Does your pup have some sensitivities that make routine grooming stressful? This can be a distaste for brushing, a paw sensitivity that prevents their nails from being trimmed, teeth brushing or more. Even if your pup has no particular sensitivities to handling, they will benefit from regular handling exercises as a preventive measure. Young puppies present a special opportunity to establish good grooming habits and positive associations as part of their socialization process.
Grooming should be about health and wellness, peace of mind and convenience so we put together this home handling guide to share useful training games you can do with your pup to help them reduce stress and anxiety as it pertains to grooming. The games are designed to be a quick, fun, and easy starting point for even the busiest pet parents. Like all things in life, practice makes perfect so for the best results, try to make some of these part of your daily or weekly routines.
Take a look below and have some fun playing with your pups! Tag us @Barkbus on Instagram so we can share your progress and results!
Brushing Help: Brunch n’ Brush
Goal: make hair brushing a calm and enjoyable experience
Time required: 1-2 minutes once a day
Materials needed: Dog hair brush, food
- Bring out your dog’s hairbrush and let them see you holding it when you go to measure out their breakfast portion.
- Place the bowl of food on a table next to you and get comfortable.
- Place a few pieces of food on the floor in front of your dog and while they eat give two gentle brush strokes in a location that is comfortable for them, such as their shoulder or back. Repeat 3 times.
- If they are comfortable with this, place a few pieces of food on the floor and part the fur near the lower part of their back. Starting there, make 2-3 short outward strokes. Repeat 3 times, working your way upwards by parting a new section of fur.
- If at any point in the process, they become overly excited, show discomfort or try to nip, take a break. Restart later using a gentler touch for a shorter duration.
- Repeat every day at breakfast for no more than 1-2 minutes, then give them the remainder of their meal as usual. Each day you will aim to work on a new section of fur, always starting with non-sensitive zones.
Paw/Nail Handling: Food Footsie
Goal: Make paw handling and nail trimming a calm and enjoyable experience
Time required: 1 minute once a day
Materials needed: Food
- At dinnertime, measure out the dog’s meal portion and set the bowl on a table next to you in a comfortable location.
- Hold a piece of kibble in one hand and bring it to the dog’s mouth so they become distracted by it. Don’t let go yet.
- With the other hand, reach out and lightly touch the dog’s leg, while simultaneously feeding it the piece of kibble. Repeat for each leg.
- If the dog was comfortable with this, repeat the process but this time gently run your hand down the dog’s leg until you lightly touch the top of their paw, while simultaneously feeding it the piece of kibble. Repeat for each leg.
- If the dog was comfortable with this, touch each paw for 2 seconds longer at the next dinnertime.
- If the dog was comfortable with this, pick up each paw and hold it gently for 1 second at the next dinnertime.
- If the dog was comfortable with this, pick up each paw and hold it gently for 2 seconds while lightly massaging their toes at the next dinnertime.
Full Body Handling: Head-to-Tail Quality Time
Goal: Acclimate dogs to handling all over their bodies for routine grooming
Time required: 5 minutes every other day
Materials needed: Chew optional
- Choose a time when your dog is relaxed and enjoying receiving petting and affection from you in a quiet, calm location.
- While petting them in areas of their body where they normally enjoy it, lightly massage them using slow deliberate movements to create further relaxation.
- Sneak in gentle all-over handling exercises by also petting them on their tail, legs, paws, ears, face, mouth, neck, chest, tail, belly.
- End with a gentle hug.
- If at any point the dog gets too excited or shows signs of stress, take a break.
- Give the dog something to chew on such as a bully stick, stuffed kong or Himalayan chew to occupy their mouth and make the experience extra enjoyable.
Teeth Brushing: Teeth Time
Goal: Acclimate your dog to teeth brushing for routine dental hygiene
Good for: All puppies and dogs; dogs who fuss during dental care or mouth handling
Materials needed: Enzymatic toothpaste for dogs, toothbrush or finger brush
Time required: 30 seconds per day
- Day 1: Squeeze a pea-sized dot of dog toothpaste on the tip of your index finger and offer it for your dog to lick off.
- Day 2: Do the same as Day 1, but while they are licking, use your other hand to pet them gently on the face and head, and give them soft praise.
- Day 3: Do the same as Day 2, but slide your finger under their lip and spread the toothpaste over the surface of their canines. Use the opposite hand to stabilize their head.
- Day 4: Do the same as Day 3, bu cover a larger surface of teeth, including briefly working your way back to the molars.
- Day 5: Restart the process from Day 1, except introduce a toothbrush or finger brush rather than your fingertip. When your dog is comfortable with this you can gradually increase the length of time you are brushing. Always work within their comfort level!
- Select an enzymatic toothpaste for dogs, never human toothpaste. Dog toothpaste has pup-approved flavors and the enzyme formula will help break down plaque on the tooth's surface.
- Remove access to water for 30 minutes after applying toothpaste so the enzymes can do their thing.
- If at any point your dog seems uncomfortable with the process, take a break and go more slowly. The goal is for your dog to enjoy Teeth Time!
Eye Care: Pretty Peepers
Goal: Acclimate your dog to eye cleaning and handling around the face; prevents the buildup of eye secretions and tear stains
Good for: All puppies and dogs; dogs who fuss during eye cleaning or handling around the face
Materials needed: Cotton ball, water or tear stain cleaner, dog food
Time required: 1 minute per day
- Settle down with your dog for some quality time in a calm location and start petting them gently on whatever parts of their body they feel comfortable with and enjoy.
- Hold a piece of food to their nose with one hand so that they get distracted by it. Don’t let go of the food just yet. With the other hand gently pet them on the forehead and cheeks for 2-3 seconds and simultaneously let them eat the piece of food. Remove both of your hands and pause. Repeat 3 times.
- Hold a piece of food to their nose with one hand, and with the other hand progress to lightly touching them below the inside corner of their eyes with 2 short strokes then let them eat the food. Remove both of your hands. Repeat 3 times.
- The next day, repeat the previous step. Then progress to petting them on the forehead and cheeks with a cotton ball for 2-3 seconds while they eat the food from your opposite hand. Remove both of your hands. Repeat 3 times.
- The next day, repeat the previous step. Then progress to making two gentle swipes with the cotton ball under the inside corner of their eyes while you let them eat the food. Remove both of your hands. Repeat 3 times.
- The next day, repeat the previous step. Then wet the cotton ball with either water or tear stain cleaner and gently swipe it under the inside corner of their eyes, taking care not to touch their actual eye or get any liquid inside their eyes. Repeat 3 times.
Fanny Handling: The Tail Wagger
Goal: Acclimate your dog to handling of the tail and rear end
Good for: All puppies and dogs; dogs who are sensitive to rear handling
Materials needed: Dog food or treats
Time required:1 minute per day
- Position yourself so that you are next to your dog, not facing them head-on.
- Pet your dog by gently running your hand down their back.
- Have a treat ready in one hand. Use the opposite hand to stroke your dog’s back and keep going until you run your hand gently down their tail. As soon as you reach the tail, feed the treat from the opposite hand. Repeat 5 times.
- As above, but also gently pet their hips and hindquarters while feeding from the opposite hand.
- Avoid reaching over your dog’s head or looming over them to reach their tail or rear end. Position yourself to their side so that your face is not near theirs.
- Always start your stroke by making contact with their back or torso and moving your hand further down rather than reaching directly for their tail.
- Use calm, gentle movements and soft praise to create relaxation rather than playfulness.
- If at any point in the process they seem uncomfortable or fidgety, take a break and go more slowly.
Ear Cleaning: Ear We Go Again!
Goal: Acclimate your dog to ear handling
Good for: All puppies and dogs; dogs who fuss during ear handling and cleaning
Materials needed: Dog food or treats
Time required: 30 seconds per day
- Settle down with your dog in a calm location and start petting them gently around the head, neck, and chest in a way they enjoy.
- Put food to your dog’s nose with one hand to distract them and stabilize their head, but don’t give the food away just yet. With the opposite hand very gently hold their ear between your thumb and index finger starting midway down the flap and then glide your fingers all the way out to the tip. As you do this, go ahead and let them eat the food. Remove both hands and pause. Repeat 3 times with each ear.
- The next day, do the same exercise as above, except increase the handling time to 4 seconds per ear.
- The next day, do the same exercise as above, except end by gently opening each ear and looking inside for 2 seconds then feed a treat immediately after each look.
- The next day, do the same exercise as above, except increase to 4 seconds of looking inside each ear.
- If your dog enjoys the ear handling, try gently massaging the base of their ears using slow circular motions. Many dogs love this and might even relax so much that they get sleepy!
- If there is an unpleasant odor in your dog’s ears, if they shake their head frequently, and/or if they seem particularly sensitive to ear handling, stop immediately. Consult with your vet to rule out a possible ear infection before proceeding with any handling games.