Keeping a dog calm while being groomed is largely about making the dog feel safe and secure. Some dogs enjoy being groomed. But for the vast major grooming can be a stressful experience and for some, it is something to be avoided at all costs.
This is usually fear based. Dogs may react to this stress in various ways from curling up and shaking like a leaf or even turn aggressive.
Why a dog may be anxious about being groomed.
There may be many reasons a dog is anxious about the grooming process. They may have had a bad experience with a dog groomer in the past. Or the noise of the clippers and blow dry scares them.
For many, it is simply that they are out of there comfort zone and feel threatened. Dogs react to feeling threatened in three ways. Fight, Flight or Freeze.
Flight obviously means they will try to escape.
Freeze is when they go stiff with a fearful look in their eyes and may even be shaking.
The worst reaction that you don’t want is fight as they can become aggressive and try to bite. Some dogs will never actually enjoy being groomed. However, they can be conditioned to not see it as a threat and become more accepting and relaxed about it.
Therefore, the objective is to manage their state of mind so they don’t see it as something to be feared. This can take time with some dogs, but with patience and consistency, it can be achieved.
To manage their state, manage your state.
Dogs are like mirrors and if your energy is anxious, frustrated or even angry it will affect the dogs’ energy and state. Dogs will trust in a human who is calm and stable as they feel that they can be relied on to take care of them and not hurt them. Give them the impression that you are calm, gentle and confident in what you are doing. Even if that is not the case, fake it until you make it.
Condition your dog to the process.
If your dog is particularly anxious and against the whole grooming process start with short sessions. You don’t have to do the whole groom all at once.
As they get more conditioned to the process you can increase the length of each session. This doesn’t mean you should just stop at the first sign of your dog giving resistance. Dogs are also very good at deceptive manipulation.
Persist for a little while as long as they are not completely stressed out or you are not hurting them in any way. Many people tell me that their dog won’t let allow them to brush them. This is because the dog figures out that by reacting they will stop.
Sometimes, by just persisting with another minute of brushing, then giving them a break the dog will become more accepting of it.
You can also use the time when you are just hanging out with your dog to get them conditioned to being handled. Many dogs have a real issue with their feet being touched when being groomed. By touching and playing with their feet at other times and rewarding them for allowing it will help them to be more accepting of this at grooming time.
Use verbal and touch reward to calm your dog
Talk to your dog in a calm, quiet, even monotone voice saying things like “relax” and “it’s ok”.
You can even use a technique called the calm hold. This where you place your hand gently on their shoulder. You can make soothing sounds or calm talk.
Touch is an excellent way to calm and even reward your dog for being calm. Other touch techniques are rubbing gently with your thumb between the eyes at the bridge of the nose. This is called The Stop.
Also, rubbing the spot between the front legs at the front of the chest and the back of the ear where it joins the head. These spots are known to release endorphins.
Experiment with your dog to see what spots they like and seem to have a calming effect. Obviously, if they pull away it is probably not enjoyable for them.
For more on this read “How to reward your dog”
The standard advice people will give you is to give your dog treats to reward them during the grooming process. If this works for your dog then do it. However, in my experience, many dogs will not take food while on the grooming table. Perhaps they think it is a trick. This is why and when verbal and touch rewards work so well.
Groom your dog on a non-slip, stable surface
If your dog is slipping around and feels unsafe this is likely to make them more anxious. You will need a stable non-slip surface for your dog to stand on while being groomed.
The easiest way to groom a dog is on a proper dog grooming table. I recommend getting a dog grooming table which has the added advantage of having a grooming arm that you can attach your dog with a grooming loop to prevent them jumping off and making it easier to keep them still while working on them. The grooming loop should be kept lax so the dog isn’t pulling it tight. They not only provide safety by stopping your dog jumping off the table, they are also a psychological barrier for your dog so they don’t think about escaping and begin to relax.
Grooming tables come in a variety of designs and sizes from simple fold away tables (some are fixed height and others have height adjustment) to hydraulic that can be raised up and down either with a pump foot pedal or electric foot pedal.
There are a few factors you will need to consider to select a dog grooming table to fit your needs. Obviously the size of the dog or dogs it is to be used for. If you have a small breed dog a smaller table will be fine but if it is a 70kg dog you will need something larger and more stable. Of course, your size matters also as if it has no height adjustment it will need to be at a comfortable height to avoid putting a strain on your back.
Also, the portability and ease of storage are important if you need to travel with it or need to pack it away when not in use.
View grooming tables on Amazon
Give your dog some exercise or play to tire them before grooming.
Take your dog for a walk or have an energetic play session if you are planning to groom them later. This will help to release some of the pent-up energy. A tired dog is generally a better-behaved dog. Allow a rest and relaxation period between the exercise and starting the grooming session.
Try a natural sedative to calm and relax.
Some people use a sedative to calm their dogs before grooming. This should only be done if recommended and prescribed by a vet. Personally, I am not a fan of this, but there are natural animal sedative products that seem to work well with animals. Even essential oils can be soothing for a dog.