Help to keep dogs and puppies calm with our practical tips for keeping nervous dogs happy on the grooming table.
There are many reasons why dogs become anxious or stress out at the groomers – from lack of experience / exposure to the environment, or stressful previous experiences, to anxious personalities or learned behavioral issues.
Unfortunately, you can’t always rely on the dog’s owner to prepare the dog or train a puppy.
While most experienced dog groomers will have their own tactics and experience about what works for them, we hope these tips serve as a back-to-basics guide and for younger groomers out there, to help the dogs on your table to relax, allowing you to work with them.
1 Give the dog time to get used to its surroundings
Let the dog sniff the room and the people. It’ll only take a few minutes of your time, but it’s enough to help acclimatise the dog to its new environment.
2 Offer positive reinforcement
To speed things up, always have tasty treats on hand and reward dogs for coming towards you and being friendly. This is especially useful in building trust after the owner has left.
3 Keep your energy calm
High energy and excited voices are for playing ball in the field. Aim instead to calm the dog down and create an ambience in the room that relaxes the dog and makes them feel safe and chilled out. Remember that your own energy will affect the dog too, so keep an eye on how you’re feeling. If you’re feeling stressed, take a few deep breaths and try to let go of any tension when you’re handling the dog.
4 Play calming music
Classical music can be useful in chilling everyone out, including the dog. Other useful calming techniques include safe aromas in the room and gentle dog massage.
5 Establish what sort of restraints to use
Sometimes it might be necessary to use a muzzle or harness for the dog’s own safety as well as yours. The dog should always be comfortable wearing a muzzle or harness. Make it a positive experience with lots of praise and petting and never force a dog to do anything if it is resisting excessively. You might want to look at extenders for your existing harnessing equipment to give additional flexibility and security; for instance this extender strap enables you to hook the neck harness at adjustable heights without any pressure on the dog.
6 GB slow
Avoid diving in with scary-looking objects or loud clippers and blow-dryers. You can allow the dog to have a sniff of the comb or scissors before using them if it helps to establish trust. Assess a dog’s reaction to loud clippers or hairdryers from a short distance first, and wait until you’re sure the dog is comfortable. It’s worth going slow rather than spooking a dog and causing a long-term fear of the grooming salon. Remember, you may have to work with this dog again!
7 But try to work quickly!
Dogs don’t have much patience, and younger dogs have very short attention spans. They may even lose interest in treats. So no faffing about, focus and get to work!
8 Talk to the dog
Sometimes talking to the dog can help distract them. Alternatively, your assistant can talk to and pet the dog from the front while you work on the dog from behind. They can also use treats to help lure the dog’s head away from you while you work on difficult areas like the dog’s paws.
9 Know when to stop
The dog is likely to let you know when they’ve had enough, and it’s probably not a good idea to push a dog too far past its own limits and boundaries. It’s important not to damage any trust you’ve established so that the next time they come they’ll enjoy seeing you again.
10 Manage the owner’s expectations
Usually the owner will know if their dog is going to be a difficult client and they’ll understand if there was only so much you were able to achieve with the dog. It’s important to remain as positive as possible so that they will trust you with the dog and feel comfortable to return.
Consistency is key for nervous dogs, so it’s always better to work on your relationship with a client’s nervous dog over time. What tips do you have as dog groomer that you use to keep dogs calm in the salon?