Dog Snaps at Brushing

A Border Collie’s biting keeps her owner from brushing her long coat.

Q. I have a longhaired Border Collie named Bridie who absolutely hates being brushed. Where we live, there are lots of prickly things that get caught in her fur. Whenever I even put the brush near her, she snaps at me. We have gotten Bridie shaved twice; both times she got shaved, the vet found burrs actually stuck in her skin, which must have caused her a lot of pain. What should I do? I hate it when she snaps at me when I brush her because I don’t want her to be upset because she is like my baby.

A. I commend your concern for your pet and your desire to improve her behavior while being groomed, both because she gets so stressed and because it is a risky undertaking for you. I can understand your predicament because the Border Collie is definitely a breed that requires brushing to keep mats away and handle shedding undercoat.

Although you understand that Bridie bites because it hurts when you brush all those burrs especially if they have become embedded in her skin, you need to be aware that dog bites can be serious injuries.

Because Bridie has allowed the groomer to shave her down, I do not think she is a vicious dog; she is merely trying to avoid pain and suffering. Being a Border Collie, she is probably very intelligent, having figured out that this objectionable behavior works for her, preventing you from using the dreaded brush.

With their gorgeous double coats, they need a thorough brush-out at least once a week. When we groom these dogs in the salon, we use a curved bristle metal slicker brush, systematically brushing the coat all the way to the skin, one small section at a time. We double-check our work with a wide-toothed metal comb or rake to make sure we have gotten rid of all mats and tangles. We also “thin and trim” many of them, getting rid of some of the coat bulk and shaping them up. This style retains their handsome appearance but makes it easier to keep them up between visits. I agree that it’s a shame to have to shave your beautiful girl down to the skin because you cannot brush her.

Your challenge is to change the way Bridie feels about being brushed. I would suggest enlisting the help of a family member or friend who is confident with dogs to stand by her head and talk to her while you very gently — and briefly — brush her for your first session. Offer lots of praise as you do this and reward her with a favorite if she does not go on the attack.

Keep these sessions short at first, just five minutes or so, using a slow and systematic approach as you try to change your pet’s mindset and defuse her resistance to being brushed. You don’t need to raise your voice or sound angry, but if she growls or snaps, use a sharp “ah-ah” noise rather than “no.” “It has to be a very positive thing,” says Linda Johnson, a skilled groomer and obedience trainer on my staff who handles lots of difficult dogs. “Remember, you don’t want to praise growling.”

I have witnessed Linda’s gentle persuasion, using patience, praise and treats, work magic on many such dogs. She feels that it’s imperative for the pet owner to be recognized as the dog’s leader. “As a dog owner, you’re in charge whether they like it or not.”

For some dogs, “sweet talk” using a high-pitched happy tone, is music to their ears. Dogs communicate through body language, eye contact, touch and tones. You need to figure out what motivates your dog. You may be able to win her cooperation as long as you’re careful not to praise the behavior you are trying to correct. If not, enlist the services of a good obedience trainer.

Once she gets used to the fact that brushing will be an integral part of her life, keep up the good work so she will never be plagued with those dreaded burrs again.

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Dogs · Grooming