How to Keep a Dog Calm During a Visit to the Groomer
Like humans, dogs need regular grooming to stay healthy. While some pet parents groom their pups at home, a professional groomer can save you time and energy while ensuring your dog looks and feels his best. Introducing your dog to new people (like a groomer) or to places where other animals will be (like at a groomer) can be overwhelming for dogs, leading to stress. Knowing how your pooch expresses his distress is often the key to figuring out how to help him de-stress.
How to Tell if Your Dog Is Stressed
Dogs use body language and behaviors to communicate their thoughts and emotions. Learning to translate what your canine companion is trying to tell you will help you know when he's uncomfortable. Below are some classic "I don't like this" signals that dogs often give their pet parents:
- Barking or growling
- Whimpering or whining
- Pacing or restlessness
- Tucking his tail or pinning back his ears
- Licking his lips, panting, or drooling
- Looking "guilty" or avoiding eye contact
- Holding very still as if preparing to bite or fight
- Urinating or defecating suddenly or in inappropriate places
- Widening his eyes or side staring intensely
Even active behaviors, such as pawing at you, jumping over and over, bouncing against a wall, or chasing his tail may represent stress. Take note when your dog exhibits these behaviors, particularly if they're repetitive. This can help you determine how to reduce factors that cause stress so he can have a more comfortable grooming experience.
First Steps for Calming Your Dog
The most important thing you can do is to remain calm, yourself. Breathe deeply and grab a drink of water. Remember you've selected a groomer with whom you are comfortable. Your pooch senses your energy and takes his cues from you.
If you don't like heading to the groomer, there's no chance your furry sidekick will, either.
Next, try to determine what aspects of the grooming process bother him. Is he nervous about being handled by strangers? Is it the noise level? Are there too many other dogs? Is it you leaving him? Or is there a particular part of grooming he refuses to tolerate?
Consider the following strategies:
- Request a meet-and-greet at the groomer's so your pup can meet this new human, and get some treats and playtime, without being groomed.
- See if your groomer offers quiet hours or make an appointment during the least busy time of day.
- Find a groomer that serves a limited number of dogs at a time or has a smaller service space away from loud noises and distractions.
- Ask to stay for some or all of the session so you can be your dog's reassuring point of calm.
- Note the procedures he finds most stressful, and consider performing those tasks at home.
Utilizing these tactics once or a few times doesn't mean you'll need to rely on them forever. You can teach your pup new ways to respond to stress with desensitization or counterconditioning. And if these methods don't help, or only partially help after a few tries, you might turn to your vet to discuss his behavior and options like medication. Your vet can help you determine if medication can help support training efforts and ease your dog's nerves when he goes to the groomer.
Training Tactics to Change Behavior
Ideally, you want your furry friend to like (or tolerate) the groomer with no special accommodations. This means actively working to change how he responds to the situation. Here are two training tactics that can help:
Desensitization involves gradually exposing your pup to the stressor with more frequency. As he grows accustomed to it, reward him with treats or praise when he remains calm. Generally, the more stressed something makes your dog, the more slowly you should increase his exposure to it. Start by familiarizing him with grooming tools and procedures. As he learns to cope, steadily reinforce the behavior you desire.
Practice basic grooming tasks at home. He'll start to see that getting groomed isn't so bad and can actually feel pretty good! In addition to strengthening your bond, it should also help you identify how to help him stay calm during uncomfortable activities or tasks.
- Hold him lightly and pet him while introducing tools and grooming him.
- Touch or grasp his nails, feet, legs, and tail.
- Run your fingers lightly across his gums and teeth.
- Place a running electric toothbrush nearby to simulate the sound of clippers.
- Turn on a hair dryer (on low heat) and progressively move it closer to his body.
- Open his mouth and look in his ears gently.
- Take him on short car trips.
- Expose him to new people and dogs.
While desensitizing should help, your pup might need an additional nudge to feel comfortable at the groomer. Counterconditioning is a type of training that involves replacing your dog's negative behavioral or emotional reaction with a positive one, and rewarding him with praise or treats when he responds well. For example, if a dog growls when a groomer touches him, work to replace his negative reaction with a positive one by giving him a treat or praise when he allows his groomer to step closer. Show your excitement when he doesn't growl at all. Gradually, have the groomer give him the treat instead of you. He will learn to associate the groomer's touch with getting a treat or praise.
This won't happen overnight. But as you keep making a positive association with your pup's stressors, he should become more and more comfortable in those situations.
After his trip to the groomer, it's always important to reward your buddy for a job well done. Take him on a long walk, feed him some tasty treats, or bring him to the park for a playdate. He'll slowly start to associate the trip with his favorite things.
How to Keep a Dog Calm: Alternative Methods
If these approaches don't keep your pup calm when he goes to the groomer, there are other methods you can try. Remember, though, always check with your vet about supplements and calming products.
Before heading to a grooming appointment, you can:
- Give your dog a calming supplement containing ingredients such as Chamomile, L-Theanine, L-Tryptophan, or Ashwagandha.
- Tire him out with rigorous exercise.
During the grooming visit, you can:
- Massage or pet him during grooming.
- Play relaxing music, such as classical music.
- Talk in a soft, soothing voice, and remain calm yourself.
If he continues to show signs of distress, or you notice rapid changes in behavior, it might be time to talk with your vet. You, and your pup, both deserve to have a more positive experience at the groomer.