If you have ever taken your dog to the groomer you know what wonderful magic they can work. What you may not know is that takes a lot of hard work and patience. In my opinion, groomers do some of the hardest work of any animal care professionals. Aside from the grooming activities of brushing, clipping, cutting, shaving, plucking and drying, groomers need to lift dogs onto tables, into baths and move them from table to tub to kennel and then back to table again. I have only spent a few minutes at a time in grooming salons but one thing that is clear to me is that groomers are expected to do more invasive things to your dog than would occur during a basic veterinary exam. Unlike your vet, groomers also tend to work alone and don’t have the option to sedate your dog if he becomes overly anxious, or fearful!
In hopes of making your dog’s life and her groomer’s life much, much easier, I have asked two local groomers about how YOU train and interact with your dog affects THEM on a day-to-day basis. Andrea McEwen, of Just Fur Paws Dog Grooming, has been grooming for close to 10 years and Kate McKinnon of the Brandon Grooming Centre has been grooming dogs for over 25 years. Below is summary of what they had to say when I asked them a few questions about grooming and dog training.
Handling is more than a pat on the head
First and foremost, both ladies emphasised the importance of general handling and socialisation. Before a groomer can groom your dog, she needs to touch him and pick him up so if your dog is fearful of people and new places, things are scary from the start. When it comes to preparing your dog for grooming, there are key areas you should focus on like our dog’s face, mouth, feet, ears and tummy. Feet seem to be a particularly bad area: both ladies mentioned that one should NEVER play games like ‘touchy grabby’ with their dog’s feet or any other games that reward dogs for pulling, struggling, or biting when their feet are being handled. One thing that I don’t think most people understand is that your idea of handling and what the groomer needs to do are often two different things. For a groomer to clip your dog’s toe nails, she needs to apply pressure to spread toes apart and part any toe hairs (or clip them) to avoid pinching or pulling. Have you prepared your dog for this kind of handling or does paw handling in your house mean shaking your dog’s front paws?
Loud sounds and sensations
While all dogs benefit from exposure to lots of sounds, dogs that need to be groomed on a regular basis need extra exposure. Whether starting with a puppy or older dog, arm yourself with a handful of treats and make things fin for your puppy. Kate suggests using things many of us have at home, “Use an electric razor and just hold it close to them at first and then slowly touch the body of the puppy with the body of the razor to feel the vibration…Blow dryers the same way…One would be surprised to realize how many dogs do not recognize grooming equipment in a good way.”
Heights & Sitting Standing Pretty
Your dog is going to spend a lot of time on a grooming table at the grooming salon. These tables allow groomers to work at a comfortable level while being able to see the dogs they are working on from all sides. Teaching your dog to stand on a raised surface will make your groomer’s job much easier. According to Andrea, “Sitting dogs are very difficult to groom as they block off access to certain parts of their body…having to hold up a dog is very tiring on the groomer’s arms and back.”
Another aspect of grooming that people are sometimes unaware of is the fact that their dog will spend some portion of his salon visit in a kennel. With multiple dogs to work on throughout the day, limited staffing and limited space there may not be any place for your dog to play or anyone to supervise interactions between dogs while they wait. This means that your dog will likely have to wait in a kennel or crate. It’s never too late to crate train your dog but it’s much easier to do right from day one with your puppy. Crate training your dog does not mean he needs to spend every waking moment in his crate but it does mean your dog has enough of a positive experience with a crate to make the times when he HAS to be confined less stressful for him and less stressful for his groomer.
The truth about consequences
If you have not trained your dog to accept handling, be comfortable around loud noises, to stand while on the grooming table and to wait quietly in her crate, there are some very real consequences for you, your groomer and the dog.
If your dog is uncooperative he may be:
- Unduly stressed
- Bark all morning/afternoon (or day) long – have you ever tried yelling all day – it’s exhausting.
- Muzzled to prevent injury to grooming staff
- Physically restrained
If you have an uncooperative dog, you may also suffer consequences such as:
- Returning to an un-groomed, partially groomed or poorly groomed dog.
- Extra fees. Some groomers charge extra when they are bitten. Some groomers charge more if it takes them longer to do a very uncooperative dog.
- Being asked not to return to the grooming salon with your dog.
Uncooperative dogs also present serious issues for groomers such as:
- Increase stress levels when dogs bark all day (it’s not just hard on the dogs).
- Serious injury from bites
- Inability to work due to injuries.
So your dog isn’t Lassie…It’s not too late
The easiest way to avoid grooming stress is through prevention. Start with your puppy or adult dog the day you get them. Introduce them to handling and more invasive handling, typical grooming sounds, brushing. Another thing you can do is call your groomer to schedule a quick visit. According to Andrea, “even if it’s just for a simple nail trim or a little facial trim… this allows the puppy (or older dog) to have a quick friendly visit to the groomer with minimal stress involved.”
If you have a puppy or dog that is (or has become) difficult to manage you need to get help before their behaviour becomes a risk to others and the lack of grooming threatens their health. The reality is that is very rare for a dog to be untouchable at the groomer and a perfect angel everywhere else he goes…if you have trouble with your dog at the groomer’s, you will have similar trouble at the vet, dog daycare , boarding kennel and maybe even at home. Most poorly behaved dogs are fearful and forceful hands-on and forceful training techniques may cause your dog’s behaviour to deteriorate. Your best shot at solving a problem of this type is to contact a trainer that uses positive reinforcement training techniques and who can develop a training plan specific to your dog’s needs.
Many thanks to
Just fur Paws Dog Grooming,
311 Pacific, Brandon, MB
Brandon Grooming Centre,
Corner of 1st, and Patricia Ave