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Grooming Lessons from a Real Groomer: Pet Psychology
How to have a great human to dog relationship and inter-species respect
Our pets are the perfect companions. They are in tune with our emotions, they love unconditionally, they worry about us when we are gone and they make a celebration out of our return. They eat the same food every day without complaining and they treat you like their God.
If you agreed with everything I said above except treating you like a God, then there is a problem. Lets go over a little dog psychology. Believe it or not, even though our dogs are our best companion next to humans, you cannot treat them like a human! Your pet dog is and always will be a dog; not a human. And he will love and respect you more if you treat him like a dog. Lets do a little role reversal. Think about how you would feel if your dog tried to treat you like a dog instead of a human. You come home and the dog sniffs you all over. (He probably does this already and is makes you uncomfortable, doesn't it?)The dog makes you eat the same food every day in a bowl on the floor. The dog asks you to fetch the paper and pee outside. Doesn't this sound foreign and crazy? Wouldn't you feel awkward and out of place to have the dog making you do dog behavior because he wants to treat you the same as himself, a dog? It is the same when you superimpose human qualities and human rights on your dog. Your dog is not the same as you. When you give a dog human rights you are in denial of how a dog was made to function.
A dog's instinct is to live within a pack with a clear leader who gives orders. Each dog in the pack has a place, as in a hierarchy, or a chain of command like in the military. It is important for the dogs psyche that this structure exists or the dog will feel and act out of place, uncontrolled, wild, try to dominate you with biting or growling, be anxious, nervous and protective of you against other people or animals. It is essential that you are the pack leader, the Alpha, the boss. It's not enough to say you are the Alpha, you have to act it and be it. You must be your dog's God. By that I mean that the dog doesn't challenge you, ignore your orders, beg, dominate you, or destroy your things. A dog who feels a part of a pack with you at the head, is secure, happy and confident. He listens to and obeys the leader without question. He remains calm in new situations and knows his leader will be in control so he doesn’t have to panic or overreact.
The Mommy Syndrome
And that brings us to the idea of you trying to groom your dog. If you are trying to groom your dog and you are not the Alpha you will end up very frustrated. Dogs whose behavior is bad when "Mommy" tries to groom are really getting away with something and I call it the "Mommy Syndrome". Most "Mommies" are afraid to be the boss; to give a sharp, quick, attention getting correction to bad behavior. Instead, they coo and whine and say things like "oh, my pooor baaby" and "mommy won't hurt you" and "it's all right, goood girl". If your dog wasn't sitting like a perfect angel and allowing you to do to it whatever you wanted, then you have just reinforced negative behavior! Since dogs are in tune with us on an emotional level, if you are comforting it with your voice for a bad behavior then you must be pleased with the bad behavior and feel guilty for asking the dog to do something it doesn't want to do. You shouldn't be asking the dog's permission to groom it. If you are the boss, you don't need his permission, you should be able to do anything to the dog with no resistance.
In a pack, the alpha dog would give a sharp warning for bad behavior such as growling or nipping the out of control dog. For you, a light smack on the butt or a poke in the neck with two fingers will mimic a nip of a dog's teeth and in dog language communicate that the behavior is undesirable. Make a negative sounding noise like "enngh" to reinforce your point. Use your calm, encouraging, soothing tone of voice for the moments when your dog is sitting still, obeying your directions, standing when asked, etc. This is reinforcing the good, desired behavior. Your kind tone of voice IS the reward here. If you are consistent with this your dog will respond; sometimes immediately and sometimes over a few sessions. It's the only thing that is going to work if your dog is willfully disobeying, or worse yet, not allowing you to groom him by screaming or biting at you.
One reason the Mommy Syndrome doesn't come into play for your dog when at a groom shop is that there is an intimidation factor when outside of his comfort zone. Your dog has been treated like a human at home and may be confused about his place, but in the shop we treat them like dogs. We carry ourselves as Alpha and most dogs when presented with an Alpha in a pack they are not familiar with will fall into a lower rank with no problem. Secondly, we never give mixed messages with our voices regarding their behavior. I have no problem telling your dog "no" and exercising my rights as Alpha in the groom shop pack. I do that gently and naturally, with respect for the animal. Not out of anger or frustration, but with confidence and calm. As the dog responds with the appropriate and/or submissive behavior I back off and give the praise he earned for learning to operate in my pack. Once I have the dog's respect, his trust is quick to follow. This is the beginning of a great dog/human relationship based on inter-species respect for each other. At the end of every groom is the time I give the dog extra encouragement and use my excited voice to let him know that we are done and I appreciated his obedience. Hugs and kisses are my favorite part of working with animals and this is the appropriate time to have a little fun once all the work is done. If you try these techniques at home you will find that you can become the Alpha of the pack, and you will get alot more respect and cooperation from your dog. Try it, you'll like being the "leader of the pack".