Thanks to some very positive encouragement from some of the positive trainers in my area, I have put together a presentation on positive, holistic Do-It-Yourself dog grooming! Last week, I delivered it to staff and volunteers at the Washington Humane Society.
Though of course many of the grooming clients I see are long-haired pooches who get haircuts like poodles and shih-tzus, the vast majority of the dogs in the shelter are bully-type dogs with short hair who need minimal grooming. So my talk was geared to all the ways in which positive, mindful handling is beneficial for all dogs.
We talked about how important it is to find out where and how each dog likes to be touched, and to touch mindfully and with attention to the dog's body language. So often, we pet our dogs absentmindedly and in a way that the dog doesn't actually enjoy all that much, like patting on the head.
Far better is to touch slowly, lightly, in a circular fashion. Like that rich area right in front of the ears, or the ears themselves. Does the dog's face relax, do eyes get squinty, does the mouth open when you touch him? All signs that you are touching a good spot.
My demo dog was Azul, a very shy, frightened dog who groveled on the floor in front of us but was nonetheless happy to see lots of friendly people.
Azul absolutely melted as I stroked all along her legs and sides, slowly and lightly allowing her to really get in her body and forget her anxieties for a moment.
The shelter staff told me that on their list of enrichment activities every day, is to spend some time just handling and touching
each dog. So great that the shelter dogs are getting that from the
staff; this is the kind of thing that makes me feel so proud of this
shelter and glad that it's in my community.
We talked about how great it can be to brush a dog's teeth, while massaging all around a dog's mouth and muzzle. For dogs who are nippy, mouthy, chewy little things, like my old foster dog Sandy, their muzzles can be just full of tension and tightness. Massaging all around that area can release all that tension and help the whole dog relax.
We talked a lot about how mindful touch helps ground dogs in their bodies, and makes them slow down and notice. Oftentimes shelter dogs are so distracted and their energy is pulled in so many different directions; mindful touch forces them to focus and to tune in.
In particular, I like to touch dogs in ways that are novel and maybe unexpected for them. This is something that I learned from TTouch, that novel touch makes dogs have to pay attention to their bodies when their usual pattern--for anxious dogs, reactive dogs, and a lot of shelter dogs--may be to have their focus all over the place, except in their own bodies. So we talked about how squeezing a dog's legs, or applying gentle upward pressure on the legs for a dog who is standing, can be a really nice sort of novel touch for a dog to experience, especially since many dogs are very out of touch with their hind legs.
On top of all that, being mindful as we touch our dogs is healing and well-being-enhancing for the human, as it gets us to slow down and tune in as well.
We talked at length about nail clipping, which is so stressful for so many humans as well as dogs.
There is one pup at the shelter named Cocoa Cabana, whose paw was broken at some point and healed crooked. It doesn't seem to be causing her pain and she is a happy, loving, goofy girl, but her nails were a bit long and I thought it couldn't be helping her walk comfortably to have those long nails.
Walking on long nails, just like walking on high heels for humans, can actually throw a whole dog's body out of balance and lead to pain all over. So while it may take a while to introduce the clippers to the dog and do the clipping in a way that the dog can tolerate, this is a really worthwhile exercise for a dog's total well-being.
In my next post on this topic, I'll revisit how to desensitize and countercondition the nail clipping experience for dogs...or, you can read my old post on nail clipper desensitization.