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.