Understanding Dog Anxiety at the Groomers: Causes and Solutions
Updated: May 3
Easing anxiety and stress before/at/after groomers, vet visit, car rides, etc.
First off let's start with why your pet could have anxiety about being at the groomers. Dogs are sensitive by nature to just about everything. They can not like the strong smells of shampoos and disinfectants to simply not liking the other dogs barking ( plus you never know what they are saying to each other). It's hard to pinpoint exactly what could be causing stress to your dog while before, during, or after a grooming appointment. Dogs are very in-tune with human emotions which is why it is so important for parents to not make a big deal while dropping off their dogs. The dogs have no reason to be on edge but if their owner is exhibiting signs of stress then so should they (or at least they think.) They can also be in-tune with the groomers emotions. The groomer could be having a bad day or sometimes just a busy day where the phones are ringing off the hooks and the dog picks up the littlest amount of stress we are giving off. Like I said, It is hard to pinpoint exactly what could be causing anxiety or stress at the groomers but here's ways we can fix it.
Anxiety and stress before the groomers
You should be talking about the groomer casually to the pet. Not super often but also not just right before the appointment. Always make sure to have a positive tone and if possible use a special treat when referring to the groomer. IE: “ Hey Bella, You get to go to the groomer next week!” **give treat**. If your pet doesn't like kennels or isn't acclimated to kennels then I highly suggest kennel training. To keep this article just about stress/anxiety I have linked another article about kennel training here.
Most grooming shops have to put your dogs in some sort of crate while in their care to keep them separate from other pets and sometimes to be dried. I strongly advise against crate free salons that aren't one on one as this poses a risk for many things. Although it seems like a good idea there are so many potential dangers like dog fights, equipment falling, gate hopping, germs spreading, etc. If interested in learning more about the dangers of cage free grooming I will work on that in the next article.
Keeping your dog calm in the car is another potential cause of stress for pets. Not all pets love car rides so I would suggest regular car rides not just when visiting the vet or groomer. This way they don’t know if they are going for a ride-along, to the groomer, to the vet, to the park, or to get a snack from Starbucks. This will help stop stress before it starts. You can also minimize stress by the use of all natural calming aids such as this. This is a great option for dogs that empty bowels in the car or salivate to the extremes and soak the seats. I would try training the pet first to learn to love the car rather than ease the symptoms but if it's needed this is the brand I suggest. You could also try CBD treats as well. I would also suggest a long hike, fetch session, or walk before going in the car. Not only will this help relieve some energy but their body will be more relaxed for the car ride and grooming.
Anxiety and stress at the groomers
I always ask clients to bring a special treat. A special treat is something dogs only get when seeing the groomer, talking about the groomer, on the way to the groomer, and on the way home from the groomer. This way your pet connects that yummy treat with a good experience and looks forward to the visits. This treat should be the best of the best. I am talking about lunch meat, string cheese, fresh pet meatballs, fresh chicken, or anything the pet doesn't get on a normal basis. Your pet will look forward to its visits at the groomer which is so important for a long life full of spa days. It's so important for dogs to like the groomer. Oftentimes groomers struggle with dogs with anxiety. Anxiety can be expressed in excessive panting, shaking, barking, yawning, burping, crying, constant sitting, actively trying to get away, avoidance, and pulling. All of these things create potential dangers for the groomer. We as groomers want dogs to have the best experience possible but it doesn't matter how much love, hugs, kisses, and soft talking we do sometimes. Dogs with severe anxiety will have a bad experience no matter the efforts the groomer or owner put in. That is why training a pet to love grooming is the most important thing you can do for your pet. It all will spill over into other aspects of the dog's life. Dogs that are okay with car rides and that let groomers handle them the way we need to are often much better around children, better around other pets, and much happier to see a vet than dogs that are not acclimated to grooming.
Anxiety and stress after the groomers
Dogs that exhibited lots of anxiety at the groomers often crash when they get home. This can be seen as a “ my groomer must have done something to the dog” however if you have ever had an anxiety attack you would know how physically draining it is. Once the pet is home and comfortable in their known environment and comfort zone there's a good chance your pet will sleep for a while, not want to eat, not want to play, and sometimes hide. They are not embarrassed over their hair cut, they weren't injured, and nothing bad happened. Their body is literally exhausted from the immense amount of anxiety they had for a few hours. The increased adrenalin doesn't allow them to relax while in our care so as soon as they are home and able to finally calm their nerves their body forces them to relax and reset. This should only last a few hours and they should be back to normal until the next stressful event. I know that this can be quite difficult to watch and your first instinct might say “somethings wrong.” but more often then not they just need rest. Unless your pet has medical issues such as heart problems or seizures then I wouldn’t worry. Just give your pet time and space to unwind and they will be back to their normal goofy selves in no time.
If any of the above statements match your pet then I would highly suggest training. Although it is normal for dogs with anxiety to behave the way its stated above its still not fun for the pet, groomer, or owner. Your pet could live a much happier life if normal events such as going to the groomer, seeing a vet, taking a car ride, etc. didn’t cause them to get this upset. These are all normal occurrences in any dog's life and they should enjoy them. Talk to your vet about medications that could help take the edge off and consult a trainer for help with relieving your pets triggers. Depending on what is causing the anxiety your trainer may suggest one on one visits, group visits, or may even go to appointments with you to show you how to help reduce the anxiety one difficult visit at a time. It’s extremely important not to over pet your dog while they are having an episode. This will reinforce the behavior. Same goes with baby talk. I again understand how difficult this is but dogs naturally look to humans for reassurance and when they are panting heavily and freaked out about walking into the salon or clinic and you pet them and say” its okay bubba, its okay” your are reinforcing in their mind that there is clearly something to be afraid about. Dogs feed off our emotions which makes them great companions. They comfort us when we are sad or crying, they are excited when we are excited, however this also makes a recipe for disaster when the emotion starts in them and then we reinforce it. Your dog has hope, I promise. As long as you are a dedicated owner and want to help your pet then thankfully there's many ways to go about this and many trainers, vets, and groomers willing to help. If all else fails, try to limit stress causing events without any detriment to the pet. What I mean by this is, very often dogs that see me with anxiety end up coming once every 6 or so months. This usually results in matted shave downs and MORE stress and anxiety to the pet. Instead of decreasing the frequency of groomer visits, vet visits, car rides; reduce the time spent at those locations. Still take your dog to be groomed every 6 weeks but ask the groomer for an express groom or one on one groom. Instead of seeing the vet once a year, continue to see them every 3 to 4 months just ask for a time of the day that is least busy and where you can move the appointment along quickly. Instead of not going on car rides, just reduce them to around the block instead of a couple hours. Unfortunately if your pet has really severe anxiety, these tips and tricks might not work and that's okay. Making a conscious effort will help. Reducing the anxiety as much as possible even if not completely eradicating it will help the pet tremendously.
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