The relationship between humans and their hairstylists might seem insignificant in the grand scheme of life’s interactions, yet the bond formed in the stylist’s chair is often profound. We entrust our hairdressers with our looks, identity, and to an extent, our self-esteem. We trust them to not only enhance our natural attributes but also to keep our secrets and boost our morale. However, as humans, we do not typically react with overt hostility or fear when faced with a new hair stylist or an unexpected hairdo. Our disappointments might be vocalized or subtly communicated through decreased gratuity, but lunging at our stylists in a biting frenzy is generally considered beyond the pale.
This is where our canine companions present a stark contrast in the realm of grooming. Their reactions can range from mild discomfort to outright rebellion, making the task of grooming them significantly more challenging than the human equivalent.
Take, for instance, my pet Ike, an elderly toy poodle. Despite his advanced years, small stature, and dwindling tooth count, Ike has a notorious reputation for resisting grooming attempts with a fierce bite. His grooming needs are relatively high maintenance, necessitating a visit to the grooming salon every six weeks or so. However, his resistance to the grooming process led to challenging encounters with five different groomers over three years.
The salvation from this ongoing struggle came in the form of Diane Wallace from Fells Point Pet Center. Diane proved to be the perfect match for Ike’s temperament and grooming needs. Her skill and understanding enabled her to groom him without incident and in half the time it would usually take other groomers.
So, what makes Diane so exceptional in her craft? It’s the stark contrast between Ike’s past behavior and his present acceptance of the grooming process under her care. The transformation in Ike’s demeanor from a fearful, biting canine to a more compliant grooming client is a testament to Diane’s capabilities. It’s an art to soothe and groom a dog that’s initially seen as challenging, and Diane mastered it with Ike, proving that finding the right groomer can make all the difference for your pet.
Diane was kind enough to share some of her anxiety-reducing trade secrets that she’s gathered over her almost 40 years as a professional groomer.
What Diane does to improve the grooming experience for dogs:
- Diane operates a small-scale grooming business. This allows her the capacity and the flexibility to devote personalized attention to each of her canine clients. She firmly believes in the benefits of a smaller operation, which provides the groomers with adequate space and time to desensitize nervous dogs. Larger grooming salons that serve numerous dogs each day may lack these crucial elements.
- Diane introduces the dog to the grooming environment gradually. She understands that abrupt exposure to grooming tools can be frightening for some dogs. To alleviate this fear, she leaves the clippers running near the dog’s crate while working with another dog. This slow introduction enables the dog to grow accustomed to the noise, the smell, and the sight of another dog being groomed without adverse effects.
- She begins each grooming session with a soothing, heated massage. Diane notes that dogs that come across as aggressive or ‘mean’ are often reacting out of pain or discomfort. The gentle massage not only soothes the dog but also allows her to detect any sensitive areas that might trigger an aggressive response during the grooming process.
What you can do to facilitate a smoother grooming experience:
- Familiarize your dog with grooming from an early age. The earlier a dog is introduced to grooming, the more likely they are to perceive it as a normal part of life rather than a form of punishment. Diane suggests starting around four months of age when the pup’s immune system is sufficiently developed to handle exposure to other dogs. However, she also recommends waiting at least a week after the first rabies shot, which can be painful, to give your dog time to recover.
- Reinforce basic commands. Ensuring your dog has a grasp on basic obedience commands like ‘sit,’ ‘stay,’ ‘down,’ and ‘no’ can make a huge difference in the grooming experience. If a dog is responsive to its owner’s commands, it is usually easier for them to transfer this obedience to the groomer.
- Maintain leash control until invited to do otherwise by the groomer. This helps to reinforce the idea that the dog is a guest in the grooming salon, rather than assuming they can behave as they would at home.
- Maintain a calm demeanor. Your dog will take cues from your behavior, so staying relaxed and not engaging with any undesirable behaviors is crucial. Calmly correct any misbehavior with a simple command or a gentle hand, if necessary.
- Introduce your dog to the groomer in a non-confrontational manner. For smaller, more apprehensive dogs, it can be helpful to hand them over to the groomer back-end first. This posture avoids a direct face-to-face confrontation which can be intimidating for the dog, and signals your approval of the groomer to your pet.