Grooming Anxious and Nervous Dogs

Some dogs will be more unsure of the grooming process and need more reassurance throughout the groom. If you know your dog can be anxious then please tell your groomer when you make an appointment. As a groomer, I am always happy and ready to work with dogs who can be a bit ‘grumpy’ or a little vocal expressing their disapproval!

Some dogs, like humans, are just a bit nervous in unfamiliar places or around new people.

If you know your dog does not enjoy a groom (even by someone they’re familiar with) then let your groomer know. It’ll be best for the dog. There are some things both the groomer and the owner can do to make it a better experience:

  • When possible, book a later appointment. That means I can spend more bonding time with the dog without worrying about time constraints. It also gives me time to carry out some trust exercises, to find what the dog’s ‘trigger points’ are, and what they are more comfortable with.
  • Carrying out the groom in a different order.  If the dog has particularly sensitive areas (for example, around the feet) then I ‘dip in and out’, balancing doing a little work at a time on those, then focusing on other, more comfortable areas to minimise their stress.
  • Having a meet-and-greet session before the groom. At Clipsters, you and your dog are welcome to come and spend some time with me in and around the grooming pod and the garden. The dog will have the chance to become familiar with the sights and smells, so they’l be less anxious when they come back for an actual groom. It may be that I have only a little interaction with your dog in this pre-session if they are happy to just sniff and have a look around the place. I always try to let the dog come to me rather than force them to interact when they’re not ready. All of this will mean they’re less uncertain about being in a new place with a new person in the future. We don’t charge for these introductory sessions. They usually last around 20-30 minutes, the owner will always be present (with Covid-19 measures in place) and we can usually fit them in at a time to suit you.
  • Have realistic expectations for the groom itself. If your dog has not enjoyed grooming in the past then the first groom with me may not be perfect. What is important is carrying out a safe, low-stress groom that builds a foundation for future visits. Grooming is an ongoing process, not a one-off event. If I can’t do everything on their first visit, or if it’s taken a long time and the dog is getting tired or unhappy, we’ll do more next time.
  • Allow time for breaks. If your dog is displaying anxiety signs then it is time for a break to release some stress. We’ll take five minutes to just rest, play ball, explore or have a tickle. I’ll always give more anxious dogs longer, with regular breaks away from the grooming table and we’ll always arrange appointments so we have plenty of time. (Signs of stress or anxiety could include stress yawns, ‘false play’ behaviour – apparently playful behaviour that is actually an attempt to avoid being touched – ‘frozen’ body language, or the more obvious signs like baring of teeth and growling/snapping.)
  • Praising and reinforcing good behaviour. There’s lots of praise, a relaxing tone of voice, tickles and treats to reinforce the good behaviour. It is sometimes difficult to ignore the bad behaviour but I understand that sometimes dogs might have had bad experiences in the past and it’s natural they’re wary.  It can be a long process of repeated routines, building trust, and patience but the results are worth it. Good grooming is important for dogs, so getting them comfortable with being groomed matters.

We might sometimes think of a visit to the groomers for a dog as like a visit to the hairdressers for people. Actually, we ask a lot of dogs during the grooming process. They are washed when they might not like getting wet, dried with a dryer that is noisy even on the lowest setting, placed on a table and moved around when they might just want to go home and have a snooze or play with their human. By building trust and gradually familiarising them with grooming routines your dog will become more familiar with the processes, sensations and sounds, and consequently less anxious.

But remember, you need to work with your dog too…yes, the dreaded homework for owners!

Owner homework: If I see your dog once every 6 – 10 weeks there is a lot you can do at home during those intervening weeks to help keep your dog on track. As well as brushing and coat maintenance, I may ask you to do a few trust exercises and touching tactics. These could include activities such as stroking their legs and lifting their feet – dogs often don’t like their legs touched, but groomers need to be able to trim legs and clip nails. These should be done at home every day to help build the tolerance levels of your dog. Believe me, I can see the difference with dogs whose owners have done this sort of thing on a regular basis. It means we get more work done and the dog is less stressed. I will post more about these sorts of exercises soon.

Work with your groomer to support them and get the best groom possible for your dog. They (the dog and the groomer) will love you for it.

With patience, care and attention, dogs will become confident and comfortable visiting the groomers.

At Clipsters, our purpose-built grooming space and quiet surroundings make an ideal, low-stress environment for nervous dogs and puppies. We only work with one dog at a time (unless they come from the same household), making sure there are no distractions (for the dog or the groomer).

To talk more about how Cipsters work with nervous and anxious dogs, or for any advice on how to prepare your nervous or anxious dog for a visit, please get in touch.

It is recommended that dogs are professionally groomed every 6-8 weeks, depending on breed and lifestyle. Clipsters have appointments available seven days a week. To book an appointment or discuss what’s right for your dog, contact us.

© 2020 Clipsters