By Steve Appelbaum
Professional groomers sometimes find themselves in a similar quandary as veterinarians. You are not experts in behavior, but some of your customers will wind up re-homing their dogs if they are unable to solve behavioral challenges. This has the potential to negatively impact your business. Of course, it isn’t expected that a dog groomer be a dog trainer, and unlike veterinarians who are often asked for solutions to various behavioral issues, most groomers are not. That being said, groomers who learn a bit about canine behavior and are able to figure out ways to share this information with their clients in a positive fashion can also benefit as a result.
Some of you may wonder: How exactly can groomers benefit from learning about canine behavior? Why is offering tips that address challenging behaviors important to share? By doing so, is it valuable for business? Here are some reasons to consider.
- Helping and serving as a resource to your customers is an opportunity to stand out from the competition. Grooming, like most businesses, is competitive. Sharing helpful information with your customers not only makes a difference to them and their pets, but also creates good will.
- Customer loyalty is gold in a service business. Loyalty is not just based on having reasonable prices. It isn’t completely based on doing great work either—although quality service and work is a big component. Loyalty is fostered by the feeling a customer has when they think about you and your business. If you are actually able to assist someone in addressing a challenge that was causing them real frustration, you are likely to have a customer for a very long time.
Let’s talk about a common behavior problem – Problem Chewing. As a professional dog trainer with more than three decades of experience, I have seen the results of excessive dog chewing that defies the imagination. One memorable case involved a 10-month-old Great Dane/Mastiff mix who after chewing holes in a couch, rug and chair, was banished to the back yard. Undeterred during the better part of an afternoon when his owners were at work, this fellow chewed through a wooden door, literally, and came into the house. Once he entered, he destroyed a pair of shoes, shredded a couch cushion, chewed another hole in the couch, and was fast asleep on it when the owners came home. While such stories are funny, at least in retrospect, they can cause frustrated owners to give up their pets.
Here are some suggestions on how to address problem chewing.
The fact is that many dogs, especially puppies, chew. Puppies are teething from about 12 to 18 weeks and are intelligent, inquisitive beings that don’t have hands. Some puppies outgrow the behavior. Some don’t and learn to like chewing, especially when bored, or stressed, or nutritionally deprived of something. Usually, the keys to addressing this problem are quite simple:
Key 1: Strong fixation on the “correct” objects
This means chew toys that are not confused with household items. This is an important point. Many owners take household items and turn them into “toys” for the dog. Popular items include old rags, socks, discarded children’s toys, etc. Some owners purchase fabric toys from pet stores not realizing that many dogs like to tear up fabric and saying to the dog, “here chew this fabric but not this one” is confusing at best. Examples of proper toys include KONGS®, Nylabones®, and other similar products on the market. It is not enough to simply give the dog a Nylabone and hope for the best. Some dogs will chew it while others won’t. Instead, take it and soak it in beef or chicken broth for about an hour a day. Then make these toys the source of focus when you play with the dog. When you greet the dog, give her the bone and do so when you leave, too. KONGS can be stuffed with peanut butter or any number of interesting things. This will give the dog many hours of play time as she tries to get the scent and taste from the KONG. The bottom line is if you get the dog to chew her toys 80 percent more than she does right now, you will have a dog that is far less likely to chew on the wrong things.
Key 2: Teething
Puppies in the teething phase can be given ice cubes to chew on. This helps numb their sore gums. You can also use slightly softer chew products including rawhide. However, a few cautions about rawhide; first, get American made rawhide. This might sound obnoxiously patriotic, but it’s not about that. It’s about quality and not curing the product in toxic chemicals. Second, rawhide is not supposed to be consumed in large quantities. A small bone that takes a puppy a week or so to chew down is probably fine, but swallowing one in 10 minutes, not so much. If a puppy is a voracious chewer, consider one of the harder products like Nylabone or KONG.
Key 3: Management
Would you leave a two-year-old child unsupervised in your home for hours at a time? Assuming you answered no, and I sincerely hope that EVERYONE answered no, why would you do the same with a puppy under the age of a year? Puppies that spend time in the house should be in exercise pens and or crates when the owner is not able to directly supervise them. This pen can become a haven for the dog and special care should be taken to make sure the dog feels safe and secure in it. Special chew toys should be placed there, which means she is more likely to fixate on them. This isn’t suggesting that people leave their dogs in crates or pens for a year. The dogs should be taken out and given supervised time in the house. Their special toys should be readily available to them during this time as well. As the dog learns to behave, she can get longer and longer times out of the crate. Also, the crate should never be used for punishment. Many people who work all day leave their dogs in a fenced and safe backyard and bring the dog into the house in the crate when they are home.
Key 4: Redirection and patience
When the dog is given supervised time in the house, make sure she has her special toys that are within reach. If she errs and starts to chew on the wrong things, a simple “Ugh Ugh” or “No” coupled with giving her the correct item will teach her over time which items are and are not acceptable for her to chew. Also, make it a point to pick up as many items as you can before allowing the dog freedom to roam in the house. This doesn’t mean moving the furniture but you might consider picking up kids’ toys, shoes, etc.
Key 5: Exercise and nutrition
Dogs that get exercise and proper nutrition are less likely to be problem chewers. Make sure your dog is being fed a good quality hard kibble and receives adequate exercise every day. Walks are a great way to give the dog exercise. A two to three mile walk five days a week should do wonders. However, please speak with your veterinarian before starting any exercise program. While exercise is good, please remember not to over do it.
These are only some of the many tips you can share with clients. This is just a guide. In future articles, I will discuss how to create tip sheets you can share with customers, tips on building a rapport with dog trainers and ways to address other behavior problems. ”
Steven Appelbaum is a professional dog trainer and founder of Animal Behavior College (ABC), a vocational school specializing in certified animal career training programs including, dog training, pet grooming and veterinary assistance. To date, ABC has certified more than 11,300 dog trainers, making it the largest school for professional dog trainers in the U.S. In addition, the college has certified more than 1,330 pet groomers and 4,200 veterinary assistants and offers a variety of continuing education programs on subjects including, cat management and training, pet nutrition, pet massage, pet sitting and training shelter dogs. For more information about the college, visit the website at www.animalbehaviorcollege.com/info