Grooming an anxious dog

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Grooming an anxious dog can be stressful for everyone involved whether this be at home or at a grooming salon.

Some owners may not even realise how traumatic the grooming process may be for their dog, so you should always be looking out for any subtle signs of anxiety such as licking of the lips, yawning and ears back, to the more obvious ones such as a tail tucked under, peeing or backing away.

It’s important with to be patient and use positive reinforcement methods when grooming an anxious dog to help keep them calm, rather than being mad or forcing them into a fearful situation.  This just makes it worse.

While grooming an anxious dog may never be something that either of you jump for joy over, we can at least try to de-stress the situation as much as possible, which should begin at home.

Start getting them used to being touched

Firstly, get them used to having their paws and face groomed by touching their paws when they are relaxed. Don’t force it, just gently put your hands on a paw and offer praise or treat should they allow you to leave it there. This helps create that positive association with a touch to the paws.

Once they are allowing you to keep your hand there, gently start to massage them between the pads, again offering them the reward of praise or treat.

Scissors and the face

Before attempting to use scissors on your dog, get them used to the sound of them snipping at distances.

For around their face and eyes, use a metal teaspoon and glide it gently around their eyes, mouth and face in general so they can get used to the steel. Use good quality, stainless scissors with rounded ends and don’t go too close to the eyes.

Don’t go too fast when grooming an anxious dog or rescue dog

If you have a rescue dog, you don’t know what past experiences they may have had so be prepared to go slowly, increasing the time and pressure in small increments before moving on to other feet.  It’s the same process with the other areas of their body, their eyes, their ears, around their tail and bottom.

Allow them to sniff the brushes, scissors and nail clippers. No sudden movements and positive short sessions. Simply stop if they get nervous and go back a step.

Again, don’t force them into a running shower or full bath filling up noisily. Use a sink or bath filled with lukewarm water that just reaches their knees, using treats or even a soothing lick mat with dog safe peanut butter to focus their attention on that.

Once they are relaxed, run the water very slowly. Have someone help you with all of this if you can, continually praising calm behaviour – and keep calm yourself. Gently cup the water over their back, avoiding their eyes and ears.

DGG has a natural Relax Shampoo their grooming range hat contains a range of botanicals including Lavender, Chamomile & Calendula known for their relaxing qualities and is pH balanced for dogs and free of nasty chemicals.

Drying an anxious dog

Drying a dog with a noisy dryer is a massive problem for both home and professional groomers with an anxious dog.  You may need to desensitise an anxious dog to the noise and movement of a hair dryer if they already freak out, so it’s worth talking to an experienced dog trainer about this.

They key is to starting with it off, allow them to interact with it before slowly moving it around. You have to start at a far distance before turning it on low, so they don’t react and always using treats and praise for a calm response.

Very slowly decrease the distance and then very gradually move it closer. You just can’t afford to scare them and never tease them with it.  This is done in a similar way that you might desensitise them to the vacuum so see my steps for how to do that here.

Hopefully, working on this at home will help to build some confidence when grooming an anxious dog and will help with their professional grooms too.

Other tips for grooming an anxious dog

I do recommend talking to your vet about medication options for very anxious dogs as there are some just for certain trigger events like a visit to the groomers.

Make sure you let the groomer know too that your dog is anxious.

As the owner of an anxious rescue dog, I can tell you implementing all of the above has helped make Vindi’s grooming experience so much better. He even actively goes to say hi to the groomer now when we visit our local PETstock grooming salon.

For all your home grooming needs, look for the Australian made and owned DGG grooming range at your local pet specialty store or online.


About the Author: Lara Shannon is a certified dog behaviourist and trainer, Executive Producer and Host of Pooches at Play on Channel 10 and editor of Poochesatplay.com. Lara runs her own dog training business in Melbourne’s Bayside area, is a sought after pet expert speaker and Author of Eat, Play, Love (Your Dog).

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