By Courtney Emken
co-written by Jen Larson, KPA-CTP, and Bart Emken, CPTD-KA
One of the most common canine phobias that we’ve seen at DogBoy’s is the fear of groomers and grooming. For many owners, getting their dog groomed can be as harrowing as taking them to the vet. There may be multiple underlying causes contributing to this fear, such as:
- Poor socialization
- Lack of exposure
- Previous abuse
Luckily, whatever the root of your dog’s anxiety, the treatment is the same. In this article we’ll show you how to use desensitization and positive reinforcement training to help your dog overcome their grooming anxiety.
Using Happy Visits To Acclimate Your Dog To The Groomers
Before you bring your dog to the groomers for actual grooming, call ahead and see if you can arrange a few “happy visits.” These can be as simple as popping into the lobby for a few minutes to meet the staff and eat some treats. You’ll want to avoid any possible stress triggers, especially for your first few visits. This could include:
- Touching their face/paws
- Going behind the counter
- Being examined
This method of desensitization and positive reinforcement has become common practice at vet clinics and grooming salons nationwide. It’s an integral aspect of the Fear Free Pet initiative, which aims to “take the pet out of petrified and put the treat into treatment.”
Just try to keep things as easy and comfortable as possible. Over time, you’ll steadily build a positive association to the grooming office. This is invaluable as a preventative measure, and can both reduce grooming anxiety and stop it from forming in the first place.
Desensitizing Your Dog To Grooming Implements And Touch
Unfortunately, happy visits alone may not be sufficient. Animals who weren’t socialized to touch or suffered from abuse may still be uncomfortable with the close quarters contact required for grooming. To relieve this, owners need to desensitize them in a place they feel the safest— their home.
The #1 rule of desensitization is to go slowly. You can set yourself back weeks of work by rushing your dog into something that they’re not ready for. Begin with the smallest possible steps, then gradually increase their exposure. For instance, you can start by:
- Holding the clippers near them
- Gently brushing their back
- Carefully touching their feet/ears
Once your dog seems comfortable with being handled, you can begin to groom them yourself. Remember, go slowly— instead of trimming your dog’s nails all together, try trimming one then giving a treat. Let them finish the treat and then see if they’re ready for another nail.
Preparing Your Dog For Rinses And Baths
Though not quite as bad as cats, many dogs find baths unpleasant and would rather avoid the experience. Sadly, dogs tend to smell like… well, dog. This makes baths an unfortunate necessity and a key part of a good grooming.
Preparing your dog to take a bath is just like desensitization, start small and work your way up. At first, you’ll just want to get their feet wet. Make sure the water is warm— not too hot or cold.
As your dog learns to like the water, you can add more and start to wash their chest or back. Save sensitive areas for last, like:
Dogs hate getting water in their ears, and nobody likes a shot of soap to the eye. These kinds of negative experiences can often create an “end game” scenario. It can take a lot of hard work and training to get them comfortable with baths again afterwards.
When washing the head, go top-down rather than neck up. Doing this will prevent excess water from getting into their ears. Be sure to cover their eyes as you rinse too. This helps you maintain control of their body and keep soap out of their eyes as well.
If you’re having trouble getting your dog groom-ready, please contact us today! We often bathe around 15 to 30 dogs a day at DogBoy’s, and we’ve learned the best tips and tricks for a happy, squeaky clean dog. (Here’s a hint— try playing music!) We wish you the best!