Help Your Dog Feel Comfortable at the Groomer

Groomer visits can be scary for many dogs. Learn how to prepare your dog to have a relaxed, comfortable, and nonthreatening experience.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
5-minute read
Episode #151

Help Your Dog Feel Comfortable at the Groomer

So, you read last week’s article and now you know how to choose a kind, skillful groomer. But even that person will have a tough time taking care of a Dogalini who freaks out on the grooming table or panics in the kennel while waiting for you to pick her up. Fortunately, you can do a lot to help your dog experience groomer visits as something more like Spa Day than Armageddon. This week, 5 tips for just that.

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#1: Get Your Puppy Comfortable with Handling

Include gentle, affectionate handling in your puppy’s daily routine and pair it with treats and play. Pick up his ears and look inside. Hold his paw briefly and press the pads to extend his toes. Clip the very end of one nail. Run your fingers through your puppy’s coat. Clean the corners of his eyes with a soft washcloth dampened with warm water. You don’t have to do all of these things every day, or make a big production out of them. The idea is to make handling a completely unremarkable part of your dog’s life. This is good prep not only for grooming but also for vet visits! Keep up regular touching and gentle manipulation as your dog matures.

Many dogs flinch or struggle when their faces are groomed. To help pre-empt such problems if your puppy’s facial hair will need clipping, break out an electric toothbrush. Turn it on and immediately give Puppalini a treat, then turn it off. Gradually get her used to the sound of the toothbrush motor near her face, always pairing the vibration and proximity with treats.

Make sure your groomer knows if your dog is sensitive about having any body parts touched.

It’s always easier to teach a puppy to enjoy handling from the outset than to get an adult dog comfortable if he’s had little experience of all-over touch and has grown up skittish. If you adopted your dog when he was already grown, or if you didn’t include handling practice as part of raising him, be aware of any sensitivities – does he pull away when you pick up his foot, or stiffen when you touch his face? Make sure your groomer knows about any such issues in advance. And you can work with a qualified behavior specialist to help your dog learn a more relaxed response to handling.

#2: Crate Train Your Dog

Your dog is probably going to have to rest in a cage at the groomer’s for a while, whether drying off after a bath or waiting for you to pick her up. This will be far easier on her if she’s used to spending time in a crate. In an earlier episode, I explained how to teach dogs to love their crates, so I won’t go into detail here. The short version: Feed your dog in her crate. Give her attention and toss her treats when she voluntarily hangs out inside her crate. Hide treats in the crate for her to find on visits there. Let your dog tell you how to proceed – if she quickly starts hanging out and napping in her crate, you can work your way up to closing the door quickly too. If your dog is cautious about accepting the crate, or has had prior unpleasant experiences with crating, go slow, slow, slow.

#3: Make Brief Visits to the Groomer Before Your First Full Appointment

It’s probably fair to say that most of us enjoy getting a cut and color, a mani-pedi, an hour-long massage. The Brazilian wax, not so much, but at least it’s our own damn idea.

Dogalini, on the other hand, did not choose to have a high-maintenance coat and nails, did not make the appointment herself, and has no idea who you’ve just dumped her with or that it’s better to get bathed, combed, and clipped now than to have hard mats next month. Rather than throw her flailing into the whole experience, introduce her a bit at a time.

Once you’ve found a groomer you like, bring Dogalini by the shop, have everybody there give her a biscuit, and then leave again. Next time, hang out for 5 minutes while the groomer gives her coat a couple of brush strokes and maybe clips a nail. More biscuits, please! Third visit: Also brief, but this time leave Dogalini with the groomer while you go down the block for a cup of coffee.

Now, when Dogalini goes to get groomed for real, you won’t be leaving her with strangers in an unfamiliar place. Instead, she’ll be visiting friends and being handled in ways she’s used to and at ease with. A much better experience for all concerned.

By the way, expect a good groomer to be completely on board with your plan for gradual intros – she may even suggest it. And if the groomer tells you Dogalini couldn’t quite make it through a full grooming on her firstvisit or two, thank her and clutch her to your bosom. She recognized that the situation was too much for your dog, and she was willing to disappoint you rather than hurt or frighten her. Short-term unfinished grooming, but long-term improved odds of a tractable, relaxed dog.

#4: Brush Out Your Dog’s Coat Regularly

You don’t have to be a groomer yourself, but give your dog’s coat frequent goings-over to remove loose hair. (And be sure to work your way down to the undercoat.) This will save time at the groomer’s, money for you, and misery for your dog. Mats can form surprisingly fast. They’re difficult to comb out – sometimes impossible. They pull at your dog’s skin and are a frequent site of infection. This is the Ounce of Prevention Department talking – listen up!

#5: Give Your Dog a Toilet Break Before Grooming

As I mentioned last week, if your dog has to spend several hours at the groomer’s, the shop should ideally provide a toilet break. But this may not be possible in heavily built-up areas, and no matter what, Zippy will be much more comfortable if he arrives with his bowels and bladder empty.

I owe many thanks to Jillian, a groomer who gave generously of her time and ideas to help me prepare this article, and to my training colleague Viviane Arzoumanian. As always, send comments and questions to dogtrainer@quickanddirtytips.com. And you can talk to me on Facebook, where I’m The Dog Trainer. Dogalini is me on Twitter. Thanks for reading, and have a great week.

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About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).