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VET ANSWERS: My dog won’t let me groom her legs. What should I do?

Dog Grooming

I have an 8-month-old female standard poodle, who I groom myself. She won’t let me clip her front legs (she threatens to bite). I use a grooming table for the procedure. 

The last time I was forced to use a muzzle, but I was uneasy because she wanted to pant and couldn't. Any suggestions?

A:First, have your veterinarian make sure that there is no underlying medical condition that could be causing her pain in her front paws or legs. If there is no underlying medical reason, then you can try behaviour modification. Since your dog is still quite young, you have an excellent opportunity to turn this behaviour around. However, it will require much patience and tenacity to overcome.

In a training process that involves three training techniques (reward, desensitization and successive approximation), you slowly work your way to the desired behaviour. 

First, you start with training her to give you her paws (with ample rewards and praise) and train her to sit comfortably for any procedures not involving clippers, including handling of the front legs. 

At the same time, you should turn the clippers on in her presence prior to enjoyable events such as before a walk, before dinner, play time, treats, etc.) In this way, your dog will become desensitized to them but will also associate the clippers with wonderful experiences and happy events. 

Eventually you should be able to combine the two events (holding the paws and clipping) without causing fear or distress. Should you decide to take this route (rather than sedation or muzzling), your veterinarian can be a valuable ally and resource.