Counter Conditioning–Grooming Bandit Edition
About 6 months ago, our groomer of Bandit for the last 10 years retired (she’s also our neighbor). She has kept a barebones shop together so I (and a few others) can utilize her stuff to groom our pups. Yesterday I groomed Bandit for the 3rd time all by myself… I didn’t really get much instruction or guidance to begin with so it’s been quite the learning process. I’m lucky that for whatever reason, it came pretty easy to me and I was able to make Bandit look half decent (each groom he’s looked better and better).
I love our groomer and she always did a great job on his haircut but she didn’t have the time to really work through his issues with the grooming process. He can be super wiggly, squirmy, and really stressed out during his groom and once I started grooming him, I wanted to make a point to change his behavior (as a novice groomer [at best] it would be a challenge to groom a really calm dog let alone groom a stressed out wiggly beast who would try his best to fight some of the grooming).
So for the last 3 grooms I came armed with salami (his ultra high value reward) and about 2 hours to go slowly through the groom. I started just feeding him frequently throughout the process adding bonus treats during times I know he found most stressful. The first time there were a handful of times just during the grooming (not bath) where he was too stressed to eat but he was noticeably less wiggly and oppositional. I made the choice to not worry about some things that he found extremely uncomfortable that our groomer used to do more thoroughly (really cleaning out the hair in his ears) to help reduce the overal stress.
By this latest groom, there was much much less general wiggling and virtually no oppositional moves/reflexes during the groom. He didn’t even really move around the table much to escape (I’m not ready to go without a tether because it’s a long drop to the floor if he falls!). He was able to eat treats the entire time he was on the grooming table, regardless of what I was doing to him (even when cleaning out his ears!). The only time during the whole groom where he was too stressed to eat was while he was in the tub being bathed and dried.
I am so pleased with his turn around! I’ve really loved the process of counter conditioning him to the groom that used to cause him so much stress. He doesn’t yet enjoy it yet but he’s so much more relaxed and willing to accept the handling that it’s great. The fact that he’s eating during the entire process is huge! When I first started, I needed to do a lot more restraining to safely trim his face (those scissors are VERY sharp so there was no room for errors). Now I need very little restraint to get his face done safely and the restraint tends to be just letting him lean onto my chest and lookup at me while I clip.
Most groomers do not have the time to spend to make grooming a more comfortable experience and do counter conditioning during their grooms (what took our normal groomer about 90 minutes takes me a good 2hours because I’m going slower, taking my time, feeding him, and simply not as skilled LOL!). Some groomers probably wouldn’t be interested in this “training” but I have really enjoyed the time spent grooming Bandit and making him feel better about the process.