Groomers are plenty smart when it comes to keeping their charges quiet so they can make the dogs beautiful. Dog stylists have a few tricks that help overcome an dog's unruliness, but those who are groomed on a regular basis know the drill.
Dogs of breeds that require regular grooming should begin the regimen early on, while they're still malleable. This gets the dog accustomed to a routine he will follow his entire life. When a dog has been coming to the groomer ever since he was a puppy, no extraordinary skills or methods are necessary to keep him still during grooming.
Grooming tables have a metal post that rises above the table and ends in a hook to which the groomer will clip one end of a leash. A slipknot on the other end goes around the dog's neck. Exertion tightens the slipknot, causing the dog some discomfort and making him stop if not keeping him restrained to the table. In the case of an aggressive dog, a groomer may have to use a muzzle. Meanwhile, Birgit Edler, owner of Canine College, a grooming shop in South Florida, says her shop never uses muzzles. "We hate to use them and will avoid them if we can," she says. "If we find we have a dog that is not safe for us to work on, we will ask the client to speak to the vet about therapeutic help. Anything the vet can give to calm the dog would help. Muzzling just increases the dog's anxiety, and we don't like to do that unless absolutely necessary. We just haven't found it necessary."
Tricks of the Trade
Some dogs will quiet down with a towel placed over their eyes or heads; groomers may use that trick to calm down an anxious dog. Groomers also sometimes use a second tether tied around the dog's waist, or looped under one front leg to keep the dog still. Some will resort to bribery, with the owner's permission. As a potentially unruly dog stands on the grooming table, the groomer or an assistant will give the dog treats as long as he stands quietly. If the dog becomes uncooperative, the treats stop. Dogs catch on quickly when treats are involved. "We use aromatherapy too," Edler says. "We usually have nice, quiet mood music playing and lavender-scented candles burning, and we use essence of lavender shampoo. Lavender has natural calming properties and it works well on us groomers as well as the dogs."
Occasionally a dog will be so anxious and fearful that the grooming experience is no fun for the dog or the groomer. When the dog is truly anxious, the owner can purchase over-the-counter remedies that work well in calming a dog. Bach flower essence is available as drops that you can slip between the dog's flews or put on his tongue. Prescription medicines can help nervous Nellies; your vet can fill you in on the details and help determine if it is right for your dog.
Michelle A. Rivera is the author of many books and articles. She attended the University of Missouri Animal Cruelty School and is certified with the Florida Animal Control Association. She is the executive director of her own nonprofit, Animals 101, Inc. Rivera is an animal-assisted therapist, humane educator, former shelter manager, rescue volunteer coordinator, dog trainer and veterinary technician.