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Grooming & Anxiety in Dogs: What to Do & How to Help

Grooming & Anxiety in Dogs: What to Do & How to Help

As pet owners, we want to give our dogs the confidence to handle new situations but sometimes their anxiety can take over, especially at the groomer. Our Suwanee vets talk about dog grooming anxiety.

Recognizing Grooming Anxiety

Our dogs can't tell us what they're feeling, as a pet owner it is important to be able to recognize the signs that your dog is anxious or uncomfortable with a situation.

For many pets, a trip to the grooming salon can be a traumatic experience. Unaddressed dog grooming anxiety not only increases the risk of developing more serious behavioral issues but can also turn grooming into a dangerous situation for both the groomer and pet if the dog decides to bite, scratch, or escape during the grooming process.

Some signs of anxiety include:  

  • Rapid breathing
  • Panting
  • Whining
  • Shaking
  • Hiding 
  • Aggressive behavior 
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

How To Keep a Dog Calm While Grooming

Keeping your dog calm at the groomers can be challenging so here are a few tips from our Suwanee vets and groomers to help make your pooches experience as stress-free as possible.

Start with the car ride

Car rides can lead to anxiety and dogs that arrive at the groomer stressed or anxious will likely cause other issues. There are a couple of reasons your dog may dislike the car, they may be anxious about the ride itself or the anticipated destination like the groomer.

Counter conditioning can help ease your dog’s fear and increase their enjoyment of riding in the car. Anxiety and discomfort may also be related to motion sickness, so talk to your veterinarian to see if an anti-nausea medication may be helpful.

Desensitize them to the feeling of being groomed

Grooming often includes handling sensitive areas, including the muzzle, eyes, ears, paws, tail, rear, and groin. Desensitization can help your dog remain relaxed with different types of touching. Try working with your dog at home to get them used to being handled before you take him to the groomer and reward your dog with a treat during or immediately after giving the cue. If your dog is sensitive in areas like the ear or paws, start by touching them on an area where it’s less sensitive, like the shoulder, and gradually move toward the paw with a gentle touch. Reward your dog with a treat during or immediately after giving the cue and handling the area. Continue training only while your dog is calm, relaxed, and receptive.

Make the groomer a happy place

Ask your groomer if it’s possible to do a training visit without any grooming being done. Instead, pair being in the parking lot or lobby with events your dog likes, such as play, treat training, or going on a walk. Use the visit to accustom your dog to the sights and sounds of the groomer, including the noise of clippers or dryers, and to practice being lifted on and off the grooming table. Be sure to follow up with lots of treats, so that your dog learns to associate the groomers with good things.

Consider muzzle training

A muzzle can make grooming easier and safer for your dog and for the groomer, especially if your dog is already difficult to handle. Muzzle training can reduce the need for other types of restraint and can protect your pet against the implications of a bite. Train your dog to willingly put his nose into the muzzle by smearing a soft treat, like peanut butter, on the inside or use a basket muzzle with small openings; this allows the dog to take treats while wearing the muzzle, which can also help keep the dog calm. These strategies may not work for every dog.

If training is failing to make a dent in your dog’s anxiety levels, or if your dog is reacting aggressively to any attempts to groom him, seek your veterinarian’s guidance about professional training. Talk to your veterinarian as well about possible medication options to help manage your dog’s grooming anxiety.

Does My Dog Need To Be Sedated?

If you own an unpredictable dog, you may be wondering what sedatives you can give him to make him feel better while being groomed. A lot of careful considerations are needed before deciding to go this route, as there are several options.

You should ask yourself the following questions before asking your vet for sedatives:

  • Has your dog always been this way, or is this a new behavior that needs to be addressed
  • Have you tried different groomers
  • Have you tried grooming your dog yourself
  • Has your dog ever exhibited aggressive displays when being groomed
  • Does your dog get incredibly anxious

Generally, sedatives should be used as a last resort when all other options have been exhausted. They should be used in cases where the dog is affected by severe anxiety that doesn't respond to behavior modification or when there are risks for defensive biting.

If you have already tried several options and find that your dog undeniably needs sedatives, then you will need to see your veterinarian or veterinary behaviorist for the most appropriate medication to calm your dog for grooming. 

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Taking your dog to the groomer can be an anxiety-inducing experience for some dogs. Our compassionate grooming team at Heart of Suwanee Animal Hospital will do everything to make your dog comfortable. Contact us today! 

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