20 Tips for Grooming Your Senior Dog
Have you ever thought about what it must be like for your senior dog when it comes time to groom her? After all, grooming can be a rather frightening experience for some dogs under certain circumstances, regardless of age. However, when the dog is older, grooming can become much more difficult for a number of reasons.
First and foremost, the way the hair grows on your dog actually changes a little bit as she ages. You have undoubtedly seen older dogs that just seem to be having a bad hair day all the time. This is because the hair becomes less manageable. If you feel it, it actually feels stiffer and at times, it can become more difficult to maintain. This makes it more prone to becoming tangled or matted, which are obviously two things that you don’t want to allow to happen to your pet. In addition, your dog may not feel as good as she used to. She may have certain areas of her body that are especially tender and she may not want you to touch those areas. Even if she feels well physically, dogs are like people when it comes to the aging of the mind. Many times, they simply don’t want to interact as much as they used to and prefer to have more time alone instead. This can obviously make grooming more challenging, especially if you are doing it yourself. Your dog may not be as receptive to the whole idea of grooming as she once was. On the other hand, if you take her to a professional groomer, you may be looking at an entirely different set of circumstances surrounding her age and whether or not she feels good enough to get in the car and go to some strange location every week or two for grooming.
A lot of it really comes down to knowing your dog and knowing her well. You alone often know what is best for her, not to mention what she will and will not tolerate. If you find that she isn’t as receptive to things as she used to be, the first order of business really should be a trip to your veterinarian in order to determine whether or not a medical cause is involved. With that being said, there are some things that you can do to make grooming time easier on both you and your dog, even if it has become somewhat difficult.
Below are 20 tips that you can follow to make grooming easier for your senior dog. While it isn’t likely that all of these tips will apply at the same time, you can definitely read through the list and see which ones apply to your dog and her specific situation. That way, you can make grooming the enjoyable experience that it once was. On that note, understand ahead of time that you are far more likely to be able to groom your dog whenever you need to if she has always enjoyed it in the past. Some dogs love it and others really don’t care for it at all, no matter what their age. If you happen to have a dog that has never really enjoyed being groomed, it’s important to work with them while they are younger because it will only become more difficult as they get older. In other words, you are already ahead of the curve if you have a dog that has always enjoyed grooming in the past. That way, you will likely need to make only small changes along the way in order to ensure that you can still groom her without her becoming stressed. Keep reading to find out more.
1. Be gentle
No dog likes to be treated aggressively. This is especially true when you have some type of tool or object in your hands. As she gets older, your dog is far more likely to need some extra gentleness when it comes to handling her. In other words, make it a point to be as gentle as possible when you are grooming her, with regard to both your words and your actions. The kinder you are to her, the more likely she is to be receptive of the idea of being groomed in the first place. If you are feeling stressed or frustrated, or you have just simply had a bad day, there is nothing wrong with putting the grooming session off until the next day when you are both better suited for it. Remember, you don’t have to say a word and your dog knows exactly how you are feeling. Therefore, she will know if you are frustrated with her even if you never open your mouth. This is obviously not the situation you want to create, so if you’re already feeling like you’re going to be frustrated with the situation, go ahead and put it off a day or two until you can have more control over your emotions.
2. Let your dog see what you’re doing
If someone were coming at you with some objects in their hand and you knew they were planning on using those objects on you, you would surely want to see what they were. It really isn’t any different with your dog. Give her the opportunity to see exactly what you’re doing. Dogs can have a fear of the unknown, like most animals. If you’re not letting her see exactly what you plan to do, she might be afraid to let you get any closer and the grooming session could end before it ever even gets started. Your best bet is to move slowly and give her the opportunity to understand what’s coming up so she can provide you with some feedback in the form of body language or facial expressions. That way, you can gain a better understanding of what’s going on. More will be discussed about reading a dog’s body language later on in this article.
3. Give your dog a chance to smell the tools you’re using
This might sound rather odd at first, but it works. Remember, dogs experience the world by scent in much the same way that we experience the world by reaching out and touching something. If we don’t understand something, we want to do more than just see it. We want to touch it, to hold it in our hands. Dogs are the same way but they experience everything by smelling virtually anything and everything in their path. If your dog is curious about the things you’re holding in your hands, lay them down and give her a chance to sniff them. This is especially important if she is fearful of whatever you’re holding or she doesn’t like to be groomed in the first place.
4. Keep grooming sessions fairly short
When you have a younger dog, they may enjoy being groomed for 30 minutes at a time. That is unlikely in many older dogs. Older dogs are not that much different from people in the sense that they usually don’t feel as good and in some cases, they’re just not mentally up to the task at that particular moment in time. If you remember what it was like to train your dog as a puppy, then you remember that you needed to keep training sessions short in order to ensure that she continued to pay attention. Otherwise, there was really no point in the session at all because she would become distracted and you would eventually become frustrated. It’s basically the same thing when it comes to grooming your senior dog. She probably doesn’t want to be handled for several minutes at a time so try to keep it short, say in the range of 10 to 15 minutes at most. That way, she is more likely to be receptive of the idea and you both can enjoy spending time together without either one of you becoming frustrated.
5. Talk softly or hum to your dog
Your dog recognizes your voice. In most cases, it’s soothing to her. When you’re grooming her, make a habit of talking softly to her. If you would rather, you can merely hum in a soft voice. You don’t have to be saying anything in particular, she just wants to hear the cadence of your voice. It’s sort of like getting a child to go to sleep by playing their favorite lullaby. It’s something you can do to optimize her comfort level while simultaneously letting her know that you’re still there to take care of her, no matter what.
6. Create a soothing environment
If you’re grooming your dog yourself, you want to create an environment that is as stress-free as possible. Typically, that means going to her favorite spot or taking her to a room that is big enough for her to feel safe but not so big that her behavior can get out of control. Think about taking her to a bedroom or bathroom and closing the door behind you. You can play some soft music or, as discussed in the paragraph above, talk softly to your dog. Make grooming sessions something to look forward to as opposed to something to be dreaded or feared.
7. Check for sore spots first
This is especially important when you are grooming an older dog. Before you start the grooming session, run your hands gently over every inch of your dog from nose to tail. See if there are any areas that she seems like she doesn’t really want you to touch. If she has certain areas that are especially sore, like a hip or a leg, you may want to take action to avoid that area. At the very least, go easy on her in those areas. The last thing you want to do is cause pain for your dog. Therefore, this should be something that you get in the habit of doing as she gets older.
8. Go easy on sore areas or leave them for next time
This touches on the paragraph above. Nothing says that you have to groom every square inch of your dog every single time. In fact, you really should be allowing her to dictate both the length of the grooming session and exactly what you do during that session. Some people think they have to groom every little hair, complete with trimming any areas that might look unkempt and then trimming their dog’s nails, and they want to do it all at once. This is simply too much for most dogs, even when they’re younger. The older she gets, the more you need to basically let her call the shots when it comes to grooming. Allow her to tell you what she is willing to allow you to do at any given time. If she is unwilling to allow you to do something, leave it for next time. Unless she has a bunch of burrs stuck in her hair or something similar, nothing terrible is going to happen if you don’t get it done right then.
9. Groom your dog frequently
It’s already been discussed how important it is to keep the grooming sessions fairly short and to allow your dog to have more control over these sessions than you have. Therefore, you should be grooming her more often than you did when she was younger. This is because you’re spending less time grooming her each time you do it. Again, the perfect analogy is the training sessions that you went through with her when she was a puppy. You probably did several short training sessions each day. It’s a similar aspect with grooming. Instead of grooming her for an hour every two weeks, groom her for 10 or 15 minutes about three times a week.
10. Don’t force your dog into a grooming session
As your dog gets older, there will undoubtedly be times when she simply isn’t in the mood to be groomed. She may not be in the mood to be touched in any capacity. If that’s the case, just accept it and let it go. The last thing you want to do is force her into a situation because that takes away all her feelings of control and introduces a great deal of fear. Obviously, you don’t want to make your dog feel afraid and you also don’t want to ruin the bond that the two of you have built over so many years. Therefore, don’t ever let yourself fall into a habit of trying to force her to let you groom her or do anything else, for that matter. Instead, work with her so the two of you can find some common ground.
11. Learn to read your dog’s body language
If you pay attention, your dog will tell you exactly how she’s feeling. If she’s a senior dog and you’ve had her since she was a puppy, you’ve had plenty of time to learn all of the little nuances about her. Therefore, you should be able to understand when she’s open to the idea of grooming and when she would prefer to be left alone. You can also understand when she’s feeling fearful, sad, or happy. Things will go much better for both of you if you learn to read her body language in all situations, including grooming.
12. Break things up into smaller tasks
By now, it should be pounded into your head that you want to keep grooming sessions fairly short for an older dog. This probably means that you need to break things up as opposed to trying to do everything at once. In other words, brush her and then let her go rest or do whatever she wants to do. Later on or the next day, you can clip any burrs from her hair that you might have found or even clip her toenails. You really don’t want to try to do all of it at one time, as previously mentioned.
13. Avoid becoming frustrated with your dog
Do you remember what it was like when you were a young child or even as an adult when a parent or someone that you had a great deal of respect for was disappointed in you? It’s not a good feeling, not by a long shot. It doesn’t feel any different when your dog feels this way. If you get frustrated with her, that’s exactly how she’s going to feel. The worst part is that she may not understand why you’re so frustrated. She might be genuinely trying to do the best that she can do for that particular moment in time. Nothing is worse than having a faithful companion for years and then becoming frustrated with her because she’s not capable of doing all the things she did when she was young. You have to understand that as your dog ages, she’s likely to have more limitations. That doesn’t mean she is any less worthy of your love or your understanding.
14. Always pay attention
This should go without saying. It doesn’t matter if you’re grooming an older dog or a young one, you’re asking for trouble if you’re not paying attention. You should always be giving your undivided attention to animals anytime you work with them. If you groom an older dog and you’re distracted by something else, you could potentially injure her by hitting a spot that is arthritic or by manipulating a leg more than you need to. In some cases, you can miss the warning signs she’s putting off as she tries to tell you to stop. In a worst case scenario, she could bite.
15. Use the right tools
There are certain grooming tools out there that look more like torture devices than anything else. Use tools that are gentle on your senior dog. You don’t want to use anything that could hurt any animal, but it’s important to be especially gentle with older dogs. Keep this in mind and purchase new grooming tools if you need to.
16. If you can’t do it, find a groomer in your area
Some people can’t clip their dog’s nails and others feel the same way about merely brushing their dogs. If you think that you’re hurting your dog every time you touch her, you’re obviously going to be more nervous about the entire ordeal. If you’re not up to the task, talk to your veterinarian about other options. Ultimately, you might want to find a professional groomer in your area that has experience working with older dogs.
17. Check references of any groomer you consider using
Again, the best way to find a good professional groomer is to talk to your veterinarian. Obviously, you want someone you can trust. Everyone has heard horror stories about taking their dog to a groomer and having something tragic happen. No one wants to find themselves in this situation. Your dog has obviously been a trusted friend for many years. Therefore, she deserves to have enough of your respect to ensure that she’s protected at all times. Don’t just drop her off at some place that claims to have experience grooming dogs and leave her there. Instead, take the time to make sure you’re taking her to the right place where she can get the grooming she needs without being physically or mentally stressed.
18. Stay close to your dog
If you and your dog have been around each other for a number of years, there’s a better-than-average chance that she’s not going to be thrilled about you dropping her off at a groomer and leaving her. This is especially true if she suffers from separation anxiety. If your dog is anxious, stay close to her. Explain this to the groomer. If they’re not willing to work with you and your dog, find someone that well. The main thing is to make sure that your dog is safe and happy.
19. Recognize when your dog is stressed
It doesn’t matter if you’re doing the grooming yourself or if you’re having someone else do it, it’s vitally important that you recognize when your dog is stressed. You don’t want to let any dog become stressed, as it can turn into a bona fide medical emergency if it is allowed to go on unchecked. This becomes even more true if the dog is older. You wouldn’t want to send your grandmother into a situation where she would become excessively stressed and you don’t want to do it to your dog, either. If you recognize signs of stress in her, take the necessary steps to reassure her that all is well. If you still can’t get her to calm down, end the grooming session and take her out of that situation immediately. You don’t want to turn something as simple as grooming into a situation that creates a medical emergency or that leaves your dog upset. It just isn’t worth it.
20. Always reward your dog
Regardless of who does the grooming or how you get it accomplished, reward your dog for good behavior. Give her a favorite toy or a treat to let her know that she has done exactly what you’re asking her to do. Remember, it’s always about positive reinforcement. Instead of becoming frustrated or yelling at your dog for not doing what you want, make sure that you always let her know when she does exactly what you’re asking her to do. Even if her reward system is a simple pat on the head or some cuddle time with you, make sure that you take the time to give it to her. People like to be rewarded when they have done something correctly. They want to be recognized for it. Dogs also like to know that they are pleasing their people and doing what is expected of them. Be sure to let her know that you appreciate her efforts.