Grooming an Australian Shepherd on a regular basis keeps his skin and coat in top condition, and allows you to check his entire body for lumps, bumps, cuts, rashes, dry skin, fleas, ticks, stickers. You can check his feet for cuts, torn pads or broken nails, and examine his mouth for signs of trouble including tartar, broken teeth, or discolored gums.
The Australian Shepherd is a double coated dog with a moderate length topcoat, and a soft, downy undercoat that develops as the dog reaches adulthood. For the companion Aussie, as opposed to the show dog, grooming is a relatively easy process as long as it is done with regularity and your dog views it as a positive and enjoyable experience.
Most Australian Shepherds love to be groomed, making this necessary chore a great way to spend quality time with your dog while simultaneously building a strong human-canine relationship. Equally important, when you regularly groom your Aussie, you will quickly recognize when something is amiss.
It’s also a good idea to start instilling good grooming practices right away. If your puppy came from a reputable breeder, he is probably used to being handled and gently stroked. He’s probably had at least one bath and may already be accustomed to and tolerate being brushed and examined. A puppy who is exposed to positive and delightful grooming experiences will grow into an adult dog who takes pleasure in the regular routine.
Don’t despair if grooming is new to your Australian Shepherd. Like anything else, it is best to start slow and progress at a rate that is suitable for the age and mental maturity of your dog.
If you have a grooming table, begin by teaching your Aussie to stand on the table. For a puppy, any sturdy surface such as a bench or crate top covered with a non-skid, non-slip surface is sufficient. Sitting or kneeling on the floor with your dog works too. In addition to standing, teach your Aussie to lie down and relax on the table. This position is helpful when trimming his nails, brushing his tummy, and examining his body for stickers, burs, cuts, hot spots, and such.
Australian Shepherds who learn to relax on a grooming table are more likely to relax on a veterinarian’s examination table, making a trip to the vet’s office less stressful for all involved.
Have all the grooming tools out and within easy reach before starting the grooming process. Never turn your back or leave your dog on a grooming table unattended. It takes only a second for a young Aussie to injure himself should he fall or jump.
Puppies have limited attention spans, so do not expect your Australian Shepherd to remain still for extended periods of time. In the beginning, you want progress – not perfection. Your goal is for him to stand or lie still for a few seconds while you praise him. Harsh handling during these learning stages will come back to haunt you when your Aussie begins resenting this necessary chore.
Progress to the point where your puppy will accept having his body stroked with your hand, then gently, slowly, and calmly brush him all over. In the beginning, your Aussie may be frightened, nervous, or unsure. Patience, gentle handling, and plenty of hugs and kisses will help to build his confidence and teach him to accept and enjoy the grooming process.
The Grooming Table
Australian Shepherds are pretty agile, and jumping on and off a grooming table can be a fun game for them. But they run the risk of injuring themselves – especially if they are jumping onto hard or slippery concrete. An adult Aussie may be too heavy for some people to lift, but don’t discard the grooming table! Teach him “feet up” – which is to put his front feet on the grooming table, then you boost his back legs up and onto the table.
Most dogs learn “feet up” when owners pat the table and say the command “feet up”. When the dog puts his feet up – praise and reward. If he doesn’t get the hang of “feet up”, simply lift his front feet onto the table, then hoist his rear legs up.
Getting off the table is a bit trickier. Most owners employ a lifting and jumping combination. Put one of your arms between your dog’s front legs, and your other arm wrapped under his chest and stomach area. As the dog jumps, your arm positioning helps guide him and cushion a hard landing. You certainly don’t want him jumping off the table by himself onto concrete and hurting himself. Some companies manufacture ramps specifically for loading dogs in and out of cars, onto grooming tables, and other hard-to-reach places.