How to Choose a Groomer

Learn how to find a groomer who will handle your pet gently, and what to look for in the grooming salon.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
4-minute read
Episode #150

#3 Hard-to-Handle Dogs

Ask how the groomers respond if a dog struggles, growls, or snaps. You don’t want to hear any variation on “We do have to get tough with some dogs,” or “We just show them who’s boss.” Confrontational, coercive responses have a high probability of making matters worse – both escalating aggression in the moment, and making the dog’s response to grooming and other handling worse in the long term.

You really, really, really don’t want to hear a groomer tell you that they give sedatives unless these are provided by the dog’s guardian and prescribed by a vet expressly to help the dog remain calm for grooming. By all reports, sedation by groomers is disturbingly common. It also constitutes the practice of veterinary medicine without a license: illegal, unethical, and dangerous.

Many or most groomers will use a “grooming noose” to help restrain a dog on the grooming table. This is okay, as long as dogs are never left unattended even for a moment. The loop should tighten only to a pre-set extent, so a dog who struggles isn’t actually being choked.

It’s acceptable to muzzle dogs for safety’s sake, but grooming muzzles don’t allow for panting and so their use should be carefully limited; one big-box store sets a maximum of 15 minutes.

The best responses to your question about a fractious dog will mention gentleness, giving the dog a break from the grooming session, not rushing the process, distracting the dog with treats or rewarding him with treats when he tolerates handling, and stopping if the dog is overwhelmed. A groomer I spoke with in preparing this article said bluntly: “If we clip just five nails, then we clip just five nails.”

#4 The Groomer Should Have Questions for You, Too

A good groomer will want to give your dog back to you looking just as you hoped he would, so she should ask exactly what results you’re looking for. Because she also wants to make the experience as pleasant for your dog as she can, she should have lots of questions about him, too: How old is he? Has he ever been to a groomer before? Does he have any sore spots, injuries, or other painful conditions, such as arthritis? How are his hearing and sight? (A dog who can’t hear or see well may be easier to startle.) What shape are his teeth in? Is he touchy about having any of his body parts handled? Is he crate trained? (A visit to the groomer’s is much easier on dogs who are at ease resting in a crate or kennel.) Is your dog relaxed and friendly toward other dogs? (If you let the groomer know of problems in advance, she may be able to kennel him away from the other groomees, so everybody can relax.)

As that list of questions may hint, you can do a lot to help your dog feel comfortable at the groomers. Next week will be devoted to those pointers. Many thanks to my esteemed trainer colleague Viviane Arzoumanian, who started out as a groomer, and to Jillian, an experienced groomer – they supplied much of the material for this article. 

Miniature Schnauzer image from Shutterstock


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).