Now that the weather’s getting warmer, we’re seeing dogs in the store who are “blowing their coat” – another term for seasonal shedding. Some of you might say, “Seasonal shedding?? But my pet sheds all the time!” This is a common complaint, and one that can often be cleared up with the addition of fatty acids to your pet’s diet. We have a few great brands in the store, and you’ll be amazed at how either a switch to a better food, or the addition of a fatty acid supplement can improve your pet’s skin and coat. Fatty acids have been shown to help inflammation, to slow the growth of yeast infections, to help joint pain, and of course to lessen shedding! Dogs will smell better when their skin is healthier. Cats won’t have as many problems with hairballs when they’re ingesting less hair.
But even pets with healthy glossy coats still will lose hair as the weather gets warmer, and some breeds lose entire layers of their coats as the season changes. We certainly have a variety of tools in the store that can help get that shedding hair out, but what’s to be done if your pet won’t let you brush him or perform routine grooming tasks? Make sure that your pet likes to be groomed, so it’s not such a hassle when you need to do it. Grooming is necessary for all hair types (even short-haired dogs benefit from brushing, which gets rid of dead skin and hair and distributes the natural oils through the coat. For cats, the less loose hair there is to ingest, the fewer hairballs they’ll have) and can either be a pleasant bonding experience or a nightmare. Toenail clipping is something some people don’t even attempt to do, but wouldn’t it be better if they weren’t scared by it when the groomer does it? If you have a puppy or kitten, start making grooming a fun experience right from the beginning. Play with your puppy in the bathtub a few times before you introduce water. Then just rinse him and dry him off to start with. Pair really super treats with brushing for both cats and dogs. Handle your animal’s feet as often as possible — especially with puppies and kittens — get them used to a foot massage right from the beginning. Make them like it. Even older animals can be taught to like grooming and handling, as long as you go slowly enough. Our old lady kitty, Zoe, hated the brushing until I worked on a minute or two of interaction with the brush every night followed by the best treat I could find. She now loves it and I no longer have to use the treats! Here’s how I did it:
– Identify your motivator. What’s the best, most mind-blowing treat you can think of for that individual? You might have to try a few things they’ve never had before – real bits of chicken? Cheese? Once you find it, save it only for this task. For her it was a tablespoon of canned cat food. At the time she only ate kibble and the wet food rocked her world (now she eats raw food and canned cat food only).
– Think about what you can get away with without this animal becoming nervous. If you can’t handle his feet, can you touch his legs? Can you brush her back but not her belly? For Zoe, she would rub her face on a metal flea comb, but if I moved it to her body she’d run away. At least I knew where I could start – rubbing her face on the flea comb was my starting point.
– Set up a routine. Animals almost universally like a routine. Every night around the same time, I called Zoe into the living room and sat on the floor with my flea comb. I’d let her rub her face on the flea comb for a minute, then I’d hop up all excited and ask her if she wanted her soft food. We’d run into the kitchen together and I’d put her canned food on a plate. The next night, I called her in, she rubbed on the brush, and we ran into the kitchen to get her treat. By the third or fourth night, she was showing up for our appointment. She didn’t know I was up to anything, she just liked the idea of this new easy way to get her favorite thing.
– Take it slow, and only move forward when the step you’re on is very easy. If your dog is very upset by having his feet touched but loves a back rub, just do the back rub for a while and then occasionally move down to the shoulders and right back up to the back. You certainly can have little yummy treats there with you as well that you slip him when you’ve strayed to the shoulders without a problem. Then when he no longer notices the shoulders, stray a little down the legs, reward, and move back up to the shoulders. When Zoe was really comfortable with the face rubbing, I’d push it along her cheek to the shoulder every once in a while. If I overstepped my bounds, she’d leave. Trick is, if she left, she wouldn’t get her treat, so she’d inevitably come back a few minutes later for a little more. I’d just do a few more moments, then I’d end the session on that good note. With dogs, watch for them to stiffen or freeze a little when you go too far for them too fast. Or, they may turn their heads towards the spot you’re touching, or maybe give you that wall-eyed warning look. Cats will start to flick that tail, or their ears may flatten a little. Be sensitive to their signals and try to keep it all to what they currently find enjoyable, and just pushing the edge a little at a time.
– Incorporate more steps than you think you’d need to if your pet is wary of the final goal. For example, for nail trims, you’d move from leg massage to foot touching, to foot massage, to foot massage with clippers on the floor nearby but never touched. Then to picking up the clippers, giving a treat, and putting the clippers right back down again. Once you can pick them up without the animal noticing, touch them to the paw without using them. Work up to tap tap tapping on the nails for treats. Then pretend to clip a nail (I even read somewhere of a trainer that clipped a wooden matchstick held under the nail to simulate the clip sound of the nail trimming. Clever!).
– Always end on a positive note. When you get a tiny bit further than you usually do, jump up for the big finishing treat, or play a game they love. If you went too far, do something easier that you can then give this big reward.
Within a very short time, you should see very good progress. It doesn’t have to be but a few minutes a day, and this fairly easy work will really pay off – imagine a lifetime of stress-free brushing or nail trimming for just a few minutes a day of interacting and rewarding your pet. Zoe now lets me brush her whole body, and the bonus is, she loves it. It was paired with so much love and so many treats over and over (classical conditioning at work) that she now finds a previously scary experience quite pleasurable. She was 15 when I started this — who says an old animal can’t be taught something new?).
Have a situation where you’re having too much trouble desensitizing them to something scary like nail trims or other handling? Never hesitate to bring in a positive reinforcement trainer to help set up a plan that will work for you and your pet.