ClickerSolutions Training Articles

Good Behavior During Grooming

You got a wheaten probably in part because of its beautiful coat. Here is one way to prevent that coat from becoming your worst nightmare.

The following is based on my experiences with Buddy, now 17 months. The suggestions are offered in hopes that they may be of some help to some of you and perhaps especially to those with new puppies who want to get off on the right foot.

First, of all you should know that I am a first time wheaten owner so all I have to go on is how Buddy has faired with my techniques. I use positive reinforcement ("clicker") techniques exclusively. Buddy is 17 months old. His current reactions to grooming are as follows. When I get out the pin brush and comb for his daily sessions he will interrupt whatever he is doing and come and lie on the carpet waiting for me to start. When I lead him into the bathroom he will hop into the tub and stand (a bit nervously), waiting for his bath. When I trim him (every 4 weeks or so) is tolerant of the sessions on the table, but not enthusiastic about it. Buddy is not a wonder dog; he has his share of "willful wheaten" behaviors. His reactions to grooming situations are the result of consistent training.

(For convenience and because I have a male dog I use male pronouns below).

All of this is best if started as soon as you get your young puppy. These are my suggestions.

1) Learn the basics of "clicker" training. Clicker is in quotes because you don't really need a clicker. The basic idea is as follows: a) dog does desirable behavior (e.g., doesn't pull his paw away), b) you immediately give the "click" or its equivalent, lets call it the "bridge." [I use a clicker a lot, but for grooming, bathing etc., my hands are too full. Instead I use the word "goood." As the spelling suggests I use a particular pronunciation of the word "good" only in these training situations.] c) you give the dog a treat. So in summary, the bridge means "you got it right, a treat is coming." A treat ALWAYS follows the bridge. You can give lots of other praise, "atta boy, nice dog, pretty, boy," or whatever, without treating, but the bridge signal always means a treat is coming. I will try to explain how I used this technique for training "good grooming behavior", but I would suggest every wheaten owner do some reading on this subject. Wheatens learn very quickly using this technique. Step one of this technique is to teach the dog that bridge = treat. This is easy. Just click (or say the bridge-word) and then treat. A couple of 5 - minute sessions should have your puppy looking for the treat as soon as the bridge is heard.

2) Handle your dog every day, trying to touch every part of its body. This step is particularly important for puppies. Handle every toe, look at its teeth, feel its ears, tummy, rump, etc. Exercise gentle insistence and don't let the dog win. Your dog will probably pull his foot away when you try to feel between his toes. When this happens, pick up the foot and try again. You have to win at this game. (Puppies will likely try to nip your hand during this process. You will have to use your anti-mouthing training methods here, e.g., yelling "oow," distracting, etc.) When he allows you to touch an area without pulling away or trying to mouth you, bridge and treat. When your dog is good at this massage and touching session, you are ready to move on to doing other things like brushing teeth, combing fur, trimming nails, etc.

3) In preparation for brushing and combing, teach your dog to lie on its side with his HEAD ON THE FLOOR (or grooming table). (See below for a brief description of how to comb). I use the floor for combing because I then can be in the family room with the family, watching TV or chatting.) If his head is down, he can't mouth you, or get up. In the words of clicker trainers, you have to shape this behavior. At first just try getting your dog to lie on his side quietly while you stroke him with the pin brush. Initially you will need to bridge and treat whenever the head is on the floor. If he lifts his head you may gently guide it back. Follow a simple rule--THE BRIDGE IS GIVEN ONLY WHEN THE HEAD IS DOWN. (Herein lies the essential advantage of "clicker" techniques over just treating the dog. The dog will have to lift his head to get the treat, but he will know that it was the bridge that marked the correct behavior.) KEEP THE TREATS SMALL, e.g., for a puppy you can use pieces of hard cheese less than 1/4 of an inch cubed. You will need to treat lots to get through your initial grooming sessions and large treats will fill up the dog.

4) As the dog learns to keep his head down, you will be able to comb more and more before bridging and treating. As you proceed to lengthen the time between treats be prepared to back off if the failure rate (lifting his head or squirming) gets too high. DO NOT suggest setting a goal of a treat-free session. After all, the dog has to work hard at this and deserves some pay!

5) Eventually you may be able to dispense with the formalities of the "bridge and treat." At this point Buddy and I have a gentlemen's agreement. He will keep his head down as long as I treat him occasionally. If I go too long between treats he will lift his head to get my attention and then put it down very quickly, as if to say, "Hey you, my head is down!" I am sure I could eliminate this behavior, but I think it so cute that of course I often treat him shortly after his head is back down (never when it is up). If he tries to pull the trick too often I just ignore him and go on. If he leaves his head up I just look at him and wait, when he puts it down I continue the combing. When I am done with one side, I pat him twice on his side. This has become his cue to get up and sit for a treat before lying down for me to do the other side.

6) Initially, when I trained this behavior I had trouble getting to the insides of the legs. I would lift the leg part way and do the inside of the other leg. Now the head down behavior is so ingrained that I can lift the leg vertical and put him almost onto his back and he will try to keep his head firmly on the floor. I lift his head off-the floor to do under his chin and he will press it firmly to the floor as soon as I release it.

7) I finish up with him standing for a final combing. He has been clicker trained the "stand" command. I won't describe the training here, because this post is already too long and boring, but the techniques are the same. Decide on your goal and shape the desired behavior with the bridge (click) and treat technique.

Similar techniques work for behavior in the bath, and for trimming. The problem with trimming is that the sessions are spaced quite widely so progress is slower than with daily combing sessions.

Hope this helps some of you.

Suggestions for combing are found in many wheaten resources. Here is my method.

BASIC RULE: To keep your wheaten mat free you must comb to the skin on every square inch of his body.

OBVIOUS BUT IMPORTANT RULE: You should try not to hurt your dog during combing. The discomfort will be an aversive signal that will make your training harder. Hold the fur just in front of where you put the comb in. With tangles hold the base of the fur that is tangled so that you are not pulling on the skin as you pull the comb through.

HOW OFTEN SHOULD YOU COMB? I try to comb every day. I don't really achieve this goal, but it is hardly ever more than two days, and never more than three. The problem with setting a goal of every 2 days is that it is too easy for it to become 4 days and then have a matted dog on your hands.

HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE? Assuming that you have trained your dog for good grooming behavior and you comb every day or two, the session should take you between 20 and 30 minutes. If you have succeeded in your training, this will be a pleasant and rewarding half-hour with your dog. (I get an enormous satisfaction from watching the comb go though Buddy's coat. Yeah, maybe I need to get a life!)

1) Brush the coat with a pin-brush to smooth things out and remove bits of leaves, etc.

2) Fluff the hair along the back towards the head.

3) Starting at the tail, take a small amount of fur and comb backwards toward the tail. The comb should reach the skin. If you run into tangles and you are having trouble getting the comb through, take less fur at a time, or turn the comb and use the end to break up the tangle. Continue working toward the neck, always combing backward. When you are done you should be able to run the comb easily from front to back.

4) Do the legs by fluffing the fur from bottom to top. Start at the foot and take small amounts of fur and comb towards the foot. Work your way up the leg from bottom to top. You will need to lift the leg to get at the underside (or reach through and do the inside of the opposite leg. Be careful on the legs. The fur is thinner and the legs are sensitive to the teeth of the comb.

5) Do the sides with the same procedure starting from the tummy and working your way up the side.

6) Use the same procedure on the neck, working your way from the base toward the head always combing toward the base.

7) Comb the fall and beard.

8) Flip the dog and repeat!

Rich Marsh
copyright 2001 Rich Marsh


| Training Articles Contents || Site Home |

Copyright of all posts is the property of the original author. Please obtain permission from the original author before copying, quoting, or forwarding.

List and Site Owner: Melissa Alexander, mca @