Of all the questions I'm asked when I arrive at a residence to groom a dog, the most frequent one is, "Why is my dog shaking?"
Unlike most humans, many dogs, especially smaller dogs, don't really enjoy the grooming process. For them, it can be a scary, uncomfortable, and sometimes even painful experience.
Almost all dogs seem to have an instinctual need to protect their feet, and most dogs find it very uncomfortable to be handled in this area. The dogs nails contain a sensitive area called the quick, that is full of nerve endings and blood vessels. Depending on the dog, trimming the nail can range from uncomfortable to downright painful, especially if the trimmer cuts in to the quick.
Ears are another area that is very sensitive for dogs, and having the hair plucked out of them is not a pleasant experience. Many dogs have also experienced mild/moderate to severe ear infections at least once in their lives, and the memory alone of a painful ear infection can be enough to make even the most docile dogs nervous about grooming.
To further complicate things for your dog, groomers use lots of very noisy equipment. Dogs are sensitive to these sounds, and even more sensitive to them in the grooming salon because of their already anxious state. Add to this a dog that may have knots in his hair that are painful to be brushed out, or a dog that is not accustomed to being handled suddenly spending an hour or more with a stranger restraining him, manipulating his body, and using foreign tools on him. Not a pleasant experience!
So what can you do to help your dog feel more comfortable about the grooming experience? The following is a list of some of the things you can do to make grooming easier for your dog:
- Prepare your new puppy for grooming by hiring a positive reinforcement trainer to help you desensitize your pup to dryer and clipper noises, being restrained and handled, and brushing.
- Brush your dog frequently to keep him free from painful knots.
- Practice restraining your dog and handling all the different parts of his body.
- Regularly inspect your dog's ear canal and the inside of your dog's mouth for signs of infection.
- Have your dog leashed and ready to go when the groomer arrives. Allowing your dog to run away and hide, or otherwise prolonging his delivery to the groomer increases anxiety.
- Make sure your dog has pottied before the groomer arrives.
- If your dog bites, desensitize him to wearing a muzzle (learn how to do this here) or an elizabethan collar and give this to your groomer to use.
- Make sure your groomer is familiar with positive reinforcement and uses low stress handling techniques.
- Let your groomer know that you understand and are ok with a less than perfect groom if your dog is difficult to handle.
- Hire a positive reinforcement trainer to work with you, your groomer, and your dog, on any existing grooming issues.
Keep in mind that most groomers are not yet educated in canine behavior modification, so if you don't find a groomer who is, make sure that the groomer you choose is at least willing to learn and willing to work with a positive reinforcement trainer. If your groomer would like to know more about low stress handling and canine behavior modification, please direct them to The Groomer's Corner for more information.