Updated: Jun 22
I typically have sixteen to twenty adult Maremmas guarding our property and livestock full time. Grooming them used to be the most difficult part of caring for this many dogs. I found grooming the dogs to be VERY stressful, for me and for my dogs. I struggled with responsibly managing the coats and toenails of my dogs through trial and error for several years, and then I got smart and hired a professional. I hired her to come to the ranch and teach me how to groom my dogs efficiently.
Rheanna is a gift to me! Over several sessions, spanning a couple of grooming seasons, she has taught me quite a lot. I decided to write this series so that I can share with others what Rheanna has taught me. I also want to share with you what I have learned about how to teach dogs to accept being groomed; in many cases my dogs have learned to enjoy it.
Rheanna is a professional dog groomer with eighteen years of experience. I am a professional dog trainer of that many years and more. Rheanna and I approach the handling of the dogs very differently. She is kind, patient, and intuitive with the dogs she grooms. She loves dogs! She often gets down on the floor and plays with them in her shop. But when someone drops a dog off to her to be groomed, in order to have that owner's repeat business, she must completely groom the dog in a minimal amount of time. She is fair with the dogs she grooms, and she has learned lots of tricks with regard to how to get her full grooming process done with dogs that would prefer she didn't.
I, on the other hand, have time on my side. Every time I handle my dogs I am training for the future. I appreciate being able to groom one of my dogs from head to tail in one session, expediently, but I have learned that being in a hurry is much slower in the longer scheme of things. At this point, through patient training with lots of reinforcement (cookies), and breaking training sessions down into shorter pieces as necessary, most of my adult Maremmas are now a dream to do grooming with. It has become a bonding time for us, with lots of cuddles and cookies. I no longer dread grooming and neither do my dogs.
In my opinion, having a master plan is essential. Also essential is having the right equipment for the task at hand, and a convenient area to groom the dog, preferably the same place every time.
Criteria For a Perfect Grooming Area - The Grooming Series
My Favorite Grooming Tools and How I Use Them - The Grooming Series
Clippers - Selection and Tips For Using Them - The Grooming Series
The Secret to My Grooming Success - This Magic Blower - The Grooming Series
Training treats don't have to be fancy. I wrote the blog below mostly for the students of the Karen Pryor Academy Foundations course because there is a lot to know about treat strategy for that situation. I used small dog cookie type treats when I groom my dogs, with my treats stuffed in my front pockets so that they are at dog nose level. The dogs know they are there and how to get me to give them to the the dog. But maybe you'll find something in the blog below to be helpful.
Treat Selection and Preparation blog:
Consider the Time of Year
There is grooming that can be accomplished in the summer that would be completely unrealistic to attempt in the wintertime, unless you took the dog to a professional grooming shop. There are grooming procedures that are more important at some times of the year than others.
Keeping up with toenail trimming is a year around responsibility. My goal is to trim toenails about once a month. They often aren't long enough to need much trimming on this schedule, so sometimes it's just a tune up, but this is great training for the dogs. Trimming just the tips of toenails is comfortable for the dog, if you are using the proper equipment. Trimming longer toenails is often not comfortable for the dog. Those long toenails become thick and difficult to cut; the toenails often twist in the process, which is painful for the dog.
Toenail trimming blog:
In late winter I often do what I consider a "triage" trim. I clip the long, matted hair and mud from the hindquarters of the dog and part of the underbelly. I also do this same clip a month or so before winter begins so that my dogs don't have long cheek hair that becomes heavy with mud and is wet a lot of the time. For the first trim I do not wash the dog because of the still cool weather. This is hard on my clipper blades, but good for my dogs. I use my blower to clean off the triage clip portions for the early winter clipping session.
Partial Late Winter "Triage" Clipping - The Grooming Series
For me, washing a dog is a beginning of summer process. This makes every other step of grooming easier to accomplish. I sometime wash only the dog's hindquarters and underside in the winter if mud accumulation becomes a problem. All my favorite washing the dog products are shown in the blog below.
How to Wash a Dog in the Field