Downeast Dog News

Grooming for Your Special Needs Dog

Jan 21, 2013

I cannot count the number of times someone has approached me and asked, "Do you groom Pitts?" Or Chows, or Shar Peis, or another breed that suffers from bad press. It irks me that so many groomers will turn dogs away without even meeting them. I always feel that at the very least you should meet the dog before you judge your ability to work with them. I routinely clip nails on Pitts whose owners inform me that it takes three vet techs piled on their dog to get the nails done. I can't begin to tell you everything wrong with THAT scenario. Just imagine you are scared and in a strange place FULL of chemical and fearful smells. Then suddenly you are being restrained, you don't know what's happening, you try to run but another stranger pins you down. Maybe they put something weird over your mouth. You hear a loud clipping noise and a tug on your feet. I bet you my bottom dollar that you'd be trying to escape any way possible!

Now let's start that scene over again. You are walked into a grooming salon, still lots of strange smells and sounds. Instead of being grabbed and held down, somebody starts by giving you a nice butt rub. They keep rubbing you and talking calmly until you relax. Then they lightly touch your feet. You are suspicious, but somebody offers you a treat. Score! Food! You pay less attention to the person touching your feet and more attention to the hand with the food. There is a faint clicking noise, but the soothing voice of the person covers the noise and you listen to their praise. Before you know it you are back on the floor and headed back to the car! That's just ONE technique that works for me. Some dogs aren't as distracted by food but respond to somebody rubbing their belly or tapping their nose and making funny noises. Some dogs are older and have joint pain, it's hardly humane to heave them up on a table and force them to balance on three feet. I let them lay down and have the owner rub their belly. For older dogs I often recommend asking their vet about doggy aspirin to give beforehand. A regular joint supplement can go a long way in making your senior dog more comfortable.

Almost 100% of the time when I have an aggressive dog come my way it is because they are really afraid. They are afraid that they are going to be hurt or abandoned or they are  afraid that I might be a threat to their families. I can't always reassure a dog with a butt rub and a treat. Sometimes it’s better to have their owner stay. I generally ask that the most 'dominant' family member be the one to assist me. Things go a lot smoother with a maximum of two people working on a dog, it’s less crowded and the dog isn't constantly looking to see where both his people are. Visiting the salon a few times prior to the appointment can make the terrain seem less foreign and dangerous. Giving the dog a chance to explore the setting often alleviates the stress of being in alien territory. I like to limit those first few visits to under an hour. For puppies or very fearful dogs you can start with 15 or 30 minutes. As an owner you should only have the expectation that your dog is being acclimatized to the situation. I will ask owners, "What is ONE thing you want accomplished today?" Starting small gives your dog a chance to understand what is happening and reduces the chance that they will exceed their stress threshold. Having the appointment end on a positive note means that they will be less likely to be as scared the next time they come in and that's the goal: To make the next time that dog walks in the door a good experience.

The point is that every dog is different and I have NEVER seen any dog respond positively to being restrained and grabbed. Just slapping a muzzle on them does NOTHING to make the experience any more pleasant or less stressful. It takes patience and in some cases a very long time, but I rarely find that a dog is completely past rehabilitation. Yes, there have been dogs that I couldn't work with. I coach their owners to keep looking. Just because a dog won't respond well to me doesn't mean that there isn't another groomer out there that their dog WILL be comfortable with. You are your dog's only advocate, make sure to inform yourself and never quit just because somebody says, "It can't be done."