Taking your dog to the groomer’s or trying to groom them yourself can be stressful. Dogs don’t always know what a groomer intends, and all those smells, sounds, tools and equipment can be scary. Luckily, there are a few simple tricks and tips that can make the grooming experience easier for your pup and begin to teach them that getting pampered can be fun, not fearful! So, if you have a scaredy-dog when it comes to getting groomed, we recommend trying the techniques on this list for a more relaxing and rewarding experience!
Let Your Dog Explore the Space
Allowing your dog to explore the room they’ll be groomed in is a great way to ease them into the grooming process. Most dogs want to be familiar with their environment and have a sense of where they are so they can feel comfortable and safe. Allow your dog to sniff anything and everything and present them with the equipment that will be used during their grooming. If using electric trimmers or nail grinders, turn them on so your dog can be familiar with the sounds. It’s also a great idea to introduce your dog to the groomer before their first appointment. Allow your dog to warm up to the groomer and begin to trust them so when your pup’s first grooming comes around they’ll be with a human they know. That way, if all else fails, your dog will at least feel the comfort of a friend!
Groom After Playtime
If you know you have a grooming appointment coming up for your dog, it’s a good idea to play with them beforehand to burn off some of their energy. Many dogs who become stressed or anxious at the groomers can actually maintain that state for quite a while because of built up energy and boredom. However, if you work your dog really hard beforehand they’re less likely to put their remaining energy into stressing. Both physical and mental exercise can be beneficial for this technique and help ease your dog into a state of tired relaxation. Once relaxed, the groomer should have an easier time working on your dog and hopefully your pup will be too pooped to care!
Play Soothing Music
Just like if you were to go to a spa, it’s always more soothing to be pampered while listening to relaxing music. Many studies have looked into the effects of calming music played for animals in stressful situations and found that, overall, there was a significant decrease of stress or anxiety in pets that were played classical music than for those that were presented with nothing. In short, your dog might benefit from hearing relaxing music while being groomed. Many grooming facilities already have this technique in place and even take suggestions on the kind of music your dog might like. There are even composers out there who specifically write music for animals using tones and chords that are best interpreted by your dog. You can’t get much better than that!
Take Breaks When Needed
One of the best things you can do for an anxious dog while at the groomers is to take breaks when they’re needed. You want your dog to begin to associate the groomers with a calm and stress-free experience, and if that means stopping every couple minutes to allow your dog time to process and breathe, then so be it. If your dog seems to be getting overly anxious during his nail-trim, stop between each foot or even each toe to give him a scratch behind the ear. Your dog will let you know when he needs a break and it’s important to allow him to have that time. The grooming might take longer than you expected but, as they say, slow and steady wins the race!
Have a Calm Demeanor
Making sure that your dog has a positive grooming experience is a two-way street. While it’s easy to become angry or stressed-out over the fact that your dog might not be cooperating, it’s important to instead stay calm and confident. Dogs are great at reading our body language and mood and if they see that you’re upset, they’ll be upset as well. Try to stay relaxed and always use a soothing voice when speaking to your dog. Reassure them when needed and use slow, relaxed body movements when working with an anxious dog. If you feel yourself getting upset or stressed, follow the tip above and take a break. Your dog will appreciate the soft approach and, over time, begin to see being groomed as no big deal.
Reward Your Dog
Positive reinforcement can work wonders on a dog who is unconfident or scared when it comes to being groomed. You want to show your dog that there is nothing to be afraid of, and in order to do that you must speak their language: the language of a reward system! When your dog walks in the grooming room by himself, reward him with a toy or treat. When he hops up onto the table or into the tub, reward him. When he lets you clip a toenail without pulling or comb through one tangle in his fur, reward him. Even simple things like sniffing the scissors or letting the groomer pat him should be rewarded. The more you help your dog associate the groomers with good things like cookies, toys or praise, the more your dog will warm up to it and want to go to work for that reward. Eventually, you can remove the reward system from the act of going to the groomers entirely, and your dog will have built a positive association with the space. It’s a win-win for everybody!
Know When Enough is Enough
Last but not least, it’s important when grooming a dog to know when enough is enough. Most dogs will tell you when they’ve had enough by displaying typical behaviors like pulling away or trying to escape, mouthing, growling and even biting or lashing out. It’s our jobs as doggy caretakers to read these signals and respect the dog’s wishes or risk getting injured or damaging the grooming experience. Even if your dog isn’t acting aggressively, excessive shaking or panting, whining, crying, obsessive lip-licking and urinating can all be signs that your dog is too stressed to continue the process. Forcing the grooming on your dog or continuing to groom while they’re that stressed will only result in your dog fearing the groomers even more and move all your hard-work and progress back a step. Instead, respect your dog and stop the grooming until a later date. Your pup will thank you and respect your ability to understand them even more!
Grooming your dog doesn’t have to be stressful, and with these tips and techniques, we hope that the grooming experience is one both you and your dog will begin to enjoy together. When done right, it can be a fast, fun and fearless activity that will help to strengthen your bond with your dog while getting them looking fabulous in the process!