Why is my dog scared of the groomer?

This is one of those questions that groomers get a lot.  Also, “Why does he shake when he comes in here?” and “Why does he hate it here, what do you do to him?”

I have been doing a lot of research on this subject and I am very disturbed by the views of a lot of pet owners about this subject.  If you put the title of this blog in a search engine you will get a lot of pet forums with someone asking this question and I can’t believe how many people responded with.  “I would not take my dog there anymore” or “They must be rough with your dog”.  I even saw one person respond that they were told that because shop groomers have multiple dogs they are always in a hurry so if the dog is not cooperative then they get rough with them.  That is why she found someone that will come to her home and they put a sheet out on her living room floor and she holds the dog while the groomer trims her.

I know there are some bad apples in every line of business but I have to tell you that most groomers get into this field of work because we love animals.  The first time you take your dog to a new groomer you may be nervous and your dog feeds into that.  We will get more into that subject a little later.  But I have dogs that pull their owners in because they are so excited to come in.  Some that walk in with their owner and they aren’t excited or scared but just deal with the process.  Then there are the fearful dogs that are scared of everything (not just the groomer).  We have dogs that are very scared the first couple of visits but after that they are comfortable and don’t mind the process.  I have some dogs that I have been grooming for over 10 years and they still hate coming to the groomers. Just like people, dogs have unique personalities and everyone is different.  I am scared of heights, but millions of people love the thrill of jumping out of planes. 

 

Dogs are no different than the co-dependent human.  They are co-dependent on their humans and your dog feeds off of your emotions and moods.   I know my own Shih tzu, Porter, will get nervous if I even sigh and he will start shaking then stare at me for a while until he thinks it’s all clear.  I don’t know if he thinks I am going to blow up or what but I have had this dog since he was a tiny puppy.  He is very spoiled and has always been a great dog so reprimanded him is something that has been very seldom.  So why does he get so nervous?  He is generally not a nervous dog and actually a pretty tough dog.  I don’t know if you have ever seen Siberian Huskies play but they are very rough and I have 5 of them.  Porter will play with them and get right in the middle of the rough play like he is one of them.  The huskies all respect him and he has never been hurt playing with them.  To most little dog’s that would be a really scary thing.  But if I sigh his whole world falls apart for 5 minutes.

Now if we talk about my 2 year old husky, Billy, that would be a whole different story.  That dog is not scared of ANYTHING.  Billy is a girl but she got her name because she is like a billy goat and will climb anything.  I had a huge old Oak tree fall down on my property and she thought this was a jungle gym for her.  I watched her balance on the bigger limbs and some not so big but she managed to get all the way to the top.  SHE WAS TWELVE WEEKS OLD.  It scared me to death but she was having a ball.  After she was down and safe I thought to myself that it was pretty impressive.  Then her brother, Twitch, is one of the calmest huskies I have ever owned.  He is the mellow, sweet boy and his sister is the crazy, life of the party kind of gal.  I have had these dogs since the day they were born.  So these two huskies and Porter were all brought up in the same family and in the same way.  Billy gets yelled at sometimes and she just looks at us like “What? Ok fine, I will just do it when you’re not looking!”,  then trots off happy as a clam.  But if Porter is around when this happens, he is staring at me shaking, waiting with anticipation that this might be the time I blow up. 

My point is that some dogs will feed off of your emotions more than others.  I know it is hard not to coddle your nervous dog because you feel sorry for him.  But that is doing much more harm than good.  It might make you feel better but it makes your dog more nervous.  Let me tell you that 9 times out of 10 the dog stops shaking after it can’t see its owner anymore.  We always joke around at the shop that so many of the dogs have the same personality as their owners or sometimes their whole family.  We have a Golden Retriever that comes in and the whole family brings him in.  They have 3 young children that seem like a handful and are fairly loud.  Their golden is just as loud and hyper as the kids.  Then we have a Shih tzu that comes in that walks really slow and is so calm and quite.  Her mom is exactly the same way.  We see this so often.

 

One of the reasons I wanted to name the shop a grooming spa instead of salon is because people relate “spa” with relaxation.  I wanted to carry that into pet grooming and create a spa like setting for your pets.  When you go to a spa, you are pampered and you leave relaxed and feeling rejuvenated.  We use the aromatherapy products and our shop is very calm and quite, for the most part.  But remember that your hair stylist does not have to pull your ear hair and do unmentionables to your behind.  Some dogs might be scared of the dryers, they can be loud. Certain breeds like the herding breeds, Border collies, Shelties, and Australian shepherds are usually not fond of the dryers because they have such acute hearing and are more sensitive to them. Some breeds like Pugs, Chihuahuas, Basset hounds and Beagles are notorious for hating to have their nails trimmed.  Your short nose dogs like Shih tzus, Lhasas, and Pekingese are terrified that we will get water in their noses because I’m sure it feels like they are suffocating.  But then we have the Cavalier King Charles and the Soft coated Wheaton Terrier that would find their own way to the grooming shop if they could because they love it so much.  We do our best to make all of your pets comfortable through the whole process and we are sensitive to their needs when we learn what scares them.  I would love nothing more than to have each pet come bouncing in with a smile.  But I know that is not realistic.

 

So when you are holding your dog wrapped in both arms as your saying “oh honey its ok, don’t be scared, why are you so scared, oh I hate this too”.  You know what your dog is thinking? Oh no, something bad is going to happen.  So they start associating the groomer with something that is bad.  The best thing you can do for a nervous dog is to walk in and hand your dog over and let the groomer hold him while you discuss his grooming instructions or let them take them to the back and come back for instructions and pay no attention to your dog during this process.  A quick goodbye is the best way to go.  That way the anxiety does not have time to build up and fester.  It might be hard for you but it makes it a lot easier on your pet. 

Why we do what we do

I can remember many years ago I was in the check-out line at one of the big chain pet stores where the groomers are only behind glass and everyone can watch them grooming.  The man behind me said to his wife, “What a horrible job, having to fight with dogs all day”.  His wife replied, “I know, I wonder how often they get bit”.   It really hurt my feelings at the time because I just started working at a grooming shop and that was my dream, to work with animals!  Those were the last of my worries.  I had been running a rescue for Siberian Huskies for many years before I finally made the choice to leave my desk job in the corporate world and follow my dream.   THAT was a horrible job, for me.  Sure, I made a lot less but I was happy.

Even at a young age my pets were one of the most important things to me.   I was the kid that brought every stray home that I came across.  But I do have to say that even now they seem to find me.  One day I was vacuuming my SUV at a gas station and was in the back seat when I realized there was a huge white boxer sitting in the hatchback watching me.  There had to be 15 other cars there and he jumped in mine.  He had no collar but he had a chain with a padlock on it that had to weigh 20lbs. We tried to find the owners but no one ever claimed him.  He was intimidating because of the way he looked and people were afraid of him.  But he was the biggest goof ball around and we found him a wonderful home.

And then there was the time when we had a bad storm and part of my fence fell.  All four of my huskies got out (huskies will run if given the chance) and were roaming the streets.  It was very late and it is really hard to find your dogs in the dark.  But I would stay out all night looking if I had to.  I was driving down a side street when I saw what I thought was a family of skunks or possums crossing the street, but no, it was a family of Chihuahuas.  It was the mom and dad and two puppies that couldn’t have been more than 4 weeks old.  So of course I had to stop and get them but they were scared out of their minds.  I caught the dad and one of the puppies fairly easy but the mom and the other pup was a different story.  A woman pulled over to help me catch the other two.  When I pulled into my driveway my husband’s reaction was “only you would go out looking for 4 huskies and come home with 4 chihuahuas”, I had to agree.  No one ever claimed them either.  Who loses 4 dogs and doesn’t even look for them?  Now my mom owns the mom and dad, my daughter owns one of the puppies, and the other puppy went to a family friend.  By the way, I got all my dogs back also.

But back to why we do what we do.  I have had many people ask me why I picked pet grooming as a career and honestly in the beginning it was because I loved working with animals.  I mean I worked with the rescue dogs but you can’t make a living off that.  If you have done fostering, you know that money comes out of your own pocket more then you ever planned.  But the more I got into grooming the more I grew a passion for it.  To me grooming is not just a job.  I see it as an art because it takes a creative mind to be a groomer.  Every dog is different and you have to see them the way you want them to look and create that with the hair they have.  I went to a grooming seminar many years ago that had a scissoring workshop and they had a couple of women from Japan there to show us their technique.  Oh my goodness it was like watching Edward Scissorhands grooming a dog.  They explained that in Japan they have to go to a four year college to become a dog groomer.  The first year of that they never even touch an animal.  I admire that about them and they are a perfect example of the art of grooming.

I still love the art of grooming but now that I have been grooming for over 13 years, I feel that as a groomer it is my responsibility to educate pet owners on why it is important to keep up with their pets grooming needs.  It is not just for looks, it can also affect the health of your pet.  Groomers see every inch of your pet, more than even your vet covers.  We find cuts, sores, hot spots, and tumors that the owner never even knew were there.  We aren’t vets so we can’t diagnose your pet but hopefully you can get them to the vet before it becomes a huge problem.  Matting can also cause a lot of problems so I feel I should show the owner the proper way to brush their pet in between grooming.  Brushing a dog with a lot of hair can be tricky if you don’t know the proper way to brush and don’t have the right tools.  Then you have the dogs that don’t need haircuts but shed A LOT. Showing the owners how to keep the shedding under control can be very useful.

It is very important to prepare your puppy for a lifetime of grooming.  I wish more breeders would educate their puppy buyers on the grooming needs of the breed they are buying.  One of my favorite things is when I get a poodle puppy in for it’s very first grooming visit with us and when I have to shave it’s feet and face they don’t get really scared and squirmy.  It is very natural for them because some poodle breeders start shaving the feet and face as early as a couple weeks old.  This makes it so much easier on the puppy and the groomer and greatly reduces the risk of injury.  I encourage new puppy owners to bring their puppies in as soon as they get all their shots.  It is a lot easier to train a young puppy how to behave when being groomed then the 9 month old puppy that has never been to a groomer.  Most people don’t know that at around 7-9 months of age your puppy is becoming an adolescent and he is going through a coat change.  They bring their puppy in for the first time and the puppy is completely matted and has to be shaved.  That can be a traumatic experience for the puppy and the owner.  The owner has great intentions of keeping the puppy fluffy and has no problems with the coat up to this point.  If they knew about the coat change they could have prevented having to shave the puppy.  So I feel that education is the key.

So finally, to answer the question why I do what I do. I am a believer that everybody is put on this earth for a reason.  I have trained a lot of groomers that learned to groom beautifully but they were missing something that can’t be taught.  I was watching something the other night about this 6 year old boy that was playing the piano like he has been playing for 30 years.  He was gifted with this talent and what he has can’t be taught.   No matter how big or small your gift is, and everyone has one, I believe that you should share it with others.  I have never had a fear of dogs, even from a young age.  But I also have always been able to read dog’s body language and it seemed natural, no one ever taught me this.  When I am grooming a dog I can feel their body structure change before they even try to fight or bite.  I am proud to say that through all my years of rescue and grooming I have only been bit twice and neither of them were bad. But both were my fault because I was not paying attention.  I groom a lot of dogs that have been turned away by many other groomers because they were so hard to groom.  If a groomer gets bit really bad that could end their career and I understand that.  But you have to build a trust with these dogs and it takes time and patience and I get a lot of satisfaction seeing these dogs change with time.  Working with animals is what I was meant to do and I truly believe that!