If you’ve ever taken your dog to the groomer and they started to shake, wince, or bark uncontrollably, you probably felt awful. You may have had no idea that your pup was so anxious. Read on to learn how to calm a nervous dog and make your next trip to the groomer stress-free.
A lot of dogs get anxious when they visit the groomer. Fortunately, there are plenty of strategies you can use to help them.
Why Your Dog Might Get Nervous
Dog anxiety is caused by a number of different things. Separation anxiety in dogs is one of the most common issues. Other common causes of anxiety can include:
- Aging-related anxiety
- Anxiety caused by the dog’s health or an injury
- Fear-related anxiety1
If your dog is anxious when you visit the groomer, first rule out an injury or health condition. If you know your dog is healthy, odds are that this is a fear-related anxiety.2
Possible Dog Anxiety Symptoms
- Urinating or defecating
- Excessive barking
Training You Can Work On Before You Go To The Groomer
Desensitize Your Dog To The Grooming Process
You can help your pet get over certain phobias by desensitizing them to the stimulus that makes them anxious. When you desensitize your dog, you’ll slowly introduce stressors in a calming, watered-down way.4
Here’s an example of how it would work:
- If your dog goes crazy when they hear the sound of a blow dryer, you would start at home by simply showing your dog a blow dryer.
- Encourage them to sniff it in a calming manner.
- Watch to see if this triggers a stress response (panting, pacing, or trying to escape).
- If it does: back up and make it easier. Show them the blow dryer from across the room and then put it away.
- If it doesn’t: make it a little harder. Turn the blow dryer on at the lowest setting, across the room from your dog.
How To Make It “Easier”
- Move the stimulus further away.
- Make it quieter (if it makes loud noises).
- Make it smaller.
How To Make It “Harder”
- Move the item closer.
- Make it louder.
- Gently touch your dog with it.
The point here is not to provoke fear and anxiety from your dog. As soon as you see signs of anxiety, stop there, otherwise you could make matters worse. Work on getting your dog comfortable before you make it harder.
In the dog training world, desensitization is almost always used together with counter-conditioning. Counter-conditioning is simple. The goal is to help your dog create a positive association with something that makes them anxious.5
Here’s how you would do that, using the blow dryer example:
- If your dog looks at it, give them a treat, a pet, and encouragement.
- If your dog sniffs it, be even more excited. Give them two treats.
- Turn it on for one second and give your dog a treat, go up to two, three, etc.
Remember to start at the easiest entry point for your dog. If your dog is severely anxious, you would start by encouraging them just for being in the same room as the blow dryer.
Desensitization and counterconditioning are long term strategies that aim to change your dog’s behavior and levels of anxiety. The process could take weeks, months, or even years in severe cases.
While you could start this on your own, you may want to get help from a qualified positive reinforcement dog trainer.
Practice Handling Your Dog
Grooming often involves touching sensitive areas, like your dog’s paws, tail, groin, muzzle, ears, and eyes. Practice handling your dog at home in a calm, stress-free environment. Offer your dog a chew toy, and gently touch your dog in all of the places that a groomer might. Give plenty of treats and encouragement as you go.6
You’ll want to start this work when your dog is a puppy, if possible, but it’s never too late to start.
Introduce The Grooming Tools Slowly
If your dog is anxious at the groomer’s salon, humans may assume that “they just don’t like the groomer.” Instead of doing so, try to break down the different components of the groomer’s salon so you can understand where your dog’s anxiety is coming from. Here are a few things that might make your pup anxious at the groomer’s salon:
- Loud noises coming from the hair clippers or blow dryer
- A stranger standing over your dog (that would be the groomer)
- Standing elevated on a table
- The slippery surface of the table
- Nail clippers or their paws being touched
You can practice your desensitization and counterconditioning on all of these individual things at home. That’s right, practice putting your dog on a table until they feel comfortable there. Buy a set of grooming tools and practice showing them to your dog, one by one, using the techniques outlined above.
Go slow, and help your dog get used to all of the stimuli they’ll encounter at the groomer’s salon.
Practice Riding In The Car
How do you get to the groomer? If you take your dog in a car, it’s worth looking at this piece of the puzzle too. Riding in the car is a common dog phobia.7
If your dog has anxiety in the car, they may be totally worked up by the time you get to the groomer’s salon. This sets the stage for an unpleasant visit.
So, what do you do? Teach your dog to love the car. Go through the steps for desensitization and counterconditioning to address this fear. Remember to be kind and take it slow.
Here’s an idea: spend some time with your pet in your car, parked in your driveway. Give your dog their absolute favorite treat, let them enjoy it, and then put your dog on a leash and go back inside your house. You can build on that and start to make it harder once they learn to fully relax in the car.
Visit The Groomer’s Office Before The Big Day
Before your pets first grooming appointment, ask if you can stop by for a friendly visit. Dog owners do this all the time, so they won’t think it’s strange. Take your dog on a leash, and bring plenty of treats. Allow your dog to sniff around, meet the groomer, and then leave. The purpose is simply to create a calming experience at the groomers.
Some dogs with anxiety are triggered when experiences or people are completely new.8 This takes that stress away just a bit, as they’ve seen the office before, and they’ve met the groomer.
Find The Right Groomer
Even if your pet doesn’t have anxiety, you’ll want to find a trusted groomer. Ask family and friends if they have any recommendations. You can also ask your vet. When you’re calling around to find a groomer, ask if they have experience with shy dogs, anxious dogs, or fearful dogs.
You’ll want a groomer who can read canine body language and help your furry friend feel at ease.
Some groomers also have special tools for dogs with anxiety, like calming treats or aromatherapy shampoos.
And remember, dogs are affected by the energy they feel from humans. Try to meet your groomer in person before the big day so you are more relaxed. If you don’t get a good feeling about the groomer, find someone else.9
How To Calm A Nervous Dog On Grooming Day
1. Make Sure They Get Plenty of Exercise Before You Go
On the morning of your appointment, take your pet out for a long walk or practice a new skill. Physical exercise and mental stimulation can improve your dog’s mood and help relieve stress.10
2. Anticipate What May Make Your Dog Nervous And Take It Away
Try to understand your dog’s anxiety triggers before you go to the groomer’s office. That way, you can plan ahead and make things easier on your dog.
Is your dog afraid of tall humans? Slyly book the shortest groomer in the office. Does your dog stress about slippery surfaces? Bring a towel for your dog to stand on to take that trigger away. Do your best to lessen any factors that might make your dog anxious.
3. Talk to Your Dog Throughout The Grooming Process
If pet owners are allowed in the grooming area, try talking to your shy dog throughout the grooming process. Remember, dogs can pick up on human stress and anxiety, so remain very calm and steady. Soothe your dog and praise them when they’re being calm.
If your dog gets stressed, try to distract them rather than comfort them. If you baby them while they are displaying anxiety signs, you may accidentally reinforce that behavior.11
You don’t want to punish anxiety. Instead, distract from it and then reward calm behavior when it comes.
If pet owners are not allowed in the grooming area, you’re better off leaving for a bit or at least being out of sight. If they can see or hear you, they may feel even more anxious.
4. Try Aromatherapy
Many groomers use natural remedies like aromatherapy shampoo in their offices these days. Calming scents include lavender, chamomile, and bergamot. Aromatherapy can help create a calming, peaceful environment for your dog.12
5. Try Calming Aids
Talk to a veterinary behaviorist to see if calming aids or supplements might be right for your anxious dog.13
Calming aids can help your dog relax enough to listen to your positive reinforcement during the grooming process. These are all great tools to use, but they are not a magic solution. You’ll want to use these aids in tandem with your training efforts.
Here are a few options:
- Over-the-counter calming treats for dogs
- Collars that contain Dog Appeasing Pheromones (DAP)
- Nutritional supplements14,15
Extreme Nervousness And Dog Anxiety Medication: Know When To See Your Pet’s Veterinarian
If your dog has severe anxiety about the groomer and other aspects of their life, talk to your veterinarian. Your vet can help you identify what type of anxiety your dog suffers from. The treatment for dog separation anxiety will be different than groomer anxiety. Your vet can also help you discover your dog’s stress triggers.
Your veterinarian can also help you come up with a treatment plan. This may be a combination of training, preventative strategies, and dog anxiety medication.
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