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How To Help Your Nervous Dog Get Through Grooming Sessions

A fresh haircut and a relaxing mani-pedi are a welcome respite from the stress of our daily lives, but grooming services can have the opposite effect on our dogs.

There are several reasons why a dog may experience fear and anxiety during grooming. The pet salon is full of strange sights, sounds and smells, not to mention other animals giving off their own aura of stress.

Some dogs may have had a negative experience in the past, such as a painful ‘fast’ toenail or severe matting of their coat, that required a lengthy, uncomfortable grooming session.

Grooming is a necessary process that all dogs must endure to some degree. Even if you have a short-haired puppy, bathing, brushing and routine nail trimming are essential for optimal health. So what can you do to get your nervous dog to tolerate grooming?

Let your dog get used to the touch.

As with any new experience, it is important to desensitize your dog to the sensations associated with grooming. Not only will this help him relax during professional grooming sessions, it will also allow you to complete small tasks at home, such as removing a bur from your pup’s paw or simple ear cleanings.

One of the most common reasons why dogs become anxious during grooming is because they are touched in sensitive areas that are not treated at home. Most dog owners pet their pup’s heads and rub their bellies, but how often do you touch and manipulate their teeth, eyes, ears, paws, tail, butt and groin?

It’s best to desensitize your dog to touch when he’s still a puppy, but dogs of any age can learn to feel safe during handling. Certified behavior consultant, certified professional dog trainer and author of the book, Anxious to be freeMikkel Becker recommends taking it easy and only training when your dog is relaxed and responsive.

Start by giving a cue word, such as “Ears” or “Paw,” before gently touching that area. Reward immediately afterwards with a treat. Gradually progress to opening the ears or touching the toes, increasing the length of the touch each time. If your dog is sensitive in a specific area, such as the paws, start with a less sensitive area, such as the shoulder, and slowly work your way up to the paw.

Identify your dog’s specific triggers.

Does your dog start shaking and drooling as soon as he gets into the car? It could be that his stress is related to travel anxiety or motion sickness, and not related to the grooming process at all. If your dog is calm and happy during the washing and drying process but becomes restless during the trimming process, it could be the sound of the clippers or the feeling of having scissors so close to his face that is making him uncomfortable.

Schedule some time to discuss your dog’s specific triggers with your groomer. Once you’re both on the same page, you can work on a solution together.

Take ‘fun’ trips to the groomer.

If every trip to the groomer results in a frightening or uncomfortable experience, your dog will naturally feel anxious every time you pull into the parking lot. Ask your groomer if she would like you to stop by every now and then to say “hello”.

These visits will help desensitize your dog to car rides And show him that the groomer’s office can be a fun place. Bring your dog’s favorite healthy snack and encourage the pet-loving staff to shower him with treats and affection!

Find a professional you can trust.

Your dog can’t tell you what happens after you drop him off at the groomer, so it’s important to find a professional you can trust. Ask your vet and dog lovers for recommendations and arrange a time to meet the candidates before booking an appointment.

A quality groomer will be happy to meet you, answer your questions and show you around her shop. Discuss your dog’s individual fears and ask potential groomers how they would deal with them.

These strategies may not work for every dog. If desensitization training fails to reduce your pup’s anxiety or if his behavior endangers himself or others, consult your veterinarian. More advanced training options, behavioral therapies and medications can work wonders.

Don’t let frustration and stress stop you from providing the hygienic care your dog needs to stay healthy and happy!

H/T to Vetstraat

Featured image via Flickr/Chris Lester

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