A Knotty Problem – stress and the groomer part 2

In the previous post I looked at coats and coat types, now Im going to detail the possible triggers in the grooming process and some of the ways that I have found to relieve them either through changes to the owners routine or in the grooming environment and reduce the trigger stacking effect. Ive broken this down based on the order of the grooming process and listed as blocks of common problems then possible solutions. This is just based on my experience and understanding. Your mileage may vary


-Car/travel sickness and anxiety, the dog only goes to the vet or the groomer by car

-Matting causing pain and discomfort

-Previous association, traumatic or uncomfortable past visits

-Unknown or scary environment

-Injury/illness, you would not believe how many times I have had to tell the client to turn around and go straight to the vet

-Long walks/fast exercise straight before coming, many clients think this is a good idea

-Hungry/thirsty/needing the toilet

How can we help

-Separate work on improving the dogs experience of the car, find a groomer close enough to walk to in the short term

-Good coat management, no dog should ever be matted as a matter of course

-Change the context. Set a new day 1 with a new groomer or a distinct way of doing things so we can start a different learning experience

-Social visits, will describe those in a moment

-Daily health checks, so owners are aware of the condition and fitness of their dogs

-A sniffy walk instead of running around

-Basic needs should be always be met!

Ideal first visits (2 stages)

These can be done at the start or end of the day. I do give them for free but we should be expecting to pay for this time. One of the problems we see is the devaluing of professionals time, its an investment in our dogs comfort and wellbeing.


-Lay out an enriched environment before the dogs arrival

-Owner stays, they have a cup of tea, we chat and take detailed information about the dog while observing the dog exploring. talk over the persons expectations and hopes.

-We show the dog the toilet area.

-Treat search or chew to finish, starting to build the association of calm enjoyment with the location

-Depending on the dogs personality and experience, this stage can be repeated until the dog is comfortable and also following any traumatic or stressful visits

Second Visit

30-60 mins

-If grooming in a separate area we move into that area

-I have another calm friendly happy dog on the table so the new dog can watch some of the processes and see that dog enjoying the contact

-Allow the new dog to investigate not placing any demands or requests on them

-Introduce the sounds and routines one by one in a controlled way, watching and responding to the dogs feelings.

-Start to introduce consent based handling techniques

-Providing soft bedding areas and chews. If there is any food anxiety then offer the chews after making provisions for the other dog

Although it seems at first like a lot of hoops to jump through, this pays off with a dog who is easier and safer to groom, happier to take part and owners who are more confident and tend to have good standards about home maintenance.

Handling and physical proximity


-Fear, looming and being leaned over, being picked up or restrained, previous associations of fear or pain,

-The smell of other fearful or stressed dogs

-Is the groomer stressed or in pain?

-Is the coat knotted or matted, is the dog more sensitive to certain parts of their body because of injuries and other reasons

-Memory of pain, nail trimming, being cut.

-Compulsion and panic, is too much being asked or demanded from them, do they feel rushed or pressured?

-Moved into stress positions , holding up legs, angles of neck

How can we help?

-Recognising, respecting and responding,

-Stepping back from the ‘naughty’ label and understanding that this is the dogs reality or their truth

-CPD, better awareness of their emotions, needs and language

-Choice, simply by allowing the dog enough time and ability to control their experience we usually find the dog is willing to accommodate us doing what we need to do

-No restraints, no muzzles. They set groomers up to fail as they ensure they will take less notice of the dogs communication. If we are routinely needing to muzzle a dog in this environment we are already past what is suitable for that dog and we need to take a step back and come up with a more holistic plan. If necessary working with the vet to use medication/anaesthesia that can buy us time to work on a longer term without compromising safety or forming a negative association to us and our environment.

-Compulsion is sometimes the lesser of two evils, when we are looking at an immediate welfare need we might have limited choice in how we can help but it is up to us to leave as much choice as possible or to minimise the impact. For example, with a severely matted dog then leaving them for several weeks isn’t an option but can we do social visits every other day for a week and then groom over 2 or 3 days? We might be able to overshadow the most stressful elements and work on them as learning processes later

-Recognise pain and treat prior to grooming along with adapting the handling to ensure the dogs comfort (think about how many dogs have severe conformational faults which lead to early onset arthritis and painful conditions – eg shi tzu, bichon, poodle)

-Preparation and maintenance. This is the biggest and most important way to help the dog. All happy grooming starts at home



-Feeling insecure,  tables wobble,  they may be set too high, the dog may fear falling and not have enough grip

-Restrained/ feeling trapped, this is often excused as a safety issue

-Loomed over/ feeling threatened

How can we help?

-Grooming on the floor if the dog is more comfortable there

-Using a non slip surface, many tables don’t give enough grip even with rubber tops. Yoga

mats can be cut to size easily and clamped to the surface

-Set the table low enough for the dog to jump on and off safely, if concerns about hard floor then padding round with towels or beds

-A clear route on and off, the dog shouldn’t feel that the only way off is through the groomer

-Blocking the two other sides prevents the risk of falling

-No restraints

-Groomer sits to groom, lowering them to a less threatening position helps prevent looming

-Groomer positions themselves angled side on to the dog, lowering the risk of intimidation



-Hair must be clean to groom , brushing and clipping dirty, matted hair increases the risk of causing pain, damage to the follicles and skin, infection, destroys blades and scissors

-Slippery surfaces, plastic, metal or enamel surfaces are slippery even when dry, when wet and soapy they become even less secure for the dog. The more insecure they feel the stiffer they will be, trying to grip the surface with their nails and less safe they become.

-Feel of the water on the skin, as we have already seen the coat is designed to keep water out and protect the skin from intrusions.

(Imagine wearing a pair of socks for a week then taking them off and someone tracing their fingers up the sole of your foot !!)

-Scent, many of the products used are scented for human tolerances which will be a sensory onslaught for dogs. We are altering their smell which is a critical part of their identity and communication

How can we help?

-Management of coat

-Flat bottomed bathing area, a good non slip surface

-Steps or ramp into the bath area so the dog steps in

-Use a harness restraint, once a dog is soapy and wet they will chill very quickly so only put them in there when you know they are able to cope with the whole procedure

-Temperature should be close or a little warmer than skin temperature, No surprise that most dogs dont like being bathed with the hose, swimming and water play are different as water is often not touching the skin directly.

-Start with water directed over the hand and then begin to massage in, introducing the sensation gradually

-Use a bathing brush or zoom groom to remove the majority of the undercoat, this cuts down on time spent drying and brushing after the bath, also ensures the shampoo is taken into and then rinsed from the entire coat

-Cut the nails in the bath if possible, overshadowing means we can avoid another stressful event later

-Use unscented or mildly scented products

-Conditioner on longer areas that are not going to be clipped off, tangles are less painful to brush out

-Allow them to shake as often as they want, it helps!



-Coat must be dried both for health and to be groomed as clippers will clog in damp hair

-Noise, there are two different driers commonly used

Blaster, blows out warm air at very high velocity, louder but faster, also will blow undercoat debris, dead skin out of the coat via a flexible hose. Noise in excess of 100 decibels at the point of the hose (approximate noise at a rock concert)

Finishing drier, a very large hair drier, fixed to a stand and blows hot air from a rigid hose. Needs to be used with a brush to part the hair to work effectively, noise in excess of 95 decibels at the point of the hose. (approximate noise riding a motorbike)

Note that the dogs ear will not generally be at the point of the hose however its important to notice the sheer volume that is being produced

-Air pressure, the noise and air flow can be extremely stressful, especially for dogs with upright and large ears. The dog may already have sound phobias.

-Heat, the driers can generate enough heat to burn the skin. Any large change in temperature can shake the dogs thermoregulatory system, this can be particularly dangerous for young dogs who’s system hasn’t developed fully yet and old dogs who’s system might not be as effective anymore. Also dogs with shortened muzzles or any other reason that affects the ability to maintain a safe body temperature.

How can we help?

-Use the appropriate tools for the dog and their coat

-Use wicking towels to draw as much of the water out of the coat manually before drying

-Ventilation, trying to ensure the temperature of the room remains steady and monitor minutely signs of any signs of heat stress

-Take as many breaks as the dog needs

-Using a snood, hood or other ways of muffling the ears

-Short durations, being aware that even for humans at those volumes hearing loss can occur in 30 mins for the drier and 7.5 mins for the blaster. Dogs hearing is much more acute than ours

-Enabling the dog to lie down during the drying process

– Chews, lickmats or Kongs can be a nice accompaniment but if done right, most dogs will doze or sleep

Clipping and trimming


-Danger of sharp objects

-Clippers only go underneath mats, not through them. The result will be as short as the mats are tight

-Human expectations, groomers and owners both want a good looking result BUT the dog just wants to be pain and discomfort free.

-Noise of clippers

-Handling of sensitive area of the dogs body, particularly if they are also painful

-Vulnerability, areas where extreme caution must be observed, eyes and face, folds and crevices, bottom and hygiene areas, are often areas the dog is most protective over (critical for survival)

How can we help?

-Regular and effective coat management. The coat gets the care it requires, the dog is not having to endure 6 or 8 weeks worth of grooming in a 2 hour visit

-Manage expectations, a less than perfect finish on a happier and more relaxed dog is a better outcome than a perfect finish on a stressed and overwhelmed dog.

-Keep the coat at a length that can be maintained within the dogs comfort level and owners capability

-Understand that grooming out large areas of mats is unfair to the dog and a violation of their trust

-Prepare the dog to be fully comfortable with all areas of their body that will need to be handled, this will also pay off thousand fold for the dog in cases of injury or vet handling


Chin rests and touching around their eyes, ears and areas where they cant see your hand

Being comfortable with having their feet handled

Tails and bottoms,

Most importantly, if there are areas that the dog is uncomfortable about, the groomer should not be the first one who finds this out.

Everyone needs to be prepared

After care

-Toilet and a drink

-Chews or treat searches

-Social time with other dogs if appropriate

-If the owner left then they should always come in and sit for a few minutes. This gives the dog the chance to say hello and then go back to what they were doing before. Its a chance for the groomer to talk over the groom, flagging up any concerns or informing the client if any aftercare will be needed

eg  could we cut all the nails or will we need to do some short just nail visits

do they need some social visits

were there parasites, infections, injuries,

changes in the coat that might indicate something that needs the vets attention

have they lost/gained weight. Was that what the owner had been trying to achieve

Did we have to clip the hygiene areas very short? Is there a risk of irritatio, if so,  what to do

This helps manage expectations and problems

After leaving

-Rest, no long or fast exercise

-Keep in a nice comfortable temp for several hours to allow the body to acclimatise properly particularly for young and old dogs

-Manage problems, communicate

Kirsty 🙂

P.s. I closed my grooming business at christmas last year in order to focus on my work at The Dog Nose but I still have around 20 dogs who I will groom for the rest of their life (or the rest of mine, whichever is longer) as they would find the move to a new groomer too stressful. Like almost all of the groomers that I have ever met, I love my clients dogs as my own. Grooming can be hard, dirty, often thankless and lonely and the people who are brave enough to do it deserve the support to do the best job they can xxx

Author: Thedognose

The first of its kind , indoor enriched environment experience for dogs. The Dog Nose was opened in June 2018 to give dogs an opportunity to exhibit natural behaviour in a safe setting. It gives human guardians an opportunity to observe their dogs while free moving which is both instructive and fun. I developed the idea following my successful completion of the International Dog Trainers education with the incomparible Turid Rugaas and then refined how it could be used thanks to the teachings of Dr Amber Batson. This model is now being applied in several countries and I am running workshops and seminars to spread the knowledge of this wonderful activity. My dearest wish is that even more dogs will get the chance to experience a more enriched life.

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