair 
Dog Groomed By Dog Relations


One of the most wonderful aspects of the trust you can build with positive reinforcement is the ability to give your dog choice and control over what he feels comfortable offering at the time of the interaction. Rather than restraining the dog and “getting it over with” and reprimanding the struggling dog, we can teach that nothing bad will happen when he makes the choice to trust the guardian or handler.  We achieve this by rewarding small increments of showing trust and building on the fact that the rewarded choices will increase in strength in the future.

To give you a specific example: for nail filing : If you have a scratch board, you will first reward the dog for not avoiding the scratchboard when he looks at it..then as he becomes more comfortable with it, you will reward him touching it as it is lying on the floor. You see, it is a game and he will understand that it is a game!

Save yourself and your dog a lot of stress and trips to the vet or groomer

A touch can easily become a scratch as you change the angle of the board. And within a short period of time you have the dog filing his own nails. Not only do you save yourself and your dog a lot of stress and trips to the vet or groomer, you add to your repertoire of fun interactions with your dog. It is a win/win for everyone.

You will be pleased that you have solved one of the more challenging issues dog guardians encounter, partly because of their own hesitation to use unwieldy, hard to gauge clippers that can cause heavy bleeding if you miscalculate by even a tiny amount and because both you and your dog are apprehensive about the procedure. If we can teach wild animals to offer their paws for nail filing and their tails for blood sampling you can be assured that you can achieve this goal with your own dog.

I have discovered a very good source for these scratchboards and am pleased to collaborate with ScratchPad for Dogs TM on this project. Take a look at their products, here:

Keep in mind the most important piece of information: Always present the tools you will need: brush, comb, nail clippers, bottle of ear cleaner, toothpaste etc. first. If your dog doesn’t recoil or move: reward THEN. Do not try to lure the dog by holding a cookie and then when the dog approaches pull out your tool. That cookie will become a predictor for the scary brush to appear and devalue the treat! So if your dog backs away when the brush appears: wait for the dog to voluntarily take up the highly rewarded “position” again and then present the brush from farther away. Your job is to make the dog feel successful!

Want a lesson to achieve the goal of establishing a relaxation spot for your dog? For help with this and turning it into a safe, fun party: book an online session. This is a lesson that is really easy to teach remotely and is something I can easily instruct you to do via streaming. I promise it’s going to be exciting and rewarding for you and your doggie. 

Reach out to me on my website to easily book an online or in-person coaching session for grooming and any other need you or your dog may have!

Elisabeth Weiss is a highly certified, experienced dog trainer in Manhattan, NYC. To learn more about dog training services, contact us by phone at (917) 783-1473 or our contact form.

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