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How to Groom an Anxious Dog

Learn from our resident Dog Training & Behaviour Consultant - Kerry Woods

- Out Of The Woods Dog Training -

Brushing your dog is about more than just ensuring they look good - it is an important aspect of responsible dog ownership. Regular grooming promotes healthy coats and skin, prevents matting and allows you to check your dog for lumps, bumps or pesky grass seeds.

Grooming can also be a really valuable bonding opportunity, and an enjoyable activity for you and your dog. But if you have a dog who is difficult to brush, grooming can feel more like a chore or might even be something you dread doing.

Dogs who are difficult to groom, are likely feeling uncomfortable or scared. Sometimes it is very clear that a dog is anxious about grooming - many will flinch, run away or hide. Other dogs might be more subtle about it - for example, some might wriggle, squirm and bite at your hands or the brush. These behaviours could easily be labeled as ‘naughty’ or ‘playful’, but in fact they are your dog’s way of communicating that they are overwhelmed, uncomfortable or anxious about the experience.

The good news is that there are things you can do to make grooming a more enjoyable activity for both you and your dog.

Note: If your dog growls, snaps or bites when being brushed or handled, please seek help from a Behaviourist for specific advice for you and your dog.


The training methods I’m going to share with you are not quick fixes, but are worth the time and patience. In the mean-time, you want to avoid your dog having any further stressful experiences of being brushed. For dogs with coats that are easily matted, I recommend using a Kong or Lickimat loaded up with something yummy to occupy and distract them whilst you complete any necessary grooming. I would also recommend that if you have a dog who is clipped at the groomers, that they are clipped short to reduce the amount of at home grooming they need whilst you are building their confidence.


Counter-conditioning is a powerful training technique that can completely change the way your dog feels about being groomed. By pairing the thing your dog finds unpleasant (the brush, or being groomed) with something they like (such as treats, or play) you can turn grooming into something pleasant, that your dog enjoys taking part in.

"Grooming can also be a really valuable bonding opportunity, and an enjoyable activity for you and your dog."

Step 1 - Condition the brush

The first thing you want to do is teach your dog that the brush = good things. You can do this using the following steps.

1. Bring brush into vie
2.Reward your dog - be generous!
3. Continue to reward for as long as the brush is in sight
4. Hide the brush (e.g. behind your back) and stop rewarding
5. Repeat

Over time, your dog will learn that when the brush appears, good things are coming and they will have a positive emotional response to the brush. Once your dog looks pleased to see the brush, you can progress to some gentle brushing. 

Step 2 - Introduce Brushing

1. Perform one light brush stroke
2. Reward - again, be generous!
3. Repeat

As your dog gains confidence, you can start to perform more brush strokes before your reward, and also start to groom them more thoroughly.

I recommend starting with a soft bristle brush, before progressing to a pin brush or slicker brush if these are required for your dog’s coat. Every time you introduce a new brush, you should start by teaching your dog that brush = good things too.

Progress at Your Dogs Pace

Don’t rush! Take your time to build things up slowly, and always go at your dog’s pace. If your dog seems uncomfortable or anxious at any point during a session, stop brushing and let them have a break. Listening to your dog’s body language and giving them the choice to opt out when they need a break, will really help to build their confidence and trust in you, which is vital for a positive grooming experience. 

Learn more from Kerry by following her on social media or head over to her website below

Kerry is a Dog Training & Behaviour Consultant and is here to provide tips, tricks and information on all things dogs!Kerry has a degree in Animal Behaviour & Welfare as well as being a certified Separation Anxiety Pro Trainer. After working with hearing dogs for deaf people for 3 years and gaining experience working with dogs from 8 weeks old right the way through to placement Kerry now works as a dog training and behaviourist consultant specialising in Separation Anxiety.

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