Groomers are often faced with many challenges, and one of the biggest is grooming difficult dogs. Dogs need to have their nails clipped and baths, but many dogs dislike being groomed. Dogs may dislike being touched in certain parts of their bodies, they may resent being restrained, and many might not like having their paws handled. Often owners have to just give up trying and enlist the professional services of a dog groomer, but how do groomers manage to groom difficult dogs? What are some tips for the owners of these dogs? Following is an insider view and tips from a professional certified dog groomer.
The Most Difficult Dogs to Groom
By Tori Tarantino
The proper way to begin this article is to inform any readers that my experiences are from the most cost-efficient grooming salon in my area. On average, my colleagues and I groom between four to six dogs per day, five days a week.
With there being at least four of us throughout the day at any given time, this means that we see, groom, and/or assist with hundreds of dogs throughout the course of our work week and although we do have some restrictions regarding particular behaviors and temperaments that may alter our decision to go through with a groom, there are some pups that we’re able to take a little extra time with so that we can teach them to be more comfortable and confident with their groom.
However, there are a lot of steps that both groomers and pet parents alike must take to ensure that grooming a difficult dog is both a comfortable experience and more importantly a safe one.
Find Your Grooming Center
I know, that sounds like something out of a Karate Kid film, but before experimenting with different methods for the groom, it’s most important that we as groomers are able to establish a sense of calmness ourselves before going to work. Dogs are nothing short of "empaths" - they pick up what those who surround them are feeling and rely on those feelings to determine how to react accordingly to the current situation.
This goes for all of the pet parents out there as well! There have been many times that a dog has come in for their appointment and it’s made clear right off the bat that they’re going to need a little bit of extra attention for their groom. We understand that as a pet parent dropping off your pooch for a few hours, you want to make sure that they’re safe, but I’m going to be brutally honest because regardless of how I word my advice, it may come off in an accusatory manner to some. Babying your dog, clenching them to your chest, and exhibiting behaviors and particular verbal cues can actually do more harm than good.
Sometimes without realizing it, these behaviors may come off as more frantic than intended and your dog is seeing that there is reason to be nervous about being in this environment. Confidence is key for both the groomer and the pet parent and this is a common lesson taught in dog training as well. In order for your dog to be confident, you must exude confidence. Your dog is your baby, but just like with human babies, they do grow up - and at a much faster pace - and because of this it is crucial to help them build up their confidence while they’re young. Keep calm and collective and it’ll make the world of a difference!
Become the Dog
I know, I’m horrible with the cheesy titles, but hear me out. Keeping calm and understanding why it’s so important isn’t always easy. It can even be a challenge for those who are just starting to get their feet wet in the pet industry. For some, reading an instruction or piece of advice isn’t particularly easy without experiencing an example situation firsthand.
Luckily for those in the pet industry, we do get these experiences firsthand but we also understand that there’s a reason pet parents bring their dogs to us instead of grooming them at home and there’s a reason that the majority of us go to school and have extensive training for the positions we hold.
Go back to the hypothetical situation I mentioned where the dog is nervous because their owner is nervous. If a dog senses this type of behavior, they may easily associate it with negativity. From that moment through the remainder of the groom, they will be associating their owner’s fear and nervousness with their surroundings which can very well mean that during the groom they will be acting in a manner that they feel is going to make them “safe”.
For some dogs, this may mean becoming a “pancake” on the table, attempting to stubbornly pull themselves away from our grip, or it may mean that they become defensive against us and the equipment we need to use in order to complete the groom. Even the sweetest dogs with the kindest and most innocent demeanor can be temperamental with the grooming process if it’s something they think is dangerous or upsetting to themselves or their owners.
Make it a Routine
Sometimes a difficult dog may not have an owner that’s nervous or uncertain. However, sometimes a dog becomes difficult due to inconsistency with the frequency of their grooms.
A dog that comes in for a groom every 8 weeks or less since they were 2-3 months old is used to the schedule they’re on and because of this schedule they tend to understand that it’s something that is a necessity. They become easily acclimated to the location they’re going to, the equipment used on them, the way they stand or need to be held, and the people they share these interactions with.
Routines are the easiest way for them to learn and dogs that have them are always more welcoming with the grooming than a dog that comes in once or twice a year.
Consider the Health Implications
Frequency is important on it’s own but it’s even more important if the dog’s hygiene is at stake as well. When the coat gets matted from the lack of brushing and combing at home the skin can become weakened, bruised, and sometimes even torn if they’re tight.
If the skin is built up with oils and dirt this can cause rashes, itchiness and sensitivity. If the nails are too long, it can cause soreness, cracked nails, punctured paw pads, and in some cases permanent disfiguration of the feet. Having any of these experiences can make a dog skeptical of the groomer because they are the ones that need to work with these areas which can put a dog in the same defensive state mentioned before.
In order to get them in an overall more comfortable state, we need to touch these sensitive areas, but the dog doesn’t see it like that and they don’t know that there’s a reason for it. The dog just knows that we’re touching the uncomfortable areas which means we’re the bad guys in their eyes.
Despite the breed you have, it’s important to understand that (to them) once every couple of months is routine, but if their visits are too spread out and sporadic, they may not be comfortable or trusting which can result in a change in behavior than what’s normal at home. In these cases it’s not unlikely that we have to send dogs home before completing the groom.
Ask Questions and Keep an Open Mind
In any situation, try to empathize with your dog. Understand why they may be scared or nervous, understand that they don’t always know why they need to be with us or why we need to do what we do, and understand that sometimes their stress is mental and sometimes it’s physical and it may have an impact on our ability to groom them.
Grooming is a tough job. As groomers, we’ve been scratched up, attacked, and have had numerous bodily fluids cast all over us and we still go back every day loving what we do. We love dogs and we know that it isn’t easy for them and we know that they’re all beloved family members, best friends, and caregivers and that their loyalty is stronger than anything.
Believe me when I say that as true animal lovers and caregivers, we will always put the dog first. Their mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing is priority. If you pick your dog up and your groomer says that your dog is anything less than an angel, I want to assure you that it is not the equivalent of saying your dog is bad. In fact, ask for total honesty. Keep an open mind and ask us questions! Anything you want!
All we ask for in return is patience and understanding. If there is any advice we can give to improve your experience and your dog’s experience, we are more than happy to give it. We live for the connections we make with your dogs and there is nothing more heartwarming than building them up and seeing them improve with our own eyes, earning their trust more and more with each visit.
That's ultimately why there's so much importance in gaining an understanding with the most difficult dogs to groom.
About the Author
Tori Tarantino is a 26-year-old animal lover and advocate who has worked as a certified dog groomer since May 2014.
In the years prior, she worked an apprentice position as a dog bather and volunteered frequently at her local Humane Society.
She currently has two dogs, a cat, and two fish. Aside from grooming, her passions include pilates, reading, learning new languages, and freelance pet photography.